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Council approves Livability Task Force update

PHOTO. RMWB Council, dated September 2019. MYMCMURRAY/Phil Wood.

RMWB Council approved a motion for the administration to continue its work with industry on the Livability Task Force.

On June 4, 2019, Council passed a 10-part motion which led to the formation of the group to investigate efforts to increase the population in Wood Buffalo.

They will continue to develop strategies for this and promote affordability, increase livability, and support brand development.

Mayor Don Scott said he appreciates the efforts adding there is more work to do.

“There’s always more work to be done, and I’ll never be truly satisfied until everyone is living here. I’m glad to see everyone is working towards the same goal.”

Partnering with the Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA), the Task Force also collaborates with the Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation (WBEDC).

The group includes three subcommittees: Community support services, transportation, and housing.

They provided Mayor and Councillors with its first bi-annual report since its formation.

Status update

OSCA representative Karim Zariffa said discussions about livability were positive.

He added changing the narrative by focusing on livability rather than fly-in/fly-out or FIFO helped further work and negotiations.

The task force provided updates on each of the 10 parts outlined in the June motion.

First, they would draft new Regional Livability Principles to replace 13 memorandums of understanding (MOU) with industry.

Although 12 mentioned the use of FIFO and work camps, none had binding commitments to local workforce numbers.

Once they complete the drafts, OSCA will review the new commitments.

Existing mutual aid agreements would remain in place.

Next, the task force established transportation priorities: Twinning of Hwy. 63 north of Syncrude, improvements to Hwy. 881, and the East Clearwater Highway (ECH).

RMWB Council mentioned ECH as its Transportation Priority in its meeting on July 8, 2019.

Meanwhile, Zariffa said recent discussions with Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver about the priorities were fruitful.

A pilot project involving “Park-and-Ride” is also in the works.

The administration said Abraham’s Land would be the ideal site for a centralized, industry busing hub.

Companies do provide incentives for housing such as relocation expenses and rental or homeownership support.

One industry partner offers a one-time housing allowance or down payment up to $40,000.

Local opportunities

Two delegates came forward to share their experiences with Council and industry partners in attendance.

Kevin Boyd, who moved from Red Deer in 2018 to work for CEDA, said he did not receive incentives for moving to Wood Buffalo.

He also said FIFO workers, and not local staff received compensation during a work stoppage.

Living alone and now out of work, he added he’s unable to find others that share his interests.

Rod Kelly and his wife lived in the region for more than eight years.

Despite earning an MBA, Kelly lost his job with Syncrude in March of 2017 and said oilsands companies wouldn’t hire him because he isn’t from out-of-town.

“Those who made this [region] their home should be getting the jobs.” Said Mayor Don Scott.

The Livability Task Force would continue to encourage industry to increase local employment.

Zariffa added OSCA now has a single job listing on its website for employment opportunities.

Councillors said there are opportunities for people like Boyd, particularly with non-profit organizations and special interest groups.

Fresh outlook

Zariffa said released capital spending outlooks from industry partners range from flat to increased in 2020.

2017 and 2018 saw industry bring in 1,432 and 1,421 new local hires, respectively.

However, the amount of local hires who transferred to Wood Buffalo from elsewhere each year is 10 per cent.

Recent job losses factored into only 638 new local hires to date in 2019 with 23 per cent transferring from outside Wood Buffalo.

Despite this Zariffa said he expects big turnarounds among industry next year.

In 2018, there were about 14,000 turnaround workers.

Companies continue to promote the region including its amenities, businesses, and restaurants.

Also, the industry’s procurement spend was $5.5-billion between 2016-17 with hundreds of millions invested in the social profit sector.

Mayor and Councillors should expect another bi-annual eport from the Livability Task Force in June 2020.