Weekly update: RMWB watches for Hell and no water

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo.

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It’s the weekend, Fort McMurray!

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  • Keyano Huskies Basketball: The Huskies face either the NAIT Ooks or Concordia Thunder at an ACAC Men’s Basketball playoff game on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. at the Syncrude Sport & Wellness Centre. Tickets are $5 for everyone 18 to 55. Free entry for Keyano students and staff, and anyone under 18 or over 55.
  • WinterPLAY: Fort McMurray’s annual winter festival returns with classics like Shootout on the Snye hockey tournament, wagon rides, dog sledding and fireworks. This year introduces sled demonstrations, human curling, foam ball sling shot, fat bike races and snow skate demonstrations. All events are free and from Feb. 23 to March 3 at Snye Point Park. Information on events, volunteers, vendors and registration.
  • Fort McMurray Oil Barons: Upcoming home games at Centerfire Place: Whitecourt Wolverines on Feb. 23 and 24. Bonnyville Pontiacs on Feb. 27. All games start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets and schedule.
  • The Addams Family: A New Musical Comedy: Feb. 23-24 at Keyano Theatre. Tickets and schedule.
  • Black History Month Banquet and Awards Night: The Rehoboth Alliance celebrates the 10th anniversary of an annual evening celebrating Black history, culture and life. Keynote speaker is Marvin Washington, dean and vice-provost of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Alberta. Feb. 23 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Shell Place. Tickets.
  • Diner en Rouge: Under the Aurora: A red dress-themed fundraiser for the United Way promising an evening of sophistication, style and regional culinary fare. The venue, kept under wraps until the last moment. Feb. 24 from 6 p.m. to Midnight. Tickets.
  • Harry Potter Movie Trivia: Feb. 26 from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at The Smokin’ Butcher. Tickets.
  • Blizzard by FLIP Fabrique: An extraordinary theatrical performance for all ages blending acrobatics, circus arts and visual storytelling. Keyano Theatre on March 4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets.
  • Chris Funk: The Wonderist: Chris Funk brings his magical talents to Fort McMurray with his all-ages show, Redefining Wonder. Funk has brought his show to Las Vegas casinos and has been featured on AMerica’s Got Talent, Hell’s Kitchen, Penn & Teller: Fool Us, Masters of Illusion and Syfy’s Wizard Wars. Keyano Theatre on March 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets.
  • ATC Career Fair: All are invited to the Athabasca Tribal Council’s career fair featuring more than 70 employers and 10 vendors. There are also panels and a luncheon. Keynote speaker is Mo Brings Plenty, an Oglala Lakota actor who plays Mo on Yellowstone. March 5-6 at the Syncruse Sport & Wellness Centre. Schedule and information.
  • FMCSD trustee byelection: The Fort McMurray Catholic School division will hold a byelection for a spot on the board of trustees on April 8. Candidates have until March 11 to register. Information on voting and becoming a candidate.
  • Randy’s Cheeseburger Picnic: 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.
  • 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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Firefighters with the Fort McMurray Fire Department conduct a controlled burn near Highway 63 on April 27, 2023. The controlled burns are part of the RMWB’s FireSmart program, which is designed to fight and prevent fires and wildfires in the region. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo prepares for early Alberta wildfire season

The RMWB and the Alberta government have spent months preparing for wildfire season, which started 10 days early on Feb. 20.

“We’re ready for a dry wildfire season. Our resources are fresh, our relationships with forestry and the provincial government are good, and we’re not sitting on our laurels. We’ve been very proactive,” said Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz in an interview. “We live in the Boreal Forest and the Boreal Forest is dependent on fire for its survival. We’ve gotta be ready when that event happens.”

The 2023 wildfire season burned 22,000 square kilometres in Alberta, or about 10 times the five-year average. About 38,000 people from 48 communities were part of evacuations.

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This includes more than 3,643 square kilometres of the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region, mostly around Fort Chipewyan. Roughly 1,000 people from Fort Chipewyan and more than 350 people from Fort Smith, NWT and Fort Fitzgerald were flown to Fort McMurray during evacuations of those communities. Firefighting, evacuations and the logistics of the 2023 wildfire season cost the municipality more than $4.1 million.

Alberta Forestry and Parks Minister Todd Loewen said nearly 900 firefighters will be ready to be deployed by April 15, and he is requesting an extra 100 firefighters ready for May. He promised new equipment to battle fires at night and an expansion of volunteer programs. Loewen acknowledged Alberta has slowly reimbursed municipalities under the Disaster Recovery Program and getting funding to evacuees. He hopes lessons from last year will hasten payments.

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Heather Sweet, forestry critic for the Opposition NDP, accused the UCP of falling behind on training and staffing ahead of the wildfire season.

