Chilliwack Frasser Canyon - Bob Besner 

Retired Lieutenant-Colonel brings life, business experience

Manitobans proudly remember the summer of 1999 as the year they hosted the best ever Pan American Games.

Bob Besner was key to making that their lasting memory.

As the military point man who set up and ran the operations centre for the Games, which is the communications and problem-solving hub, Besner was crucial to Manitoba hosting a successful event.

He was in charge of 37 venues spread throughout southern Manitoba as 5,000 athletes from 42 different countries competed against each other in the Games.

"I think I’m used to handling a lot of balls in the air at the same time," said Besner modestly at a small table in the Pemberton Hotel last week.

"I don’t want to belittle the role of an MP but it’s something I’m quite prepared to do."

Besner is the Liberal candidate for the Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon riding.

Though he has been asked to run for office in the past, the timing was never right until this spring.

"One of the big catalysts that made me go this way this time is Paul Martin actually," he said.

"Partly because of my military background, I’ve… see(n) within the military good leadership examples and poor leadership examples and I see in Paul Martin good leadership.

"I see some good decision making. I see a person who has a lot of life and business experience behind him and then he decided to enter politics late in life, I guess a little like me. So he’s able to bring some dimension of reality and life experience to the process."

Besner’s 25-year experience as an air force officer in the Canadian military gave him a breadth of experiences, stretching from one end of Canada to the other, as well as a four-year stint overseas in Germany.

"I think what the military has taught me of course is taking ownership of yourself and being self-reliant but also understanding what responsibility, what duty, what honour, integrity and all those words mean," said Besner.

The career also gave him the chance to get up close and personal with the Ottawa political machine during two separate postings at fairly senior positions in the capital city.

The exposure showed him some of the good parts of the political system, such as when ministers and their staff really understand an issue and how to push it through the system.

But he also saw some of the bad things too, where decisions are made for purely political reasons which seem to fly in the face of all logic and evidence.

"I think it’s human nature to say ‘well if only I had the chance I would do it this way,’" he said.

"I’m taking the chance. I’m stepping forward and saying ‘hey, it’s my turn. I think I can do this.’"

Besner said he’s not interested in solving the country’s problems; that’s a job for the government to do collectively.

Rather, he’s taking a community approach.

When he retired from the military in 1996, after moving from place to place for over a quarter of a century, Besner was happy to settle down in Chilliwack, B.C.

He had never before had the chance to really be a part of a community, other than his military community.

The best way to immerse himself in the Chilliwack community was to be a part of one of its key organizations, namely Chilliwack Community Services.

For five years, from 1998 to 2003, Besner was chair of the board for Chilliwack Community Services, which administers 50 different programs on a $4 million budget.

"The board is responsible for quite a lot," he said.

"The board sets policy. It’s the connection between the agency and the community."

One thing he has learned throughout his time on the board is that preventative medicine is critical to a healthy society.

As such Besner is encouraged by Martin’s plan to invest $5 billion in child care and child development.

Spending this money now, he said, will save the health system, the justice system and the social services system billions of dollars years down the road.

The father of three grown children, Besner has been enjoying his time on the campaign trail in what he calls "the prettiest riding in Canada."

He said Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon needs a strong MP who will work with the prime minister to get things accomplished.

"This riding, even in its old form, has been represented by opposition members," he said.

"And as great guys as they are or as keen as they are to get things done, that nature of the beast is it’s more difficult to get things accomplished as an opposition member and so there are issues that have long gone unresolved because of that."


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