Most Pitt Meadows residents know something about their new mayor, John Becker, but his public life might be the least interesting aspect of this Harley riding rose-grower, who takes his mom to football games, and has collected the coolest Canucks memorabilia.
Publicly, he’s the glib local lawyer who had nine years of experience on council. In his first run for mayor, he was defeated by Deb Walters.
Admittedly humbled, he returned for another shot at the top office, and with the support of three incumbent councillors, he won the 2014 election.
“That would be my passion,” he says, and lays on his desk a photo of himself with a bicycle, decked out like he’s ready to take on the Tour de France.
This will be his fourth year in the Ride to Conquer Cancer – a two-day 240-km trek that takes participants almost to Seattle.
His wife Terry is a cancer survivor, having won her battle in 2007.
“She went through the treatment and chemo, some radiation treatment, a little bit of surgery,” he said. “She’s five years in, and she got very good treatment.”
He said it was a reality check.
“You always think it’s going to be somebody else. You never think of yourself getting older – everyone else does around you. And you never think you’re going to be one of those statistics – it’s always somebody else.”
His stepmother died of brain cancer, and friend Tom Murray died of pancreatic cancer.
“We all know people close to us who have died of cancer,” he said.
He became close with Murray, who was well known for his petition and campaign for a zero tax increase in Pitt Meadows.
“We respected each other, and shared the same kind of values. Since his passing, I have become closer to Norma. She and Tom wanted me to continue his mission, his drive to put some fiscal responsibility in the property tax issue.”
As for the Ride to Conquer Cancer, he and Terry have been longtime supporters – write a cheque, and go to the silent auction. But then they took it to another level, taking part in the ride with the Mack Kirk Roofing team.
It’s a grueling ride, and he bikes back and forth to work to train, when the weather is decent.
“And I get some really rude remarks from my friends and clients as I ride through town in my spandex bike shorts,” he said.
He’s also the other kind of biker.
Becker likes to get on his 2009 Harley Davidson CVO Electra Glide touring bike.
He dismisses the question as “old news,” but confirms that his rival for mayor, Michael Hayes, was once his motorcycle buddy. They took their hogs to the massive rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, each of the past two years, and planned to be on council together.
“He was going to run for council, and we talked about things – I’d run for mayor, he’d run for council and we’d do this that and the other thing, and the four Ts were being developed,” said Becker. “Then I find out on Facebook he’s running for mayor against me.
“It was disappointing. If you want to run, fine … but it was disappointing. That’s just politics.”
Will they ever ride together again?
Law and politics have been two professions that have traditionally gone together, but Becker said he didn’t plan to enter the latter.
“Not at all. I had, like most people, a healthy contempt for politicians.”
He worked with the federal Conservatives, the Reform Party, and the provincial Liberals.
When Grant McNally was MP, Becker was on the Reform Party constituency executive.
“They were looking for a lawyer – somebody to help them with the rules and regulations.”
When the Alliance was working on a merger with the Progressive Conservatives, Becker sat on a steering committee to manage the merger at the local level. He went to the first policy convention in Montreal.
He has worked on MP Randy Kamp’s campaign, and served as president of the local B.C. Liberal riding association.
Becker got involved in local politics in the late 1990s, when he became involved with controversial Swan-e-Set issue. The council of the day was approving a residential development with 600 houses, and its vision was not shared by the vast majority of the community, Becker said.
The level of complexity of the project was new to staff at city hall, and to council, it became almost overwhelming. Procedural errors were made, and that is where he got interested.
“For me, it was [about] the procedural irregularities on something that was going to change the face of this community forever,” he said. “It got me interested, and it got me engaged in the process,”
In 2002, there was a vacancy on council. He ran and won.
Another of Becker’s passions is sports, and he has obtained some great memorabilia. In his office, you can’t miss the big orange helmets, signed by the B.C. Lions after their last two Grey Cup wins.
He takes his mother Doreen to the CFL games, and the Prairie girl wears her Saskatchewan Roughriders jersey to goad the Lions fans.
Then there is a game-worn Trevor Linden jersey, framed on the wall, a Marcus Naslund helmet in a glass case, a Roberto Luongo signed goal stick, and a hockey stick signed by the entire Canucks team, from the 1994 Stanley Cup run.
He said the items were mostly purchased to support a charity.
“You’re the last name in a silent auction, so you go home with it.”
At home, in the Polder area, to unwind from the stress of city hall or a legal battle, Becker goes into the yard to work on some 25 or 30 rose bushes.
“I just grow them to feed the deer.
“I like working with my hands out in the garden. It’s different. It’s therapy,” he said.
“I like thinking, I like doing things. But every now and then I like to get out, and get my hands dirty.”
Becker has two kids. Eric, 26, is studying the culinary arts, and will be qualified as a restaurant management and chef. Ashley, 23, is pursing her degree and a career in early childhood education.
Becker is looking forward to his term as mayor, and says the team approach – Bruce Bell, David Murray, Janis Elkerton and Mike Stark all campaigned together with him – has created a tight-knit group.
“By virtue of having the four of them support me for mayor, we did a lot of things together during that campaign. We developed a shared set of values,” he said. “I trust these people implicitly.”
He said they have become friends, too.
“We went through the laughing, the tears, the yelling – the stresses of a campaign. And we have each other’s backs, to quote Mike Stark.
He said they won’t always agree.
“We’ve already voted against each other, but we know how to do that.”
His goal now is to bring councillors Bill Dingwall and Tracy Miyashita on board.
“One of the most important things for me is to build a team of seven, not rely on a majority of five. So we’ve got some work to do there.”