In conversation with
Tony Keats
Mayor of Dover, NL, Canada
Tony Keats, Mayor of Dover, Canada
Participants in the World Mayor Project were invited to question the winner of the 2023 World Mayor Community Award on a wide range of issues impacting his small community. Tony Keats was also asked about his 28 years as Mayor of Dover. He replies with sincerity and explains the contributions made by rural communities to the Canadian Way of Life

The Conversation

Question by Lisa F., Dave G. and Donielle K., Newfoundland and Labrador
What inspired you to get into politics and why have you stayed in municipal politics for so many years? Has your role as mayor changed during the years of your tenure?

Mayor Keats replies: My upbringing and having parents who instilled in me the importance of voting and getting involved in my community is what inspired me to get into politics. At a young age, I knew I had something to offer and contribute, I always wanted to make a difference and a positive impact in my community. When I first became a student advocate all of those years ago, I knew then this was what I was meant for. Now that all of those years have passed, I have come to realize that the satisfaction of knowing the small part I play in making a difference, not only in my community, but others throughout the province and country is most gratifying.

I have found that over the years my role as mayor has become more demanding. I am dealing with issues daily, issues that deal with and impact the lives of our residents that are becoming more of a concern than when I first started. Issues such as housing, climate change, and health and addiction just to name a few have become more prominent throughout the years.

Question by Eric M., Newfoundland and Labrador
Mayor Keats, many of your fellow citizens have praised your passionate support and strong leadership. Could you share with us a specific experience that reflects your deep commitment to the Dover community and how this commitment has positively impacted residents’ lives?

Mayor Keats replies: To understand my deep commitment to my community of Dover you must first understand that I entered this position 31 years ago with a great love for my community and its residents. I value the voices of all and believe that listening to every concern, good or bad, is of the utmost importance. Thinking of a specific experience is truly hard out of the many I have encountered but one that comes to mind is working with the other two levels of government to obtain the infrastructure needs within the community. Knowing that the residents were there not only for support but also for understanding makes the job I do worthwhile.

Question by Dwight D., Forestburg, NL
Is there any one instance or occurrence that you recall from your past, perhaps upbringing that impressed upon you the importance of public service and led to this life-long calling to serve in your community and beyond it?

Mayor Keats replies: Looking back over the years I will always remember having two political party election signs in my window as a child. My parents supported different candidates growing up as they believed in supporting the person who would be best suited to look after the needs of your community and province. I too believe in having a choice and choosing who you want to represent you and the community.

Question by Triffie P., Indian Bay, NL and Paula McD., NL
You have been involved in local politics from a young age and also involved with committees/organizations of provincial and federal status dealing with issues that affect municipalities. What would you say have been the biggest issue changes, in the focus, of each of these levels? If you have one regret, as the Town’s mayor, what would it be?

Mayor Keats replies: The biggest issue in my mind would be having, holding, and keeping our seat at the table to ensure we have a voice in the many issues we are facing daily. This includes housing, fresh and clean drinking water, wastewater, and many others. Without having a seat at the table to speak on these issues with other levels of government, we stand alone. In my experience it is better to work together, as a whole, to see changes for the better.

We now see the other two levels of government's willingness to come to the table and discuss those important issues with us and because of this, we see great results.

As for having any regrets as the Town’s mayor, I would say not having the ability to solve some of the issues as quickly as I would like. I find this to be one of the frustrating aspects of this role but strive to do what I can with what I am given.

Question by Amy, Newfoundland and Labrador
Municipal council work in rural areas is mostly voluntary but time-consuming. How do you balance your work, family, and municipal life to ensure success in each?

Mayor Keats replies: From day one I have made the promise not only to my family but to myself that family will come first over all others. It was very important to me to prioritize the three and although it is hard at times I would not change anything. In my opinion, coming into political life with that attitude is a recipe for success because you must always remember you do not enter alone but with your family supporting you.

Question by Amy, Newfoundland and Labrador
Do you consider yourself a role model and mentor? What advice would you offer to encourage others to participate in municipal council life?

