2017 municipal election profiles

Mike Skrynyk for M.D. reeve

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

The battle for reeve in the M.D. of Lesser Slave River is between the incumbent Murray Kerik and one of his council colleagues, Mike Skrynyk. It’ll be Skrynyk’s second run for reeve, having come up a bit short in the 2010 election.
One thing that’s different this time, Skrynyk tells The Leader, is that he has more time to devote to the campaign and to the job if he gets it.
“This time I have the time,” he says. “Last time I didn’t campaign much.”
Another thing that is different than four years ago is the position the M.D. finds itself in with regard to revenue: there’s less of it, and that makes the job of municipal government more challenging.
“We’ve lost $1.8 million in revenue in the last couple of years,” Skrynyk says. “We have to be very strong to advocate for (provincial) funding. We can’t do it on our own anymore.”
What’s needed, Skrynyk continues, is for a reeve and council to work more closely with the province, including the local MLA.
“We lack in that right now,” he says. “We do not do a good job.”
Another area the M.D. is not doing a good enough job in, says Skrynyk, is in settling land-use conflicts. This long-festering sore is particularly acute in areas around Slave Lake and defies easy solutions.
“It’s not easy,” Skrynyk admits. “You have to dive into it. We don’t even have a land-use zoning that will accommodate these people.”
Skrynyk figures he can make more happen in that regard as reeve.
“A reeve’s job is to make sure that things are brought to the table and taken care of. The Land-use Bylaw – I talked about it four years ago and it hasn’t happened.”
The related area of rules governing private development also needs work. There are a lot of frustrated and confused developers and would-be developers out there, Skrynyk says. Some sort of simpler, more easily-understood process is needed. Lack of administration capacity is often cited as an obstacle to getting things done quickly and smoothly, but maybe the system is what’s wrong.
“Maybe process is burning a lot of your capacity,” he says.
On yet another related issue, Skrynyk says there are looming obstacles to development at the provincial level that municipal governments have to be aware of and be prepared to deal with.
“There are so many things the government is putting in place,” he says. “We have to push back.”
Another “disappointment” for Skrynyk in the past term has been the inability for the Town of Slave Lake and M.D. to settle their two major fund-sharing agreements. The hope on both sides was to put the Fire Services and Inter-Municipal Agreements to bed before the election.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Skrynyk says.
Again, Skrynyk implies that leadership is an issue.
“It should have had a lot more attention than it did.”
On the other hand, Skrynyk doesn’t want to overstate the power of the reeve.
“We all bring one vote to the table,” he says. “Nobody can do anything alone. You present your argument and you try to collaborate.”
Skrynyk is a semi-retired oilfield consultant, who does some farming on the side, and raises quarter horses. With wife Nancy he is the father of three daughters and grandfather of four “with the fifth one on the way.”
He’s also the president of the Spruce Point Park Association, and has a prominent role in the regional housing authority and the regional landfill commission – two of the weightier council portfolios.
Looking ahead to the next council, Skrynyk says he hopes people get elected who have the time and energy to devote to the job, because it is not a small one.
“There’s no way you can do it properly if you have a full time job,” he says.
That’s a dilemma, because it’s also important, in Skrynyk’s view, to have younger people stepping in to participate in municipal leadership.
“It’s a very hard thing to manage,” he says. “It’s tough.”
Skrynyk will be elaborating on his ideas for council leadership at whatever candidate forums are organized. It’s looking likely (as of this writing) that one will be held in Widewater on Oct. 5.
One is also being held in Smith on Oct. 2 and there is talk of another in Flatbush. As a candidate for reeve, Skrynyk would participate in all of them. Candidates for councillor wouldn’t participate in the ones in the ward they aren’t running in, but he thinks they should attend anyway.
“They’ll hear what the issues are,” he says.
One of the issues they’ll likely hear about is the health and survival of the volunteer organizations that run programs in the hamlets of the M.D. Most are struggling, Skrynyk says, and he thinks the M.D. needs to work closely with them, “to make sure they can continue to operate.”
The municipal vote is on Monday, Oct. 16.

