ATHABASCA — In the race for Athabasca County's most hotly contested seat, ratepayers will have the choice between four different individuals, each with their own passions for the people and future of Division 8.
Ryan Breckenridge, Kendra Gilbert, Chet Gilmore, and Rob Minns all have diverse backgrounds, but they share a commitment to be the best representative in Division 8, which will soon be vacated by Larry Armfelt, and for the ratepayers who will make their choices Oct. 18 in the municipal election.
Breckenridge was born and raised in Athabasca and is passionate about bringing the Town of Athabasca, Village of Boyle, Athabasca County and summer villages together for a cohesive community.
“Change and working together as a whole, I feel that wasn’t always the case in the last few years; working together and having a common goal,” he said in an interview Sept. 21.
Breckenridge co-owns a business and would love to see some revitalization to attract business and development which will spin off into other benefits.
“I've talked to a lot of people about doctor recruitment, and I think that's a high priority because our locals are aging and moving away, we need all that to recover too,” he said. “We need to get some new businesses in town and that attracts people and that's tax money, that's people going out for dinners, that's people buying their kids clothes, et cetera.”
Breckenridge notes there is more to the economy than attracting business, it includes ensuring the spin off benefits the region, looking at businesses like Alberta Pacific Forest Industries (Al-Pac) and the proposed Athabasca Minerals Inc.project which could bring a few jobs and a lot of trucking to the area.
“You start sub-contracting trucking – and a lot of that bypasses town anyway – so all you're doing is beating up the infrastructure, you're getting some tax money but you're not getting all the spin off.”
Gilbert put her name on the ballot the last day, her birthday, and the anniversary of her father’s open-heart surgery.
“I had tossed around the idea of running for Athabasca County council over the past several years; being a public servant and an active member on any council, board, or committee was something of interest from a very young age.”
She spent most of her over 20 years of her professional life working in the oil and gas industry becoming an instrumentation technician IV and credits her dedication, work ethic, and strong ability to visualize and implement processes, plus her ability to collaborate, with sparking her desire to join various boards and committees, and now run for council.
“In no particular order, some of the action items that I will be facing head on are improved road maintenance and looking into upgrades where needed, improved broadband, Athabasca University and its presence in the area, and rural crime prevention to name a few,” Gilbert said. “Throughout my campaign I hope to continue to help inspire community spirit and encourage people to use their voice to help create positive change.”
She also wants to leverage social media to increase communication with the ratepayers.
"For any rural municipality to remain sustainable and viable in a fast-paced world … they must utilize things such as the Internet and its massive outreach to help keep ratepayers informed," she said, noting her involvement with many boards in the community make her uniquely suitable for the councillor role.
Chet Gilmore knows a few things about taking something that's falling apart and making it into something habitable, having transitioned to building and renovating homes after selling his appraisal business six years ago.
“(Athabasca) County has been really good to us, and it's got so much potential for so many opportunities,” he said Sept. 15. “Hopefully, we can get a whole bunch of young people, but a few of us old guys can still show them a thing or two from our experience.”
He studied urban planning for decades and knows it is important to plan, both residential and commercial.
“I think it's essential that we find ways to create some opportunities where we can encourage young families to move and take advantage of this county with what we've got to offer with the Multiplex and schools and the university, all the nature trails,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said the economic difficulties started long before the pandemic with industries moving out, and Athabasca University allowing jobs to leave the campus is just a result of a deeper issue.
“We've got to find industries and the jobs for the people so that they can go to work; more than just entry level jobs," he said. “Maybe through tax incentives for employers require entry level employees; a way to get their hourly wages up by giving the business a bit of a tax break. I'm a true believer in one of the main principles of economics is the silent hand – John Adams – that it can, under the right circumstances, lead to a cure itself.”
Rob Minns though, has actual work experience with Athabasca County to draw from having driven every kilometre of its 2,400 km – about half the width of the United States – of roads.
“I started out as a survey technologist and worked my way up to maintenance foreman looking after all the roadways,” he said in a Sept. 15 interview. “I thought about everything, and I thought with my background in public works and infrastructure, policies and stuff like that, I'm bringing some experience to the council chambers.”
Minns is concerned about the downloading of expenses from the provincial government and thinks it will get worse and ratepayers need to be prepared and realize even maintaining services means a modest increase in taxes.
“If there has to be a tax increase, let's keep it to a minimum with the understanding that services are costing more and more every year,” Minns said. "It's gonna be a hard, hard choice to make of when you start looking at budgets, and stuff like that; where do you cut and where do you put more money into.”