The 6-5 decision by council to defer the Conklin Multiplex has led to broken trust according to one Conklin community organization.
The Conklin Resources and Development Advisory Committee issued a press release Thursday, saying the decision to stop construction on the $50 million project was “shocking” to residents.
The committee notes that the project was providing Conklin residents with much-needed employment, as they’ve been hit hard by the drop in oil prices over the past few years.
“We thought that we were a part of the RMWB,” said Jeffrey O’Donnell, chair of the CRDAC. “We basically had to shut down operations for a month to support our neighbours. And now they’re really quick to take away a much-needed facility.”
Councillor Allan Vinni proposed deferring the multiplex on Tuesday night, a measure that was supported by Councillors Sheldon Germain, Keith McGrath, Lance Bussieres, Claris Voyageur, and Tyran Ault. Administration had recommended in their report that the project resume construction.
The representatives that supported deferring the multiplex cited the need to free up money for the recovery. However, O’Donnell pointed out that a budget for the recovery hasn’t been produced other than the $4 million start-up budget for the Wood Buffalo Recovery Committee.
“The money is for the residents, is what I heard one of the councillors saying,” he noted. “Conklin residents are RMWB residents too.”
O’Donnell also said that the timing of the decision limited the ability for Conklin residents to attend the meeting and voice their concerns. Aboriginal communities have been taking part in the annual Lac St. Anne pilgrimage since July 18, an event that’s considered one of the “holiest holidays” in Conklin.
“We were a little appalled,” he said. “To not be aware of this (holiday) shows a real disconnect with the people they represent. To pull something like this while our people were away was quite disappointing.”
Several of the councillors that voted in favour of the deferral have shown historic opposition to the multiplex. In November Councillor Germain filed a breach of governance over the project, after earlier guarantees of an RCMP office and nursing station were no longer significant parts of the complex’s design.
Germain openly questioned the scope of the project, telling Fort McMurray Matters that needs could have been met with a $16m budget. To-date, $17m has been spent with parts of the superstructure already built.
Councillor Colleen Tatum suggested on Tuesday that some of her colleagues were using the wildfire as an excuse to bring up the project again, a sentiment that was echoed by O’Donnell.
“We were super-appalled that they would use the wildfire as an excuse to pull a stunt like this,” he said. “We basically had to shut down operations for a month to support our neighbours… if the money is supposed to support recovery from the wildfires, what relief does this give us?”
Council will be addressing the multiplex project again on August 16.