WESTLOCK – Westlock’s mayor is looking forward to working with the newly-elected council, a mix of incumbents and first-time politicians.
First elected in 2013, Ralph Leriger, who was acclaimed earlier this fall for a second-straight term, said he’s “energized” following the Oct. 18 election and wants to hit the ground running. Council’s first meeting, which will see all of the councillors and Leriger sworn-in, was held Oct. 25.
“I think at the end of the day we have a great council and I’m excited about getting started. I think in the past two terms we’ve set the stage for our success and I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but as we slowly recover from the pandemic, which I hope we’re doing, momentous events historically create pent-up demand,” he said. “So I think with this council that we can really set the stage for success. I’m feeling pretty energized.”
Incumbents Curtis Snell, Murtaza Jamaly and Randy Wold were the top three vote-getters, netting 837, 776 and 745 ballots respectively. Joining them are first-time councillors Laura Morie (676), Jon Kramer (580) and Abby Keyes (543), while Brenda Lussier (480) and Chad Cloutier (403) missed the cut. The three new councillors, in essence, replace Clem Fagnan, David Truckey and John Shoemaker, who combined had 46 years of municipal council experience.
“There needs to be turnover and change because if there isn’t at some point you get wholesale change and that’s seldom effective for a community,” Leriger continued. “There’s a big learning curve, you’re drinking from a firehose at first. So replacing three and keeping three incumbents, I think that’s a perfect fit.”
Leriger said he’s also pleased that council will have two female voices for the first time since 2015 — Shelia Foley, elected in 2013, moved from the community in 2015 and gave up her seat. He said past councils have unfairly gotten the rep as an “old boys club” and it’s one he looks forward to dispelling — no women ran for council in 2017, while one woman did run in the 2015 byelection and was defeated by Jamaly.
“There have been people who have unfairly labelled us as the old boys club. First of all, I don’t feel particularly old and Murtaza was the youngest councillor every elected in Westlock to my knowledge,” said Leriger. “Shelia was an excellent councillor, she sat to my right and I really relied on her. She was a huge asset. I’ve had women as bosses and was raised by a formidable woman. With two women now on council, that changes and rounds out the conversation and I’m looking forward to that as well.”
Broadly speaking, Leriger was buoyed by the municipal election results across the province, saying voters picked candidates who are willing to work together for the betterment of taxpayers.
“Voters have sent a really strong message to candidates and to existing elected officials at every level of government that angry, divisive people can go to the back of the line. I think the results of this election shows that,” he said. “We’re not looking for people who want to fight Justin Trudeau, fight Ottawa, fight for our freedom, fight for out future. Fighting is seldom an effective course of action.
“Voters have said that diplomacy, discussion, collaboration and compromise are how you produce results and develop effective public policy. And I’m encouraged by that.”