Asset management expert to run for Oak Bay council in upcoming election

From activism to asset management, Esther Paterson believes in transparency and collaboration

With grandparents that guided her into political activism at a young age and with having had a successful asset management career dealing with large real estate portfolios, Esther Paterson feels she is uniquely qualified to help Oak Bay address the challenges it faces. Paterson plans to run for a council seat in the municipal election this October.

At the age of 10, Paterson was encouraged by her grandmother to write letters to politicians protesting the removal of Indigenous children from their homes in what is now known as the ’60s Scoop. Having been touched personally by a similar experience – Paterson’s grandfather was from Ireland and became one of the Home Children who were forced from their homes and sent to work camps in Scotland – the family was painfully aware of how wrong it was that thousands of First Nations, Métis and Inuit children across Canada were being taken from their families. After facing questioning, ridicule, and threats for standing up against the injustice, Esther asked her grandmother why they were doing it when it didn’t affect them personally. Her grandmother responded that they are like the bookmarks in a book. They need to keep the attention recorded on it and hold the place in time until those suffering have their voice to be powerful themselves.

“It taught me that if you are certain about something, it is important to take a stand,” said Paterson. “If one person is treated unfairly, it can reach out and grab all of us if we don’t take a stand. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but if you persevere, sooner or later the truth will come out.”

The lesson from this formative experience is evident throughout Paterson’s life from joining Greenpeace and fighting for the environment to setting up food banks during the recession in the 1980s to help those who had lost their jobs and their homes.

“I’ve always had a background in political activism for change but never really entertained a notion to get involved in politics,” said Paterson.

When Paterson, who moved to Oak Bay in 2009 after retiring, became aware of the municipality’s aging infrastructure and the lack of reserve funds in the budget, she felt there was a problem.

Paterson’s background in asset management gives her specialized insight into Oak Bay’s infrastructure and financial demands. She worked as a commercial real estate professional in Winnipeg for over 25 years with James Richardson & Sons.

As a company that was thriving in part due to their commitment to the community in which they did business, all of their thought processes were long-term, something Paterson says is needed now in Oak Bay.

“Working for the Richardsons, with their commitment to long-term thinking and building long-term relationships, you have a very different attitude in how you collaborate with people on what you want to get done,” said Paterson. “It’s about fairness. It’s about looking after divergent interests. You have to be able to, in an unbiased manner, understand what those goals are and find a way forward that is a win-win for both sides.”

With having bought, sold, developed, and managed properties, Paterson has experience with fiscally responsible financial planning, large project development, and risk management. In that work, she had to balance the interests of both owners and customers and can see an issue from many different perspectives. She says that the things facing council right now are things she has lived for many years.

“Sitting in council meetings, when staff say things, I understand perhaps more clearly than others, what that sentence they are saying means in reality. So I can understand what their role and responsibility is and what they are facing,” said Paterson.

When she became concerned about holes in Oak Bay’s financials in the Official Community Plan, particularly in regards to long-term budgeting and reserve funds, Paterson dove in. She went through 10 years of financials; called the Public Sector Accounting Board, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Municipal Finance Authority of B.C.; and started attending council meetings to voice concern.

“Since Oak Bay’s Official Community Plan was adopted in 2014, residents have been inundated with articles and public meetings on infrastructure, residential infill and affordability,” said Paterson. “As the retired president of Richardson Realty and past president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada, I came to understand early on that these issues are interrelated. I have been one of the voices pressing council for greater transparency and establishing policy to guide development, while ensuring Oak Bay’s financial viability and sustainability.”

When she asked her husband if she should run for council, he replied, “Well, you seem to always be on your computer going over spreadsheets and annual reports, phoning people at government offices, and every Monday night you go to council meetings. So why not?”

“If I can bring a voice to the table that can help, than I will be happy to commit whatever I can to doing that,” said Paterson. “No matter what the outcome, it is going to be a learning experience and I’m going to meet more people and one way or another I will always stay involved because I think it’s important.”

As her website notes, “We retire from our jobs but not from our experience.”

To see more about Esther Paterson’s work, concerns, and philosophy go to esther4council.com.

keri.coles@oakbaynews.com

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