Features(Archives)

Dec
04
2014
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2014 Newsmakers of the Year

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Lists are part of our DNA.

From finding out that Santa makes one and checks it twice to the casual bar conversation about the best Canadian team ever (Roy, Bourque, Orr, Maurice Richard, Gretzky, Howe), we are fascinated by them and love making them. Last year we listed the top influencers, honouring those who made the most positive impact. There were some surprises, and maybe an error or two, in the main list; more so in the bubbling under predictions. That’s what happens when you boldly go where no one has gone before, things don’t always pan out like they are supposed to. It is the fun, and the danger, of lists.

This year’s list isn’t about influencers, it’s about newsmakers. It doesn’t necessarily honour them as much as take note of them, and it isn’t limited to positive impact, just impact.

Are you worried yet, you great and almost-good of YMM? Read on and find out who or what, in no particular order, the top newsmakers of 2014 were.

1. Kyle Harrietha

Some of our local politicians did not have good years. Kyle Harrietha was one tiny step away from having a near perfect one. He didn’t win, but boy oh boy, didn’t he come close? Faced with a Harper candidate unwilling to debate, Kyle used the opportunity to present a realistic scenario to the people of YMM as well as the Liberal Party: there is change in the air, and it can even happen in YMM. Not only did he scare a Conservative party basking in its superiority in Alberta ridings, he nearly won. What’s more, in the parts of the riding that will split off into its own constituency next year he did win, which bodes well for next year.

Harrietha comes by his political knowledge honestly. He studied politics at SFX, then worked on the Hill in Ottawa for a number of years before coming to YMM. Here, he was involved in grassroots community relationships with CEMA before taking his current position as GM with the Métis people.

It was nice to have someone who lives in, and cares about the community. Remember that during next year’s election.

2. The Opening of the new Airport Terminal

The ease and utility of the new airport, which replaced the considerably smaller terminal built in 1985, has changed the way that Fort McMurray will do business. The airport authority is already making plans to expand the terminal to meet future growth in the region. The new terminal will allow for further development in this flourishing community.

This project was an ambitious one for our region. The new YMM terminal was the first international airport to be built in Canada without significant government funding. While we strongly hope that our elected representatives will take up this matter in Edmonton and Ottawa, the success of this project is a testament to local ingenuity and determination.

Kudos to Scott Clements for getting the work completed on schedule and for giving our community a modern, expandable airport. We imagine that there must have been at least a few occasions when this urbane and charming retired general might have wished to be back in his fighter plane instead of taking on the ambitious task of building something from nothing. Fortunately for Fort McMurray residents, he didn’t back down from this challenge. The old terminal wasn’t designed to meet today’s rapid growth: the new terminal will be, we hope, the catalyst for progress and expansion in the region.

3. Don Scott

Apart from Brian Jean, who resigned and spent the summer touring the world, no politician in YMM had as good a year as Don Scott. The archetypal quiet backroom boy of the party, his reputation saw him rewarded with an Associate Minister’s position soon after being elected. Less than 30 months later his hard work has been noticed and he is now a Cabinet member as well as a Deputy Government House Leader.

As he advances, so too do YMM’s causes. Don has always put his constituents first and has been sensibly vocal about what more our community needs.

It all sounds very staid; diligent politician, capable Minister, loving husband and father. Next to that though, put these thoughts. Politician who can be trusted, MLA who cares, community advocate. Not so much staid, as steadfast; sustaining; solid.

We hope Don has many more years like he’s just had. Having Mister Dependable on our team means that, for a change, Fort McMurray’s concerns are being heard. Now if only they’d listen.

4. Melissa Blake

Queen Elizabeth referred to 1992 as her ‘Annus Horribilis’, Latin for ‘what a shit year I’ve had’. While the Mayor’s 2014 has not quite been as bad, for the first time in her political career she has looked vulnerable. While the Audit of the municipality showed discrepancies that she did not know about and probably should have, and the municipal irregularities have not cast a good light on anybody associated with the last five years of governance, her reputation is such that she will likely weather this storm. If she wants to.

Mayor Blake staked her reputation on a bold downtown revitalization plan that is now rudderless and stalled. Unless she can mend her fractious council, this may be the last time she puts herself forward for Mayor. That would be a pity. There is a shortage of real leadership at the municipal level as well as a downtown core that needs fixing before it deteriorates into Detroit north. Despite the hollow noise made by a small percentage of voters who want her out, there have been no accusations that have attached to her personal integrity, and until someone else sane and sensible comes along there is still no one better suited to the job. Given the year she’s had though, how long will being the mayor remain the sane and sensible option for her?

5. Mike Allen

Our other MLA is, by everyone’s reckoning, a helluva nice guy. Which makes his self-inflicted wounds in the last year or so all the harder to rationalize. If it had been almost any other politician in YMM who did what he did, there would have been a chorus of dissenters pointing to the door, saying “There’s 63 south, don’t let the door hit your butt on the way down it.”

But Mike is different. Did we mention he’s a nice guy? Despite the chorus of catcalls about what he did, every outrage was ameliorated by a story of how he had helped someone in the community, or tried to get something done, or even just been a shoulder to cry on for a constituent.

Mike Allen’s biggest sin seems to have been naïveté. And yet, when everything blew up and the scandal was revealed, he was honest about what happened, and he did not try to shift the blame. Even in his darkest hour he had two choices and he chose well. Everybody, most of the time, gets a second chance. So far, Mike is using his properly.

