Town council: past, present and future

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer
memara@fortfrances.com

The Town of Fort Frances is less than a year away from the next round of municipal elections. Although the formal election process has not started yet, residents are beginning to ask who will be running.

Current council members have been upfront regarding the need for younger voices to be at the table to provide insight and advice into what young families need in the area.

The Times reached out to Larry Cousineau who became a councillor in 1980 when he was just 31, for more insight about council then, now and in the future.

Cousineau, now 74, was a councillor for four terms in a row, for a total of 10 years of being directly involved in municipal politics. He was also deputy mayor for seven years.

Although Cousineau’s first term was acclaimed, he polled the highest when he ran again in 1982 with about 2,100 votes.

“It was very interesting being on council for the first term. The rest were my dad’s age. I didn’t do a lot of talking in my first year. I did a lot of listening. You did not call the rest of councillors by their first name. I guess after a year they got some confidence in me and I got a little braver, but I was careful. Respect was a big thing, a big thing. And it still is with me,” Cousineau said.

Larry Cousineau sat as a young councillor, with a young family at the start of his political career. He shares the lessons he
learned, and his thoughts on the changing face of politics over time. – Merna Emara photo

“I adjusted to them more than they adjusted to me at the beginning. I knew my place. It was a little bit intimidating to start with, to tell you the truth.”

Joining the Fort Frances Jaycees when he was a teenager and taking leadership courses in Thunder Bay when he was 19 years old, helped Cousineau fill the councillor shoes. Prior to being on the town council, he was also the president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Cousineau came right out of high school and worked at Cousineau Insurance, now Cousineau Insurance and Real Estate. He was an insurance broker for 44 years.

“It was a family business that my dad started after the Second World War,” Cousineau said.

Cousineau said while he was interested in all the procedures that political life involves, balancing it with a fulltime job, a wife and two children was not easy.

“It was very difficult to tell you the truth. But we made it work,” Cousineau said. “When I was on council, most of the meetings were in the evening. My personal opinion is that day meetings have crept in.”

A reason for that, Cousineau said, could be that most council members are retired, making way for possible day meetings.

A lot of councillors owned their own businesses too, Cousineau said, adding that this is what happened to him because he was the manager of the office most of his life.

“My dad was there too, but he was in real estate more than insurance,” Cousineau said. “To a degree, I was my own boss. I could come and go when I felt like it, but I didn’t do it much throughout the day. In fairness to the young people today, things are much more demanding on their time. There is a lot more happening with their children than there ever used to be, such as organized sports.”

That being said, Cousineau stressed that all councillors should be committed to doing the job with the right frame of mind.

“You can’t do it without teamwork,” Cousineau said. “Teamwork is the number one thing on any board or commission or council. If the team isn’t strong, you have a problem. It all has to do with everybody working together as a team. But everybody got along very well over the years. I look back on some very happy years of my life.”

Cousineau said having a good mayor is very important because they lead the team.

“The mayor was the boss,” Cousineau said. “I learned a lot of respect, and a lot of understanding of my fellow councillors to learn what different people felt and respect their feelings. Council has to speak as one. You have to speak as one strong voice to get the message across properly. I got along with everybody for 10 years and never once had an issue with anybody to this day.”

Another thing Cousineau said he believes deterred a lot of young people from running for council is having one term be for four years.

Cousineau said he is proud to have spearheaded the construction of the overpass, which cost the town only $76,000. Constructing the overpass was not popular at council, which forced the item to go to referendum at a municipal election. About 52 per cent of residents were in favour of the construction.

“That was one of the things that when I first got on council; I really wanted to see it happen. That was my baby,” Cousineau said. “It was kind of a sticky issue, and a lot of the councillors were not in favour of it.”

Cousineau retired from his longtime job, but he is still involved in the community. He is currently the chairman of the Fort Frances Power Corporation (FFPC), and continues to guard the 1905 Historic Power Agreement.