Strathcona mayor candidate Al Biel

By Jana Semeniuk

Sherwood Park resident Al Biel, candidate for mayor of Strathcona County, said he has never been involved in politics before but felt the time was right.

“It’s not something I’ve ever done before, but I have a lot of experience with infrastructure and running a business,” he said. “I also wanted to give people a strong voice in government.”

While explaining his education and experience, Biel proudly held up the pinky finger on his right hand displaying a silver ring.

“It’s a Canadian tradition,” he explains. “All engineers get this when they graduate.”

Biel got his ring in the early 80s after deciding to sell his construction business and enter an engineering program. As a new father with two young sons, Biel said this was a challenging time in his life.

“I thought here’s an opportunity I’ve got to make a change in my life and career. It was a tough five years of engineering school,” he said. “My wife and I had two boys already, so that was a really tough time financially and emotionally, but we survived.”

After spending most of his career as project engineer with Esso, Biel had an opportunity to expand his experience by taking on a very big project.

“I spent a whole year and a half on research to develop the Blast Proof Quality Assurance lab for Esso,” he said. “It’s the first Blast Proof Quality Assurance lab ever designed in the world, and I don’t think another one has been done since.”

Biel in Mexico helping to build a woman’s shelter in 2012

Once Biel’s contract was up, he struck out on his own, and Five-Star Engineering was born.

“I design gas stations,” he continued. “Such as independent Petro-Canada, Shell and Esso . If you have ever filled up with gas from Red Deer on North, you’ve probably filled up at a gas station I designed.”

While Biel is satisfied with his career, he has become increasingly dissatisfied with his local government.

“For the past 20 years I have been frustrated with a lot of the issues here in Strathcona County such as the bylaws and policies, especially for my clients,” he said. “I always thought maybe I should do something about it like run for council.”

Biel explained his decision to run for mayor.

“Once they decided to have these extra mandates around COVID, that pushed me over the edge,” he said. “I figured that somebody has to stand up for people’s rights. To me, it’s your freedoms that we must stand up for. And when nobody’s standing up for it at a political level, this is a dangerous thing for democracy.”

Biel said he is not against vaccines but feels people should make their own health decisions.

“I’m not against vaccines because vaccines have been proven safe and effective and are a good thing for society. I have been vaccinated since I was a child,” he said. “COVID can be dangerous no question. But the decision to inject a vaccine should be a decision made between a person and their doctor, with all the risks and benefits explained to them given their personal state of health. Not mandated by the government.”

Although Biel understands his role as mayor would give him limited influence, he hopes to be a strong government voice for residents.

“Of all levels of government, the municipal level is the closest to the citizens of our country. We can voice our concerns and be very vocal about anything we disagree with and what we believe is important,” he said. “We have an obligation and the right to promote our views to our provincial and federal governments and hold them accountable at certain levels.”

In the meantime, Biel said he is enjoying the campaign and happy with his progress.

“My views are very clear. In terms of the response I have been receiving, for every negative comment I get from people, I get three positives,” he said. “So many people have asked for lawn signs and shown their support. It’s been wonderful.”