6. Guy Boutilier

Love him or hate him, and there seems to be no middle ground in the emotions Councillor Boutilier stirs up in this community, he has at least made politics interesting again. ‘Boots’, as he is affectionately known, rode into town as the last-minute candidate that surprised everyone. He topped the popular vote and then spent his first year in council laying waste to the existing RMWB administration. Admittedly, there was some housecleaning needed; now that it’s done everyone wants to see what Plan B is. The downtown development has been stalled as there is no one to lead it, and Council seems more interested in feuding with each other rather than moving forward. Can Councillor Boutilier be a leader again? It’s hard to tell.

The Council needs to hire a new CAO, then make decisions about the downtown development; and the sooner the better. Boutilier needs to put his new court case behind him as quickly as possible (he’s one of the councillors being sued for wrongful dismissal by a former employee) and start working with the other councillors, instead of against them. This town needs good leaders. Guy was one, once. It would be nice to see that part of him again.

7. Graham Killick

Graham Killick is only 25, which is old for a gymnast or a swimmer but still relatively young for Cross Country skiing. While his results don’t look exciting on paper, they really need to be explained to understand his ability and his potential. Cross country skiing, 50 km, 28th position. It doesn’t sound that earth-shattering until you realize that 95 per cent of the field finishes within four minutes of the leader. That would be like the top 100 runners in the Boston marathon all finishing under 2 hours 10 minutes.

Graham is the elite athlete we are all vaguely proud of here in YMM, without actually understanding too much about why. Try this. He skis faster than any marathon runner in the world, and just about all but the fittest cyclists in this town. He typically trains for about eight hours a day; and he is only going to get better.

It’s too soon to tell how his preparation will go for the next Olympics in South Korea, but Graham has a real chance of getting there and doing well. And the as yet unvenued 2022 and 2026 Winter Olympics.

Don’t be surprised if we’re still talking about Graham in 12 years’ time, and don’t be surprised if he has some five-ringed medals.

8. Celebrity Visits

There is nothing that irks a community more than to have an outsider come to town and lay his opinions down as if they were written in stone from atop a mountain in a Middle Eastern desert. It’s easy to dislike them all, and yet, the celebrities do tend to divide into two camps. Archbishop Tutu and Leonardo DiCaprio are people who care about the planet and want to help curb the environmental damage the whole of the world is doing to itself. During their visits to YMM, Tutu was misquoted by the right wing press while DiCaprio was written off as just another celebrity noisemaker. This is unfair to both of them. Sadly they, and all of us as a YMM community, have been scarred by too many ignorant do-gooders who come here to revive their careers as caring lefties. Jim Cuddy and Blue Rodeo happily took the money paid to them to play, before claiming they would never come back again, Darryl Hannah is a kook who unfortunately too many people still listen to, and Neil Young offended most Canadians, (and indeed many of his Japanese fans) when he compared an oil mine to a nuclear holocaust.

It’s frustrating to live here and see all the column inches that the press give to uninformed fools, all because they once wore a fake tail in a Disney movie or used to be a relevant singer. Go somewhere else.

YMM is already too weighed down with the stigma of being the environmental whipping boy. Just once, please, we’d like to see how successful Hannah would be in Saudi Arabia, or Neil Young in Beijing.

Well we heard Mister Young say ‘Hiroshima,’
Well we heard ol’ Neil put us down
Well we hope Neil Young goes to China
And don’t come back to YMM anyhow.

9. Politics 2013-14

The end of the political changes in YMM this past year was almost an afterthought. MP Brian Jean resigned and caused a by-election that very nearly changed the political landscape as the Conservatives barely managed to hold on to what had always been a safe seat. In any other time period that would have been enough news for the community but in Fort McMurray that was just the icing on the cake.

The real news was at the municipal level where there were six new faces around the table. They brought with them a new attitude that was at odds with the previous council. For a political spectator the entertainment value was delightful as protocol was steamrollered and the senior management level of the municipal bureaucracy was decimated. But at what cost? The audit couldn’t find a single criminal activity, although it was clear that there were procedures that needed fixing. Still for all the promise the new council made about openness, honesty and transparency, that didn’t extend as far as themselves. An audit on council activities was voted down in almost the same breath that one was approved for the Municipality.

Which still leaves the question no one has yet answered: If everybody is being so transparent, why was the audit, voted down by the same new councillors, and why are so many discussions and decisions happening behind closed doors? The new brooms that came in have swept the cobwebs away. It’s a cleaner place, for now, but it is also empty and non-functioning.

10. The Western Canada Summer Games

By the time they are over, the Western Canada Summer Games 2015 Wood Buffalo will be the biggest event ever staged to date in Fort McMurray. Eighteen sports, 2,500 competitors from seven regions and over 14,000 guests. There will also be over 300 technical officials and more than 400 coaches. Most of them will all be in town at the same time. As a perspective, it’ll be like adding the entire population of Thickwood and Dickinsfield to the town one more time.

So why is it a newsmaker in 2014 instead of next year? Because it is big, it is bold and it is one of the rare good news stories that the region has had. It is also going to involve a lot of people and planning, (3,000+ volunteers), and it is our chance to win the hearts and minds of a lot of people. The athletes and officials will go home and be able to tell all their family and friends about an adventure and experience they’ve never had before. “Do you know, I went to the Games in Fort McMurray and I had the most amazing time. The people were friendly, the organization was fantastic and the community was so warm and wonderful. It’s not at all how the press make it out to be at all.”

This year, the preparations and planning have made the Games one of the top 10 YMM newsmakers of 2014. Next year, it should be number one.

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