After an illustrious career as Stratford's mayor, Dan Mathieson is leaving behind his seat - and his career in politics.
Mathieson served as mayor for five terms - nearly twenty years - and announced that he would not seek another term early into the election period. He said that as the city gets ready to prepare a new Official Plan, it's the right time to leave office. Even so, he won’t be leaving altogether.
“I'm not leaving team Stratford,” Mathieson assured StratfordToday. “I'm just not the captain.”
Mathieson sat down with StratfordToday prior to his last council meeting as he was packing up his office. Twenty years of Stratford’s history is represented in the room - from jerseys on the wall to various artifacts scattered about his desk.
Mathieson discussed his long political career and how twenty years went by quickly.
Mathieson always had an interest in politics, an interest that he attributes to his parents, who instilled in him a desire to be involved. After studying politics and business at the University of Guelph, he thought city council could use a younger voice.
He put his name forward in the 1994 municipal election and lost by only nine votes to Bill Gervin. Unfortunately Gervin passed away three months later and council asked Mathieson to fill out his spot, starting in the spring of 1995.
“From there my interest in municipal politics grew greatly,” he said. “I quickly realized it's probably the level of government that touches everyone's lives every day.”
Mathieson served as a councillor until 2003, serving two terms as deputy mayor, from 1997 to 2000 and 2000 to 2003.
Mathieson says that his career in politics is over and he does not believe that he will run for office again – his family doesn’t believe so either.
Mathieson stressed that he served on council before he was married to his wife, Carolyn. His children, daughter Kaitlyn and son Riley, have only known their father as mayor, only known their father being in the public eye.
Running or not running for office has always been a discussion in the home and his position affects his family.
“They’ve had a lot of dinners at home without their father there. I’ve missed more than a few events along the way.”
The role has changed drastically since first elected as mayor in 2003. Municipal government is more complex and requires much more interplay not only between other levels of government, but the region.
The city is growing, he said, and the problems facing Stratford are more complicated.
One example is homelessness, though he clarified that homelessness itself is not the problem - rather the outcome of other bigger problems. Mental health issues, unemployment, a lack of skills development in the ares and overall health are chronic issues that contribute to it.
Even though it affects the municipality, they do not have jurisdiction over many of those issues.
The role of the mayor has always been complex. Mathieson said one of the vital aspects of the job hasn’t changed: networking.
“You just can't call someone every time you need something. You have to foster that relationship. You've got to be meeting with them on a regular basis. It's this week that you can hear about their transportation issues so that next week they'll hear about your employment issues.
“If you want to think of it as an orchestra. This may be where the conductor sits … and everything else comes from being able to bring everybody together.”
Around where he sits as conductor are reminders of his legacy and the highlights of his career. One particular award was presented to the city by the RCMP for how administration handled the concerning meth problem facing the city early into his mayorship.
Other highlights of his tenure include the development of three business parks in the city, the construction of the Stratford Perth Rotary Hospice, the Stratford Rotary Complex, Market Square, renovations at the hospitals, the Tom Patterson Theatre, and investment into infrastructure that he committed to early on in his career.
The city invested a quarter of a million dollars putting in new storm and sanitary sewers. Sewers and infrastructure aren’t very eye-catching, but it’s infrastructure that is very important for a municipality to chip away at.
Perhaps one of his most eye-catching accomplishments was the University of Waterloo campus.
The university’s formation was serendipitous. Mathieson had wanted to bring a university presence to the Festival City and by chance sat next to David Johnston, then president of the University of Waterloo, during a meeting. Later they met with Tom Jenkins, then-CEO of OpenText.
Those chance-meetings proved invaluable, as together they developed the Stratford School of Interaction Design and Business, which features a world class program that as of this year has over 1,000 students.
Mathieson believes that the city is poised for even greater growth and opportunity.
When asked if he has any fears for the future of Stratford, Mathieson quickly answered ‘no.’ He is confident in not only the new administration but the people of this city, too.
“Apathy is not something we have here,” he assured. “People are prepared to step up and stand up and I think that puts us in a better position.”
The role of mayor comes with support and Mathieson thanked his family, his team, and staff at the city.
Perhaps most of all he thanked his assistant, Patricia Shantz.
Shantz has been Mathieson’s assistant since day one. As he said, they have stood shoulder to shoulder. Mathieson said that her work has been instrumental in the forward momentum of the city. Shantz retired from her position at the city on Monday.
The mayorship is now in the hands of Martin Ritsma, a veteran politician, who previously served as deputy mayor.
Is there any advice Mathieson can give to Mayor Ritsma, city council, and all of Stratford?
“It's a strength to go out and to seek guidance, support, mentorship, knowledge, information, and that's what you need to do because the job is ever evolving. Decisions are not static. They're always changing.
“We all have to do that. Whether you're in public office or you're a member of a community group. It's the collective that makes the city run.”