Weekly update: Rally against RMWB cuts and remembering Guy Boutilier

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

Article content

Happy weekend, Fort McMurray!

Advertisement 2

Article content

  • FMCSD trustee byelection: The Fort McMurray Catholic School division will hold a byelection for a spot on the board of trustees on April 8. Information on voting and candidates.
  • YMM Hareport Eggstravaganza: A family friendly day of spring-themed games featuring the Easter Bunny and friends. Funds support United Way Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo. March 16 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Fort McMurray International Airport. A sensory-friendly time slot is available from noon to 1 p.m. Tickets.
  • Randy’s Cheeseburger Picnic: A man’s gotta eat and Randy Bo-bandy himself from Trailer Park Boys is live at The Den on March 30. Doors open at 7 p.m. Obviously, 18+. Tickets.
  • Heart of Wood Buffalo Awards: The annual awards honour the achievements of leaders, philanthropists, volunteers and organizations in the community. Nominations are open until March 15 at 11:59 p.m. FuseSocial has information about the awards and categories.
  • Royal Wood & Jeffery Straker on The Piano Men Tour: Jeffery Straker and his rootsy storytelling and captivating melodies joins Royal Wood’s unique sound and heartfelt compositions. Keyano Theatre on March 26 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets.
  • Northword Magazine’s Issue 29 Launch: The Northern Canada Collective Society of Writers launches NorthWord Magazine’s 29th issue, the Resilience edition. Guest edited by local poet and dance instructor Tineesha McKay. This free event, including an open mic, is at the Observation Area of the Fort McMurray International Airport on April 20 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Registration.
  • Monster Pro Wrestling’s Dirty Deeds: Monster Pro Wrestling returns to Fort McMurray on May 11 at the Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre. Doors open at 6 p.m. Information and tickets.
  • Fort McMurray Oil Giants: Tickets and schedule for the upcoming baseball season are online.
  • RMWB Public Art: The RMWB is looking for artists for its first Mural Fest, its banner program and social change grants. Information and deadlines is online. Arts, culture and heritage grants are open.
  • 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.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

Get the news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo in your inbox every Friday morning by signing up for our newsletter.

guy boutilier
Guy Boutilier, MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo at the Wildrose 2010 Annual General Meeting at the Capri Hotel in Red Deer on Friday, June 26, 2010. Photo by Tiffany Sigurdson

Fort McMurray political champion Guy Boutilier dies at 65

Guy Boutilier, who represented Fort McMurray politically for decades and was expelled from his party after a fight about a seniors’ care centre, has died. He was 65.

Boutilier arrived in Fort McMurray as a student and fell in love with the place. He volunteered with local hockey and hosted a hockey show on a community access channel. His signoff of “we have the energy!” became his affectionate rallying cry for Fort McMurray.

His political career began in 1986 when he served two terms as alderman for what was then the City of Fort McMurray. He became the city’s youngest mayor in 1992 and first mayor of the RMWB.

Advertisement 4

Article content

He became a PC MLA in 1997 and held three cabinet posts. Boutilier made headlines in 2009 when Premier Ed Stelmach fired him from the PC caucus. Boutilier publicly criticized delaying construction of a continuing care centre and encouraged residents to protest his government.

A continuing care centre broke ground in Fort McMurray in 2018 and opened in 2021. Boutilier told the Today in 2018 he had no regrets about his actions during this time.

After losing the 2012 election as a Wildrose candidate, Boutilier returned to council in 2013 until he resigned in 2015. He worked as a lobbyist and lecturer at the University of Alberta. In 2021, Boutilier was awarded the Key to the Region for his political and community advocacy.

Advertisement 5

Article content

fat cat
An inflatable fat cat at a rally protesting plans to cut hundreds of municipal jobs held outside the Jubilee Centre during a council meeting on March 12, 2024. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Protesters make noise against job cuts outside RMWB council meeting

Unions and public supporters screamed, chanted, and blared sirens, honked horns and played music during Tuesday’s council meeting to protest plans to outsource hundreds of municipal jobs.

Inside the Jubilee Centre, the walls of council chambers shook as protesters banged on windows and walls. Dozens of protesters sat quietly at the meeting, holding signs demanding the jobs be saved and that CAO Henry Hunter be fired.

