Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Municipal Election Redux: Wood Buffalo

This one would have been awfully tough for me. Two credible choices presented themselves on this ballot.

On one hand, incumbent Melissa Blake was seeking re-election to her second term. On the other, business owner Dave Kirschner made a late entry to make it a race. There were pros and cons to both candidates.

Melissa swept to victory on a platform of change in 2004, ousting incumbent Doug Faulkner. There is no doubt that things have changed since Melissa took office. The Wood Buffalo region is most certainly on the map. Our issues are well-known to both the provincial and federal governments and Melissa deserves much credit for this. The flipside is that i've often found her to be too focused on the negative aspects of Wood Buffalo. This is handy when asking for funding, but not great when trying to promote the region and attract new residents. She also has a tendency to micro-manage and to rely too heavily on advice from a very small group of friends.

Dave Kirschner is someone i've known for 15 years (I went to school with his son). He is a respected member of Fort McMurray's tight-knit small business community. His business experience is far more well-rounded (not just the perspective of the oilsands plants) and a definite asset. As a long-time resident who has raised a family in McMurray, he also has a good grasp of community life. My worry with Dave is his tendency to side with those who are uncomfortable with the pace of change in the region... those who remember what the place was like in the 60's and cling to that vision.

I'm still not sure who I would have voted for. Consider it a testament to the candidates in the race rather than my own indecision.

In the end, Melissa won handily with just over double the number of votes Dave received.

WARD 1 (City of Fort McMurray)
Fort McMurray has a chronic inability to change its incumbent councilors. In 2001, 30 year veteran Ron Morgan retired leaving one vacancy among the 6 seats in Ward 1. I was proud to manage to the campaign of Carolyn Slade, the winner of that open seat and the only new face from Ward 1 in that election. Now that Coun. Slade has retired, it again left only one non-incumbent vacancy on council.

One of the things that was so important about Carolyn's time on council was that she brought a perspective from a sector other than education. Of the 6 seats in Ward 1, 5 were held by those with ties to the education system (4 teachers, 1 former trustee). Educators have an important perspective, but do not make up 5 of every 6 McMurrayites. This gross imbalance was the source of many complaints, but it never seemed to change come election time. Still, Election 2007 presented another opportunity to correct the problem.

My favourite newcomers this time were community activist and radio-host-turned-safety-professional Ross Jacobs and Chamber of Commerce President Mike Allen. Both men are friends and, for those who would accuse me of wearing partisan blinders, it should be noted that Ross is also President of the local provincial Liberal association.

It turns out that Fort McMurray was ready to at least begin the process of change. When the dust settled, Ward 1 saw two new faces elected. Although Ross was unsuccessful, Mike Allen and lawyer Mila Byron were elected.

Long-time Coun. Jim Carbery was defeated, something that many thought was necessary but few believe would ever happen. Some sitting councillors should take this hint and consider retiring in 2010, lest the voters decide for them.

Either way, Couns. Allen and Byron will be a welcome breath of fresh, private sector air.

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