A local dairy farmer with a long history of membership in provincial agriculture associations is the fourth candidate to run for the Division 4 seat on the County of Barrhead council.
Lorrie Jespersen, whose dairy farm is located north of Thunder Lake, is running against incumbent Bill Lane, Ivan Kusal and Amanda Lambert.
Jespersen and his wife originally moved to the County of Barrhead in 1977 as newlyweds. Besides building a farm together, they raised six children and have six grandchildren, though only their oldest daughter (and son-in-law) are still in the area helping to run the farm.
Jespersen has never been on county council before but he does have some history with the municipality, most notably as a member of the county’s Ag Service Board for the past year and a half.
Jespersen said he has enjoyed being on the Ag Service Board, even though the pandemic has limited some of the activities the board can actually engage in.
He was also involved in the development of the county’s Area Structure Plan along with other Thunder Lake residents and the creation of a riparian area on the north shore of Thunder Lake in the late 1990s.
However, he’s generally been more active on the provincial stage, as he spent nine years as a director on the board of Alberta Milk and is still a delegate.
(Incidentally, when Barrhead Elementary School was honoured in 2019 for 35 years of participation in the Club Moo School Milk program, Jespersen acted as Alberta Milk’s representative.)
Jespersen said he also served as a delegate to the Alberta Beef Producers, both as a representative of the dairy industry and as an independent producer, for quite a few years.
“I actually would have a hard time counting how many. It could be 10-15 years in total, over a couple of terms,” he added.
So why run for county council? Jespersen said several people encouraged him to run, and since they were willing to support him, he thought “this might be the right thing to go ahead and do.”
As for what he wants to accomplish, Jespersen is particularly focused on the subject of economic development, which is “very important” for the county.
Agriculture is of course the main industry of the County of Barrhead, but it has suffered locally due to poor weather and the loss of businesses like the County of Barrhead.
And while Barrhead has never benefited from oil and gas as much as other municipalities, it is nevertheless an economic contributor to the county that is now in decline.
“We’ve got oil and gas wells that are around me that are basically sitting idle. Maybe they will be cleaned up someday; maybe they will even be revived. We just don’t' know,” he said.
As well, Jespersen pointed out that a major lumber mill east of Barrhead and others that once operated near Fort Assiniboine have also been shut down.
Barrhead and area has a lot of good service providers, but they won’t last unless there are major industries providing income for the community, he said.
So how does being on council help? Jespersen said the county can help create an atmosphere that makes industry feel this is a good place to do business.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to take some new entrepreneurs to step up to the plate and to … bring business into the community,” he said.
‘But it also takes the right atmosphere. You don’t want to set up at a place where the community or the tax base and the facilities aren’t conducive to doing business.”
As for why people should vote for Jespersen, he noted that when he and his wife started their business, it was in the late 70s-early 80s when inflation was rampant and interest rates were ridiculously high.
"We paid as high as 22 or 23 per cent interest on some loans. And we somehow figured out how to live through that,” he said. “It was to the point where you would go into the bank and they would almost apologize to us.”
Jespersen said that demonstrates his ability to work through the hard times, which is also what the county is increasingly facing.
For instance, he knows that the Ag Service board’s funding is being cut by the province, and the county in general is going to have to make do without programs like the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI), which is being phased out.
He also pointed out that his background in agricultural politics gives him some experience in lobbying other levels of government.
“I know that sometimes goes a long way, when someone is willing and able to speak up to the right people,” he said.