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Two council contenders file nomination papers for Banff's municipal election

Jessia Arsenio, a full-time writer and community builder and organizer, and Mark Walker, who works in tourism and hospitality, are seeking seats at the council table in the Oct. 18 municipal election

BANFF – Two candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for a seat at the council table in Banff’s October municipal election.

Jessia Arsenio, a writer, activist and community organizer, was the first to file his nomination papers on May 18. Mark Walker, who works in tourism and hospitality, submitted his papers on May 27.

A full-time writer with a focus on social and labour issues, Arsenio said he has been encouraged by friends and acquaintances to run for council in the Oct. 18 municipal election to represent Banff's diversity as a community.

“I am a bit of a political junkie… I am interested in local politics, specifically because it’s the friendliest politics, it’s the most real politics,” said Arsenio, 28.

“If you look at the provincial and federal dialogue, it’s completely gotten away from every day people; it doesn’t involve us.”

Walker feels much the same way, noting he has long held an in interest in Banff’s municipal issues and local government.

After serving as a public member on the Town of Banff’s bed and breakfast working group – which was struck to review B&B regulations and make recommendations to council – Walker said he’s ready to take the next step.

“Of all the levels of government – municipal, provincial, federal – I think that municipal has such an impact on day-to day-life,” he said.

“You’re not dealing with things like national defence and trade negotiations; it’s about all the things that make living in a town what it is.”

Arsenio, originally from Niagara Falls, Ontario, first arrived in Banff in 2017.

He temporarily moved away from Banff for a short stint working with the Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Society.

Providing harm reduction care for people who use drugs is important work for Arsenio.

“Substance use is a well known fact of life in Banff,” he said. “We have excellent services, AHS does a great job, but there’s a need for culturally specific services, I’d say.”

Arsenio would also like to see an expansion of mental health services.

“We are going to have a gigantic need on the other side of COVID. We’ve got an entire generation of people now with various degrees of…  traumatized or straight-up fearful of what’s to come,” he said.

“We need services to deal with that, or means of organizing around that as a community. That can take many shapes and it probably requires everybody to be involved in some respect.”

Walker, who hails from Ajax, Ontario, initially came to Banff in 2007 to teach skiing. In the intervening years, he’s headed up the resort activity department at the Banff Springs Hotel and taught skiing for Ski Big 3 and Lake Louise.

Walker, 35, said there are many reasons he’s running for a position at the council table, but one of his biggest priorities is housing – always a hot-button topic at every municipal election in Banff.

Since arriving in Banff, he’s stayed at the youth hostel, lived in staff accommodation, rental apartments with multiple people in one room, and is now a homeowner with his wife of a Banff Housing Corporation home in Middle Springs.

“Broadly speaking, what’s important to me is I want to try to make Banff an easier place for people who want to come here and start a life here,” he said.

“It’s just so hard to do that because of the affordability of housing, because of the availability of housing.”

Walker indicated tourism and hospitality workers are integral to the experiences guests and visitors have in Banff, so comfortable and affordable living situations are vital.

“It’s great for the tourism industry to have people in Banff that are longer term, that are more established, that are willing to make a commitment to making Banff the place they want to live,” he said.

As of the Outlook’s deadline, no other council contenders or any mayoral candidates had filed nomination papers.