Weekly update: Housing program's future uncertain, unions hold bargaining talks

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

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Happy Friday, Fort McMurray!

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  • Rock the Rails: Rock The Rails is back! Featuring legendary punk band Authority Zero and more than a dozen other acts from across Canada and the United States. Friday and Saturday at Syncrude Athletic Park. Information.
  • Fort McMurray Giants: Baseball action at Legacy Dodge Field against the Regina Red Sox on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Next home games are against Okotoks Dawgs on June 20-23, Weyburn Beavers on June 26-27, Brooks Bombers on June 29-July 2, Saskatoon Berries on July 9-10, Lethbridge Bulls on July 11-14. Drum Brewery hosts watch parties of away games. Tickets and schedule.
  • Calgary Stampede Art Sneak Peak: Fort McMurray artist Amy Keller-Rempp is one of this year’s esteemed artists at the Calgary Stampede Artist Studios. Keller-Rempp invites the community for an exclusive art preview ahead of he Stampede. June 10 at Fort McMurray Golf Club from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Event details.
  • West Coast Amusements: Canada’s biggest travelling carnival returns to Fort McMurray. June 13-17. Tickets.
  • Free Heavy Item Pickup: Anyone with large household items and appliances can get the RMWB to haul it away. Registration closes June 18. Once registered, a pickup date will be assigned between June 25 and July 11. Space is limited so don’t wait! There’s also Big Bin events between June 8 and 29 to get rid of household items such as large furniture, appliances, renovation materials and electronic waste. Registration and dates.
  • Fort McMurray Fringe Festival: Local theatre company Theatre, Just Because is launching the first Fort McMurray Fringe Festival at Heritage Village on Aug. 31. Submissions are open until June 14. Information on submissions and the festival.
  • Fort City Car Show: Fort City Church hosts its annual Father’s Day car show. Two, four and six-wheeled rides are welcome. Trophies and prizes will be awarded to the different vehicles. All proceeds from the BBQ go to Youth With A Mission. Entry is free for people, but vehicle owners can register online.
  • Western Canada Ribfest Tour: This free event will be a drive-thru ribfest at Centerfire Place on June 21 and 22 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and June 23 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • 2024 Pride YMM Festival: The eighth annual Pride YMM Festival returns to Heritage Shipyard on June 22. A list of local Pride Month events are online.
  • Take the Pledge: Want a chance to win a helicopter ride AND reduce wildfire risk? Pledge to reduce wildfires in the Fort McMurray Forest Area by August 16 and you’ll be entered to win a helicopter tour of the region! Take the pledge today online.
  • Wood Buffalo Regional Library hosts all-ages weekly events.
  • MacDonald Island Park updates its website with upcoming events and programs.
  • Wood Buffalo Volunteers has volunteer opportunities for different causes and non-profits across Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.
  • Obituaries: Obituaries, memorial notices and sympathy announcements.

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Jo-Anne Packham, executive director of the Wood Buffalo Wellness Society, and Dennis Fraser, the RMWB’s Indigenous relations director, in a youth room at Tawaw, a supportive living centre for chronic homelessness in downtown Fort McMurray, on June 5, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Funding concerns puts Fort McMurray supportive housing program at risk

The work of Tawâw, a permanent supportive housing program focusing on chronically homeless Indigenous people, could unravel within the next six months if funding is not secured.

Councillor Chris Beausoleil of Fort McMurray 468 First Nation warns if that happens, the options left for the clients are “jail, the streets, the hospital or death.”

The program focuses on people who are chronically homeless. Many of them have been kicked out of other shelters and treatment programs.

Nearly all of Tawâw’s clients come suffer from addictions, psychosis, mental and emotional health issues. Some clients lived in an encampment that was cleared by the RMWB last summer. Packham says they call themselves “tent city OGs.”

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Jo-Anne Packham of the Wood Buffalo Wellness Society (WBWS), which oversees Tawâw, says a funding agreement with the municipality cannot be honoured. She accused changes to the Community Investment Program of stopping progress. The municipality says this is not true and it cannot legally fulfill the requests made by Tawâw.

“There’s double the amount of homelessness on our official list. The reason why we’re not seeing encampments everywhere is that we’re open,” she said Packham. “We didn’t create homelessness, this is a community problem. We are the service provider that’s coming in to try our best to address it and solve it for us.”

