As Mayor, Robert St. Pierre has guided the northern community of La Loche through some trying times.
He was the northern village’s mayor as the teenager responsible for the Jan. 22 school shooting that killed four people was sentenced, and this summer, he worked endlessly to ensure a COVID-19 outbreak in the community was brought under control.
While his name has become synonymous with the north, he confirmed to CBC on Saturday that he would not be running for the seat again, saying he wants to hone in on his family and his business.
“It’s a position that takes a lot of energy and a lot of time when you want to do a good job,” St. Pierre said, who will now be spending more time concentrating on Dene Driving, a driving school he owns with his wife.
St. Pierre was first elected in 2016 after defeating incumbent Kevin Janvier by 143 votes in a race that saw hundreds of people cast their ballots in hopes of shaping the future of the northern village.
St. Pierre ready for a rest
This summer St. Pierre was one of the key leaders in combating an outbreak of COVID-19 — the most serious of any Indigenous community in Canada — in the Northern Village of La Loche and the nearby Clearwater River Dene Nation.
Over three months, 282 people in the village and First Nation would test positive for the disease, accounting for about seven per cent of the population.
When asked what he plans to do with his time moving forward, his answer was simple.
“I hope to get some rest and enjoy family,” said St. Pierre. “Because at the end of the day, we want to take care of our loved ones.”
A life-long resident of La Loche, St. Pierre’s successful bid for mayor four years ago focused on community involvement and a more open and transparent approach to government.
St. Pierre says the decision involved a lot of “pros and cons” but said at the end of the day, he feels he’s made the right decision and his family supports it as well. However, he says some in the community have expressed sadness about the fact he’s not running.
“Some people are disappointed. Some are OK and some just understand what it entails, and understand why I’m doing what I’m doing,” he said. “When you provide that context, people understand a little better.”
St. Pierre said when the decision was finalized, it brought with it some relief.
“It is a very demanding and high-profile position being the mayor of a community such as La Loche and it weighs a lot on you,” he said. “And as soon as I made that decision, it was like a weight lifted.”
St. Pierre respected on both sides of Legislature
St. Pierre is recognized by both the Saskatchewan Party and the Saskatchewan NDP as a strong voice for those in Northern Saskatchewan.
In a statement, Sask. Party leader Scott Moe wished St. Pierre the best in his future endeavours.
“Mayor Robert St. Pierre has been a tireless representative for the people of La Loche,” said Moe. “His leadership in the aftermath of the La Loche tragedy and in working with his community and the provincial government when La Loche was faced with high rates of COVID-19 transmission is a true testament to his character.”
Ryan Meili, leader of the NDP opposition, spoke with St. Pierre about his decision to leave politics on Saturday.
He said while he understands its the right choice for St. Pierre and his family, he noted there’s always some disappointment when a person who’s been doing great work as an elected official returns to private life, especially considering how instrumental St. Pierre was in supporting La Loche in the years after the school shooting and this summer’s COVID-19 outbreak.
“He’s really been put to the test as the mayor of a small community and I think he rose to the occasion in a remarkable way,” said Meili, noting not only was St. Pierre a politician, but a champion for his community.
“It’s really important to have someone who is that booster of their community, as well as someone who fights to address the challenges.”
St. Pierre, while not running, says he’ll be watching the mayoral race closely, offering some advice for those seeking out the position in the future.
“You’re pursuing a position that is kind of thankless to a lot of individuals, and there will be a lot of critics,” he said. “But hold your head high and do the best that you can with the information you’re provided, and you will have support along the way if you’re doing the right thing for the people.”
Residents in La Loche — and across Saskatchewan — are set to go to the polls on Nov. 9 to decide the future of their municipal leadership.