Charla Huber: Veteran Langford councillor Winnie Sifert will be missed

Ever since I was a child, I have been excited when it’s election time. I love seeing the signs pop up all over our communities. I love reading about the candidates and studying their platforms.

Municipal politics are interesting to me, as this is where the things we notice in our communities are cared for. Mostly, I like seeing the passion the candidates have for the communities and the people who live in them.

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As new, fresh candidates enter the political ring, seasoned politicians retire. If we want to talk about people who have made an impact in their community, Langford Coun. Winnie Sifert would be at the top of the list.

When I heard Sifert wasn’t running in this election, it made me think about everything she has done for Langford, the West Shore and our region.

Sifert’s work with Langford began long before it was even a city; it was an electoral area governed by the Capital Regional District. She rolled up her sleeves and joined committees as soon as she moved to Langford in the mid-1970s. Back then, gravel pathways lined the sides of every road. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that Langford landed its first sidewalk.

“Winnie was instrumental in Langford’s incorporation. She was on a number of committees that made it happen,” Mayor Stew Young says. “It was the best move Langford ever made.”

After Langford incorporated, in December of 1992, Sifert and Denise Blackwell joined the city council and have been on council ever since. Young was also a councillor for the first year and became mayor the following year.

Not many people know Sifert and her late husband, Richard, pushed Young to run for mayor. He was considering leaving the council.

“They followed me around in a red pickup truck all day with the papers. Eventually they pulled me over on Station Avenue and Richard threatened to break my arms and legs in the old Langford style until I agreed to run,” Young said with a chuckle.

“We had to talk him into it,” Sifert said. “He’s really been the best mayor.”

With so much history on council, it’s impossible to include all of Sifert’s contributions.

She helped with cleaning up Langford after incorporation and stressed the importance of doing this slowly and working with people, not just forcing them to change.

“Langford has always been about hardworking, blue-collar people, and it was very important to remember where we came from,” said Young. “People had race cars, dump trucks, equipment and vehicles on their lawns.”

Winnie worked with residents in baby steps toward the transformation of Langford, while still keeping its roots.

“Winnie has always led with common sense and compassion,” Young said.

Affordable housing is a hot topic now and has always been on Sifert’s mind. She was a champion for affordable housing in Langford and fought for secondary suites to become legal in the city.

In the past, any identified renters in secondary suites had been evicted. This didn’t only leave the renters high and dry, it caused hardship for homeowners who depended on the rent to help cover their monthly mortgage payments.

It was Sifert who saw how wrong this was and fought to change how things were handled. I believe it was her common sense and compassion that led to Langford legalizing secondary suites in 1999.

“Winnie brought in the human sides to things. She came to council and said: ‘We need to legalize them and tell people that we won’t kick them out,’ ” Young said.

It’s undeniable that Langford has had a transformation, and Sifert has played a very important role in that.

“Whoever runs has big shoes to fill, that’s for sure,” Young said. “It’s going to be almost impossible to fill her shoes. Winnie can help the new councillor, she’ll be a wealth of knowledge.”

With Sifert not running, Langford council is endorsing Norma Stewart, a city volunteer with 12 years’ experience on Langford committees. In the same way, council endorsed Roger Wade when he first ran for council. He has served for three terms and is running for his fourth.

“I don’t know what’s next for me,” Sifert said. “But I know I will always be a volunteer.”

Charla Huber works in communications and Indigenous relations for M’akola Group of Societies.

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