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Premier Danielle Smith addresses Albertans on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. GOVERNMENT OF ALBERTA/YOUTUBE jpg, SP, apsmc

Alberta income tax cut delayed as Premier Smith announces plan to grow Heritage Savings Trust Fund

Albertans won’t get the income tax cut promised by the provincial government as declining oil prices pressure the upcoming provincial budget, Premier Danielle Smith announced in a Wednesday address.

Because Alberta has no provincial sales tax, which Smith promised not to create, provincial budgets are often balanced thanks to oil and gas royalties.

“Bouncing between years of plenty, and then having to choose between incurring massive debt or cutting key social programs is not the recurring story Albertans want to see time and again,” Smith said, adding that she has “grown tired” of budget volatility.

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“Bluntly stated, our province has become unsustainably dependent on non-renewable resource revenues.”

Smith, who believes Alberta has a final boom left, sees the Heritage Savings Trust Fund as a solution. The $21.2-billion fund was established in 1976 by then-premier Peter Lougheed  to “save for the future, to strengthen or diversify the economy, and to improve the quality of life of Albertans.”

Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell points out a similar fund has helped Norway ditch “the oil-and-gas roller coaster,” but Alberta’s fund “has been raided so many times you’d think pirates were roaming the province.”

By the end of 2024, Alberta plans to release a report “charting a path” to a fund worth between $250 billion and $400 billion by the year 2050, the same time Canada is targeting a carbon-neutral economy.

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An aerial view of the Athabasca River facing southwest in Fort McMurray on Thursday, May 4, 2017. Olivia Condon/ Fort McMurray Today/ Postmedia Network Photo by Olivia Condon/ Fort McMurray Tod /SunMedia

RMWB watching for drought conditions, but no water shortage fears for now

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo will watch for drought conditions in the region and is prepared to follow any guidelines or restrictions that are issued. But for now, there are no concerns about water shortages.

Much of Alberta is bracing for severe drought as reservoirs and basins face critical water shortages from low levels of rain and snowmelt. There are more than 50 water shortage advisories in Alberta.

“In Fort McMurray, we are fortunate that the Athabasca River is large enough to sustain the region’s water needs–even during very dry years when the levels are low,” said municipal spokesperson Greg Bennett in an email. “There are no concerns at this time about water levels that would impact our ability to provide water for the communities within Wood Buffalo.”

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Alberta Environment Minister Rebecca Schulz has asked all of Alberta’s municipalities to start making plans for potential water shortages. She also asked this of oil and gas companies.

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Peter Hansen, president of McMurray Metis, joins a march through downtown Fort McMurray from Jubilee Plaza towards Shell Place for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Peter Hansen, passionate leader of McMurray Métis, passes away

Peter Hansen, who recently stepped down as president of McMurray Métis, has died at 70. A Facebook post from McMurray Métis confirmed Hansen died on the evening of Feb. 15, and described him as a dedicated leader and advocate for the Métis people of Fort McMurray.

Hansen was born in Fort Chipewyan. At the age of four, his family moved to Fort McMurray and settled in Waterways. Hansen was elected president in June 2022 after spending eight years as a councillor with McMurray Métis. He also served on the board of directors for the business arm of McMurray Métis, Infinity Métis Corporation.

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A video posted to McMurray Métis’ Facebook page on Feb. 14 praised Hansen’s leadership shortly after he resigned as president. His successor, Kelly Myers, said she had never met a man more committed to his family or heritage.

“He was passionate about inspiring others to connect to their culture and always ensured there were fun activities for the youth and children to do and be included in,” said an obituary posted by McMurray Métis. “Peter had great respect for the Elders as they guided him through their wisdom, knowledge and sharing of traditions.”

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Mayor Sandy Bowman and Councillor Funke Banjoko join the recipients of Council’s Excellence Awards for 2024 at a ceremony on Feb. 2, 2024. Image by Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

RMWB honours outstanding community members at ceremony

Growing up, Mohammed Ali Al-Zabidi would join his father as he gave food to the less fortunate every week. These acts of charity created a love for volunteering and helping others which continued into his adult life.

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That charitable spirit was honoured by Mayor Sandy Bowman and the rest of RMWB council earlier this month as Al-Zabidi was named the RMWB’s Citizen of the Year.

“Contributing positively to society gives me a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction,” said Al-Zabidi.

The awards also recognized four other residents. Jeffrey Batchelor was given the Everyday Hero Award for his philanthropy and community spirit. Sheena Bradley was given the Indigenous Advocate Award for her advocacy of Indigenous people and rights.

The two youth awards went to young Indigenous sports advocates. Parker and Cruze Flett are the founders of the Wahkohtowin Sports Circle, formerly known as Fort Mac Hockey Brothers Association. Fort McKay archer Tayden Shott is preparing to compete in next month’s Arctic Winter Games in Alaska. Shott hopes to open a small archery range in Fort McKay this summer.

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Stock Image/Getty Images

St. Aidan’s Society program offers seniors help around the home

Seniors in Fort McMurray can apply for some extra help around the home.

