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The Old Fort: A Musing from the Oil Sands

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The regional council, a beginner’s guide

MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS WILL BE HELD IN Alberta on Monday, October 21, 2013. This is an appointment that sets my heart a-singing, and it should do yours as well. On that date we get to judge our council and tell them what we think of their progress. It’s pretty much the most fun you can have in this town with your clothes on, that’s legal, doesn’t involve two or more people, doesn’t sizzle on a BBQ...all right, there are plenty of fun things you can do in Fort McMurray before politics raises its ugly head. But voting can be fun as well. And it should be important to you. That’s why I said ‘appointment’. Put it in your calendar now.


First, some background. The municipal council comprises 10 elected councillors and an elected mayor. Every three years we get to decide who they will be.

Currently there are four wards or voting areas in the region. (This is one of those times when the shorthand we fall into of calling ourselves Fort McMurray can be misleading as not all of the wards are within the town boundaries.)

Ward 2 is, um, well it’s north and it kind of stops at the north end of Alberta. Ward 3 is south, and Ward 4 is further south, and that’s pretty much all there is to it.

However, for 95% of you, those who live and work in Fort McMurray, Ward 1 is where you’re at and this is where the above-mentioned fun is.

In the last election the council changed from one with a few divisive opinions to one that bought into the reality of a need for change. Because of that, along the way they have ruffled some feathers. The Snye Luddites, Draper Road elitists, and the Olden day advocates are among the groups who have resisted and been vocal about it. Good for them. There’s nothing healthier for democracy than dissent. As Voltaire might have wanted to say, “despite your holding opinions differing from mine and therefore inconsequential, hold them anyway.”

I suppose they have their point of view but the truth is this is not the Fort McMurray of 40, or even four years ago. The community is changing, whether we wish it so or not. Council’s job is to deal with that change.

Despite the incredibly low turnout at voting time – sometimes it seems that all you need to get elected is a large family – municipal politics is vibrant and active in Fort McMurray. In 2012, there were 14 candidates for a two-seat by-election, and local betting by the pundit team of Harrietha & Tupper reckons that there could be anything from 15 to 25 candidates for the six seats available in October.

It’s too early to tell, but it seems like the majority of the councillors stand a good chance of getting re-elected. They will probably all run again with the exception of Dave Kirschner who has some health issues and is expected to stand down.

Unless any of them screw up royally in the next few months or decide to run against the mayor, they will probably all get in, which means that there will be up to 20 people running for one seat.

As for the other race, will someone run against the mayor? Probably. Will it be someone credible? There’s the question. It’s hard to think of anyone with a real chance of unseating her, and no one wants to be known as the next person to be walloped by Melissa at the polls. Except maybe Joe the plumber, who received 301 votes last time, one for every beer.

Here’s a couple of points worth remembering. Unlike federal and provincial politics, municipal candidates rarely fly party colours. It is sometimes obvious who the right or left people are, but most tend to be centrist in viewpoint, focusing on issues within the community. So it is really important to find out which one of them wants to do something you agree with. More importantly, if there is no one who represents your thoughts, do it yourself. Think about standing. Or get out and support someone who is.

This is why your job is so important. I’m talking to you, sitting on a Diversified bus or at home, reading this column. On October 21st, get off your butt and go and vote. I can’t tell you how to vote, nor would I wish to. I can only urge you to read about the issues, work out what you want to see happen in the next three years, and go and put your mark next to that candidate’s name.

And if you don’t, you don’t get to complain about the snow-clearing, the traffic, the potholes, the traffic, the road works, the traffic, the high cost of living; or the traffic. If you don’t take part in the solution, you don’t get to be part of the argument.

Think how boring that would be.


Kevin has been writing for YMM since the first issue. Many of his articles have been pseudonymous, hidden behind the tags Keyano writer or YMM staff. Kevin has been a columnist for many years, working for some of the leading newspapers of the world, including the New York Times and the Devon Dispatch.