Two candidates toss names into MD of Bighorn Ward 1 byelection

Eligible voters will have a choice of two candidates in the upcoming MD of Bighorn Ward 1 byelection.

Two long-time Bow Valley residents have put their names forward for the Ward 1 councillor position, with the election taking place Sept. 19.

“We’ve received two nominations – Robin Bushulak and Steve Fitzmorris,” said Bighorn CAO Shaina Tutt.

Both Bushulak and Fitzmorris are residents of Exshaw, have sat on MD committees in the past and are active in the community.

“They’ve been involved with the community associations at various times throughout their lives in Exshaw,” said Tutt. “They’re quite community-minded, both of them.”

Full biographies of the candidates and their platforms are not yet publicly available. The nomination period closed Aug. 22 at noon and profiles will be posted to the MD’s website in the coming days.

Fitzmorris has served as president of the Exshaw Community Association and Bushulak is an active volunteer in the community.

According to the 2021 Statistics Canada census, there are about 280 eligible voters in Ward 1 this byelection, which includes the hamlet of Exshaw, Kananaskis and Seebe settlements and lands in townships 25 and 26 to the north of Exshaw.

About 70 per cent of voters in Ward 1 participated in the 2021 municipal election, said Tutt. Jen Smith earned 156 votes, with Joss Elford getting 116 and long-time councillor Paul Ryan getting 105

A voting station will be set up at the Exshaw Community Association Sept. 19, but polling times have not been determined. No absentee, early or mail-in voting options are available at this time.

The byelection was called earlier this summer after Elford, a first-term councillor, submitted his resignation June 12. The former councillor ran on issues surrounding groundwater problems in east Exshaw, strengthening municipal enforcement, snow removal and pushing for greater transit connection to Bighorn by potentially joining Roam.

Tutt said while being down to four members of council is not ideal and has potential to be problematic, especially in the case of tied votes, the MD has not come across such challenges.

“We have had thoughtful conversations around the table and decision-making has not been impeded,” she said.

Some of the committees that Elford was appointed to include the Bow Corridor and Environment Committee, Bow Valley Waste Services Committee, Streets & Roads Committee and Canmore Intermunicipal Committee. The committees have alternate appointees designated to avoid gaps if someone is unable to attend.

Elford’s resignation was the second for a Bighorn council this term after long-time councillor Paul Clark retired in May 2022 to spend more time with his wife. Alice James was acclaimed and sworn in last June for Ward 3.

During the 2021 municipal election, Bighorn saw three new councillors join its council after longtime council members Dene Cooper and Erik Butters chose not to run for re-election.

Rosvold, who became reeve, was re-elected for a second term, and Clark returned for a third term. Rick Tuza, Jen Smith and Elford were newly elected councillors.

The municipality is undergoing a ward boundary review, which could potentially shift existing borders for the wards. The project is being completed by ISL Engineering and is also reviewing if more than five council members are needed, potentially changing the way a reeve is elected and how many ward options council may want.

The ward boundary review came off the municipality’s population increasing 20.7 per cent between the 2016 and 2021 federal census and could potentially see the ward maps redrawn to represent the changing population growth.

The boundaries of the MD have changed several times since it was established in 1988, but there haven’t been adjustments to council size or ward numbers since 1989.

In the 2021 census, Bighorn, which covers an area of roughly 2,700 square kilometres, grew from 1,324 to 1,598 residents.

As per the Municipal Government Act, a byelection must be held within 120 days of a resignation.

Tutt said it was equally important to have another councillor in place before the municipality’s annual October organization meeting assigning committee appointments.

The MD of Bighorn is comprised of four wards, with Ward 2 having Harvie Heights, Dead Man’s Flats and Lac des Arcs and Ward 3 to the north, south and east of the Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation with West Jumpingpound region. Ward 4 is the largest geographical area and is the hamlet of Benchlands.

Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Outlook