Mayor calls for end to new work camps
Fort McMurray says fly-in labour force putting ‘unacceptable’ strain on region
FORT MCMURRAY It’s time to stop building new work camps for thousands of fly-in, fly-out workers and phase out existing camps as their permits expire, says the mayor at the heart of Alberta’s oilsands industry.
Don Scott, mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, proposed the moratorium Tuesday, specifically calling for a halt to new camps within 120 kilometres of Fort McMurray.
There are currently 109 oilsands camps in the region, with 41 housing more than 25,000 people within 50 kilometres of Fort McMurray.
Preliminary numbers from the municipality’s 2018 census, still to be approved by the provincial government, show more than 30 per cent of Wood Buffalo’s population live in work camps.
“This can only be summarized in a single word, which is ‘unacceptable,’” said Scott.
“I don’t think there is any other region in Canada that would ever accept these kind of numbers.”
Scott asked for the moratorium to be debated at council’s Jan. 22 meeting.
His proposal came before council voted unanimously to work with oil industry representatives on plans to encourage the commuter workforce to live in Fort McMurray permanently.
Quarterly reports and updates on possible options will be presented to council.
Tuesday’s meeting follows a study from the Oil Sands Community Alliance released in March, which estimated there were 15,000 workers in operations-related jobs for 15 fly-in, fly-outbased projects in the region.
The survey found that only five per cent of camp workers lived in the Wood Buffalo region.
Another 60 per cent lived elsewhere in Alberta and approximately 32 per cent come from the rest of Canada.
The survey also found that 48 per cent of respondents said they would consider living in Fort McMurray if they felt they had stable job security in the oilsands, better and affordable housing, and more employment opportunities.
“I think when people get a general idea that there’s 30,000 people on our doorstep that are in camps is disturbing to me,” said Coun. Jeff Peddle.
“109 camps and 31 aerodromes and none of the money stays in our region … we need change now.”
CAO Annette Antoniak said the municipality is reviewing possible incentives for commuters to relocate to Fort McMurray, but wouldn’t go into details.
Gilles Huizinga, the president of BILD Wood Buffalo, said he is concerned business owners’ voices would not be included in the discussions.
Scott presented two supplementary motions to review renewal and permit fees for work camps. He also asked administration to return to council with a plan to lure commuters to become permanent residents by the end of March 2019.
Both motions passed unanimously.
Scott made reducing the fly-in, fly-out workforce a major part of his platform when he was elected mayor in 2017.
In October, Scott asked that Teck’s proposed Frontier oilsands mine — which will be 120 kilometres north of Fort McMurray if built — prioritize a local workforce over commuters.
“We want more people living in our region. We don’t want people flying in and out of our region, we want people living here,” he said after the review hearing.
“If you extract resources from our region, you should be living in the region.”
Scott has also acknowledged this will be a difficult goal for council to achieve.
When the Fort Hills oilsands mine, which is a joint project between Suncor Energy, Total and Teck, opened in September, only 50 full-time workers out of a workforce of 1,400 lived in Wood Buffalo.
Local residents had been invited to apply for jobs after the first wave of job postings indicated that Suncor would be prioritizing commuters for the camp-based project.
This was quickly overturned following outrage from the public, as well as Wood Buffalo’s council and former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, former MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin who resigned March 4.
I don’t think there is any other region in Canada that would ever accept these kind of numbers.