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Councillor exit interviews: Qaqish says best part of the job was making a difference daily

Coun. Michael Qaqish (centre) accepts a photo of the Chapman Mills Conservation Area as a farewell gift from Mayor Jim Watson and city manager Steve Kanellakos at a ceremony before council on Wednesday. Christopher Whan / Global News

After nearly a decade at city hall, including a four-year term as councillor for Gloucester-South Nepean, Micheal Qaqish is set to vacate his seat after falling to incumbent Carol-Anne Meehan in October’s municipal election.

Qaqish has spent the better part of the last 10 years at Ottawa city hall. He began as a staffer for his predecessor on council, Steve Desroche, and then as a staffer for David Chernushenko during last term.

Qaqish was the second councillor ever to represent the ward as it was newly created in 2006 with the combining of Bell-South Nepean and Gloucester-Southgate.

Global News had a chance to sit down with Qaqish at his city hall office this week to discuss what’s next, what he’s most proud of and what he loved most about being an Ottawa city councillor.

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This interview was edited for length and clarity.

So what’s next for Micheal Qaqish?

That’s a good question. I’m not sure yet. I’m talking to a lot of people and working with a couple of headhunters and try to finger out the next step in terms of transition.

I’ve been talking to a lot of other people who have made the transition in terms of elected officials transitioning into something. The main advice I’ve received is to not rush into anything and that there’s lots of opportunities out there.

I think I need to clear my head a bit. Obviously, going through the campaign and the outcome was not the greatest experience. At the same time, I always believe that everything happens for a reason and when one door closes another opens.

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Alright, so looking back on your term, what are you most proud of?

As you may know, our ward is very geographically awkward. It’s like a key that goes from Bank Street to Barrhaven, so there are different specific things in every community that I can point to that I’m proud of.

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When I look at Findlay Creek, the biggest thing there by far is infrastructure, so what we did this term is we advanced Bank and Lietrim modifications that were originally supposed to happen next year. Originally, when I was first elected, Bank Street wasn’t going to be touched until 2025 in the transportation master plan so we advanced that by working closely with the local landowners there, as well as Coun. Darouze. We’ve opened up new parks there. We worked closely with the province to open up a school there, Vimy Ridge Public School.

So all of these little things, I think, have made the community a better place than it was four years ago.

When I look at Riverside South, I look at the advancement of the recreational complex. Again, nothing was in the plans when I first got elected. Design is now underway.

We also worked hard to bring the LRT closer to the heart of Riverside South.

For me, these projects are what I’m most proud of when I reflect on the last four years.

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Is there anything you can point to in the community and think “yeah, I had an impact here”?

Certainly, when I go to places and I see the parks, I see something where we consulted with residents and we saw it to construction.

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In terms of roads. I see the Prince of Wales intersection, the Greenbank widening, and the Chapman Mills BRT, which increased bus service to the area in over a decade.

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This was your first term as councillor. Was there anything about the job you didn’t expect?

I’ve been at city hall for 10 years, six years as a political staffer with my predecessor and a little over a year with David Chernushenko, which was where I was when I resigned to run for office. So I’m unique in the sense that I was behind the scenes and I knew what to expect.

Certainly, though, one of the biggest challenges of being in office is the running around and the time, or lack thereof, for your personal life. You’re out there 24/7 and you’re always on the go, you’re always on your phone.

You know, with this day and age of social media and all that you’re always hearing from people, you never really have time to step back, you’re always go go go. It’s a lot of work but I enjoyed it and I loved every minute of it. I don’t have any regrets whatsoever about doing it.

Do you think you’ll run for office again in the future?

I don’t rule it out. The short answer is I loved this job and I’m not going to say no to running again.

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I don’t know where I’ll be in four years or whether or not I’ll want to come back. But I’m not necessarily done with community service and I know that no matter where I go after this I’m going to stay involved and stay in the community.

I think that the most rewarding and most satisfying part of this job is that you can make a difference in a constituent’s life. To know that we’re able to help, even if it’s a minor thing like a pothole in the street or helping refugees find housing and resources to help them settle in the community, you know you’re helping.