Michael Bramadat-Willcock, Local Journalism initiative Reporter
Lac La Ronge regional pride committee advocate, former professional figure skater and television producer Colin Ratushniak was elected mayor of La Ronge on Monday, winning 52 per cent of the vote in a four way race.
As La Ronge’s first openly gay mayor Ratushniak plans to dismantle the previous council’s “old boys club” way of doing things and to take a “more positive” approach to municipal politics in La Ronge.
“It’s very evident what the people wanted. They wanted someone who is going to be a go-getter, who is going to bring change and a new perspective,” Ratushniak told the Daily Herald after results were confirmed on Tuesday.
Known for a 2011 appearance in the TV show “Dancing on Ice” alongside skating partner, U.K. television presenter Laura Hamilton, the mayor-elect comes from careers as a professional figure skater and television producer.
Ratushniak toured with “Disney on Ice” for five years. After moving into television he produced ‘Big Brother’ in the U.K and then moved back to Toronto, where he worked on specialty programming like ‘etalk,’ for CTV and the ‘Much Music Video Awards.’
Originally from Thompson, Manitoba, Ratushniak moved to La Ronge when he made a career change in his early 30s to become a pilot. But running for mayor didn’t cross his mind until this year.
“Not in a million years, I really did not ever think that I would get to this point, but I have always marched to the beat of my own drum,” Ratushniak said.
“Eventually if you’re doing the right thing, you’re kind, you’re generous and you’re constantly giving back, people are going to dance to that tune. I’m happy that people are wanting to come along with my vision and my hopes and dreams for the future.”
Ratushniak now works as a pilot with Transwest and fitness supervisor at the Jonas Roberts Memorial Community Centre.
He also coaches the La Ronge Figure Skating Club and he won’t put down those jobs now that he’s mayor.
“I ran on more programs for youth, young adults and families so I think it’s a huge advantage for me to stay in my position and keep providing those things that La Rongians want but hopefully do it on a bigger scale,” Ratushniak said.
Outgoing mayor Ron Woytowich did not seek re-election this term and congratulated Ratushniak on his win although the two have never met in person.
“Quite frankly I’m pretty happy. I don’t know who this new mayor is. I’ve never met him, but I’m happy,” Woytowich told the Daily Herald on Tuesday.
“Even though council did a lot of good things there was too much dysfunction in operations that really impacted the staff more than anything. I’m not left wing at all but it really was right wing versus everybody else.”
Woytowich, who is also executive director at the Kikinahk Friendship Centre, had pushed for a year-round, overnight homeless shelter in the downtown core as part of his legacy as mayor.
He also hoped for an amalgamation with the neighbouring municipalities of Air Ronge and Eagle Point but has contented himself with a good fiscal record.
“We were careful with the money. Number one is operating everything properly without raising taxes for the taxpayer,” Woytowich said.
Woytowich warned that since neither the new mayor nor the majority of council have previous experience there will be a steep learning curve.
Acknowledging the learning curve, Ratushniak said he’s hoping the fresh faces on council will also bring more cohesiveness to decision making in the town.
“I think it’s exactly what La Ronge wanted. I think they wanted a diverse number of voices at the table,” Ratushniak said.
“Fresh perspectives are going to come from some of the other new councillors as well. I’m really excited to see how that’s going to go…. I think we’re going to be able to have a healthy debate, weigh the pros and cons of things and make some healthy decisions.”
Those new faces are Viviana Ruiz Arcand, Abby Besharah and Ryan Veteri. One-time mayor Joe Hordyski was elected to council on a platform to fight corruption.
Only Saskatchewan NDP organizer Jordan McPhail and local businessman Hugh Watt were re-elected to council for another term.
“I think with the people sitting at the table after the final results were released this morning we’ve achieved a level of diversity that I think is unparalleled in our municipality,” McPhail told the Daily Herald on Tuesday.
“I think it means that we’re at a place where we can start to tear down some of the walls that were previously there and the perceptions of what people can and cannot do because of their race, gender or sexual orientation. The Town of La Ronge is a shining example of that… This council is one of the most diverse that I’ve seen.”
McPhail said there was an increase in public engagement around municipal politics and that he saw a lot of new voters make their way to the ballot box this year.
“I think that’s reflected in the election results,” McPhail said.
In 2017 council voted down a motion put forward by McPhail to raise a pride flag at the municipal council building.
The motion passed six to one in 2019 and when his bid to fly the pride flag was unanimously approved this year, Ratushniak saw it as a sign that La Ronge is ready for change.
“We went to the council chamber and when I saw the number of people that showed up, I knew that there was support and people that also wanted that representation at the table that they weren’t getting,” Ratushniak said.
“It was a huge day when we finally were able to show those council members that it doesn’t matter who you are or who you love… We all want positive things for our community.”
Ratushniak ultimately ran on a more progressive platform. He said he will revisit plans for a year-round homeless shelter in the downtown core that was voted down by the previous town council, but that can’t happen until next year. Until then, Drifter’s Motel has stepped up to house shelter clients who are homeless this winter.
He also promised to ensure fairness and transparency in regards to land-sales and contract allocations that are approved by council.
The new team’s first order of business is to work on a long-term economic plan.
“I do see La Ronge as being a hub and a gateway to the north and we shouldn’t be a bypass to Prince Albert or Saskatoon for services,” Ratushniak said.
“I think we have the talent, we have the space and we have the infrastructure that we can make that happen here. If we put out a proper plan we can be that hub and that destination of choice for people.”
But above all he said the win means a lot for equal representation in northern Saskatchewan.
“It’s a huge deal. Here’s the thing, being gay is just a part of who I am. I think people elected me because they saw me as a person who was going to represent them,” Ratushniak said.
“Once you meet a marginalized person and you actually have a conversation with them and you can connect on that human level and realize that they’re just a person like anybody else I think that’s when you have growth. People realize that the world can be a better place with a little bit of love and acceptance.”