MD OF BIGHORN – The decision to run for Ward 1 councillor in the upcoming MD of Bighorn byelection was an easy one for long-time Exshaw residents Steve Fitzmorris and Robin Bushulak.
After spending several years active in the community, both were ready to step into another level of community service to ensure constituents are heard.
“It just seemed like the perfect opportunity to get involved, and honestly, get my toes wet,” said Bushulak.
Bushulak, who was born in Canmore and moved to Exshaw in 1998, has a combined 12 years of experience “getting his toes wet” as a volunteer, vice-president and president of the Exshaw Community Association.
He was also the lead on the Exshaw rink project, a rink attendant for seven years, vice-president of the Canmore Minor Hockey Association for two years and a coach for 17 years.
This won’t be his first time running for council, though, it will be his first asking constituents to vote for him.
“I actually put my name forward 18 years ago, and then lo and behold, it wasn’t much longer after my wife and I learned we had a baby on the way,” he said.
With life about to get a lot busier with two little ones, Bushulak tried to back out of the election, but couldn't. His name was stuck on the ballot having not withdrawn before the nomination deadline.
“I had to hold a meeting to say, ‘please do not vote for me,’” he said.
Now he and his wife’s children are grown, the would-be councillor is ready for the challenge of not only joining a municipal council but doing so two years into the current term.
While neither he nor Fitzmorris are running on any particular issues, Bushulak said he aligns with former councillor Joss Elford – who resigned from the Ward 1 position in June for personal reasons – on advocating for greater municipal enforcement and public transit within the MD.
“I’d really like to keep going on the work the former councillor did on public transit and the work the MD is doing with that,” said Bushulak.
“To me, there’s just so many young families and we’re starting to become a younger community with lots of kids. … It’s just such a different dynamic here with families and I think public transportation would be a pretty big benefit to a lot of people.”
Fitzmorris, who’s lived in Exshaw for 18 years, said he’s overall satisfied with the path of current council and administration.
He is, however, paying close attention to an ongoing ward boundary review, prompted by the growing population within the MD of Bighorn.
The population of the MD rose 20.7 per cent between 2016 and 2021 from 1,324 residents to 1,598, according to Statistics Canada. Dead Man’s Flats saw the largest growth from 125 people to 377, or an increase of 201.6 per cent.
The MD of Bighorn is comprised of four wards, with Ward 2 having Harvie Heights, Dead Man’s Flats and Lac des Arcs and Ward 3 to the north, south and east of the Îyârhe Nakoda First Nation with West Jumpingpound region. Ward 4 is the largest geographical area and is the hamlet of Benchlands.
Ward 1, which is the only area with two councillors, includes the hamlet of Exshaw, Kananaskis and Seebe settlements and lands in townships 25 and 26 to the north of Exshaw. Coun. Jen Smith was elected as the other councillor of the ward in 2021, alongside Elford. They took over for longtime Reeve Dene Cooper, who chose not to run in the 2021 municipal election, and Paul Ryan.
Fitzmorris said he isn’t hopeful for any particular outcome of the ward boundary review but wants to ensure all communities in the MD are represented fairly.
“You don’t want to jump into the future when you don’t know what action lies ahead,” he said. “That’s why I would very much like to be involved in this process to ensure that each ward is going to get its proper representation to make the best for the whole MD.
“I’m a very community-oriented person and I’ve always had an open-door policy. And I’ve always taken the time to listen to my community members’ concerns and I always will.”
Fitzmorris is president of the Exshaw Community Association and became involved with the organization in 2018. He also serves as a public member on the MD’s Bighorn Corridor Environment Committee and is chair of the Emergency Services Committee
The born Ontarian said his experience lends itself to having a good understanding of current issues in the MD and already having connections in the community.
“Having the opportunity to sit on these committees has given me a feeling for the structure and process of these committees and how council and administration work together,” he said. “It has also given me a chance to connect with industry and make relationships there.”
If elected, Fitzmorris would resign from his committee roles for another public member to step in and be assigned new committee roles at the MD’s annual organizational meeting in October.
Before Elford resigned, he was part of the Bow Corridor and Environment Committee, Bow Valley Waste Management Commission, Streets & Roads Committee and Canmore Intermunicipal Committee. His resignation was the second for Bighorn council this term after long-time councillor Paul Clark retired in May 2022 to spend more time with his wife. Alice James was acclaimed and sworn in last June for Ward 3.
During the 2021 municipal election, Bighorn saw three new councillors join its council after long-time council members Dene Cooper and Erik Butters chose not to run for re-election.
Lisa Rosvold, who became reeve, was re-elected for a second term, and Clark returned for a third term. Rick Tuza, Smith and Elford were newly elected councillors.
A polling station will be set up for the Ward 1 byelection on Sept. 19 at the Exshaw Community Hall. Only eligible Ward 1 voters in the MD may vote.
For more information on the byelection visit: www.mdbighorn.ca/540/Elections.
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. The position covers Îyârhe (Stoney) Nakoda First Nation and Kananaskis Country.