Jeff Commins for M.D. council
Div, II

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Former M.D. of Lesser Slave River councillor Jeff Commins is seeking another term on council, after a four-year break. He’s one of five people contending for the three seats from Div. II – the ‘west end’ of the M.D.
Commins ran for reeve last time, losing to Murray Kerik.
“I’m running again because I think I have something to offer,” Commins says. “And probably because I see a lot of areas that are not being properly (looked after) and I think I can do something about that.”
Such as?
“The Inter-municipal Agreement. And the Fire Services Agreement is a disaster.”
(Commins refers here to the two major cost-sharing agreements between the Town of Slave Lake and the M.D., which for many months have been unresolved.) There has to be some sort of workable compromise, Commins says – which is not the same thing as capitulation.
“There has to be something that can work.”
Housing is another area of interest for Commins. He sees opportunities there he thinks are not being grasped and would like to get involved again as a councillor in that area.
And of course roads.
“Infrastructure requires the most planning,” he says. “You’ve got to look down the road 10 years.”
Having noticed the recent discussions about the cost of maintaining the Old Smith Highway, Commins agrees it may be time to start thinking about paving it.
One thing Commins is delighted about in this election is the strong slate of candidates for council in both wards. He likes his chances, he says, because having served on council already, he’s knows how the job works and is ready to hit the ground running.
For example, “I’m very familiar with the Land-use Bylaw. I served on the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board and the Municipal Planning Commission, on the housing board, on economic development and on the watershed council.”
Commins, 67, describes himself as “semi-retired,” these days, leaving his wife and daughter to do most of the running of Southshore Leisure. A 34-year resident of the area, he and Marlene have run their own business for the past 27 years. Before that he worked in pipeline management for Mobil Oil.
As far as campaigning goes, Commins plans to put up signs and do some door-knocking. He’ll also be at the Oct. 5 candidates’ forum at the complex in Widewater.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he says. “I think it will be fun.”

Sandra Melzer for M.D. council
Div. I

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

“This is the next step,” says Sandra Melzer, speaking of her decision to run for M.D. council. “I have always been involved in the community.”
‘Always,’ in Melzer’s case, is 28 years. That’s how long she’s lived in Flatbush, where she and husband Dedi run a cow/calf operation north of the hamlet.
“I helped out in soccer, hockey – all the community associations. I want to see rural communities thrive.”
The problem, Melzer says, is that the opposite seems to be happening. Rural communities like Flatbush are shrinking. Reversing that trend might be more than a municipal district can do, but Melzer would like to give it a try.
“There are huge issues,” she says. “I’m not sure how you can solve them.”
Better roads wouldn’t hurt. Support for community organizations is also important. Melzer mentions the good work that the Gentle Ben Care Society does and says such organizations should get all the help the M.D. can afford to give. She would advocate for that if elected.
Something else she’d advocate for is more attention to drainage problems around Flatbush.
“I’ve talked to ratepayers. Two issues that come up a lot of the time are roads and ditching. It would be nice to have that fixed.”
Melzer, 53, was born in Saskatchewan and grew up on an acreage near Westlock. She and Dedi have two boys, both in their 20s and working the oilfield. Sandra has also run a hairdressing operation out of her home for most of the past 28 years.
In that time, besides the community involvement already mentioned, she has served the past eight years on the Agricultural Service Board, and is its current chairperson.
“It has been a stepping stone to help me prepare for the challenge ahead,” she says.
Melzer also serves on the board of the Pembina River Natural Gas co-op.
To see and hear Melzer, plan on attending one or both of the candidates’ forums being planned for Division I. There’s one in Smith on Oct. 2 and the one in Flatbush was still to be determined at press time.
Melzer is one of five candidates seeking the three council seats in Div. I.
“I’m looking forward to it,” she says. “It’s a challenge. It’ll be good.”

Becky Peiffer for M.D. council
Div. I

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

One of the two newcomers to municipal politics in Ward I of the M.D. of Lesser Slave River is Becky Peiffer. She joins Sandra Melzer of Flatbush in trying to push aside two of the three incumbents running for council seats in next month’s election. She’s got her work cut out for her, but Peiffer has her ear to the ground and knows what people are talking about.
“Paving the Old Smith Highway is at the top of the list,” Peiffer says. “A boat launch; a new bridge.”
Those might not be all that interesting, as issues go, for voters in the Flatbush area. They’ll have a chance to quiz Peiffer and other council candidates at an Oct. 2 forum in Smith. Another one is being planned for Flatbush, she says, but the date hadn’t been nailed down as of press time.
“I want to be a voice for the people,” Peiffer says. “If residents have concerns that are important for them then they are important to me.”
She knows plenty of people in the Smith area, having been a resident for the past 25 years. She and husband Gerald raise horses on their Otter Creek Road property and run a log haul business as well. Becky also drives the shuttle bus for Slave Lake seniors a couple of days a week.
Slave Lake was home for Becky Morgan, as she was then, having moved there at the age of 12 with her family from Manitoba. After graduating from Roland Michener School in 1983 she moved into the M.D., first living in Canyon Creek and then on Bayer Road, before settling in the Smith area with her husband on the ‘Leaky G’ Ranch. They have three children – ages 26, 22 and 21.
Involvement in the community is nothing new for Peiffer. She says she’s served “off and on” with SHARA for 20 years, hosted a horse show in Smith for 15 years and “volunteer as needed.”
Besides attending the forums, Peiffer plans to do some door-knocking in Smith and Flatbush, as well as “something on Facebook.” She’ll also be putting up signs.
“I’m pretty excited and I’m really looking forward to this,” she says.

 

 

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