Concerns and issues of the rural hamlets were front and centre at the latest Mayoral debate.
On Tuesday, around 70 people, many bused in from different communities, were at the Unifor Building in downtown Fort McMurray to hear Allan Grandison, Tony Needham, Allan Vinni, and Don Scott as they discussed ways to improve rural living conditions.
Some of the major issues discussed included the 1995 Amalgamation Agreement, the Truth and Reconciliation Report, as well as the impacts of Bill 21 and fly-in-fly-out on both the rural and urban areas.
The one question which received different answers from each candidate was their main priority for the rural areas.
Vinni says he wants to continue to move forward with the Rural, Water, Sewer, and Road Rehabilitation project and make sure people know the project is “happening.”
“We’ve done a third of the project already and I still hear and get a sense that people think there’s some issue that we won’t do it. We’re going to do it and they will see it this winter as holes are dug and big pipes are laid so that’s going to be a start of all basic core services that will be similar to the urban.”
One candidate is seeing exactly eye-to-eye as Grandison mentioned he’s spoken to some residents who don’t want a new water and rural system. Right now, he believes the best thing mayor and council can do for these hamlets is listen.
“I know many people who don’t feel heard, I think we’ve done somewhat of a job but I’m not convinced that we’ve done a very good job of going out and listening to everybody, from knocking on every door and finding out what the real issues are in our rural communities.”
Listening is something Scott believes is just a step as he wants council to actually “achieve and deliver results.”
“They want to see things like their water and sewer, they want to be listened to, they want to make sure they have involvement in committees, they want to make sure they actually have council meetings in the rural areas so there are a long list of needs for each individual community.”
Housing is something Needham notes he wants to fix. He says it’s discouraging to hear about the situation some families are going through.
“A lot of people that live in the rural areas are indigenous people and it’s their land and all of Canada is benefiting from it. I think the least we can do is give them the tools, materials, and the land so they can build their own home to live in.”
The debate, which was organized by the Rural Coalition, was the third one the four candidates have taken part in. The first debate, which aired on Fort McMurray Matters, saw the candidates focus on Bill 21 and fly-in-fly-out while the second forum saw the candidates reaffirm their position on many key issues.
Another debate featuring all four candidates will take place on October 10 at the Suncor Centre for Performing Arts.
Meanwhile, before the four mayoral candidates spoke, 12 of the 13-people vying for one of six Ward 1 seats took part in their first official debate. Each candidate was given a chance to speak on different rural issues such as rural services, rural consultation, and more.
Some of the common responses were supportive of the third-party review of the 1995 Amalgamation Agreement and the RMWB needing to improve its relationship with its indigenous people.