4 min

Taking part in our evolution

Alex Munter is a strong voice for our community

SWORN IN. In 1994, Alex Munter became Kanata's sole representative on Ottawa-Carleton Regional Council. Credit: Shawn Scallen

On Jan 9, City Councillor Alex Munter announced that he would not seek re-election in Kanata, nor would he enter the mayoral race later this year. After 12 years in municipal politics, Munter has decided it is time for a change.

Munter spoke to Capital Xtra about his career, his decision to “retire” and the motivating factors behind his choice.

Capital Xtra: Why did you decide to leave office?

Councillor Alex Munter: I think that we all reach the point in our lives that the time comes to do “the next thing.”

I’m 34, and at the end of this year, that will make 12 years in government. The last time I wasn’t a city councillor, I was a teenager.

(Munter graduated from the University of Ottawa a year after he was elected to Kanata City Council for the first time in 1991.)

We can all think of politicians who have overstayed their welcome. I think it’s best to leave ’em wanting more.

CX: What do you want to be when you grow up? Have you thought about other careers you’d like to explore?

AM: That’s an exciting question. What this stage of the process feels like is a blank canvas, and I can paint anything I want. It’s totally exciting and exhilarating.

I’m not making any decisions right now. I’m talking to lots of people about lots of different things. By dint of personality and inclination, I need to do work that is engaged with people.

Obviously, I’m interested in public policy and health care, but I’m honestly not precluding anything. I may run for elected office again, but until then, I’d like to do something different.

CX: Since this is your first time looking for work since you finished university, will you follow the popular path of teaching English in Japan for a year?

AM: I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on that, but you never know. That has not made the top of the office pool yet.

CX: You have been a strong voice for and in the gay community, as well as on social issues in general. Is there anyone on council to whom you can pass the torch?

AM: There are a lot of people here who are passionate advocates for a fair, decent, healthy and livable city.

Before I was on council, there were people who worked towards that goal; after I leave council, there will be people who will champion those goals. Ottawa is fundamentally a caring, compassionate community.

CX: Not only are you a senior member of City Council, you have also acted as MC and advocate for gay and lesbian organizations and events throughout your political career. Do you feel that your presence, both on council and in the community, has helped to shape the gay and lesbian community or its organizations?

AM: When I was a teenager in the 1980s and realizing that I was a gay person, I had a very strong sense that being gay meant I was limited. Certainly, being an elected person and a gay person was something I would have viewed as unlikely.

I would hope that I have been one small part of a larger evolution that says to today’s lesbian and gay teenagers that they are only limited by the scope of their imaginations and the breadth of their skills.

CX: You were one of the first out politicians in Canada, and certainly in the National Capital Region. Do you think that had an impact on your views or your career?

AM: It’s certainly had an impact on my life, which is more important.

I certainly believe that society has evolved – we’ve certainly reached a point where we’ve eliminated the respectability of homophobia.

CX: Will you maintain as high a profile in the community after you leave politics?

AM: It really does depend on what the next role I take on will be. I was involved in the GLBT community before I was elected. I expect to be involved after I leave office. What form that will take, I don’t know.

CX: Do you think the gay and lesbian community’s view of the police, and vice versa, has changed during your time in office? Do you feel that your work on the Police Services Board played any part in that?

AM: The real heroes in our community on this issue are people like David Pepper, Carroll Holland and former police chief Brian Ford. What happened here was a community mobilization, led by David and Carroll, which was met by a response from Chief Ford.

I’m proud of the steps that have taken place, including the joint Ottawa-Carleton police choir and Ottawa Gay Men’s Chorus concert on June 20.

CX: Ottawa has not had the same kinds of active problems between the local police and the gay and lesbian community. Do you think the Ottawa Police are more aware of the differences in the ways members of the gay and lesbian community often end up being treated?

AM: If you mean big celebrated incidents like the (Goliath’s) bathhouse raids in Alberta, Ottawa hasn’t had that.

The problem in the late 1980s was that there were a couple of high-profile hate crimes where the police were viewed as, for lack of a better term… there was ignorance, but not malevolence on their part.

CX: How did your family and friends respond to your decision to resign?

AM: Without exception, the people closest to me in my life agreed that it was time for a new challenge. It kind of started percolating as an idea last summer, and I spent a lot of time thinking about it over the holidays.

CX: You mentioned in your resignation announcement that your political career had sometimes come at a “painful personal price.” Would you care to elaborate?

AM: I think that this kind of work pushes out one’s personal life and the people in one’s personal life.

CX: You and your former partner Matthew Ball broke up in 2001.

AM: The end of a relationship is a complicated thing; there are always many factors. I wouldn’t say that this job was the reason, but it’s hard to be a good partner and a good politician.