Lisa de Soto, the Town of Canmore’s longtime CAO, will be retiring from municipal service at the end of the year after nearly 10 years in the top administrative spot.
An employee of the Town since 1996, de Soto has held numerous roles and been Canmore’s top bureaucrat since she was made the acting CAO in 2011 and held the permanent position in 2012.
“I have pretty much overseen every department and area of the Town with that progression through public works and deputy CAO and now CAO,” she said. “It’s been very rewarding and a privilege to have been so involved in Canmore in the transition from a small community to a really beautiful tourism destination.
“There’s been a strong focus on community building and community affordability so residents of Canmore can afford to work, live and play here. I’m proud of the affordability services program, Roam Transit, the human-wildlife challenges and the roundtable that have moved that conversation forward. There’s no doubt in my mind residents of Canmore understand the importance of wildlife movement.”
de Soto, who was born in Hamilton, Ont., graduated from Queen’s University and worked in London, Ont. as an engineering consultant before joining the City of Brantford for five years as a landfill engineer.
She moved with her family to Canmore in 1994 to be closer to her brother and sister living in the Bow Valley. She was hired with the Town in 1996 as the waste management coordinator. She later became the manager of public works and was promoted in 2007 to the deputy CAO position.
In late-2011, she became the interim CAO and got the permanent position in July, 2012 after being selected following a search that came down to more than 50 applicants – 11 of which were shortlisted and four who were interviewed.
In an Aug. 13 letter to Town staff, Mayor John Borrowman acknowledged de Soto's years of service and pending retirement.
“Council has received her notice with mixed emotions," he said.
"We are excited for Lisa in her plans to explore further professional and volunteer opportunities outside of municipal service, although saddened to say goodbye to someone who has done so much for our community, and who has been a key part of our team in such a meaningful way,” he said.
The letter highlighted the accomplishments under her lengthy term as CAO, such as the environmental sustainability action plan, the climate action plan, a revised land use bylaw, the integrated transportation plan and master plans for each of recreation and culture.
Among her first projects with the Town was shifting from a curbside garbage pickup to launching the bear proof garbage system, which significantly reduced the number of incidents that led to bears wandering into town for food.
In addition, the past 10 years has seen the community experience floods, explosions and a pandemic and the fruition of Roam Transit, Elevation Place, senior’s and affordable housing projects.
“Under her leadership we have advanced our community vision through the 2016 Municipal Development Plan and our Council Strategic Plans,” Borrowman's letter stated. “As well, we have secured a healthy financial situation to manage growth and change in a fiscally sound manner through a long-term financial strategy.”
One of the first duties of the incoming council will be to select a new CAO, with a recruitment campaign to begin shortly after the Oct. 18 municipal election.
“It’s a natural transition to bring on a new CAO to work with the new council on a new strategic planning process and vision,” de Soto said. “I did want to leave the community and corporation in good stead.”
Her longtime role as the CAO brought stability to a position that had been somewhat in flux, with the Town having gone through two top administrators in the years before her appointment.
Gene Kiviaho left the position in 2007 after just 10 months on the job, but also notably received about $220,000 when he left the Town as part of his contract. Don Kochan became the interim CAO and then left the permanent one shortly after, but left in 2011.
Kochan, who worked with the municipality for about 10 years, received about $400,000 when he departed the Town as terms of his contract.
de Soto said the two disappointments during her tenure was the failure of Canmore, along with Banff and Jasper, in advocating the provincial government to receive resort municipality status. The classification, which exists in Prince Edward Island and British Columbia, allows municipalities to keep additional tax revenue, which would otherwise go to the province and federal government.
The failure of the 2026 Winter Olympic bid, which saw Canmore partner in a potential bid that was defeated by Calgary voters in a 2018 plebiscite, was the other that could have brought much needed affordable housing to the community.
“There were a number of legacy projects that the community was hoping to achieve, including an athlete’s village, which would’ve potentially given us up to 1,000 affordable housing units," she said.
de Soto noted the work in trying to reduce conflicts between humans and wildlife, increasing affordable housing units and the launch of Roam Transit are highlights in her time as the Town’s top bureaucrat.
The introduction of the ongoing Tourism Task Force has also brought people together from all sectors to analyze and develop a sustainable tourism framework.
“Through the work of the task force, which focuses on community dialogue and conversations, we’re leaning in to how tourism can support not only the economy, but also sustain community values and environmental protection as well," she said.
In her time as CAO, de Soto said fostering a strong culture among the 312 employees – of which 171 are full-time – is among the highlights.
“We’ve focused a lot and intentionally shifted our corporate culture to be one of the developmental organization, so breaking down silos and working in collaboration," she said. "I think staff at the Town feel like one big family and that’s been a really important legacy to me.”