Hunter and council ignored the noise and continued with the meeting. Microphones filtered most noise for people watching the meeting remotely. However, a speaker at one point said it was difficult to hear councilors speak.

Advertisement 6

Article content

CUPE, which represents the impacted positions, says the changes will affect 459 jobs at the RMWB. This includes laying off 265 workers, cutting 134 vacant jobs and ending 60 temporary positions.

CUPE Alberta says many municipalities have brought services in-house after privatizing them, including the RMWB. Two years into a 15-year contract, the council of the day ended their contract with TOK Transit in 2015 after an audit noted a high number of complaints and missed performance targets.

Mayor Sandy Bowman hopes job impacts can be minimized once talks begin with administration and CUPE. At the same time, he said the RMWB faces inflation and shrinking tax revenues.

Four contenders for the leadership of the Alberta United Conservative Party (UCP). Clockwise from upper left: Brian Jean, Doug Schweitzer, Jason Kenney, Jeff Callaway.

No criminal charges in 2017 UCP leadership race: Alberta RCMP

Advertisement 7

Article content

An Alberta RCMP investigation found there is not enough evidence to charge anyone in connection to allegations of fraud during the 2017 United Conservative Party leadership race.

It was alleged that leadership candidate Jeff Callaway entered the race to attack fellow candidate and Fort McMurray MLA Brian Jean, then quit the race and endorse Jason Kenney.

Callaway was fined $70,000 for irregular contributions in the race by the elections commissioner, but RCMP said they found no evidence to charge anyone with fraud.

The party race also had accusations of voter identity fraud. Some registered members said they never cast a ballot, even though voting records showed ballots were cast under their names.

Alberta RCMP Supt. Rick Jané said police flagged fewer than 200 “suspicious” votes in the UCP’s voter database of more than 60,000 voters, but no evidence to lay charges.

Advertisement 8

Article content

“This wasn’t a widespread situation, there was no technological hacking, there was no use of foreign interference,” he said. “This was a situation where it appears that, and it is possible in some cases, somebody obtained personal information that allowed them to register and receive a PIN to vote and then pass that vote.”

Kenney said in a statement he was “vindicated” and the complaints were “ridiculous, bad-faith complaints (that) led to a string of defamatory accusations.” Jean welcomed closure on the file.

oil change
An employee changes oil on a Caterpillar 797 heavy hauler at a Syncrude Canda machine shop north of Fort McMurray, Alta. on Tuesday August 15, 2017. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Labour force shrinks, unemployment up in Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake census area

The census region covering Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo saw unemployment go up and the labour force shrink last month, according to data from Statistics Canada.

Advertisement 9

Article content

Employment gains in many sectors, including the oilsands were offset by steep job losses in other sectors. The biggest losses were reported in retail and support services for businesses and buildings.

February unemployment for the Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake census region rose to five per cent from 4.8 per cent in January. Employment dropped to 69.8 per cent from 70.9 per cent.

Employment in February 2023 was 71 per cent and unemployment was 4.5 per cent. Unemployment in the last 12 months peaked in August at six per cent.

The participation rate—which measures how much of the population is working or actively looking for work—dropped to 73.4 per cent last month. The rate was 74.5 per cent in January and 74.3 per cent in February 2023.

Advertisement 10

Article content

The labour force shrank by 1,100 positions in February from January, but grew by 1,400 positions from February 2023. The region lost 1,500 full-time jobs and gained 400 part-time jobs from January, but respectively gained 800 jobs and 100 jobs from February 2023.

A list of job losses and gains by sector is in the article.

The Pomeroy Hotel towers over downtown Fort McMurray on Thursday April 4, 2019. Photo by David Bloom/Postmedia Network Photo by David_Bloom David Bloom /David Bloom/Postmedia

Council approves bylaw loosening rules on billboards, freestanding signs

Commercial advertising is now allowed on billboards and freestanding signs on private properties across the RMWB after a 7-2 council vote.

Putting paid advertisements from third-parties on signs was banned in Fort McMurray until Tuesday’s meeting. Centerfire Place was exempt, as were billboards in rural areas.

The new bylaw still bans third-party advertising on portable or fascia signs attached to buildings, but there are regulations for signs on fences, roofs and in windows. There are limits on a sign’s size, brightness, and proximity to residential areas.

