When the longest-serving current city councillor Judy Kolada died after a long battle with cancer April 18, the city lost a dedicated public servant and council lost one of its rarest commodities - a true swing vote.
Kolada was first elected as a councillor in 1995 and was re-elected six more times after that, without ever being defeated. And while she wasn’t overjoyed with her showing on the night of the last general election in 2018 because she finished near the bottom of the elected candidates in terms of votes received, it probably didn’t matter that much to her. Kolada was in politics for Thompson and not for herself.
Although she wasn’t a native Thompsonite, coming, as so many other have done, from the Maritimes, once she made it her home, it was her home for life and her long undefeated stretch on council was never about earning glory or praise or headlines. She just wanted Thompson to be the best it could be.
Kolada was passionate about Thompson getting its fair share, having often lamented the fact that communities with no video lottery terminals in them got the same per-capita funding from Manitoba Lotteries that Thompson did, even though they didn’t have to deal with the attendant ills that legalized gambling, like legalized anything, can bring. She also never wavered in her support of the mining industry and her attempts to ensure it got all the municipal support it could.
Over this term and the previous one, Kolada often found herself as a member of the unofficial opposition, with councillors Duncan Wong and Ron Matechuk last term and with Wong and Coun. Jeff Fountain on occasion this term. While some people may see this, and particularly the incident in 2016 when she, Wong and Matechuk walked out of a meeting to protest the fact that the agenda hadn’t been provided to them as far in advance of a council meeting as it should have been, as evidence of not being a team player, this is one of the checks that democracy requires. Politicians should not blindly go along with the majority because it’s their party, or it’s their friends. They should do what they think is right, even when it’s unpopular. They won’t always be right, but at least they will be honest. No one will deny that when Kolada took a stand, she did so with honest motivations.
“She always stuck to her guns,” Mayor Colleen Smook told the Thompson Citizen April 20, adding that it would be strange to know that her friend and colleague would no longer be part of local debates after two decades as one of Thompson’s elected voices.
Council chambers, be they virtual while the COVID-19 pandemic continues, or physical once it passes, will be a lesser place without their longest-serving resident, who clearly loved her adopted city.