Always a man to work alongside politicians, Sjeng Derkx is ready to make a name for himself in a new arena. And it’s a name he’s spent his whole life explaining.
Born in the south of Holland where Sjeng is a common title, Derkx is no stranger to questions he’s gotten since leaving his homeland.
“The name is very common in one town in Holland,” he says. “I am used to it. People will get used to it.”
It was in Holland that Derkx met his wife Ann Remnant who was there on a cultural exchange. They were married in 1982 and spent their first wedded years in Holland until Remnant felt drawn back to Canada.
“In the end it was a great move for both of us,” he said.
They landed in Vancouver close to Remnant’s family where they stayed for 10 years. Derkx worked as a general contractor leaving more than his home country behind. Close to finishing a law degree in Holland, he decided he didn’t like the profession. It wasn’t for him, but working with his hands was.
“There is something very special about making something with your own hands,” said the contractor turned cabinetmaker. “Few things are as satisfying as that.”
Derkx and Remnant’s Vancouver home was on the east side and it proved rough for the couple who now had a young child. They looked for an ideal location to embrace family life.
“We found Nelson and fell in love. It’s a story that’s been heard a thousand times,” said Derkx. “What an amazing place to bring up a kid, honestly. There is everything for them. It’s safe and so supportive.”
Their son Oscar thrived amid Nelson’s vibrant theatre community becoming “much more famous than me,” said Derkx. He’s now attending the University of Alberta in the elite Bachelor of Fine Arts acting program.
Derkx and his wife joined the Green Party during the 2005 provincial election that saw the single transferrable vote referendum question on the ballot. The proportional representation issue hooked them.
“I’d never been a member of a political party. Through the single transferrable vote we started to learn more about the Green Party and like what we heard,” he said. “Before too long we were in the thick of it.”
Derkx is no stranger to elections, but his experience as deputy district electoral officer for two elections was a far cry from the political arena in which he’s currently competing.
“It’s one of those jobs where you really have to stay away from politics,” he said. “You’re running democracy, organizing it and your objectivity and distance from day-to-day politics earns public trust in the process.”
For this reason, his new role as candidate means distancing himself from the district electoral officer, Rob Switzer, a friend and former co-host of Kootenay Co-op Radio show By the People, a six-year endeavor that turned the tables.
“It was a show about local democracy,” he said. “But our focus wasn’t on decision makers, it was on the people impacted by the decisions. We’d go out to people’s living rooms… it was a neat thing to do. It got us involved with real people, great people, passionate people. People really care. It’s great to be there and give them a voice.”
Derkx is well known for speaking his mind and he likes to hear from others doing the same. He doesn’t shy away from an “honest disagreement. If you listen, you can learn,” he said.
“I think that’s the only way to go. If you’re not saying what you think, not being sincere and honest in your beliefs, you might as well say nothing,” he said.
This kind of tenacity was channeled into securing rail lines throughout the West Kootenay and beyond, some of Derkx’s proudest achievements, says the man who co-founded the Nelson and Area Trails Society.
“We spent years lobbying, and pushing and massaging Victoria and in the end managed to convince them to purchase that property for multi-million dollars. They’re all purchased now and in public hands ready to be used not just as trails, but ready to be reused as rails when the day comes,” he says. “There is personal satisfaction to this. I put my heart and soul and volunteer effort into this.”
During this time he was one of the founders and became regional director for Trails BC and head of the Kootenay Boundary regional trails council.
Hitting the trails is something Derkx does in his spare time. Cycling, hiking and cross-country skiing get him out into the environment he’s passionate about protecting. Indoors he’s an avid reader.
Derkx’s Nelson campaign headquarters is located at 621 Herridge Lane.