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8-term West Van councillor receives highest municipal honour

West Vancouver’s most successful local politician is carrying a rarely granted honour into his retirement.
Former West Vancouver council member Bill Soprovich participates in a council debate, April 15, 2019. | Cindy Goodman / North Shore News files

West Vancouver’s most successful local politician is carrying a rarely granted honour into his retirement.

The newly minted council voted unanimously Monday to bestow former council member Bill Soprovich with the Freedom of the Municipality – the highest honour the local government gives to residents who have distinguished themselves through community service over a long period of time.

Soprovich served 26 years on council, having run in and won every election from 1996 to 2018. When the last ballot was counted in the Oct. 15 election, Soprovich had placed eighth, two positions back from his usual seat on council.

In a tribute, Mayor Mark Sager offered a window into Soprovich’s longevity in local politics, starting with how he engaged with constituents.

“He noticed his phone bill was getting outrageously large and so he decided rather than taking all of the phone calls, he would go and meet the people in person. And that was his brand,” Sager said. “He developed a reputation as the guy who would always go out and meet the issues face on.”

Sager credited Soprovich with a great number of initiatives in West Van, including important roles in the development of the Gleneagles Community Centre and the West Vancouver Aquatic Centre, adding a heat exchange system to the district so heat from the arena’s compressor system could be used to warm up the pool, and most recently, spurring the district to ban the use of rodenticides on municipal property.

“Bill, you have always been known for being respectful. You respect other cultures, other people. You’re really, at heart, the champion of people in our community – a true gentleman, a wonderful sense of humor, and you always stay true to your values,” Sager said.

In nine council campaigns, West Vancouver citizens marked an X next to Soprovich’s name on their ballots 51,608 times.

Although now a civilian, Soprovich was permitted one more speech in the council chamber. In it, Soprovich said the 26 years “flew by.”

He also paid tribute to the civil servants he worked with on so many initiatives over the decades.

“Through my experience with the ins and outs of political life with a staff, I found the staff in this municipality to be the best in Canada,” he said. “When you had a quality staff working for you, everything got a little easier.”

He saved his highest praise though for West Vancouver’s citizens.

“I always put you up there in the highest esteem and that never went away,” he said. “I want you to recognize the fact that, as I go off into the sunset, I feel very good about the time.”

The honour also comes with the title “Freeman of the Municipality of West Vancouver” and free access to district functions and facilities for life, which in the current case means the Seniors’ Activity Centre and a FitPass for district rec facilities.

West Vancouver council has granted the Freedom of the Municipality just nine times since1982, mostly for past mayors and council members, including Donald Lanskail and Patricia Boname. Late artist Gordon Smith was the last West Vancouverite granted the honour, in 2009.