In just over a week, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo will have a new mayor.
Mayor Melissa Blake is retiring from municipal politics after serving in public office for 19 years.
She was first elected to council back in 1998 with a platform focusing on adding curbside recycling and better street naming.
“It took me about 12-years to finally get curbside recycling but I finally did and I’ve been sort of miss or hit with the street naming,” she said.
The first task Blake says she remembers was trimming $1 million from a $40 million budget.
“It was a total eye-opener.”
Blake would serve as a councillor for two-terms, from 1998 to 2004. Over that time, she says different needs and issues kept piling up.
“I’d been watching housing prices escalate over that period of time, I’ve seen the roads start to clutter up, we had reports talk about dangerous goods and their transportation through the urban quarter, It was just a myriad of things and we could not seem to get support for the community for things that were affecting us.”
She mentions these were the main factors in her decision to run for mayor.
Early in her tenure, one of the most “controversial” but most successful decisions was made. Around 2004 – 2005, the RMWB was pursuing an expansion of its recreation centre (MacDonald Island Park) despite a lack of funds for other needs across the community.
“We took daily beatings on our decisions we were making with that, with the cost of everything of labour to the cost of steel, everything was just escalating in that period because of the rapid growth we were experiencing.”
Even though there was criticism, Blake says it was the “greatest achievement from a public perspective” in her time on council.
“We created great water treatment plants, wastewater facilities, we did a heck of a job at the landfill but those aren’t the things people care about, they really appreciate the changes that came in terms of recreation and parks and so on,” she added.
In the first two terms as mayor, Blake notes council really focused more on “problem-solving” over growth. The last two terms, she adds there were a lot of changes, especially around how the government of Alberta looked at the region.
“We got several new schools. When the bridges finally came into operation, it changed everything – those for me are reflection of years of work and lobbying the government and getting their support to deliver some of the things that made the biggest difference.”
Looking into the future, Blake says she’s very optimistic about the next mayor and council.
Things like the downturn in the economy and the Horse River Wildfire, in her mind, were the region’s main challenges – giving room for a positive future.
“Navigating our way through that gives the opportunity for this next body to figure out what they foresee for a different kind of community that supports the population that’s here. Without the extraordinary pressure that I’ve seen in too many of my terms, this is their time to think more strategically about the future and how they would recreate what needs recreating.”
Blake notes she will stay in Fort McMurray with her husband and two kids.
Right now, she says she doesn’t know what her next step will be but she didn’t rule out the possibility of being a delegate at future council meetings if an issue “gets under her skin.”
You can listen to the full conversation with Mayor Blake below.
— MIX 103.7 News (@Mix1037FMNews) October 5, 2017