Stella Locker, who died April 29 at the age of 87, and served seven consecutive terms as a city councillor, beginning in 1989 until her retirement from municipal politics in 2014, all while helping to run a business, was sometimes viewed as a person who was against everything, but the reality was more nuanced then that.
The Thompson Citizen once received a letter to the editor, while Locker was still a member of council, suggesting that, instead of attending the meetings in person, she just put a cardboard cutout holding up a sign that said “no” in the council chambers so that her votes would be counted. And while it’s true that Locker voted in opposition on a lot of resolutions and bylaws, some of which passed, she didn’t do so because she was against everything. She did so because she thought those particular resolutions and bylaws were not well thought-out or likely to be effective or a good use of taxpayers' money.
Local politics is often the level of politics that has the most impact on people’s daily lives. The taxes and fees you pay go towards services and infrastructure you use, or don’t use, nearly every day of your life, and it would be easy to simply think “yes, this city needs this” and vote in favour of it as a councillor, without much regard to the cost. Locker was not like that. As a businesswoman, she was well-acquainted with making sure the money she made was not thrown away with good reason and she took that position with regard to other people’s money as a councillor. There is nothing wrong with fiscal conservatism and wanting to ensure that money isn’t spent unless it’s going to be spent wisely. If there was, Locker probably wouldn’t have been elected seven times, six of them as an incumbent. Had she decided to run again in 2014, she probably would have served another term because her no-nonsense approach appealed to voters who sometimes worry that council may be too willing to spend their money and not get corresponding results.
A decade or so ago, council was considering whether or not to ban plastic shopping bags, which was a popular enough idea at the time, at least among city councillors, who were following in the footsteps of Leaf Rapids, which had taken the same step a few years earlier. Certainly there are some good reasons to want to do away with plastic shopping bags, but there was also a little wishful thinking going on, too, with some councillors suggesting that not having plastic bags at stores would lead to the city looking nicer, with some even saying that bags stuck to fences at the landfill were unsightly, as if the facility was going to entered in a garbage dump beauty contest. To Locker, the argument didn’t hold water. Unsightly plastic bags in tree branches and fences and along the edges of sidewalks and roadways, she argued, wasn’t actually a plastic bag problem, but a littering problem, one more related to people. Look around the city in the springtime seven years after Locker left her seat on council. Can you say that she was wrong?
People who served as councillors with Locker say she was always ready and willing to argue if she didn’t agree with you, but that it was always about the policy and not the person. But she was also willing to play hardball in an effort to get her way. One time, in violation of municipal council rules, she mentioned the amount being spent on the city’s rebranding strategy during the public portion of a meeting, referencing a price that had been mentioned during an in camera session. Councillors are not allowed to disclose what was discussed during in camera sessions to the public. A general warning about doing so was given during the meeting, but there was likely no consideration given to actually punishing her for breaking the rules. Similarly, documents that were of public interest used to sometimes wound up at the Citizen office in unmarked brown paper envelopes. Without someone on the inside willing to share them, they might never have seen the light of day. On at least one occasion, the documents inside had a header that showed them to have come from the Locker’s Real Estate fax machine. It wasn’t done to embarrass anyone but because Locker thought that it was wrong for some activities to be carried out by council without the public being aware.
Locker deserves credit for many things, including her debating skills, her sense of principle and having the work ethic needed to run a business while serving a quarter-century on council. Like many others before her, her departure makes the city she loved and fought for worse off, but it was better off thanks to her contributions.