Council sending delegation to lobby for Frontier project, hears rural homelessness report

As seen on the Fort McMurray Today.

Council unanimously approved lobbying efforts for Teck’s proposed Frontier oilsands mine at Tuesday’s meeting.

These initiatives will include sending a letter to all members of the federal government’s cabinet.

A delegation will ago to Ottawa to support the project. This group includes Mayor Don Scott and councillors Krista Balsom, Keith McGrath, Jeff Peddle and Verna Murphy.

The project is 110 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. It is estimated it will create up to 7,000 construction jobs and 2,500 operation jobs. The company says local employment would be a primary goal.

Councillor Verna Murphy told media after the meeting that the project will have a major economic impact on the community. Murphy proposed the motion.

“I just thought that we really had to step up and be vocal about this to bring it to the region and hopefully twist a few arms and influence that decision,” she said.

Teck estimates $219 million will be spent annually on contracts and services in the Wood Buffalo region.

During the project’s lifetime, an estimated $12 billion would be spent on taxes to Canada, $55 billion to Alberta and $3.5 billion to the municipality.

A decision from the federal government is expected before the end of February.

“When you start getting down closer to the wire you start feeling that optimism or hopefulness that the project does come,” said Murphy. “But then I just started thinking we hadn’t really gone out publicly and stated the importance of this project for the region, and I thought we really should before those decisions are made.”

If the project fails, Murphy said it will hurt the region’s economy. She added it would also be an ongoing signal from the federal government that “they’re not going to give us the infrastructure and the projects we need to continue supporting the region in a way that we want to.”

“I think it’s also sending a strong message to the feds that we’re not going to go quietly and just take whatever the decisions are that they send from Ottawa,” said Murphy. “We’re going to go there and say we want something different for the region.”

Many in Alberta have been vocal about supporting the project, including Premier Jason Kenney, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

“The whole province is watching to see what happens with this project,” she said. “I want to add the voice that Fort McMurrayites do, too.”

Council also discussed the Rural Homelessness Estimate Report, unanimously approving the report and committing to work with community partners to fight rural housing issues.

Additionally, council will invite ministers in the provincial and federal to see the housing conditions first-hand and talk about ways they can be addressed.

Based on 56 survey responses, the report shows 148 residents live in, or near, housing considered unstable. This includes 52 children.

The study did not include Conklin, as that community’s leadership commissioned their own study on the topic.

The Alberta Rural Development Network collected data in late 2018 until early 2019. The study only surveyed municipal residents and not surrounding First Nation communities.

The study found most residents in unstable housing were Métis, and more women than men accessed social services. Those same women were also more likely to be employed.

Primary data also shows the communities are struggling with housing shortages and more social services in the communities.

Researchers noticed staggering unemployment and social trends in the communities surveyed.

In Anzac, there were no women working in skilled trades during the survey period.

In Fort Chipewyan, only 66 per cent of males reported working or looking for work compared to 86 per cent across Wood Buffalo.

Fort McKay residents frequently blamed unstable housing on addiction or substance abuse.

Roughly 40 per cent of women in Janvier were unemployed and looking for work.

Shadi Merhej, the lead analyst with ARDN, said a low response rate was a challenge. He added further surveying would help them see the issue’s full extent.

Moving forward, they would look at working with community members when going door-to-door to help break down barriers between the person and the surveyor.

“I believe we need to dig a little deeper,” said Councillor Keith McGrath. “Surely we can do better than what we had today.”

Councillor Mike Allen said there was valuable data in the report, but he wants to start finding solution.

“We know there’s an issue, we could study this to death and spend another year-and-a-half to create another report and not have a thing done on it,” he said. “The worst thing we can do is nothing. Let’s move ahead and start addressing the challenge we know is already in existence.”

Councillors Bruce Inglis and Claris Voyageur were absent from the meeting.


Julia Juco