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Mayor and Council: A Year in Review

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“It is not where you start but how high you aim that matters for success.”

When I think of 2014 and working alongside my Council colleagues and residents across the region, I am reminded of the late Nelson Mandela as we continue to build the better Wood Buffalo our families and neighbours deserve.

For many reasons, we’ll look back on this year as one that set the stage for the future. The historic land exchange agreement with the Province through which we acquired land in Saline Creek and Parsons Creek took two of our biggest challenges in the urban service area – transportation and land – and turned it into an incredible opportunity.

Something I heard in my many conversations with residents was their excitement around the opening of the new Fort McMurray International Airport and I couldn’t agree with them more. YMM is a sure sign of our exponential progress as a region.

I am also thrilled at the continued success of MacDonald Island Park and the phased arrival of the new Plaza at Jubilee Centre. This year also saw further development of the impressive Shell Place, opening soon with the Northern Kickoff presented by Shell and the Western Canada Summer Games.

Looking ahead to 2015, I know it will truly be a special year as we start fresh and continue to always aim high as a region. I believe in a year from now we’ll be looking back on one of the best years in our history.

— Mayor Melissa Blake

It has been a very exciting first year (and a bit) on Council, fulfilling what was only a mere dream of mine when growing up as an avid volunteer as a Fort McMurray youth. While there have undoubtedly been difficult decisions and situations in 2014, I think we’re moving in the right direction. From the Northside Recreation Centre, to enhancing snow removal to adding commercial amenities… these are all things I fully believe in and promise to support during my time as a Councillor.

Thanks to the RMWB staff and employees for delivering on the mandates that we as an elected body set. We may make the decisions, but they are the amazing people making this a better community for all. From our firefighters, to the landfill staff to the financial clerks and everyone in between, keep up the great work!

Also thanks to my Council colleagues. I look forward to growing more as a team with all of you. I love hearing from residents on all issues, so whatever your passion is, feel free to contact me. On behalf of my wife Cali, our pup Hudson and my entire family, have a great New Year’s and all the best in 2015!

—Tyran Ault, Ward 1

Let me start by saying how proud I am of the new Council and the fact that we are finally bridging the gap between the public and its political leaders. Finally, we are putting our citizens back in charge.

In this new Council, I believe first and foremost I am very proud that we have raised the level of accountability and transparency. I’m pleased to have the majority of Council’s support in forming the Waterfront Steering Committee, made up of citizens that live here. After all, they are true representatives of this community. This shift toward asking our citizens what they want and enabling them to make decisions is a very healthy sign of democracy at work. It’s also symptomatic of the changes we are endeavoring to make on Council.

Going forward, I am excited about our new senior administrative team; a group of individuals who call Fort McMurray home, rather than paid consultants from other cities. We are finally asking the important questions such as what value we get for our expenditures. For example, I didn’t see value in building a $77 million dollar walking bridge. It’s about choices. I support the concept of an arena; however, the location requires further debate. One objective in the next year is for our leaders to engage with the community in those debates. I fully believe if we listen to our citizens we will get it right every time. My wife Gail, our son Marc (7) and I look forward to an exciting future. His favorite pastime is swimming at MacDonald Island.

— Guy C. Boutilier - Ward 1

When I decided to run for election my goals were to bring transparency and accountability to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which I believe was missing, and to be a voice for seniors. During the election I expressed concern we had significant issues within the aforementioned areas and sadly this proved true. The KPMG Accountability, Integrity and Transparency Audit revealed much work lies ahead if we are to truly be a transparent and accountable administration. Lifting a gag order previously imposed upon our dedicated staff was the first step in creating a cultural change, so staff members felt inclusive and safe at work.

During the election I voiced what I considered a waste of tax payer money ($77 million walking bridge). I questioned the information being presented to council in terms of necessity, and in fact it proved erroneous. While I strongly encourage revitalization of our downtown core, all facts must be presented so council can make informed decisions.

As your council representative serving on the ACOA Advisory Committee on Aging, it is my goal to ensure the much needed and long overdue Aging in Place Facility is finally constructed. It’s an honor to be a voice for the seniors of this region. I strongly believe this council can make a difference for our citizens and the region. While we have differing opinions, we do not have to be a divisive group. While not all my decisions will appeal to everyone, I can say with absolute certainty, my only aim is to represent the best interests of not only those who voted for me but also those who did not.

Lance E. Bussieres - Ward 1

First of all I’d like to say the past year has been an honour for me, having the opportunity to represent the people of Fort Chipewyan. I’m excited about 2015 and the development projects we have to look forward to. On the recreation front, we’re in discussions with Keyano College to further develop the Keyano playground, and proposed plans include a community garden. The contract for the swimming pool has been awarded to Monteith Building, and construction is expected to begin this spring.

Upgrades to Mamawi Hall are expected to begin in early 2015. The upgrades will allow larger events to be held, and will include new floors, siding, windows, doors and paint as well as a new ceiling and roof. The Municipality has been working hard this fall to complete some sidewalks on Mackenzie Avenue along to waterfront, on the way to Doghead. These walking paths will ensure the safety of pedestrians, and also encourage our residents to enjoy our beautiful community.

The Fort Chip Pet Rescue Group and the Mikisew Cree First Nation have been very active in recent months, and I’m very happy to report that over 120 dogs and puppies have found new homes in Fort McMurray and beyond! They are preparing plans to make the Allison Bay kennel more suitable for winter shelter and arranging for a vet to visit the community for a vaccine clinic. I encourage you to join the Fort Chip Pet Rescue Group on Facebook to stay up-to-date on all their great work.

