Anger, regrets and second thoughts after RMWB council votes itself a promotion

Some councillors who supported suddenly becoming full-time councillors without any public debate regret their vote after outrage at their vote. Others have no regrets.

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Councillor Kendrick Cardinal does not care people are angry with him after he convinced councillors to skip public feedback and promote themselves to full-time councillors. In a Thursday interview, Cardinal said this was for the good of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB).

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“You can tell the community I did this to pull them together. I would like the community to be more involved with council. I would like to have the next council meeting full,” said Cardinal.

“Some more debate needs to happen so the community needs to get more involved meetings. Those council meetings need to be full. Those council chairs need to be full.”

Cardinal’s surprise motion was revealed publicly at last Tuesday’s meeting. The motion did not include anything about salaries, but Cardinal said raises will be decided soon. Cardinal convinced councillors to skip public feedback because he was frustrated the topic had not yet been debated. Councillors voted 5-4 to skip public feedback and passed the motion 6-3.

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Cardinal is pitching another motion at the upcoming June 25 meeting to “stir the pot a little bit and hold people accountable.” He refused to mention more details about the future motion, but said he was excited for the public to show up and debate council.

“Council’s getting too boring,” said Cardinal. “People have every right to get angry and I have every right to do what I’m doing to make people more involved.”

In a screenshot from the RWMB’s YouTube channel, councillors Keith McGrath, left, and Allan Grandison argue during a council debate about turning the RMWB’s councillors into full-time positions on June 11, 2024. Councillors Shafiq Dogar, centre, and Kendrick Cardinal, right, look on.

Bowman, Grandison blast sidestepping public feedback

Mayor Sandy Bowman, who voted against both motions, publicly criticized how the motion was handled in a Wednesday Facebook post.

Bowman said he is not opposed to making councillors a full-time job. But any changes to council’s salaries, expectations and duties should be decided by an independent review and begin under a future council. This was not decided at the meeting. It is not known who will draft those policies or when they will be made.

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“Having a full-time group of elected officials can be extremely beneficial, but I firmly believe that before we make decisions such as these, we must do our due diligence and follow a good process – especially engagement with the public,” said Bowman. “This did not take place in this case.”

Councillor Allan Grandison, who was the loudest critic of the motion, said he is not surprised with the public outrage towards the councillors that supported the motion.

Grandison said he told Cardinal he opposed the motion when Cardinal called councillors before the meeting seeking support for the idea. Grandison said he did not expect Cardinal to present the motion on Tuesday.

“If we’re talking about salaries, that has to be based on expertise. If we’re talking about work requirements, that has to be based on expertise. It’s not expertise that I have, but a third-party has,” said Grandison. “I don’t believe it’s my job to vote myself a raise or a full-time position.”

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McGrath doubles-down on support, ignores critics

McGrath was the loudest supporter of becoming a full-time councillor at the meeting. He said in a Wednesday interview his opinions are unchanged, but repeatedly vowed never to take any salary increases this term.

When asked about skipping public engagement, he repeated his promise to avoid any raises and dismissed the public’s outrage towards the meeting.

“Public engagement here at the municipality has proven time again that the only time people talk, people are ruled by social media,” he said. “But if they were paying attention… we’ve had more foreclosures in this community than anybody else. We have more personal debt in this community than in the nation. And the last time we had a meeting with industry, I don’t know when.”

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McGrath argued a part-time council relies too much on administration, which he described on Wednesday as “inmates running the asylum” who are not transparent and “tell too many goddamn lies.”

He also pointed to a February KPMG report noting council makes too many requests to an understaffed administration. The audit said this distracts staff from their duties and delays progress. McGrath said full-time councillors would not ask as many questions and have more authority to manage administration, finish projects, and lobby the province and Ottawa for infrastructure support.

“When we have an administration that is so far out of touch with the current situation, it was time to bring more oversight,” he said. “I’ll support it ’til the day I die and I tell you why: I’ve seen firsthand this ship is sinking.”

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The provincial building and Jubilee Centre viewed from the corner of Main Street and Franklin Avenue in Fort McMurray Alta. on Saturday January 30, 2016. Vince Mcdermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network Photo by Vince Mcdermott /Vince Mcdermott/Today Staff

Regrets and no comment as petition, public outrage grows

Councillors Cardinal, McGrath, Ken Ball, Funky Banjoko, Shafiq Dogar and Loretta Waquan voted in favour of becoming full-time councillors. Those same councillors, with the exception of Ball, voted to skip public debate.

Bowman and councillors Jane Stroud and Allan Grandison opposed the motion. Councillors Lance Bussieres and Stu Wigle were absent.

Banjoko and Dogar said on Thursday they regretted skipping public debate. Dogar said he felt council was “in a hurry,” while Banjoko felt some councillors did not feel they were doing anything wrong at the time.

Bussieres said the motion made no sense to him and felt it had too many uncertainties about salaries and roles. He did not want to comment further on a meeting he did not attend. Waquan refused comment when contacted Thursday. Ball and Wigle did not respond to requests for comment.

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“We did wrong. Most of us didn’t see it that way, but looking at it in retrospect, well, wrong is wrong and right is right,” said Banjoko.

Petition demands province investigate ‘terrible idea’

Meanwhile, a petition demanding an investigation from the province has been signed by 574 people as of press time. Fort McMurray resident Diana Noble started the petition because she was angry the public had not been given an opportunity to speak on the issue.

Noble said in an interview the motion was vague and poorly researched. She pointed out the RMWB recently cancelled plans to cut more than 450 unionized jobs and, while the RMWB is not in debt, Bowman and CAO Henry Hunter have warned municipal tax revenues have shrunk in recent years.

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“To now essentially vote for your own wage increase? It’s terrible timing, it’s terrible optics, it’s a terrible idea and it’s an incredible conflict of interest,” said Noble. “We need to go back to a day where we weren’t getting national headlines over the ridiculousness of our council operations.”

Ashley Stevenson, a spokesperson for Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver, did not address the controversy directly in an email. Instead, she said people who are concerned about any recent motions from their municipal council should “reach out directly to their local elected officials to share their concerns.”

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