Your McMurray Magazine's Back Pages - Eleven Questions with Don Scott
Life in YMM has changed a lot since we first began work on this issue of Your McMurray Magazine. Remember those days before we were in a global pandemic? The days before we were in a flood? The days before we were in a flood during a global pandemic? I remember them too. They feel like a long time ago now. Back in those days (seriously, how long ago was that?) I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mayor Don Scott to ask him eleven questions.
What do you wish people knew about Fort McMurray and the RMWB?
I wish more people who spoke about the region actually spent time in the region. One thing that I experience quite often is that we go to other parts of Canada and lobby other government officials, and we encourage them to have a better understanding of this region. Many of them talk about our region as though they’ve actually been here and know it, and very few actually have. When I meet people who criticize the region, one of the first things that I say to them is ‘have you ever been there?’ Almost always the answer is no, and that’s why they’re critical of it: they don’t have the bigger understanding of it. Part of it, I would say, is a challenge the Municipality faces. We’ve got to do a better job educating people.
So this Council, the one that I’m part of now, has done a really good job. We went to Quebec and we met about 500-700 elected officials from all across Canada. We showed them pictures of what it’s like up here, and we talked about what it’s like up here, we talked about our commitment to the environment in this region. We showed them pictures they wouldn’t typically see and they were blown away. They loved it. Over time, it’ll happen. More and more people will come here and they’ll go away as ambassadors for our region. That’s one of the keys certainly, for me.
How do you cope with public scrutiny?
As mayor, it’s part of the job. It comes with it. There’s a large majority of people who come up to me all the time and say ‘thank you’ and ‘we’re grateful’- not just for myself but all the work my colleagues do. They know that we don’t always agree or get along necessarily but we do the best we can with the information we’re given. We make a decision and then we keep on moving.
You went to school in Cambridge, what was it like and how does your time in England influence your perspectives on our region?
I left New Brunswick and I had never really been much outside of Canada at that time, and one day I was living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and the next day I was living in England. I worked for the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, which was an amazing experience. At the same time, I was admitted to go to Cambridge. I didn’t have a good understanding of what Cambridge was all about. I’d heard of Oxford and Harvard, but for some reason I didn’t fully understand what I was about to experience.
Once I started telling people that I was going to Cambridge I could tell by their reaction that this was going to be a very unique experience. Cambridge was. It was just an unbelievable experience. I spent the summer working for the Bloody Sunday Inquiry, then I went and did my Masters at Cambridge. I got to meet people from all over the world. I think it really gave me a good awareness of all the different perspectives you encounter. It’s helped me in my political life, especially in a town like Fort McMurray. This is the ultimate multicultural community in Canada because everybody from all over the world comes here.
Name your five favourite things about Fort McMurray.
Number one is easy because everyone who knows me knows I go to MacDonald Island every day.
I love the movie theatre, my kids are big fans of the movie theatre.
I love the walking trails and parks.
I love the new bowling alley, because my kids love the new bowling alley. That’s something that’s fun.
I love the community itself, and the sense of pride that so many people have. One of the things we experienced was the disaster that we all went through united us. I love walking around the community and seeing all the stickers that say Fort Mac Pride and Fort Mac Strong. Since the fire I’ve seen that we really are a united community, it really brought us together. I’ve seen that continue. I was hoping it would and it has. I’m really proud of that.
Where is your favourite place in Fort Mac to spend a day off?
My days off are always at MacDonald Island. I usually go there two or three times a day. I spend a lot of time at MacDonald Island. What people forget sometimes about MacDonald Island is that it was controversial when it was proposed, but the result just really sets this community apart. It is the best recreation facility in Canada, I believe.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Not to be afraid to fail. It’s come to me in many ways, but my father said it in his own way. He said “don’t be afraid to punch above your weight.” Try things that you think are out of your depth and if it doesn’t work, no problem. You learn from that mistake, from that wrong move, and you try again.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
When I was younger I had people in my life that were more cautious. I had a number of people telling me that I shouldn’t go to law school, I shouldn’t move to Fort McMurray. You always have people in your life who think that they know you and what the future holds, ultimately you have to make your own decision. I remember when I was at Cambridge there was an assumption that everybody was going to go to different parts of the world, big cities. When I chose to come to Fort McMurray I remember people telling me that it didn’t make sense. I didn’t mind ignoring that advice.
Are you more of a cat person or a dog person?
I like dogs. Although most of my friends like cats. I had a dog when I was really young, but cats have certainly grown on me.
What is your star sign?
Describe yourself in three words.
Driven, optimistic, and I guess this isn’t a word but community. I’m a community guy.
Describe Fort McMurray in three words.
Place of opportunity.
Correction: When this article was originally published, it included a photo taken by Vincent McDermott of Post Media. We have replaced the photo, and apologize for the use of the photo without permission.