Yao sees challenging, but hopeful 2024 for Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

“I hope that in 2024 people will see all the opportunities of what northern Alberta is and could be,” said UCP MLA Tany Yao.

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Tany Yao, UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo, is hopeful for Alberta’s economy in 2024 but is concerned with how the region has entered the new year.

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The layoffs of 1,500 people at Suncor Energy hurt the community, said Yao, and he shared Energy and Minerals Minister Brian Jean’s frustration that oil companies rely too heavily on commuter workers.

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He is also worried about debt being carried by small businesses from the COVID-19 pandemic, and Yao said labour shortages have become a common complaint from businesses of all sizes. Just like the rest of the UCP caucus, he accused the federal government of hurting oilsands development.

“We’re resilient here. We’ll get through it,” said Yao. “My optimism is that we have a really solid government at the provincial level. I’m really happy with the team I’m on and the decisions they’re making. I feel we’re going to be able to navigate through some of these hardships.”

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Yao was not interested in discussing the drama that he faced prior to the May 2023 election. Yao ended 2022 with his defeat in a nomination race to local resident Zulkifl Mujahid. Yao was preparing to move on from politics when Mujahid was expelled as the UCP’s candidate in the riding. Premier Danielle Smith appointed Yao as the riding’s new candidate. He called the period “a roller coaster year” but was moving on from the period to tackle the challenges of 2024.

Despite these struggles, Yao pointed to Alberta’s housing prices and job opportunities compared to the rest of Canada. The province also had 17,000 people move to Alberta from other provinces between July and September. Another 39,000 international newcomers came to Alberta during the same period.

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Another campaign to recruit workers to Alberta launches this year. Mayor Sandy Bowman hopes to launch local incentives this year to lure newcomers to the region.

Locally, Yao is excited that work has started on connecting Fort McMurray to the Grande Prairie region with a 218-kilometre, gravel road highway to Peerless Lake. He is also excited that EMS dispatch will be done locally in Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo again and not at a provincial call centre.

As the parliamentary secretary for small business and northern development, Yao is writing a report on encouraging economic activity in northern Alberta. Yao said Alberta’s last report on the topic was done more than 20 years ago. He is still working on local health issues from his previous portfolio, which was parliamentary secretary of rural health. This mainly involves recruiting health care workers to the region.

“I hope that in 2024 people will see all the opportunities of what northern Alberta is and could be,” said Yao. “There’s some challenges but I think things are going to be bright in the new year.” 

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