The following is a copy of a letter I sent to the editors of the Edmonton Journal, the Calgary Herald, and the Lethbridge Herald in regards to recent stories about Fort McMurray:
As someone who was born and raised in Fort McMurray, I never thought I would see the day when my hometown could find some common ground with the city of Toronto. Yet it seems that lately Fort McMurray has become, much like Toronto, the city that everyone loves to pick on.
For years, we have dealt with governments that paid little or no attention to the physical and social infrastructure that was not growing at the same pace as our population and our economy. Now that we are on the radar screen, we often hear people in the south complain about the disproportionate amount of money being spent in our region so that the aforementioned infrastructure can try to catch up to the frantic growth. We have become accustomed to all of this.
But now it seems that jealousy has given way to some rather nasty finger pointing.
Last week, Economic Development Lethbridge made news when it complained that our local Fort McMurray radio stations would not air a series of ads they had recorded to try and encourage people to move to Lethbridge and boost their economy. Rather than focus solely on their positive attributes, these ads also took square aim at the stereotypical lifestyle, high housing prices, and perception of poor community and commercial services in Fort McMurray as reasons why people should leave our city.
Then today we read that Kate Quinn from Edmonton’s Prostitution and Awareness and Action Foundation, along with Edmonton City Councilor Michael Phair, believe that men from Fort McMurray are largely to blame for the prostitution problems in the capital city. They admit that there are no facts or figures to back up their statements, but readily assume that it is men from Fort McMurray who are "spending money wildly, looking for sex on the street".
These attitudes are not only inaccurate, but they are also very mean-spirited and counter productive for our province.
The Lethbridge ads could have projected the same message without demeaning another city, particularly one whose economic prosperity is of such great benefit to all Albertans. To sling mud at another city is in poor taste, shows desperation, and is as likely to fail as it is to succeed.
The comments coming from Edmonton regarding prostitution are also disturbingly inaccurate. Not only do they further the negative stereotype of the "Fort McMurray camp worker", they incorrectly identify the home of these supposed miscreants. Men (and women) who live, work, and pay taxes in Fort McMurray often travel south for more mainstream services such as shopping and entertainment. Those who partake in more elicit services are more likely to be single men who work in Fort McMurray, but are in fact returning "home" to points south for the weekend.
I don’t deny that Fort McMurray is facing problems as we grow, but we are not the only ones facing them. We can certainly appreciate the difficulties that other communities in our province are facing, but please stop trying to blame them on us. We have issues of our own to deal with.