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L-R: Sheena Bradley and Maddie Amyotte of Ihkapaskwa Collective. Supplied Image

McMurray Métis birth workers make Bears’ Lair pitch

Two Fort McMurray birth workers will make their pitch on a July 5 episode of Bears’ Lair, an Indigenous spin on Dragons’ Den that airs on APTN.

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Maddie Amyotte and Sheena Bradley, both Cree-Metis with McMurray Metis, are the founders of Ihkapaskwa Collective, a Cree word for fireweed. Amyotte is a registered nurse and midwife. Bradley is a birth worker who uses her skills as a traditional herbalist to prescribe locally harvested plant medicines.

Ihkapaskwa Collective began in 2022 to meet Indigenous families’ growing demands for midwifery and family supports, particularly in the rural communities outside Fort McMurray. They were flooded with clients during that first year.

Birth rates in Fort McMurray are strong but have dropped in recent years following economic uncertainty and the 2016 Horse River Wildfire. Births in rural areas, however, are booming. Every week, the non-profit is in one of the region’s Indigenous communities.

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“A lot of people are just looking for an auntie they can call and reach out to if they have concerns or if they need help accessing different resources within the community,” said Amyotte in an interview. “We really try to bridge that gap so they don’t have to go shopping around all these different organizations to find what they need.”

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Members of CUPE and United Nurses of Alberta walk in front of a Teamsters truck during a rally outside the Jubilee Centre protesting against cutting hundreds of municipal jobs during a council meeting on March 12, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Fort McMurray public sector unions hold bargaining talks amid inflation worries

Fort McMurray’s public sector unions will be holding public rallies throughout the summer as they enter bargaining talks. The unions are demanding higher wages, which they say have failed to keep up with inflation. They are also concerned about workplace burnout, and their employers’ abilities to keep and recruit staff.

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“What we’re seeing is more determination from the workers to catch up,” said AUPE president Guy Smith after visiting Fort McMurray on Wednesday. “They fell behind inflation, there’s been lots of disruptions over the years, there’s short staffing in health care and government services. Workers have had enough.”

Leaders of AUPE, CUPE, ATA and United Nurses of Alberta are hopeful talks go well this summer, although some union leaders say the discussions have been off to a rough start. No strike vote has been held, but some unions say staff are ready to strike.

Lynn Fleet of CUPE Local 2545 said some of her members have been working two or three jobs to pay bills. The union represents the FMPSD’s educational and librarian assistance, maintenance and administrative staff, food workers and district office staff.

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“People are tired. People are getting hurt at work, mentally and physically. They are tired of not being valued,” she said.

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Capital Power’s Genesee Power Plant is seen near Edmonton in an Oct. 19, 2022, handout photo. PHOTO BY JIMMY JEONG /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Carbon capture projects stall as industry, federal government at odds over risk

The question of who should bear the financial risk for pricey carbon capture and storage projects has become a stumbling block slowing the technology’s adoption in Canada.

Carbon capture stores harmful greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes deep underground. Since the federal government signed a deal with Entropy to underwrite much of the risk for their proposed carbon capture project, there has been no other contracts to cover risks for other proposals.

That includes the Pathways Alliance, a consortium of companies proposing to build a $16.5-billion carbon capture and storage network for Alberta’s oilsands.

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They have yet to successfully negotiate a carbon offtake agreement with the Growth Fund. Most carbon capture projects proposed for Canada still only exist on paper, with final investment decisions yet to be made.

So what’s the holdup? It comes down in part to tension between government and industry over the perceived financial risk of CCUS investments, and differing opinions about how much of that risk should be borne by taxpayers.

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People applaud at a flag raising event at Kiyam Community Park marking the start of Pride Month on June 1, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Pride Month in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo begins with flag raising

The theme of this year’s Pride Month in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo is “No One Left Behind: Equality, Freedom and Justice for All.” The flag raising event was marked with speeches calling for supporting the 2SLGBTQI+ community.

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Speakers with Pride YMM also had plenty of criticisms of the Alberta government’s proposed policies on youth gender identity, youth gender-affirming surgeries and treatments and transgender athletes in women’s sports.

UCP MLAs have been banned from attending events hosted by 14 Pride groups across Alberta. Hanna Fridhed, executive director of Pride YMM, says MLAs who plan to vote in favour of the proposed policies are not welcome to attend upcoming events.

“We’re seeing rollbacks not just of trans rights right now, but abortion rights are being questioned, a right for contraceptives,” she said after the flag raising event.

