In her two years in the hallowed halls of the old Vernon Senior Secondary School, not once did Debra Bossert (née Bork) envision a career in politics.
Bossert wanted to work with children, or be a veterinarian or a vet’s assistant. And she did become the latter after a move to Alberta a few years after graduating from VSSS in 1981.
No, the thought of being a politician was a long, long way from her mind.
“I’ve never been a political person. I still consider myself a non-politician,” laughed Bossert, who has spent the past nearly nine years serving as a councillor for the City of Drayton Valley, an oil and gas community located in central Alberta, about 130 kilometres southwest of Edmonton.
She’s not seeking re-election for a third full term as Alberta holds its municipal elections Monday.
“I felt it was time for some new voices to be at the table, for different strategies and different ideas,” said Bossert.
So how did she begin her political career?
Well, first, let’s hark back to the ‘80s.
Bossert attended Okanagan College to study early childhood education. She moved to Kelowna and then found her way to Alberta where she studied animal sciences through correspondence. She landed in Wetaskiwin and worked for a veterinary clinic for a number of years and also worked retail. She married a beef and bison rancher and settled on a ranch west of the city.
The couple had two daughters: Michelle, now 26, and Kathryn, now 23. The marriage, however, didn’t last and Bossert and her girls moved to Drayton Valley because of the city’s excellent school system.
She opened a business, a combination bridal boutique-alterations-sewing school operation and threw herself into volunteering.
“For me, volunteer service is very much a part of who I am today and my faith,” said Bossert. “It felt natural to be within the community.”
She volunteered at a variety of groups and organizations, working in family violence, with the homeless, seniors, and physician recruitment and retainment.
It was during her volunteer duties that people started to say to Bossert, ‘you should run for city council.’
“I was regularly approached by people to run for council. I would ask them why they want me to run and they said ‘you are eloquent, have a good head on your shoulders and care about people. I didn’t disagree,” said Bossert. “I gave it a lot of thought.”
The first time she was asked was in 2007, but she declined as her daughters were still in school and she was busy running her business. But when a council seat became vacant in a by-election in 2009, Bossert listened to the people, ran for the seat and won the by-election with 52 per cent of the vote to launch her political career. She was since re-elected to two full terms.
Since serving on Drayton Valley council, Bossert has been deputy mayor and part of many committees. During her last term, she was the lead council appointment to external committees on physician recruitment and retention, family and community support services, waste management, sustainability and her passion – something that hits close to her hometown these days – homelessness.
“I was displaced from my home because of a fire and I was at risk of being homeless because of my economic situation,” she said. “I believe every person should have safe, protective housing and reliable health care. It’s a basic premise for every human being.”
Glenn McLean is the outgoing mayor of Drayton Valley – he, too, decided not to seek re-election – and has worked side by side with Bossert for the past term, and when she started on council.
McLean said the community will miss Bossert’s passion for the job.
“She wears her heart on her sleeve,” said McLean, a lawyer. “Her stepping down will leave a big gap. She has extensive knowledge and her sensitivity to critical issues in our community has been huge. She’s an astute listener and advocate.”
If there was one regret in her nearly nine years on council, it’s that her energy levels and abilities to listen and advocate took a hit early on in her tenure. Bossert was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer (now in remission) in 2010, and she also battles a rare auto immune disease: hypogammaglobulinemia.
“I struggled a lot,” she said. “If I could do it again, it would be to serve without cancer.”
When her health permits, Bossert is an avid gardener and a doting grandmother. She will be basically unemployed come Oct. 16 (though she said she’ll be working about seven hours a week as an English as a second language instructor).
But, Bossert said, she will still be volunteering.
“I’m going to continue to work on homelessness, and I’ll likely do more volunteer work in the multi-cultural and newcomers sectors,” said Bossert, who loved serving her community, and continues to be amazed by her foray into municipal politics.
“Municipal politics is not for the faint of heart or thin of skin,” she said. “It’s a challenging position.”