John says the mayor is someone responsible for conducting council and committee meetings, and representing decisions of council to the public. These are two duties he says can be quite interesting at times.
“The mayor doesn't necessarily agree with the majority decision taken by council, but none the less is required to speak on behalf of council and support council's decision,” he says. “I guess I've been around this business for so long that I'm quite used to doing that.”
John has been mayor of the Region of Queens since November 2000. Prior to that, he was MLA for the Queens legislature from 1978 to 1999.
Even as someone who had an 21-year career in politics already, John says the idea of running for mayor didn’t actually occur to him until after he left Province House.
“Moving into the spring of 2000, which was going to be an election year, a number of people were kind enough to suggest I might think about running for mayor,” says John. “Nancy [wife] and I discussed, and she said, 'You enjoy it, why not?'”
This is not a job where work runs from 8:30 to 4:30 five days a week. John says he works not only through the week, but weekends as well. Although it may not mean giving up an entire Saturday and Sunday, taking in an event here and there breaks up the weekend just enough.
It has been 11 years since John was chosen to be the new mayor of Queens County, and although it is a busy job, it is one he still enjoys today. “It's never boring. Life never gets boring.”
“It would be a terrible job if you didn't enjoy it,” he says. “One minute one might be dealing with somebody who's having challenges getting fuel oil in their tank in the middle of winter, and the next phone call might be the president of a major corporation. So you meet all kinds of people with all kinds of needs, and have the opportunity to do your best to respond to them.”
John says the best part about his job is working with the people on the basis of their personal need, as well as what people see as their vision for the community. John, council and region staff work through those visions to create one hat brings together the best thoughts of people in the community.
“I think the absolute most satisfying part of being an elected person, is being able to help people who really are in need. An elective person can develop a very strong empathetic relationship with folks who have fallen on challenging times,” says John. “Sometimes federal, sometimes provincial, sometimes local, to help people find resolutions to their problems. It's not always possible, but even giving it the absolute best effort is very satisfying.”
“I think the absolute most satisfying part of being an elected person, is being able to help people who really are in need. An elective person can develop a very strong empathetic relationship with folks who have fallen on challenging times.” - Mayor John Leefe
John says the most challenging part of his job is the narrow window he and the other members of council have for raising revenue. The municipality is dependent on transfer payments from the province.
“The only direct capacity for raising money for things we require to do, then the things that we want to do, is through property taxes,” says John. “We are significantly dependent on both the government of Nova Scotia and the government of Canada for capital dollars for projects. Everything from water and sewer, to water treatment plants and Queens Place.
When budgeting for the year, John says he and council try to get the best information possible from senior levels of government regarding what monies will flow to the Region of Queens.
As someone who serves the public, John says he must endure criticisms because everyone has an opinion. “We often will say or write things that people disagree with, and we have to respect their right to disagree with us. Sometimes that's not a two way street,” he says.
Although there may be things he will lose sleep over, John has what he calls his right hand person and best asset to help him through it: his wife.
“Through thick and thin she's always been there to support me and encourage me,” says John. “Especially to give me encouragement if I was discouraged about anything in particular.”
John’s time as mayor is slowly coming to an end, as he says he decided not to run again in the next municipal election in 2012. By that time, John will have had about 35 years in public life.
“Through these many years, from time to time, I've seen people who have stayed around too long, and I always promised myself that I'd make sure in my own view that I didn't do that,” says John. “I'm very comfortable that it will have been 12 years of being mayor.”
Although Queens County will soon see a new face in the Mayor’s seat, John says he thinks there are a lot of people in the community who are certainly competent for the job.
“Some on council, and some I suspect who are not in elective position at the moment,” he says. “I think the public will have lots of good choices to look at when the time comes.”