“It’s a slippery slope once the the narrative of transphobia and homophobia becomes more legitimized by politicians, by spokespeople, by leaders, it opens scary doors towards a less accepting and less inclusive world.”

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The organization was founded in 2017. One of their founding goals was to have an annual Pride festival in Fort McMurray. That festival has gone from a one-day event to a week-long event and now to a month.

“It went above and beyond expectations last year. We’re seeing a great, great reception to Pride Month this year again,” said Fridhed. “But the most important thing I would say is that in the current political climate and always is that if you’re an ally, being accepting is not enough. You also need to be vocal and you need to be active.”

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Police work at the scene of a multiple shooting at the Duggan Community Hall, 3728 106 St., in Edmonton on Monday Aug. 30, 2021. Photo by David Bloom

Killers get life for brutal ‘execution style’ murder: Christopher Wilson and Abdullahi Yalahow were sentenced last week for killing Hamza Mohamed, an oilsands safety worker, at a crowded Edmonton party in 2021.

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Another man, who set off the deadly chain of events by opening fire on Mohamed, will go to trial on manslaughter charges next year.

Local man gets 4.5 years for grooming, abusing minor: A man has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years for grooming and abusing a 14-year-old girl starting in 2021.

The exact nature of the abuse is mentioned in the article. It cannot be mentioned in this newsletter because some email servers might label it as spam. Some readers might find the article upsetting.

Alcohol a factor in fatal crash that closed Highway 63: One of the driver’s in a Tuesday morning crash on Highway 63 died the next day. Police believe alcohol was a factor in the collision that shut down traffic for hours north of Fort McMurray. The collision shut down traffic in both directions for hours.

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Police investigating two random attacks in downtown: Police are looking for three girls they say randomly attacked people in downtown on May 29.

The first attack happened at 2:30 p.m. when the three suspects assaulted someone at a bus stop on Franklin Avenue. That same day just before 6 p.m., another person walking on Morrison Street was attacked by the same three girls.

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Kevin Genest shows off his Stanley Cup tattoo he got during the last Oilers playoff run in 2006. Edmonton’s 100.3 The Bear required people to do outrageous stunts to be entered in a draw to win $35,000. Genest lost, but he has no regrets. “I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My summer was amazing that year,” Genest said in a Wednesday interview. Photo by Greg Southam/Postmedia
  • D-Day remembered: Thursday marked 80 years since Canadian, American and British troops staged the D-Day invasions, the beginning of the end of the Second World War. The Calgary Herald’s Bill Kaufmann tells some of the stories of the thousands of Albertans and Prairie men who stormed the beaches of Normandy.
  • No showers in Calgary: A broken water main in Calgary severely disrupted the city’s water supply on Thursday. The Bowness neighbourhood went under a boil-water advisory, and Airdrie and Chestermere created outdoor water bans and urged residents to limit indoor use. As of Thursday evening, the cause was still being investigated.
  • MLA charged: Former MLA Derek Fildebrandt has been charged with four counts of uttering threats in connection with an incident involving teenage boys. Police said the boys were allegedly threatened while on their way to a convenience store. Fildebrandt wrote in the Western Standard, of which he is publisher, that he caught the teens damaging his property and warned them to leave.
  • ‘Now with her soulmate’: Colleen Klein, wife of former premier Ralph Klein, has died at age 83. She died peacefully in palliative care early Tuesday, more than 11 years after the death of her husband. Klein dedicated much of her time advocating for women, children, the disadvantaged and Indigenous people facing racism, family challenges and systemic barriers.
  • Influence campaign fails: Take Back Alberta’s David Parker urged his supporters to buy NDP memberships to influence the upcoming leadership race. After nearly 70,000 new memberships were sold, columnist Don Braid writes that campaign has failed. Only about 360 looked suspicious to NDP staff and fewer than half resulted in a denial of membership applications. The campaign’s final debate was held Sunday in Edmonton. Voting started Monday. The winner will be announced June 22.
  • Health care lawsuit: Alberta health-care workers have filed a $125-million class-action lawsuit against Alberta Health Services, alleging they have been overworked and underpaid. They allege AHS broke provincial employment rules when telling them they were exempt from receiving overtime pay and they routinely worked shifts longer than 12 hours.
  • Read up on the politics and culture of Alberta  with Postmedia’s subscriber-exclusive newsletter, What’s up with Alberta? Curated by the National Post’s Tyler Dawson every Tuesday and Thursday.

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