BARRHEAD-Ivan Kusal, a relative newcomer to the County of Barrhead, has decided to threw his hat in the ring and run for councillor for Division 4 (Thunder Lake) which is currently occupied by Coun. Bill Lane.
Lane has not publically announced if he plans to seek re-election.
Kusal moved to Thunder Lake full-time five years ago from Edmonton after he and his wife, Jane, retired.
Kusal's family has had property in the area since the 1970s.
"Since I was a little kid, I came out almost every weekend and my family spent several weeks vacationing out here in the summer," he said, adding it did not take long after they retired decided that they would rather spend their time in the County of Barrhead rather than the city.
Before retiring, Kusal spent 36 years with Telus, serving multiple different roles.
His latest position was as director of corporate continuity.
"My job was to prepare Telus for any type of major natural disaster at any of their Canadian or international properties," he said.
Natural disasters Kusal helped Telus navigate through include the 2011 and 2016 Slave Lake and Fort McMurray wildfires.
He also spent time overseas, helping Telus' international call centres create continuity and business resumption plans.
Since coming to Barrhead full-time, Kusal said he has tried to give back or contribute to the community as a whole by volunteering where ever possible.
"We've been part of this community for more than 40 years, it is only natural to want to give back in some way," he said.
In October 2020, after being prompted to run, Kusal was elected to the Pembina West Co-op board. He is also a community member-at-large on the county's Economic and Community Development committee. He also sits as one of the county's members-at-large on the Barrhead Regional Fire Services committee, a joint board with the Town of Barrhead.
"Running for council is just an extension of continuing to try to give back to the community," he said.
Kusal also believes his work experience will be a good asset in the world of municipal politics, specifically noting his experience in business and emergency planning.
He also hopes to capitalize on his rural roots.
"My family on my mother's side comes from a small farming community," Kusal said, noting they have a farming operation in the Black Diamond/Turner Valley area. He also has family in Taylor, B.C., which in addition to agriculture has ties to the forestry and energy industries.
Issues facing the county and division
Kusal noted there wasn't any single issue that prompted him to run, adding the county, like any municipality, will face several challenges.
"Making sure that we spend our tax money wisely. There are always improvements that can be made to processes," he said. "If you look at where the county is going, there will be some real budget challenges coming up. You can only cut so much. It is about managing things, finding improvements through your processes so that things are simpler and you're not spending as much money."
Kusal added rural crime and crime prevention is an issue that is top-of-mind for many Thunder Lake residents, saying it also impacts all ratepayers.
He pointed out that the province is asking rural municipalities to shoulder more of their policing costs, saying that amount could grow if the United Conservative Party (UCP) government goes ahead with its plan to create an Alberta police force. It was one of the recommendations made by Alberta’s Fair Deal Panel.
PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) was commissioned at a price tag of about $2 million to look into the operational requirements and costs of creating the force. The report was to have been complete by April.
The County of Barrhead and the Town of Barrhead, along with a growing list of rural municipalities, are lobbying the government in support of the RCMP.
Kusal said that was probably the right choice but added municipalities need more information.
"At the end of the day, what will we get the best bang for the buck for and is it sustainable over time? Without knowing all the facts, it is hard to make that decision."
The Barrhead Leader then asked Kusal for his opinion on Thunder Lake residents who have used the county's municipal reserve lands as an extension of their propery.
In the spring of 2019, the county documented more than 400 violations. In response, in the summer the county held an information session for area residents at Lightning Bay Community Hall as part of the process to create a lake strategic plan, a process that is not complete.
"People have a right to walk through municipal reserves and right now there are areas where people can't do that," Kusal said. "There is a solution, but it has to be a collaboration between the county and the residents."
Kusal then switched topics, noting the county needs to continue to look for ways to increase economic development.
"How can we attract businesses to our Kiel Industrial Park? Drumming up interest in companies that manufacture plant proteins or manage plastics. Tourism is another untapped resource. We have beautiful areas in the county, access to lakes and rivers, are not that far from the centre of the province and we have lots of hiking and fishing opportunities. We need to promote it more and encourage people to use Barrhead as a base to explore those areas."
But Kusal said perhaps the most important role of a councillor is a traffic cop, by giving voice to residents' concerns and directing them to the right place whether that be with council or the proper department.
"We also need to be transparent," he said. "There are things that happen in county that isn't as transparent or doesn't always appear that way. Transparency of the process is always something that can be worked on."