MD OF BIGHORN – Residents of the MD of Bighorn will have a different municipal council when they wake up after the Oct. 18 election.
Longtime elected officials Dene Cooper and Erik Butters are retiring after a combined 30 years in public office and not running in the upcoming election, leaving two new seats available in the rural Bow Valley municipality.
The available spots mean seats long held by Cooper and Butters are available, while issues in parts of the municipality – particularly flooding – have led more residents to become engaged than normal.
Lisa Rosvold, the councillor for ward 2, and ward 3 councillor Paul Clark were each acclaimed following their 2017-21 council terms.
In ward 1, Bighorn voters will have Joss Elford, Paul Ryan, John Sirman and Jen Smith to choose for two council seats. Chris Cousine and Rick Tuza are each vying for the spot for the ward 4 councillors.
First elected in 2002, Ryan said he had looked at not running in the upcoming election, but is hoping to help with the learning curve that comes with being a new council member.
“For the first two years new councillors are taking courses and learning and municipal administration is virtually in control. We want a council that is in control,” he said. “I reconsidered and put my name forward to ensure that there will be corporate memory and municipal government experience.”
In his more than two decades as a municipal councillor, he served on every board and committee in the MD from the planning commission to the tax assessment appeal board and the streets and roads committee to the subdivision and appeal board.
Ryan has long been the chair of the Bow Valley Waste Management Commission, a director for the Calgary Regional Airshed Zone and the vice-chair and project lead of the Southern Alberta Energy from Waste Association, which recently received expressions of interest for the long-discussed energy-to-waste facility in southern Alberta.
He has also graduated from the elected official education and Alberta government administrative law programs and been a community volunteer on projects such as the community garden, the rebuilt community hall and the commercial grade kitchen.
Among his aims for the upcoming council term are an updated communications policy to learn from the issues from the groundwater flooding in 2020 and to ensure council is getting requested information.
“Never again should council only receive information because a citizens' group did a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request and provided it to me.”
Ryan added a study to better understand the cost of services to the different wards and its taxpayers in the MD should be completed. He also wants an updated Exshaw area redevelopment plan and firefighting accommodations such as similarly done in Vulcan County that allows firefighters to use flashing green lights on personal vehicles when responding to an emergency.
He emphasized an updated recreation master plan should be done as the youth population of the municipality, particularly ward 1, continues to grow.
“I would rather see our tax dollars go to building infrastructure for our residents and not be spent accommodating visitors that contribute nothing to our tax base,” he said. “This community that you moved to was not built by the municipality. It was built by the community volunteers, and I am so proud of the ones that came alongside to get it done. … Our kids are growing up and our recreation facilities should grow with them. If we start now, we should have them built by the time they become teenagers.”
Elford was born and raised in the Bow Valley and has lived in Exshaw for 18 years. He said he has raised his family in the community, become an active community member and been a volunteer firefighter with Exshaw Fire-Rescue since 2013 before becoming a full-time firefighter in Calgary in 2016.
He said he attended council meetings in the past, but the pandemic allowed flexibility in watching the online meetings.
For Elford, he said a priority will be fixing the groundwater issues in east Exshaw, which have been a burden on residents for several years.
In September, Bighorn council approved a groundwater study and a third-party review to find a potential solution to the constant flooding in the hamlet.
He also highlighted the importance of working with new developments that fit in the community, providing a 10-minute fire response, gaining clarity on snow removal on sidewalks and strengthening the municipal bylaws and the enforcement program as well as a potential business license program to help services and revenue for the MD of Bighorn.
“Residents are deeply invested in and passionate about our community. As the Bow Valley changes and grows, the MD is being impacted. People want to preserve and protect the things they love about our community while preparing for and adapting to changes that are coming.”
He said as the trails and infrastructure have had greater use in recent years, a push has come for installing parking and bathrooms at busier locations, as well as working with Lafarge to improve dust control and addressing residents' safety concerns on the highways.
Elford noted he had heard from residents on connecting the MD of Bighorn to the Roam Transit network to allow for a better connection for locals into other parts of the valley.
Though Roam Transit to parts of Bighorn was voted down due to an estimated increase of about $1,000 annually in property taxes per home, Elford said exploring other options is worth the push.
“I know transit is expensive, so we need to look at creative options for making transit a reality in Exshaw.”
Sirman came forth with his nomination in ward 1 after becoming frustrated with his dealings with the municipality over groundwater flooding and losing his house in the 2013 flood.
The 64-year-old and 20-year resident of Exshaw said there is exasperation in the community over aspects such as closed-door meetings and groundwater concerns.
“The efficacy of dealing with closed-door meetings. It’s a public office and it should be known to all taxpayers what’s going on,” he said.
Sirman said he has run a refrigeration and heating business for more than 25 years and is preparing to wind the operation down. While he doesn’t have extensive municipal experience, he feels his business knowledge would help residents.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of customers and every taxpayer is a customer to me. Whatever they think they require, I’m willing to listen and try to meet their needs.”
In talking with residents, he said there is a wish to examine the possibility of being part of Roam Transit to connect to other parts of the Bow Valley, the ongoing flooding concerns in Exshaw and looking to reduce train noise coming out of the Lafarge plant late at night.
Though a self-proclaimed underdog, Sirman said he’s ready to put his first foot forward into the role if chosen.
“If you don’t stick your fingers into it, you won’t ever find out. I’m an underdog, but the long shot gets through every once and a while.”
The first ward is the largest for Bighorn voters and comprises Exshaw and the Kananaskis and Seebe settlements. Ward 2 has the hamlets of Dead Man’s Flats, Lac des Arcs and Harvie Heights, while ward 3 is at the eastern edge of the municipality and on either side of the Stoney Nakoda Nation north and south of the Trans-Canada Highway.
Ward 4 is the largest of the wards in land size and has the hamlet of Benchlands.
Attempts to reach Smith, Cousine and Tuza before the Outlook was published were unsuccessful.