Mayor calls for end to new work camps

Fort Mc­Mur­ray says fly-in labour force putting ‘un­ac­cept­able’ strain on re­gion

Calgary Herald - - CITY+REGION - LAURA BEAMISH [email protected]­media.com

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.

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