Mayor Keats replies: Yes, I do. Saying it took time to get to that point and knowing that I can help and mentor others is so satisfying. I always look back over the years to when I was told to make a difference in my life and others. I believe in the good that people can do and it is so important to promote and encourage others. Mentoring has also allowed me to learn from new and upcoming leaders within our municipal sector. Support, giving advice, and sharing experiences are a few of the many rewarding aspects of this role.

Being patient, staying true to you, and fighting for what you want while also not listening to the negatives along with knowing that you are bettering your community will be one of the most gratifying experiences.

Question by Craig S., Torbay, NL
I know how passionate you are about your community and our province because I have seen you at work. During the pandemic, you started Cooking with the Mayor and after seeing what you were doing, I started doing something similar. It was very gratifying to share my recipes with people over Facebook.

So, my question is, what makes you such a great mentor to others in the municipal sector and why is it so important to you? You have certainly been a mentor to me.

Mayor Keats replies: I thank you for your kind words. Having many years under my belt with various help and mentoring from others, has shown me the importance of working together. Having people to guide you and lend a helping hand is what is needed to ensure we have great leaders coming up. Everyone is unique and has something different they bring to the table, hence why collaborating and sharing experiences are valuable assets. Knowing there is someone there to provide guidance and support when needed is essential for those just entering the municipal sector.

Question by Kathy B., Newfoundland and Labrador
What efforts are you taking to improve and encourage environmental conditions in your community?

Mayor Keats replies: Over the years due to the many adversaries of environmental and climate changes within our community we have realized using and placing an adaptation and mitigation lens to everything we do, such as when replacing ageing infrastructure with new and up-to-date systems. Protecting against sea level rising, flooding, preparedness and planning are vital issues I find to be of focus right now in our community.

Question by Sheilagh O’L., St. John’s, NL
In a time where we see many urban municipalities growing and many rural towns shrinking in population with struggles to provide adequate service to their residents, what aspect of your town do you feel contributes to the Canadian fabric and is worth fighting for and promoting?

Mayor Keats replies: According to Statistics Canada, Rural Canadians contribute a little over 25% to our country's GDP and help drive economic growth. My little community with just over 600 people and with only one industry which is a fish plant that ships out over 250 million tons of product yearly is one to be proud of. In saying that, if something had to happen to this industry it would be devastating to the residents and tax base. You must understand that making such a business a success boils down to having its residents/workers contribute to its operation.

Having such a great work ethic is a part of our community pride which also contributes to the Canadian fabric. Our people are our number one resource, one that is worth standing with and fighting for.

Question by: Charles B., Gambo, NL
Housing and climate change seem to be two of the most pressing issues facing the world today. While this may apply more to larger urban centres, do you see small towns have some potential for collaboration or do you see a more pressing issue facing smaller towns?

Mayor Keats replies:
I love your question, Charles. Housing and climate change are pressing issues for all, including urban and rural centres. No matter the size of the community, we must all be at the table to find solutions and tackle these important issues. Water and wastewater, as well as, connectivity are issues I find smaller towns have to deal with over larger urban areas. Again, this is why it is important to sit with others and discuss pressing issues as the ones mentioned.

Question by Andre Myers, Newfoundland and Labrador
What did you learn from your best practices mission to Bolivia about your municipality and others across NL and Canada?

Mayor Keats replies: The mission to Bolivia was an eye-opener and overall great experience. Learning how other municipalities in another country work and seeing first-hand how municipal leaders are so willing and excited to learn how we do things in our communities and country was very interesting. I have learned we take things for granted like the election process and the way our municipal government system is planned. There are so many differences between our practices and municipalities but by working together we drafted and created a good education and training plan toolkit. Through this collaboration, each municipality was left with more knowledge and a larger network for future challenges that can be worked on together.

Question by: Craig S., New York City, USA
Hi, I now live in NYC but grew up in a community similar to Dover, NL. While I could imagine moving back someday, many of the kids I went to school with have also left but with no intention of returning permanently. My question: What does Dover do to retain economically active people and does your town succeed in attracting families and people of working age?

