A former executive director of the chamber of commerce is running for Okotoks town council.
Cheryl Actemichuk said it was a role she had considered for some time, but wanted to wait until her family had grown and she could devote more time to the position.
“I know that being on council is a huge time commitment and I didn’t want to cheat my family of my time, and I didn’t want to cheat council of my time, because you need to be dedicated,” said Actemichuk. “This will be my full-time job.”
She said being actively involved with the Okotoks and District Chamber of Commerce allowed her to gain experience with governance, bylaw-setting and policy work, and made her familiar with Robert’s Rules of Order through various committees and attending Town council meetings.
While some people would find council business boring, she attended nearly every meeting while working for the chamber. It gave her insight into council’s responsibilities.
“I found it absolutely fascinating, because the things that come up are not necessarily all the things that as a resident you realize council has to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” said Actemichuk.
She’s looking forward to being part of change and planning as Okotoks begins to look to its future.
One of the main issues for Actemichuk is economic development, which she said is tied into manageable housing costs.
“I don’t like the word affordable, because when I talk to people there’s a stigma with the word ‘affordable,’” said Actemichuk.
There are many people who were born and raised in Okotoks but can’t afford to stay in town, and that’s an issue that needs attention in the next council term, she said.
It affects young people graduating from high school or post-secondary and seniors, as well as lower-income families, she said.
“For me, that’s an important issue because seniors and youth want to stay in our community and they can’t, because they can’t afford a half-million-dollar house,” said Actemichuk. “Not every family is making $130,000 a year to do that.”
To make the town more sustainable and home ownership more attainable for families, she said economic development should be a focus.
Okotoks needs to bring in more light industry, she said.
“That’s what I want to get working on, bringing more light industry to Okotoks so we can increase our business tax base, that will lower the cost to our residential tax base,” said Actemichuk. “It will take some of that burden off the residents, who are feeling the crunch when they say we’re growing and growing, but our taxes keep going up.”
Another large piece of economic development is ensuring the seniors in town feel like valuable members of the community, she said.
They are a demographic most likely to spend their dollars locally, she said.
“They live here, they spend their money here, they’re creating our local economy because they shop where they live,” said Actemichuk.
Taking on those big-ticket items is what excited Actemichuk about sitting at the council table.
She’s also excited about serving the community she loves and has lived in since 1994, when it had a population of about 8,000 people.
“Honestly, for the first couple of weeks I thought I would never get to know anybody, because everybody already knew everybody,” said Actemichuk. “But what I love about Okotoks that if you get involved, you will get to know the heart of Okotoks. Our residents are some of the most amazing people.”
Although it continues to grow, she said Okotoks is still a great small town by its feel, how busy it is with events, and the way people respect and look out for one another.
Over the years she’s formed a number of strong connections, which Actemichuk said she’s very proud of, including business owners and local politicians.
She’s working with former mayor Sandi Kennedy on her campaign, as well as business owner Wendy Shingoose.
“Sandi has been amazing, she’s been a great mentor to me,” she said. “I feel very fortunate that I’ve got involved in a community where I have the respect of people like that.
“I’m very proud of the fact my relationships in this town are not just people who are in the know, Wendy is my campaign manager – first indigenous businesswomen in Okotoks – Sandi was the first female mayor in Okotoks. I’m pretty proud of that fact.”