—Julia Cardinal - Ward 2

As we mark the first anniversary of this Council, I’d like to reflect on some highlights of this very transitional year. No doubt it’s been tough for many, as we move to a new, more responsive governance structure. Council has taken the lead in implementing a cultural shift toward accountability, integrity and transparency. We’ve developed an administrative team we expect to be responsive to council and to serve the public.

Yes, this Council has asked hard questions and has been loud, but that’s the way it should be when the region’s business is done in public. The completion of the audit has exposed corrective measures required to restore the health of the organization and protective measures for tax payers. We are committed to providing progress checks on each of those issues.

Highlights of the past year include completing the audit, and setting up essential committees like the Audit Committee and the Waterfront Steering Committee. Both include residents that call Wood Buffalo home and whom I have no doubt will ask very important questions and offer valuable insight on topics that affect all of us.

Council also approved the land use for a power centre shopping district and the south land tax issue was resolved to promote growth in the commercial district. We voted unanimously to have designs completed for the rural water and sewer plans, implemented anti-graffiti measures, and reopened and repaired Borealis Park and the Haxton Center. We saw ground breaking for the Northside Community Recreation Centre, and the opening of the Anzac Community Recreation Centre. And I look forward to many other projects being completed in 2015.

Sheldon Germain - Ward 1

The past year has been like paradise lost, however we still have our paradise and it has gotten better. We lost a bridge to MacDonald Island, but we gained a colorful bridge to Waterways. The bright lights are such a beautiful addition that shines on the Hangingstone River Valley. Other lights that were added to our little piece of paradise can be seen on Birchwood Trails. Almost a mile of trail will be illuminated during the long winter nights, allowing citizens to enjoy safe and comfortable walks or skis through one of our crown jewels.

Changing Councils is always an exciting time. However I feel this term we not only changed some members of Council, but we also changed direction in a lot of areas. I feel our new direction is more fiscally reasonable and has more public buy-in. I believe this Council has a good mix of experienced and new faces, as well as some members who really bring the needed history portion to the table. I guess the greatest aspect of our new Council is the way the rural and urban have really come together and we are starting to see progress in our rural regions.

—Phil Meagher - Ward 1

As I look back to the election, the swearing-in and all we’ve achieved since I’m proud to have been part of your Municipal Council team. Serving this community over the past year as a Councillor, and for the last 10 years with the Fort McMurray Catholic School District has mostly been a pleasure, at times challenging, but always satisfying.

At the Municipality we’ve made changes and implemented processes to overcome many challenges we face. A few highlights include passing the 2014 budget, chopping it down significantly, saving landmarks like Borealis Park and adding projects like the Timberlea Splash Park. Another was completing the cleanup of many expropriated properties downtown and hosting Councillors Corner every quarter with my colleagues, councillors Germain and Bussieres, providing us the opportunity to meet with all citizens of our region.

Also, as former President of the Friends of Miskanaw Golf Club and an alumni of Keyano College that had a hand in building the original Fort McMurray Golf Club, seeing the final holes completed and ready for play is fantastic. Truly one of the nicest municipal golf courses I’ve seen.

When push comes to shove this community stands together, and we all just want the services, amenities and way of life we deserve. It’s my goal to help build a community reflective the generous, kind-hearted and determined spirit that exists here.

—Keith McGrath - Ward 1

I’ m both proud and humbled to have once again been elected to represent the people of Ward Four. I remain committed to achieving the objectives and priorities identified by the communities of Gregoire Lake Estates, Anzac, Janvier and Conklin.

One of my main objectives going forward into 2015 is to see the designs for the new piped rural water and sewer services in the hamlets completed. We’ve been advised this will happen mid-year with construction scheduled to begin late 2015. I am very thankful that Council in 2014 voted unanimously for this to move forward.

Another highlight was attending the grand opening of the Anzac Community Recreation Centre in March of 2014. This impressive facility has been long awaited and exceeded expectations. We broke ground for the multiplex facility in Conklin in November of 2014 and look forward to the design and construction of that much needed facility.

Designs were also completed for the community placemaking initiative in each community in Ward Four in 2014 with construction scheduled for completion in 2015. The goal of this initiative is to beautify the community, enhance the public life of streets and common spaces, and strengthen the sense of place – all of which are priorities of mine as a member of Council.

I look forward to the day when each person in the municipality, rural and urban, can enjoy the same quality of life with the services we deserve.

—Jane Stroud - Ward 4

They say that new political bodies must go through a period of storming before they can complete their norming, then moving to performing. I believe that our Council is ready to start performing for the citizens of the RMWB. Truth is we have accomplished quite a bit in our first year. Most notably is the decision to make good on a 20-year-old promise to the rural residents to provide the core services that the urban area of Fort McMurray receives. Providing municipal water and sewer to almost all households in the RMWB is a very good initiative in my opinion.

Many projects are proceeding: Jubilee Plaza with a grand opening in November, Shell Place ahead of schedule for the CFL game and Western Canada Games next summer.

I’m most encouraged by our decision to bring core service work back in-house, as we can compete on price and quality with what we have received from contracting out services. Property inspection services rightly belong in-house; it is a municipality’s responsibility to see that things are built properly. Further, by establishing a utility corporation, we can compete with Epcor to bring savings to our taxpayers.

When you take a close look at what our municipality is doing and most importantly, what we have planned, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of the RMWB.

—Allan Glenn Vinni - Ward 3

I’d like to take this time to wish everyone within the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, especially the residents of Ward 2, a very happy new year.

As most of you are aware I’ve been dealing with some health-related matters for most of the past year, but I am very hopeful to be back working alongside my council colleagues in the new year.

I hope that the holiday season brings you peace, love, happiness and health. Warmest wishes!

—John H. Chadi - Ward 2