The first time Heidi Rast stepped into the council chambers in View Royal’s municipal hall, she admits she was nervous.
As a newly-elected councillor, Rast had done her research, sitting in on council meetings, and while she always had a fear of public speaking, she felt she had a good understanding of the type of environment she was walking in to.
However, when it came time for Rast to speak on the issue at hand during her first council meeting, she opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out.
“I remember speaking the first time and my brain going blank,” Rast said, adding shortly after she recovered and went on to make her point.
While she has since become accustomed to speaking her mind in the council chambers, those memories will always remain for Rast, who recently resigned as city councillor to take a job as a quality validation associate for a private company in Charlottetown, PEI. She’ll be leaving the Island on Wednesday.
“It (her last council meeting) was a bit bitter sweet. This is my final week in Victoria, reality is becoming much clearer now,” said Rast, an Alberta native, who came to the region roughly 18 years ago.
“I’ll miss politics. I enjoy the community aspect, especially the one-on-one relationships that I’ve developed with other colleagues, residents and business owners.”
Rast has always has a passion for politics, though her career took her on a different path. After earning her bachelor of science degree from the University of Lethbridge in 1999, she moved to Greater Victoria to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, where she was responsible for developing tests to detect viruses in plants.
But it wasn’t until 2008 that she wanted to “try something new,” and decided to try her hand at municipal politics.
During her nine years on council, Rast has held a number of roles, including chair of the protective services and community services divisions of the committee of the whole and the community policing advisory committee. She also served as council liaison for the town’s sustainability task force and official community plan.
At the regional level, she’s a director on the board for Capital Region Emergency Telecommunications Inc. (CREST) and the Capital Regional District’s climate action steering committee.
While she’s seen a number of projects come and go over the past nine years, her proudest accomplishment has been the creation of the new fire hall in 2015. She also helped initiate the town’s first invasive plant co-ordinator to help maintain and restore ecological areas such as Portage Park.
Rast’s presence will be missed by many, including Mayor David Screech, who said Rast had a “calming influence” on council. Over the years, Screech admits he has disagreed with Rast on some issues, including the highly controversial Christie Point development. But throughout all that, Rast has always had the ability to work with everyone – a “rare trait in politics,” Screech said.
“I genuinely thank her for her nine years of service to our community. I really think she has been an outstanding all around councillor,” he said.
“She’s just very reasonable and easy to deal with and she has a lot of very good ideas too. Over the course of nine years, you become good friends with your council colleagues, especially with a smaller council like ours. I’ll miss her on a personal and private level.”
While she may be taking a set back from politics, Rast still strongly believes in the importance of municipal politics.
“A lot of residents don’t realize how much influence their local politicians have over their lives. It really would be nice to see more residents get out and vote,” she said. “It’s the one level of government where they have the strongest influence, as well as the politicians have the strongest impacts on residents’ lives.
After council officially accepts Rast’s resignation in September, a byelection will likely be held in November.