Advertisement 11

Article content

Rules for election signs and non-profit groups remain the same. Signs inside buildings and at sports fields are not regulated by the RMWB, and permits for signs by highways are approved by the Alberta government.

Peace officers can fine and take down signs that go against the bylaw. Businesses with illegal signs will be warned and have three months to remove them.

People ignore wildfire smoke filling Snye Point Park and the rest of Fort McMurray on May 21, 2023. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

‘Learning to live with fire’: New study details impact of 2023 wildfire season

An early wildfire season spanning from late April 2023 to early November 2023 has had “profound” impacts on Canadians, from health issues due to mass amounts of smoke to record-breaking evacuations.

With low snowpacks throughout western Canada, the most challenging aspect of the 2024 wildfire season is the lack of recovery from the 2023 drought.

Advertisement 12

Article content

Communities need to be more proactive in preparing for wildfires and proactively limiting their spread through programs like FireSmart.

“To some degree, we do need to sort of adapt the ways that we live alongside fire, accepting some of them, allowing some to burn under conditions that are favourable and in locations where people are not endangered,” said Ellen Whitman, a forest fire research scientist with Natural Resources Canada in the Canadian Forest Service.

Alberta Wildfire says it’s racing against the clock as the countdown to the start of what is expected to be a second aggressive wildfire season draws nearer. As of Monday, 40 new wildfires had started in Alberta in 2024, burning some 300 hectares of land. At this point last year, there were just 14 fires that had burned around three hectares.

Advertisement 13

Article content

Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz is urging people to be calm and prepared after last year’s wildfire season was marked by the evacuation of Fort Chipewyan and dozens of smoky days.

An aerial view Suncor’s tailings pond 8B at their oilsands operation north of Fort McMurray on June 18, 2013. Ryan Jackson/Postmedia Network

ACFN, MCFN want oilsands tailings component to be declared toxin

The Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First Nations want the federal government to study whether a component of oilsands tailings pond water known to harm fish and other animals should be classed as toxic.

The two nations are concerned about naphthenic acids, which is found in tailings and other oilsands wastewater. Peer-reviewed research has found the complex hydrocarbons are toxic to fish, affect hormone function in humans and other mammals, and may be carcinogenic.

Advertisement 14

Article content

Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada said in a report that naphthenic acids shouldn’t be classified as toxic. However, that report dealt with commercially produced versions, not those found in tailings.

Kendall Dilling, president of the oilsands industry group Pathways Alliance, said further research on naphthenic acids is underway. A federal spokesperson said the request is being considered.

Adrian Villasenor, a sous chef at the Wednesday Room restaurant, takes a break in the sunshine reflected off buildings in downtown Calgary on Thursday, March 14, 2024. Jim Wells/Postmedia
  • Drought crisis: Alberta hasn’t been this dry in almost 25 years and the province could declare a water emergency. In the interim, dozens of water sharing agreements across Alberta are being asked what portion of water allocations are being used, what can be done to conserve water, and what can be shared. Drought is not expected for Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo, but the RMWB is watching the situation.
  • Clean this mess!: The Alberta government and chiefs from Treaty 6, 7 and 8 territories want an extension of a federal program that helped First Nations cleanup abandoned wells on their lands. About $137 million remains in the $1-billion program, but the federal government wants all unused funds returned. A federal spokesperson says the program was pandemic relief and Alberta had enough time to invest the money.
  • Smith, Trudeau meet in Calgary: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn’t firing his polarizing environment minister, Steven Guilbeault. Premier Danielle Smith called for his firing while meeting with Trudeau in Calgary. Smith also called on Trudeau to scrap the carbon tax. However, she thanked Trudeau’s government for pushing through the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the B.C. coast.
  • Costly cold snap: The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates Albertans claimed about $30 million in damages during a cold snap between Jan. 12 and 15. About $180 million in damages were reported during the cold snap that hit swaths of Western Canada. Most insurable damages came from British Columbians.
  • New sheriff in town: The Alberta government is proposing a new police agency to take on some roles given to Alberta Sheriffs in recent years. The province says no decision has been made on creating a provincial police service to replace the RCMP. The unions representing the sheriffs and RCMP are not fans of the idea.
  • 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.

Article content