Re­gion cuts jobs due to ef­fects of wild­fire, slump­ing oil­sands

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD -

FORT MCMURRAY, ALTA. — The re­gional mu­nic­i­pal­ity that in­cludes Fort McMurray says it is cut­ting 168 jobs due to the eco­nomic ef­fects of last spring’s wild­fire and Al­berta’s slump­ing oil­sands in­dus­try.

Wood Buf­falo Mayor Melissa Blake said the changes won’t be easy af­ter all her staff have been through.

“Be­cause it af­fects in­di­vid­u­als who have been a big part of build­ing this great com­mu­nity we have, it hurts,” she said Tues­day in an in­ter­view.

“The de­ci­sions were not about peo­ple, they were about po­si­tions. In­de­pen­dent of whether peo­ple were still suf­fer­ing from the ef­fects of the wild­fire or not, it re­ally came down to what was the right struc­ture for the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

The cuts to man­age­ment and staff, in­clud­ing 46 va­cant po­si­tions, are ex­pected to save about $24 mil­lion a year. The re­duc­tions will touch ev­ery de­part­ment, ex­cept fire and emer­gency ser­vices.

She said the mu­nic­i­pal­ity must tran­si­tion from a struc­ture that was set up a few years ago to deal with the fran­tic years of growth dur­ing the oil­sands boom to the cur­rent re­al­ity of low oil prices.

The wild­fire last May that forced more than 80,000 peo­ple from the re­gion and de­stroyed 2,400 homes and other build­ings has made the sit­u­a­tion worse.

The In­surance Bureau of Canada has called the wild­fire the costli­est in­sured nat­u­ral dis­as­ter in Cana­dian his­tory and es­ti­mates in­sured prop­erty dam­age at al­most $3.6 bil­lion.

Blake said op­er­at­ing and cap­i­tal spend­ing needs to be re­duced to bet­ter align the mu­nic­i­pal­ity with the state of econ­omy.

Wood Buf­falo must set the stage for a fu­ture that takes into ac­count the oil down­turn and the wild­fire with­out com­pro­mis­ing the com­mu­nity’s re­cov­ery ef­forts, she said.

“The ex­tra ca­pac­ity that we needed for deal­ing with high growth just doesn’t ex­ist.”

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