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Farewell to an Old Friend

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Having retired from active duty at Wilson Industries in November of 2012, I have been taking a swing at retirement with limited success. My golf game is often frustrating and I sometimes find myself following paving trucks around Fort McMurray and stopping to admire the work of a quality paving company. It’s hard to change the stripes on an old zebra, I suppose.

In the past year, I have been honoured with a number of accolades and acknowledgements from many Fort McMurray organizations that I have had the pleasure of working with over the years. MacDonald Island honoured me with “Walk of Fame Status”, Keyano College honoured me with a “Board Governance Award”, Vista Ridge has named the new quad chair after me and I will be inducted into the Wood Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame as a “Builder” at the June 13 Induction ceremony. My employees presented me with a 1966 Corvette Stingray when I retired. All these acknowledgements have been humbling and I am moved deeply by the community’s appreciation for my contributions over the years.

It has been my practice throughout my career to always acknowledge the people who helped me achieve whatever success I may have attained and for any recognition I may have been given. Obviously, that always included family, friends, fellow community supporters, builders, and leaders.

One person that I would like to publicly acknowledge as one who has helped me achieve and succeed in this community is Guy Boutillier. I also think it is important for me to articulate what Guy has done not only for me, but for the community of Wood Buffalo, and for Alberta. Although Guy’s political career ended somewhat abruptly and unceremoniously, I believe it is important to recognize his many contributions over a very colourful 25-year career in the political arena. As a three-term Mayor of the Municipality of Wood Buffalo, as a three-term MLA for this constituency, and as a Minister of Environment, Minister of Municipal Affairs, and Minister of Indian Affairs, Guy has given a lifetime to this province, this municipality, and to Fort McMurray.

It was Guy who encouraged me and endorsed me to run for Board Chair at Keyano College. It was he who spearheaded the funding and launching of the Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre. It was he who helped the fledgling Vista Ridge Project get funded and continued to provide Municipality support over its humble beginnings. It was he who supported the Oil Barons and helped bring the Royal Bank Cup to Fort McMurray in 2000. Guy was a co-coach of the PeeWee Oil Barons, who won the Prominent Quebec PeeWee tournament in 1996. Guy was also very active in coaching Little League Ball and spearheaded the Constructive of Little League Park. Guy’s “3 on 3 Hockey Tournament” occurring at Christmas-time each year continues to thrive in his name. These are only a few of many highlights in his career. His community and provincial accomplishments go on and on.

I recall in the late eighties when Guy was a newly elected Mayor of Fort McMurray, when my father and I tendered on a contract to de-water and excavate the Snye. This contract was designed to de-silt and provide safer boat and plane access for public use. Our firm finished a very close second on this tender which had the lowest bid from a major Edmonton contractor. We were very surprised when we received a call after the tender closing that it was being awarded to our firm even though we were $4,000.00 higher than the lower bid (the contract was $500,000.00 in total). Guy had intervened and simply stated that the local contractor should receive preference simply because we supported the local economy and had 100 tax paying employees who were permanent residents of Fort McMurray. The Edmonton firm promptly filed a lawsuit against the city. Guy countered by suggesting that the city would not conduct business with any firm that was litigating against them. The lawsuit was then dropped. My father has told this story with pride for many years. Guy had become his hero!

Some would say that Guy’s fall from “political grace” was his own doing. Changing political stripes can often be polarizing; a debate for another day perhaps. I do know that when I watch the political theatre not just locally but throughout the province and country, one thought comes to mind: Why would anyone want to run for politics in this day and age when such a nasty and mean spirited attitude towards politicians seems so prevalent? The obvious answer to this question is that most people run for office because they simply want to make a difference, a noble gesture that should be appreciated. However, social media now is a popular medium for anyone to lash out at politicians; comments on Twitter are often laced with hostile and hateful words. Modern day politicians make an incredible sacrifice of their personal and family life; they work for low pay compared to executives at a similar level in the private sector; they work long hours; and their families are placed in the public eye and subject to criticism. All politicians make decisions that need to be scrutinized and are worthy of public debate, including Guy’s decisions over the years. But why can there not be respectful debate? How are politicians able to be effective in an environment that is so often hostile and vitriolic?

It somehow seems unfair that community volunteers like myself receive awards and incredible recognition when the work I have done will never compare with the many contributions and accomplishments of strong political leaders like Guy. I simply wish he could have been on the stage with me when I accepted some of these awards. It was he who helped me get there.

I am honoured to call him a friend and I hope that at some point he can be recognized for the many positive things he has done over the past 25 years to make our community a better place to live.

To you and your family Guy, peace and strength. May our paths cross again

Your friend, John Wilson.


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