The current St. Anthony mayor confirmed his decision not to run for re-election during a public council meeting in May.
However, that doesn’t mean his political career his necessarily over. He tells the Northern Pen he’s not ruling out a potential foray into provincial politics in the near future.
Simms has been involved in municipal politics since the 1990s. He served an initial four-year term as a St. Anthony councillor from 1993 to 1997. He has served three terms as mayor, from 2001 to 2005, 2009 to 2013, and 2013 to 2017. Except for a six-month leave of absence between 2013 and 2017, he has been mayor of St. Anthony for 11.5 years.
Simms decided not to run for re-election because he feels a fresh perspective is needed on council. He said the town needs a mayor more in tune with changes ongoing in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I mean, I’m getting up there. I’ll be 64 years old this fall, so my ideas are probably a lot older than some of the people out there looking for things I don’t necessarily think about,” he told the Northern Pen. “I’d like to see someone there with a better understanding than I do of where we’re going with technology, where we’re going with services, what populations and people require now.”
“We’re looking at walking trails, dog parks, newer technologies to operate stadiums – I’d like to see someone there who is young and ready to push ahead for those things with a lot more energy than I got, because my energy is starting to wane.”
Successes and disappointments during Simms’ tenure
Reflecting back on his time on council and as a mayor, Simms notes there have been plenty of successes and disappointments, with many challenges still to overcome.
Simms feels there is plenty for him and his fellow councillors to be proud of. Through the work of council, staff, public workers, and residents of the community, he believes St. Anthony has become one of the more prosperous towns in the province with its type of population.
“You won’t find the recreation facilities or the services that we have here anywhere else in this province, I’ll guarantee you that. We have a great town of people working together, and determining where we’re going, what we’re doing.”
Through his work with council, as well as the Port Authority and Rising Sun Developers, they have facilitated significant development in St. Anthony harbour, which is still ongoing with more work to come.
They have added a new arena with the Polar Centre, and introduced new snow-clearing and water and sewer equipment to service the town.
By partnering with College of the North Atlantic, they have developed technology where every waterline, fire hydrant, or curb stop are locatable by GPS for town workers.
They have also paved a number of side roads, and more pavement is supposed to come later this year.
“We’re able to do those things because financially, we’ve worked together to achieve what we needed,” said Simms.
However, not everything has gone smoothly. One disappointment was the loss of the air ambulance service when it was relocated from St. Anthony to Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“That was a big blow,” said Simms. “I took that as a personal affront. Even though it was a political move, I looked at that as a fuss between two people, and it caused us to lose a very essential service to this area and there was no need of it.”
Economically, things aren’t looking good for the town with the fishery, said Simms, but he feels there are some opportunities available with cod and other species.
“I’d like to make sure this is something we can take advantage of, and we are preparing for that,” he said. “As I speak today, we’re looking at the future with the cod fishery and turbot and halibut and everything else that you can find.”
Simms hopes the next council will continue to develop the fish processing facility, “to put us forward as a place to be.”
Considering provincial politics and the future
Politics may still be in Simms’s future as he is leaving open the possibility of running for a seat in the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly.
“I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to get into provincial politics,” he told the Northern Pen. “I’ve never really had the opportunity, but I don’t think I’m over the hill. I just want a new challenge, and that’s what I’m looking for. And if it comes through provincial politics, I just may. You never know.”
He does not rule out a run for MHA in 2019. By stepping aside as mayor this September, he has a couple years to decide if this is something he wants to pursue. If there’s an opportunity for him to work and advance this area on the Northern Peninsula, he said that’s something worth considering.
“I was born here, I love this area,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any area of the province that can offer as much as we do. It offers a lot of opportunities and these haven’t really been addressed.”
He feels government needs more of a vision to develop the area.
“I guess that’s for financial reasons and also vision, because some people you work with in government don’t necessarily have the vision they should regarding the areas they represent,” said Simms. “I’d like to move ahead and put this area where it should be. And I can see us moving a lot further ahead than where we are right now.”
He hasn’t decided which party he would hypothetically run for.
Simms looks forward to having free time to finish work on his home and his cabin. Along with his mayoral duties, he had also been working at St. Anthony Seafoods and St. Anthony Cold Storage.
He’s also looking forward to spending more time with his family – his wife, and two children, who are both in their twenties – and becoming a grandfather for a second time.
A show of appreciation
Simms will be leaving office with high regard for the people he’s worked with during his time as mayor.
“It’s not just me,” he said. “I’ve appreciated the councils I’ve worked with … they’ve had a lot of work to do and they’ve handled it well. The staff that I’ve worked with – I couldn’t ask for better. We’ve had great staffs over the years and we have great staff here now. Any time they need any help, advice, or anything like that, I’ll be around to help out.”
Along with the office staff, Simms credits the recreation workers, public workers, fire department, and others he said have been nothing but good to council and the community during his tenure.
“It certainly has benefitted me to work with great people,” he said, before issuing a “big thank you” to them all.