BARRHEAD- The time is right.
That is how Darren Strawson characterized his decision to throw his hat into the ring and contest for the County of Barrhead Division 5 seat currently occupied by Coun. Darrell Troock.
Division 5 goes from Range Road 40, commonly referred to as auto wreckers road going west to the Westlock County border. Its northern border is the Shoal Lake area with Sunnybend Road being the border.
Recently Troock announced that he wasn't going to seek reelection after 16 years in office.
Strawson, who was born and raised in Barrhead, said he previously contemplated running for office, but he didn't have the time or energy to devote to being a councillor, as he owned and operated his own business, Wild Country Powersports. In addition, he also respected the job Troock was doing representing the division.
In 2018, he and his wife Baukje made the difficult decision to close the business.
Since then, Strawson has stayed close to home. Partially due to the pandemic, but also to concentrate on expanding and improving their farming endeavours.
The couple owns Gleaneagh Gardens (operated by Baukje), a destination farm specializing in sunflowers, both for wholesale and U-pick. It also hosts a sizeable vegetable patch and a herd of alpacas. In addition to helping Baukje with the farm, he also is a school bus driver for Pembina Hills School Division and operates a home motorcycle repair shop.
Strawson said he was also buoyed by people he talked to in the division who urged him to run for council.
"We'll see if it was a good idea or not," he joked.
Strawson said he believes the skills and experience as a business owner will help him deal with the issues council has to face, equating municipal government has its similarities to business.
"I've owned and operated multiple successful businesses here," he said.
Before Wild Country Powersports, Strawson owned Barrhead Motorsports, a shop specializing in Honda products, from 1997 to 2012.
At the height of the shop's success, Strawson employed over 20 people.
"That's an accomplishment I am really proud of," he said.
His first business, Strawson Backhoe, which he operated with his mother and brother is also still in operation.
He also notes he was also an active member of the Barrhead and District Chamber of Commerce, serving as its president on two occasions.
When asked if there was any issue or concern that prompted him to run for municipal government, Strawson said it wasn't a specific issue per se.
"It is more that people need to understand why council has come up with a particular decision or stance. I'm not sure that is always clearly communicated," he said. "I'm going to listen to county residents and ask the questions they want asked and do my best to explain the answers."
Strawson also understands rural governments are in a difficult situation with increased expenses as a result of provincial downloading, such as being asked to shoulder more of their policing costs and having to repair aging infrastructure, while having less money.
Starting in 2022, the province will cut the MSI funding pot by 25 per cent over two years as it phases out the program and replaces it with a new type of infrastructure funding.
"As a business owner, I am familiar with budgets and the need to make decisions. Although there might be a few more zeroes than I am used to," he said. "But it is not something we can avoid. It is something we have to look at and see what direction people want to go."
On the policing question, on whether the province should replace the RCMP with its own Alberta force, Strawson said he agrees with the majority of rural municipalities, including both Barrhead municipalities, in wanting to stick with the RCMP.
"Admittedly, I am a bit biased. I have a couple of buddies on the force. For what their role is, they are doing a heck of a job and it's a tough one. I wouldn't want it," he said.
As for if he has given any thought as to what committees he might want to serve on, he has a few areas of interest, but would rather wait and see what is available, noting there would be a steep learning curve.
Strawson also said he would like to hear county residents' concerns.
"Everybody knows me, they know where I live ... the door is always open."