Mayor Keats replies: It is always a struggle to attract families and people of working age to smaller communities but we have a lot to offer that larger centres may not. Most urban areas and larger communities have a fast-paced lifestyle with busy streets, however, our little community is friendly, quiet, and safe. We have updated connectivity issues regarding internet access as most rural communities are without or have limited access. We have recreational facilities such as walking trails, playgrounds, and parks and with being close to the Atlantic Ocean and wilderness, Dover also offers fishing, boating, hunting, and foraging to name a few.

Question by Terence D., Dover, NL
What can the Town do to offer more employment in the Town of Dover?

Mayor Keats replies: This is a great question. Not unlike other communities, we often find ourselves in a place trying to make sure to support our businesses within our community. We have been working with other communities, and the municipal, provincial, and federal representatives to look at this issue, not only as one community but as a collection of communities within our region. We must have essential internet access, better quality of life, and community-friendly spaces.

Making sure we have family needs, adding incentives, emphasizing the small town life, and safety, and making sure we have great infrastructure needs to satisfy businesses. When we obtain this, more employment will arise.

Question by Eric M., Newfoundland and Labrador
As a finalist for the 2023 World Mayor Prize, your recognition extends beyond Dover and encompasses all of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as nationally and internationally. How do you believe smaller communities, such as Dover, can uniquely contribute to the Canadian way of life, and what initiatives would you undertake to strengthen the connection and collaboration between these communities?

Mayor Keats replies: Although Dover is a smaller community, we along with others contribute to agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture. As mentioned in a previous question, Dover’s fish plant produces 250 million tons of product yearly that is shipped all over. Yes, it is on a smaller scale but we are still a contributing factor to the Canadian way of life. Adding to what other communities are doing and making sure to come together to discuss important ideas that affect all is one way to become stronger.

Question by Lisa F., Newfoundland and Labrador
How can Dover make a positive impact on the world?

Mayor Keats replies: Just because Dover is small in comparison to other communities and cities around the world, does not mean we are not making an impact. As a whole, its residents work towards climate change initiatives such as recycling, carpooling, and switching to alternative heat sources.
Although it may be on a smaller scale, when compared to other towns and cities we are doing our job of making a positive impact.

Question by Sheilagh O’L, St. John’s and Daniel B., Calgary
Why do you continue to pursue leadership as the mayor of the small town of Dover for as long as you have? (aka… what drives you to continue through some of our recent dark years of late?). You are still a young man. Do you have any political ambitions beyond Dover, NL? Canada needs people like you!

Mayor Keats replies: I have been asked this question several times and the answer is always the same: it is my true love for our community and its people. No matter how hard the job is at times, the satisfaction of knowing that I am making a difference not only in my community's life but the people that live within it. Through recent years, the challenges of the job and support from the people of Dover have driven me to work harder and strive for better. My heart is and will always be with the municipal government, but you never know what the future holds.

Question by Martin H., St. John’s, NL
What do you envisage Dover to be like in 30 years?

Mayor Keats replies: If I had the opportunity to look ahead 30 years, I believe Dover would be in a better place than it is today. I, along with others, will keep pushing forward the much-needed agenda to keep our community thriving and succeeding. I hope to leave my town in a better place than when I first started 31 years ago.

Tony Keats' pages: Tony Keats wins World Mayor Award | Essay by Tony Keats | Commendations for Tony Keats | Conversation with Tony Keats |

The City Mayors Foundation
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The World Mayor Project was conceived in 2004 by the City Mayors Foundation to raise the profile of mayors worldwide and honour those who have contributed exceptionally to local and urban affairs. Mayors must carry out their duties selflessly and beyond reproach. The Project has no association with any city or organisation and is run on philanthropic lines. Any kind of revenue is NOT sought and will be rejected if offered. DETAILS

Winners of the World Mayor Prize since 2004: Edi Rama, Tirana (2004); Dora Bakoyannis, Athens (2005); John So, Melbourne (2006); Helen Zille, Cape Town (2008); Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico City (2010); Iñaki Azkuna, Bilbao (2012); Naheed Nenshi, Calgary (2014); Bart Somers, Mechelen (2016); Valeria Mancinelli, Ancona (2018); Ahmed Aboutaleb, Rotterdam (2021); Philippe Rio, Grigny (2021); Elke Kahr, Graz (2023) DETAILS