After spending two years riding the bench as the city council equivalent of a fourth-line grinder, Thomas Steen has been handed a more important role on his team.
The rookie Elmwood-East Kildonan councillor is about to be appointed to the Winnipeg Police Board, a new entity granted the power to hire and fire Winnipeg police chiefs and oversee Winnipeg Police Service policy.
The appointment, which faces a council vote on Wednesday, represents an increase in responsibilty for the 52-year-old politician, still best known to most Winnipeggers for his 14 seasons as a centre for the original NHL Jets.
Expectations for Steen were not overly high when he was elected to council in 2010, given his soft-spoken nature and paucity of oratorial skills. But that changed in November, when his council peers elected him to be deputy council Speaker.
Joining the police board, along with four other city appointees and two provincial nominees, would constitute an even greater vote of confidence from his council peers.
"They've given me time to adjust to everything. I feel like I'm ready to take on more," Steen said Monday in an interview, referring to his responsibilities at city hall.
Steen was elected to council in a squeaker of a race that saw him defeat NDP-affiliated candidate Shaneen Robinson. He has hitched his political wagon to the opposite end of the political spectrum, having stood alongside former Manitoba Progressive Conservative leader Hugh MacFadyen during the 2007 provincial election campaign and having run as a Conservative candidate in the 2008 federal election.
But Steen has not displayed much in the way of an ideological orientation -- or said much in the way of anything -- during 28 months on council, other than expressing an interest in reducing crime.
"I'd like to see crime go down. I have to figure out something that I'm going to specialize in," he said, referring to his role on the new police board, also slated to include council protection chairman Scott Fielding (St. James-Brooklands), lawyer Paul Edwards, IBM executive Mary Jane Loustel, Superblinds president Glenn Karr, Ka Ni Kanichihk director Leslie Spillett and, pending the resolution of security-check jurisdiction issue, SEED Winnipeg's Louise Simbandumwe.
"We've been given advice. In the first year, don't do too much. Make the relationships. First, listen. We have a new chief and he's going to have some ideas," Steen said of the board. "It's a very good group of people."
Fielding said he approached Steen to sit on the board because the rookie councillor already sits on the protection committee. Asking Steen to serve amounted to a snub of another rookie councillor, Mynarski's Ross Eadie, who spent months lobbying for the job.
"I think Thomas will do a good job. He has the background and experience," Fielding said. "He's obviously in an area that isn't as at risk as certain areas, but it's obviously at some risk of crime."
Steen's popularity as a former Jet will lend the new police board a high profile, added council Speaker Grant Nordman (St. Charles), who also said he's pleased with the rookie's work on council's governance committee.
"Thomas, to his credit, came in (to politics) with some name recognition but with little background in it. I think he's come a tremendous way, particularly working in his community. The roots he's put down there are significant," Nordman said.
"I had the luxury of time, but also growing up in a political environment, with my father spending years with the Conservative party," Nordman continued. "For somebody who's only been at it for a little over two years, it's impressive."
-- Born: June 8, 1960, in Stockholm, Sweden.
-- NHL career: Drafted by the original Winnipeg Jets in the fifth round, 103rd overall, in 1979. Played 14 seasons for the Jets, scoring 817 points in 950 games from 1981 to 1995, when the club retired his No. 25. Named NHL all-star in 1990.
-- Provincial politics: Stood alongside Hugh McFadyen during the 2007 Manitoba election campaign as the then-PC leader promised to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg.
-- Federal politics: In 2008, ran for office as the Conservative candidate for Elmwood-Transcona, finishing second to the NDP's Jim Maloway by 1,559 votes.
-- Municipal politics: Following the retirement of Elmwood-East Kildonan Coun. Lillian Thomas in 2010, Steen won the wide-open race to succeed her, defeating runner-up Shaneen Robinson by 216 votes.