It was standing-room only at council Tuesday night as Councillor Allan Vinni’s motion regarding fly-in, fly-out employment was discussed and voted on.
The motion, which aims to offer oilsands companies a reduction in their tax burden in exchange for the reduction or elimination of FIFO, passed with an 8-0 vote to great applause from the gallery.
Citizens presented their thoughts on the motion for 75 minutes. The delegates included NorthStar Ford owner Marty Giles, former MLA Don Scott, and former Chamber of Commerce President Nick Sanders. All three expressed emphatic support for the motion, saying the municipality should be looking at any way possible to help the oilpatch become more competitive through lower taxes, and that more locals being employed would boost business in town.
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Some presenters urged caution though. Long-time oilsands workers like Jim Rogers spoke of the hardships and dangers of long commutes and time in camp away from families, saying the RMWB needs to ensure a good quality of life for local workers employed in operations farther away from town.
One presenter, who rushed to council chambers after watching a portion of the meeting from home, questioned whether a tax break was the best thing to offer big oil.
“The reason they don’t hire the locals and prefer fly-in, fly-out is because right off the bat it’s a 15% pay cut,” said William Olynyk, who was laid off in the middle of the downturn. “I was making 15% more than a fellow supervisor because I was living in Fort McMurray and they paid that bump.”
Olynyk questioned whether a reduction in FIFO is what companies want, pointing to job fair advertisements in other markets like Calgary, Edmonton, and Kelowna that don’t end up coming to Fort McMurray.
Oil Sands Community Alliance Executive Director Regan McCullough also presented, saying his organization supports the conversation. He also pointed to the fact that FIFO employees have in many cases been the first to go during the downturn, saying internal estimates show a decrease in camp population from 40,000 to 28,000 since the price of oil plummeted.
“The mobile workforce has acted as a sort of shock absorber,” he said. “Industry has to some extent been able to protect the positions of local and longer-service employees.”
McCullough went on to say that no matter what the municipality or companies do, some workers will still choose to commute from outside the region. Councillor Keith McGrath responded to this by suggesting that the RMWB needs to figure out why people are choosing not to live in the municipality.
Councillors Tatum, Ault, and Cardinal were absent from the meeting due to pre-existing travel plans. Had he been present at the meeting, Ault would have had to excuse himself from the debate due to his employment at Suncor, constituting a conflict of interest.