St. Aidan’s Society has launched their Age Well at Home program, which helps seniors with light housekeeping, preparing and delivering meals, home and yard maintenance, and even friendly visitation.

“The ability to bring this program to our community has been a vision of our team for several years,” said Luana Bussieres, executive director of St. Aidan’s Society, in a statement.

“We know older adults overwhelmingly have expressed their desire to age in their communities and in their homes, and this initiative will provide them with the practical supports necessary to do just that if they choose.”

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Bussieres says volunteers will be important for the program’s success. The program is being supported partially by the federal government’s Age Well at Home Initiative. It is also being supported by Katie Ekroth and her team at Re/Max Fort McMurray.

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Jana Madley of Fort McMurray. Image supplied by Wood Buffalo RCMP

Police looking for woman last seen in downtown on Feb. 20:

Jana Madley, 32, of Fort McMurray was reported missing on Feb. 20. She was last seen on Feb. 20 around noon near Hospital Street and Franklin Avenue in downtown Fort McMurray.

Negligence charge against former lifeguard dropped:

A charge of negligence has been dropped after a drowning at the Suncor Community Leisure Centre prompted police to charge the lifeguard investigators say was on duty at the time.

Michelle Davio, a spokesperson for Alberta Crown Prosecution Service (ACPS), said the charge was dropped on Feb. 14 after reviewing the evidence.

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Ruslan Atantayev of Calgary was charged in Oct. 2022 with criminal negligence causing death. Police say Atantayev was the lifeguard on duty at the time.

On Dec. 12, 2020, a 34-year-old Fort McMurray man was brought to the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre after he was swimming at the facility’s pool on Dec. 12, 2020. After he was brought to an Edmonton hospital, the man died six days later. Police did not release the victim’s name but a GoFundMe fundraiser identified him as Dima Serbulenco.

Police looking for man wanted for sexual assault, extortion:

A warrant has been issued for Hany Elmorsy, 37, of Fort McMurray. Elmorsy also goes by Hany Aly. Alberta RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mathew Howell said Elmorsy missed his last court appearance and is not at the address he gave to police.

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Elmorsy was charged on Aug. 17 following allegations reported to police on July 28. He was released from custody. Police could not provide details about the complaint without potentially identifying the complainant.

He is charged with sexual assault, extortion, unlawful confinement, uttering threats to cause bodily harm or death, theft over $5,000, and two counts of failure to comply with an order.

Police looking for man accused of threatening Save-On-Foods employee:

Police are trying to identify a man accused of robbing the Save-On-Foods in Timberlea and threatening an employee. Wood Buffalo RCMP say that on Feb. 17 at around 6 p.m., a man walked out of the store with several items he had not paid for. An employee followed the suspect out of the store and asked him to pay for the groceries. Police say the suspect threatened to shoot the employee.

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Arrests made as rising liquor store thefts prompt investigation:

Police have charged six people after launching an investigation into widespread liquor thefts from local stores. A police spokesperson says the six people are not connected with each other.

Wood Buffalo RCMP says officers have responded to more than 350 reports of liquor theft from local stores since September 2023. Police partnered with impacted businesses, the local Crown prosecutor’s office and the company that owns Ace Liquor and Liquor Depot.

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Team Alberta skip Selena Sturmay delivers a stone as they play Team Newfoundland and Labrador at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
  • Popping Off: Canmore’s council wants festive alternatives to fireworks after illegal fireworks were launched in the community on New Year’s Eve. Canmore bans fireworks except on Canada Day and New Year’s Eve, but drought conditions in the area have put a pause on all fireworks. The mayor suggests fines of $5,000 to $10,000.
  • Political Pivot: Clients of the Bow Valley Credit Union are divided over its CEO’s politics and expansion strategies. BCVU recently sponsored ex-Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson’s Calgary event and has opposed federal COVID-19 measures. BCVU is trying to appeal to people who feel excluded by mainstream banks. The Airdrie-Cochrane NDP has moved their accounts from BCVU.
  • Pride Ban: By a difference of 24 votes , Westlock residents have voted to ban Pride crosswalks. The municipality can also only fly local, provincial and national flags. Westlock Mayor Jon Kramer says council does not support the bylaw and feels it violates council’s equity, diversity and inclusion policies, but says “the plebiscite is binding.”
  • Problems with political party plan: A survey organized by the Alberta government found 81 per cent of 4,717 respondents oppose bringing political parties to the municipal level. The organization representing 265 municipalities across Alberta is now calling on the government to scrap the idea . The most common concern is it would bring more polarization to local politics.
  • Trudeau Stops By: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says conservative politicians have mislead Canadians about the carbon tax and net-zero targets. Trudeau defended his energy and environment while speaking to Ryan Jespersen’s Real Talk show, remarking “the world is changing and it’s not a plot by eastern bastards.” Meanwhile the tax is so unpopular that two out of three declared Alberta NDP leadership candidates have said it’s time to scrap the consumer carbon tax.
  • 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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