You might think Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer’s interest in politics was sparked while working as a constituency assistant for a member of Parliament.
You would be wrong.
In fact, the campaigns and lobbying efforts began when the 35-year-old was at Aspen Heights Elementary School.
“When I was about five, it became evident I was fairly opinionated,” laughed Veer. “If I didn’t like something, I would lobby for change.”
Her parents — Melba and Brian Veer — would be subjected to campaigns on issues that the young Veer wanted to change in the household.
Picket signs and posters often appeared calling for a change in the dinner menu or a later bedtime.
“My mom would open her purse to find a sign or my dad would flip down the visor of his truck and find a sign,” said Veer.
When her Grade 6 class visited City Hall, Veer remembered whirling around in a chair and thinking, “Maybe one day I will become a city councillor.”
At age 17, she brought a petition signed by River Glen school parents opposing the proposed closure of the school in the Chinook’s Edge School Division.
Her first real glimpse into the political world came four years later, when she advocated for residents as a constituency assistant in former MP Bob Mills’ office.
Fast forward to 2004, when Veer became the youngest female councillor to serve on Red Deer city council at age 26. She barely made the cut, though, after the ballots at three polls were not counted on election night.
Veer, who was sitting in seventh, and Coun. Frank Wong, who was in eighth position, received an unexpected phone call the next day.
“Frank and I received the call: don’t quit your day job just yet,” laughed Veer. “I still ended up staying in seventh position … Frank and I are still here and it kinda bonded us for life.”
Veer said she originally planned not to run until 2007, but when the election signs went up she was convinced to throw her hat in the 2004 pool of 25 council candidates. She won re-election twice, in 2007 and in 2010.
Veer said she did not run for councillor with the intention to use it as a stepping stone for the mayor’s job but she has known for a few years it was her next goal. She said she had to make some adjustments when she moved from party politics to municipal politics. Unlike party politics, there were no briefings on issues in municipal politics so elected officials have to land on their own opinions.
“Once I adjusted to that I actually grew very fond of the strength of municipal government and that you can form your own opinion,” she said. “And it is the closest government to the people.”
Veer said throughout the years she has been encouraged to seek the office of mayor, and to set her sights on provincial and federal seats.
She hasn’t closed the door on pursuing federal or provincial office, down the road.
“I think it’s hard to look too far out in politics because you depend so much on the favour of the public,” she said. “You have to take it one term at a time.”
On Oct. 21, Veer made history by becoming the youngest mayor in Red Deer’s history. She is the city’s second female mayor (Gail Surkan was the first).
“It’s an exciting time because our city just turned 100,” said Veer. “I think it is an exciting time to be the mayor as we enter our next century of progress.”
Politics aside, Veer says she’s just a regular person with a passion for cooking, running and gardening. Last year, she strutted her stuff in the local charity dance competition.
“This taught me it’s important to set time aside to learn something new and step outside your comfort zone,” said Veer. “In that case I had never danced. I grew so much as a person because it forced me to step outside my comfort zone.”
Veer said she didn’t want to live with the regret of saying no. She said it was a good lesson leading up to the mayoral campaign.
For those pondering elected office, Veer offers some advice.
“You need to know who you are and stay true to who you are,” said Veer. “I think you need to resolve that before you enter the political arena.”
Veer encourages anyone with an interest to have an eye on the community because she said politics needs to be about the people.
“My personal view is that politics have to be about the people and about community service,” said the mayor.