Where Are They Now? Begin began new life after election defeat

Former city councillor Gary Begin may feel out of his depth around computers, but when it comes to connecting with the community, he feels very much at home. - Grant Granger/NewsLeader
Former city councillor Gary Begin may feel out of his depth around computers, but when it comes to connecting with the community, he feels very much at home.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NewsLeader

To start the year, the NewsLeader catches up with a few familiar—and perhaps to some, unfamiliar—faces to find out “Where are they now?” The first is Gary Begin, who served 12 years on Burnaby city council, after 15 years on school board.

Grey-weather weekends in November can be a downer, and one in 2008 was shaping up to be real depressing for Gary Begin.

The former city councillor lost in the civic election after serving 12 years on the job.

Begin had also served 15 before that on school board, running with the Burnaby Voters Association and later, Team Burnaby. But on Nov. 15, 2008, Begin finished ninth in the municipal election as the Burnaby Citizens Association got its first of two sweeps of all eight council seats.

“It was disappointing because I really felt I was able to make a contribution,” says Begin, 71.

The election result rubbed salt in a wound opened earlier in the campaign when Shell told him he had to close the gas station he owned in Surrey because Guildford Mall wanted the land back.

“All that was hanging around the election. It was not a nice time,” says Begin.

He woke up Nov. 16 not only needing to collect lawn signs but also having to hand over the keys to his gas station.

He’d lost his business and he’d lost his spot on council.

He was devastated.

All of a sudden an extremely busy guy was faced with the prospect of nothing to do, not to mention a reduced cash flow.

But that day the phone rang.

On the other end was Burnaby North MLA Richard Lee offering more than just condolences for his election loss. Lee needed an assistant for his constituency office and asked Begin if he’d like the job.

The technologically challenged septuagenarian-to-be reminded Lee he knew nothing about a computer. “Oh, you’ll love it,” said Lee.

As he locked the gas station door for the last time, a new door opened.

“It was just like that—boom!” recalls Begin with his trademark twinkle in his eye and a wide smile.

Working with Lee allows Begin to continue to help people out, albeit in a much more under-the-radar manner. That was five years ago and he’s still loving it. When Lee isn’t available to attend community events, Begin frequently fills in and that’s where his background comes in handy.

“I was a community activist and I can share some of that with Richard and get out into the community for him,” he says. “This job, when people call me about city things I know exactly where to send them to.”

As an elected official Begin made decisions. As an employee of a politician, he puts forward options for his boss to make the decisions. “I always remember that.” And he’s improved his computer skills.

“I’ve learned how to turn it on and do the entries, but don’t ask me to open a file,” says Begin with a ton of paper files piled around his desk.

Begin continued to live in Burnaby in the Forglen area for two years after he lost the election but then he and his wife moved to Tsawwassen to be close to their son’s family. Although he’s no longer a resident, Begin is still a big part of the Burnaby community. He is chair of the St. Michael’s Centre and Hospice board of directors and he works with L’Arche Canada, which has homes for developmentally disabled adults next door to St. Michael’s. He continues to read to children at Edmonds community school where he started a program in 2000.

As well, Begin is a big part of the congregation at South Burnaby United, where he is a lay minister. “I still marry and bury people.”

Begin has promised Lee he’ll stick around until the next provincial election in 2017 and has become philosophical about his life-changing weekend in November 2008.

“Whatever it was I had [to give to Burnaby] I gave it my best shot.”

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