Qualicum Beach’s new CAO Daniel Sailland takes advantage of casual Friday and wears the t-shirt he earned participating in the Homelessness Action Week’s Sleep Outside Challenge last week.

THURSDAY SPOTLIGHT: Qualicum Beach’s new top employee at town hall

Daniel Sailland says he is looking to strengthen connections in the town

Age is but a number, but when the new CAO of Qualicum Beach is nearly 25 years younger than the average town resident (which according to Stats Can is 63.9, by the way), that number kind of stands out.

“It’s been the theme of my life,” said Sailland, 39, about being the young gun on staff.

But Sailland sees his age benefiting the town and asked that people keep an open mind. “When you have preconceptions, you pick it up on those preconceptions,” he said. In other words, if you think he’s too young, you’ll overlook the fact he has energy and accessibility to offer, as well as the fact he already has 16 years of senior management experience.

Sailland, who was raised in St. Gabriel de Valcartier, Que., beganworking as a young teen. Starting in the agricultural sector of his hometown, he then moved on to recreational programming while attending the local anglophone military school. The latter quickly led to a year as the Director of Sports, Culture and Recreation, his first major role in local government.

While Sailland had started taking post-secondary night classes in Quebec, working contract after contract with the CLSC — a health authority that also dealt with non-medical youth outreach programs — kept him from full-time studies. Eventually, though, he decided he needed to get his degree. So, at 23 he attended UVic, where he earned a BA in social psychology and philosophy in three years.

As fortune would have it, that’s also where he met his wife Bree, who is from Powell River.

After graduation and a three-year stint with the District of Saanich, Sailland knew that he was interested in moving forward in the field of local government. However, he “wanted to try and get into more business elements,” he said. “I was aware that government was being asked to behave in a more business-like way and so I thought rather than do a public administration degree, I would do a business degree.”

So, the couple moved to the UK. Sailland attended Warwick for his MBA and took an extension program of Geopolitics at école des Hautes Etudes Commerciales de Paris.

As he had in the past, Sailland then continued with contract work, but he soon found that type of lifestyle no longer suited his growing family. He wanted to be home at night, and he said Bree talked about wanting to move back home to B.C. As luck would have it, Sailland found a job as the Band Manager (which plays a similar role as a CAO) with the Lil’wat Nation near Pemberton.

“I thought it would be a very interesting and challenging environment that I could learn and offer my skills,” he said

During his four years with the Nation, which included a role leading up to the 2010 Olympic games, the Village of Pemberton had noticed Sailland’s work and asked him to apply for the CAO position. He did and he got the job.

As for finding his current role in Qualicum Beach, Sailland wasn’t looking to move. However, he saw there were a lot of things to work with. In particular, he mentioned opportunities for smart growth and an engaged community.

“I’m absolutely astounded how involved everyone is,” he said. “It does speak to the passion people have for the town.”

According to Coun. Dave Wille, Sailland was one of mor than 500 applicants for the CAO position. “What impressed us the most was his ability to communicate,” Willie said. “He left the room and we all looked at each other, pretty much saying, ‘Well, that’s the guy’ … We don’t always agree, but on this we did.”

So, Sailland and his family made the move to Qualicum on Aug. 30 and he jumped right into work three days later.

In this new role, Sailland also wants to look at the relationships between government and local business. The new CAO sees business and government, both of which he has worked in, as the two big movers and shakers of the world so it’s not a surprise he is interested asking “How do you marry the two sides?”

And while Sailland does have his own experiences to draw on, he also aims to draw on the expertise of the people he works with. Indeed, he sees his role as facilitating “effective networks and collaborations” between government, business and residents.

“My role is to implement a vision,” he explained. “It’s the government’s job to make that vision happen.”

But no matter where this new position leads, Sailland is happy with where he is. “I think it (local government) is a really fun industry to work in,” he explained. “You’re really dealing with larger issues, but you get to go home at night.”

Sailland said it wasn’t just the work that drew him and his family to Qualicum Beach. It was the lifestyle. There’s a sense of community here, he said. And when asked if he felt if the town had anything to offer his young family, he responded, “absolutely.” His kids (Maya, 8, and Ben, 5) are meeting new friends, Bree (who is on-call as an elementary school teacher) is part of a running club and Sailland plays drop-in soccer.

“I would encourage people to get to know their town more,” he said.

After all, it’s all about breaking preconceptions.

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