When Dave Stockdale was a schoolboy in England, he asked a question and his classmates sniggered.
The phys. ed. instructor had just told the boys that they would soon have to start showering after class. Eleven-year-old Stockdale asked what seemed a simple question: would he now have to start bringing his swimsuit to school?
Boys being boys, his classmates teased him for daring to ask such a thing. As Stockdale tells it, this was the very last time he ever cared what anyone thought of his questions, and he’s been asking whatever he pleases ever since.
The cantankerous city councillor immigrated to Canada in 1965 and originally ended up teaching in northern Alberta before coming to Whitehorse.
Call it cliche, but he came North looking for adventure and a challenge, much to his mother’s chagrin.
“I saw an ad for teachers in Northern Alberta. At the bottom of the ad, in black print, it said, ‘no weaklings need apply.’ Well, I mean I was 25 years old and I wanted to travel,” he said.
He’d originally planned to join the army, but when that didn’t work out Stockdale decided to take a gamble on Canada.
“My mother wasn’t pleased. She started collecting all these photos of the worst aspects of Canada. She found one of a horse trailer hauling a huge block of ice, and said ‘Look. That’s going to be your water supply,’” he said, chuckling.
Upon arriving in Whitehorse as a phys. ed. teacher, Stockdale immersed himself in city life working not only at school but also getting involved with city soccer and other sports. Prior to his first term on city council, in 1983, it was then-city councillor Conrad Boyce who suggested Stockdale should run, and agreed to be his campaign manager.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend my Monday nights hearing about garbage and dogs, but he convinced me,” Stockdale said.
“It wasn’t so much a challenge or a vision I had for the city. I was just involved. I was interested in issues that related to the city. Once I got on I found it even more interesting,” he said.
Once ensconced at the council table, Stockdale has never left. He’s won 11 consecutive terms. As of January this year, he became the longest-serving politician in the Yukon’s history, having completed 30 years of public life.
During his first term, things went a little more roughly than he’d expected, Stockdale said.
“It was a little overwhelming. The media always seemed to be so critical, and I always took things personally.”
But, perhaps leaning on the lessons learned at school, Stockdale soon started letting things roll off his back. He’s since come to endear many observers with his uncensored speech and questions. His unabashed frankness is at times funny and surprising, like the time he asked about why council wanted to build condos for ducks.
The question before council was whether they should spend money creating nesting boxes for ducks near the city sewage lagoon.
“It seems funny that we would have these little boxes for ducks to winter in,” Stockdale said at the time. “What did they do before, I mean when they didn’t have the boxes?”
As usual, Stockdale was unfazed by the chuckles that followed.
“I ask questions because I genuinely want to know the answers,” Stockdale said.
Stockdale is also willing to risk being called “flip-flopper” because he’s willing to change his mind. It’s an important – if undervalued – characteristic, he said.
“When they moved to change council meetings to 5:30, I fought it tooth and nail,” he said. “But now I love it.”
After 30 years on council, Stockdale has weathered many a political storm, from the contentious decision to allow a WalMart in the city, to the city’s anti-smoking bans, to last week’s four-to-three vote to sell properties along the Clay Cliffs.
He’s no stranger to controversy, and isn’t afraid of continuing. Though he will be 74 for the next election in 2015, he wouldn’t rule out running again.
“I have a great title for a book I want to write one day. Someone said I should have done it after I won my 10th seat, but I hope it’s not too late. I could call it Ten Turns at the Trough. Or, 11 now, I guess,” he said, chuckling.
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