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Longtime city councillor Douglas dies at 80

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Bob Douglas, a longtime city councillor and close friend of late Winnipeg mayor Bill Norrie, has died at age 80.

His death Friday was mourned by people who worked with him in city hall in the 1980s and many others in the agriculture field where he was a leader for decades.

"I had the good fortune to sit beside Bob Douglas during my first term on city council in the early ’90s," said Terry Duguid, former city councillor, environmental consultant and frequent Liberal candidate.

"Like his close friend Bill Norrie, Bob brought a decency and civility to city politics that was a terrific example for new councillors like (Manitoba premier) Greg Selinger, (former mayor) Glen Murray and me," Duguid said.

Douglas was well-known for his four consecutive terms on city council from 1982 to 1992, serving as chairman of the protection, parks and culture committee.

In that position, Douglas was a key architect of city hall’s decision to introduce community policing into city neighbourhoods.

He’s credited with spearheading city council’s efforts to recruit members of the aboriginal and ethnocultural communities of Winnipeg into the police force at a time when race relations threatened to tear the city apart.

"During a difficult period in Winnipeg’s history, he helped usher in a new era of reform in our protection services," said Duguid, noting Douglas’s work as chairman of the protection, parks and culture committee coincided with the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry.

That inquiry was called after Winnipeg police Const. Robert Cross shot and killed aboriginal leader J.J. Harper in 1988, triggering the inquiry into relations with aboriginal people in Manitoba.

The resulting report concluded the justice system was stacked against aboriginal people and led to a host of changes in the justice system beyond Douglas’s work opening up the police force to aboriginal recruits.

"You can see the results today of those efforts 20 years ago," Duguid said of Douglas’s role during that era.

Outside the civic arena, Douglas’s lifelong passion was agriculture.

He was inducted into the Manitoba Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2004 and a lengthy biography on the hall’s website noted Douglas came from a rural family in Minnedosa and never forgot his roots. As a boy, he joined the 4-H club, the iconic club of the 20th-century Canadian Prairies for sons and daughters of farmers.

"Bob’s lifelong contribution to the Manitoba agricultural community began with his appointment as youth director for the Manitoba Federation of Agriculture and Co-operation in 1956," the biography noted.

The same year, he married Shelagh Sutherland and they went on to raise a family of three children.

He ran a youth camp in Clear Lake from 1956 to 1981 and eventually became executive secretary of the provincial federation, helping to found the Manitoba Farm Bureau in 1965.

Douglas dovetailed his work as a politician with agriculture, becoming one of the founders of Keystone Agricultural Producers, the largest farm lobby in the province. In his later years, he served on many marketing boards and national agricultural policy committees.

In 2000, he was appointed to a six-year term as assistant commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission.

"For nearly 50 years, Bob willingly and conscientiously served his community, his province and his country for the betterment of the quality of life of rural Manitoba," the Hall of Fame noted.

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