In the 1980s, Nelson, British Columbia, was in a depression after its lumber mill and university closed. Now, it’s a thriving cultural centre. Donna Macdonald, more than any other individual politician, can be credited with that makeover.

First elected in 1988, she spent 19 years on council and was the flag bearer for things considered to be irrelevant back when she started, like the arts, nature, civil discourse, and the voices of women. She retired in 2014.

surviving-city-hallIn her memoir Surviving City Hall Macdonald explores a few of her legacies, including the waterfront pathway, user-pay recycling and the annual cultural ambassador award. But the real focus of the book is her struggle with what democracy is, and how to be a leader who is both “nice, and tough.” She puzzled over those things, lost sleep over them, all against a backdrop of sewage, potholes, labour disputes, dogs, business licence fees, budgets, parks, armchair critics and public art.

One of the book’s highlights is her discussion about the foibles and strengths of the five male mayors she served under, and she is kind to two of them with whom she had difficult backroom struggles. There are some entertaining political stories interspersed with generous and thoughtful advice to politicians, would-be politicians and people who want to be better citizens.

– Review written by Bill Metcalfe. Surviving City Hall is published by Nightwood Editions. Feature image ©Shaw TV.