30th Anniversary: Former mayor calls newspaper ‘the best mirror for a community’

Murray Coell says publications like the Saanich News play an important part in their respective communities

This cartoon of Murray Coell appeared in May 29

This cartoon of Murray Coell appeared in May 29

“Murray Coell is not your stereotypical municipal office holder, something he is only too happy to point out.”

So opens the Saanich News article profiling Murray Coell following his election as mayor of Saanich.

“The newly elected mayor of Saanich is a 36-year-old bachelor who drives a jeep rather than an Oldsmobile, dresses like a businessman, but is a social worker by trade, and has ran his own business and played drums in a rock band as a student among other things.”

Framing Coell’s election as evidence for the emergence of a new generation of youthful, energetic politicians cut from a different cloth, the story with its telling personal details neatly highlights what Coell says has been increasingly missing in modern political coverage: personal contact between reporters and their subjects.

“I can say, Saanich News and its team of reporters played a very large part in my life,” said Coell. “In those days, without social media, interaction was either a phone call or ‘face-to-face’ meeting. As the years progressed, and the use of all forms of social media increased, politicians have had to adjust the use of their time accordingly.”

In fact, the piece on Coell’s election notes that Coell’s workday was the “kind of schedule best left to the young. After a daily swim, he starts work at 7 a.m. and is usually not home until 11 p.m.” And yet, the article continue, Coell “balks at being described as a ‘workaholic.’ His work with alcoholics and drug addicts has made it difficult to accept the term, even in jest.”

First elected to council in 1984, Coell served two terms as a mayor, the second by acclamation in 1993, before moving on to provincial politics, representing the riding of Saanich North and the Islands between 1996 and 2013, serving in various cabinet roles over that stretch, including minister of environment.

For all of his varied experiences, some things have remained consistent, including Coell’s long-running friendship with his eventual successor Frank Leonard, a point noted in the Saanich News’ profile of Coell.

“Coell’s friendships are strong and long-lasting,” it reads. “Among his closest friends is his colleague on council Frank Leonard. He has known Leonard for 15 years, all the way back to when they were classmates at Colquitz Junior High School.”

Looking back. Coell says publications like the Saanich News play an important part in their respective communities.

“Saanich, like other communities, sees itself through the eyes of its local paper,” he said. “Saanich News, in those days, as well as today, told the Saanich story.  What pleases me is that local papers are still, in my opinion, the best mirror for a community to look at itself and understand itself.”