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Two on the ballot for Division 6 in Athabasca County

Cromwell and Dowhaluk vie for Wandering River council seat

ATHABASCA — A chance encounter led to a lifetime of serving his community for one hopeful in Division 6 and the other wants to return to a familiar role. 

Calgary-born Gary Cromwell was 14 when his family moved to Entwhistle and only slightly older when a local firefighter suggested he join the department and that was all it took for him to devote his life to helping those in need. 

“I'm a member of the fire service for 20 years; I'm also the only local tow truck driver in Wandering River,” he said in a Sept. 30 interview. "Everything I do is people-oriented; it's always about serving your community and making sure that people are getting taken care of properly and respectfully.” 

He decided to throw his name on the ballot after a lot of thought and discussion with ratepayers and the consensus is the far end of the Athabasca County map with the tiny dot called Wandering River feels forgotten by the rest of the county until they want to go camping. 

“We're off of everyone's beaten path,” Cromwell said. "If we look at services, if we look at infrastructure, we look at things being put into our town compared to other districts in the county and we go, ‘Why are we left out?’” 

Even his campaign motto ‘Together We Win’ includes the auxiliary residents to the Wandering River area, the ones who come up for a weekend or season and pushes the the population from 100 to 5,000 putting more strain on infrastructure. 

“Even getting proper roads, proper grading, proper gravel to support that huge influx of population,” he said. “It's a very controversial issue in the Wandering River area, you're either for or against that population. I'm very, very clear and I posted on my social media for my campaign that I am for the growth. I am for the proper development of our area that these auxiliary residents are the ones who are allowing our community to grow.” 

That being said, with his firefighting knowledge, he would like to see more control on the development of campgrounds. 

“When you look at Lac La Biche County they require emergency plans, they require evacuation routes, they may even require fire pumps or a truck capable of putting out water with hundreds if not 1,000 meters of fire hose,” he said. “They regulate it far more than we do here.” 

Garbage cleanup is also high on his list, being accountable – if he does not know the answer he will find out – and meeting the rate payers he represents if elected. 

“I made a promise on my platform that I will do face-to face-meetings. I don't want to be a councillor that you see three weeks before election day every four years,” he said. “So, I'm making the promise that we will have an open house every half a year at the latest.” 

Dowhaluk also has concerns for the direction the county is heading and while he was satisfied with Coun. Penny Stewart’s performance after beating him by five votes in the last election, he knows experience is needed too. 

“I want to give special attention to the farmers in the area with the disaster,” he said in an Oct. 1 interview. “We've got to try and make things better for them. Also, I'd like to resolve the campsite and other problems in the northern part of the county.” 

His other concerns are for the seniors in the region being taken care of by family members who need respite care but cannot find any and finding cost-savings for the county. 

“We have to continue searching for better gravel, good gravel. I know we're even getting gravel from outside the county now and I think we have to put more effort into finding our own gravel.” 

He also wants to keep pushing to get the Plamondon connector road paved. 

“It's a road that's used a lot, and we have a lot of heavy traffic, more than ever on it now,” said Dowhaluk. “We've been spending money year after year on the road, and it's really unsuccessful with what we're doing.” 

Dowhaluk also believes more needs to be done when the population increases temporarily. 

“We need more reinforcement (of law enforcement) to handle the influx of people there on weekends and summer holidays,” he said. 

He also thinks the council should be lobbying to keep Athabasca University jobs in the region instead of spending the money on a lobbyist and staffing needs to be looked at for redundancies. 

“We're the ones that that should be making the decisions and doing the lobbying,” he said. “There's no reason we have to spend money on outside people for things like that.” 

As for recovery from the increased construction costs due to the pandemic, Dowhaluk is not prepared to increase taxes. 

“We've got to give the farmers a break somewhere and I don't agree with raising taxes at this at this moment,” he said. “We need to start lobbying the governments, both provincial and federal – money is being spent all over the place, overseas and the ordinary tax payer is here. They’re not getting any help.” 

And knowing the experience of long-time councillors Doris Splane, Christi Bilsky, Kevin Haines, and Larry Armfelt are all leaving, Dowhaluk feels his presence is necessary on the next council. 

“I believe there are going to be quite a few new councillors," he said. “And I just feel my experience would be beneficial.” 

Heather Stocking

About the Author: Heather Stocking

Heather Stocking a reporter at the Athabasca Advocate, a weekly paper in Northern Alberta. Heather covers all aspects of the news in and around Athabasca and Boyle as well as other small communities.
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