ATHABASCA – The easy part is over for those elected to Athabasca town council Oct. 18, now the really hard work of being effective legislators and representatives of the community for the next four years begins.
It was a suspenseful night for all the candidates across the Athabasca region with most waiting until nearly midnight or beyond to hear the news they were waiting for. The unofficial results in the mayor’s race between Rob Balay and Rob Woito did come in relatively early though, with Balay earning a decisive win with 88 per cent of the votes cast.
Balay earned 624 votes, while challenger Woito managed 84, in his second run at the big chair.
"Of course I'm happy and excited to know that the community decided that they wanted me to be their mayor, and I was very pleased to see that it's a pretty strong mandate going forward," said Balay over the phone from a small celebration party, soon after the results of the mayor's race were announced.
Balay said he took a lot of time to decide whether he was going to aspire for the mayor's chair, but the tutelage of Colleen Powell as mayor over the last four years, he was ready to take the leap.
"I took my time before I decided that I was going to do that," he said. "I think it's really important for someone to serve a term on council first. You just give yourself a much better chance to have real success in leading council so I felt it put myself in a position to be successful so I decided that, yeah, I would take a run at it and lots of people encouraged me, so, I took the leap."
Woito released a statement on his campaign’s Facebook page early the next morning. It read:
“I would like to congratulate Rob Balay and the rest of elected council for their success. The people of Athabasca voted and sent a clear message as to their vision for Athabasca. I would also like to thank those that did vote for me, who shared my vision. The next four years will be perhaps the most challenging for Athabasca in a financial sense. Best to all of you for the next four years!”
Results for the six councillor seats came in just before 11:30 p.m. and newcomer Jon LeMessurier was the top vote-getter with 539 of the 717 votes cast going his way. Incumbent councillors Dave Pacholok and Ida Edwards will also be back after earning 512 and 480 votes, respectively.
Sara Graling will also be joining them after receiving 421 votes; Edith Yuill got 357; and Loretta Prosser will complete the 2021 council after earning 284 votes.
Former mayor Roger Morrill had 247 supporters behind him, while Rena Zatorski had 211 and Michael Borody received 170 votes.
LeMessurier, who was also the first to announce his candidacy for council, garnered votes from three-quarters of those who marked an ‘X’. He said there was a mix of emotions when the results came in Monday night — feelings of accomplishment, excitement, gratitude and pride to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather Lloyd Chamberlain and uncle Harvey Gilbart’s, who both also served on town council.
“It feels amazing to know that the community is behind me, and I do not take that lightly,” LeMessurier said later in an e-mail. “I told myself at the beginning, I will put the work in to give myself the best opportunity to win one of six spots and if I get in, as a man of faith, this was part of God’s plan for me. I am excited to represent this community and work collectively with my fellow councillors to make positive change for our community. I will always speak highly of my hometown and want to build off the services and opportunities this community already has. Thank you to the community for the support. I promise to put in the work. I am extremely grateful.”
Councillors and the new mayor will be sworn in at the town’s organizational meeting Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. before their first regular council meeting.
"I look forward to working with council and as a group deciding what our vision is going to be moving forward for the next four years," said Balay.
With 730 votes cast from the 2,445 eligible voters in the Town of Athabasca, voter turnout was lower than it has been in recent memory, coming in at just 29.9 per cent. In the last three municipal elections in 2010, 2013 and 2017, 38, 35 and 39 per cent of eligible voters headed to the polls.
Returning officer Jeff Dalley noted 141 voters took advantage of the advance poll, which was comparable to other years.
Despite the turnout numbers, there was a steady flow of voters at the town office throughout the day, lineups extended down the sidewalk at times, with some waiting longer than a half-hour or more to cast their ballots.
“Overall, the day went well and there were no major issues on either the advance poll day or election day,” said Dalley.