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Tempers flare in council debates on population, theatre

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
Councillor Allan Vinni asks Manager of Industry Relations Dennis Vroom a question on April 19, 2016 // Chris Vandenbreekel - Harvard Broadcasting

Councillor Allan Vinni asks Manager of Industry Relations Dennis Vroom a question on April 19, 2016 // Chris Vandenbreekel – Harvard Broadcasting











It was a heated Tuesday night in council chambers as population growth projections and the proposed process for procuring a downtown multiplex theatre was debated.

The evening started off calmly enough with an hour-long closed door session, followed by a poetry presentation by Connect Weekly’s Dawn Booth. Things began to turn confrontational after a presentation on the 2016-18 Fiscal Management Strategy by Chief Financial Officer Elsie Hutton, when Mayor Melissa Blake shut down questions from Councillors Vinni and McGrath as being “too debatey (sic).” Councillors were only allowed to ask for clarification on information, and weren’t allowed to make comments enhancing their political stance.

The frustration became palpable when council heard new projections of population growth from Manager of Industry Relations Dennis Vroom. The projections, which are predicting very modest growth based off data collected from industry and government, raised questions of reliability from Councillor Vinni.

After asking Vroom if oil prices were the basis of the low projections, Vinni proceeded to ask repeatedly why the projections were being made now, repeating the question “what’s changed?” The line of questioning provoked a heated exchange between the Ward 3 councillor and Mayor Blake.

The mayor asked Vinni if he could get to his point with out “dragging” Vroom there, to which Vinni responded curtly.

“I’m asking serious questions,” he said. “Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make them stupid questions.”

Vinni ultimately voted against accepting the projections along with Councillor Bussieres and Voyageur, citing the unreliability of projections based off of oil prices. The vote passed 8-3, meaning administration will take the projections into consideration for planning and budgetary purposes.

Multiplex Theatre Process

Council also heard a proposal for moving forward with the concept of a multiplex theatre in the downtown core. Administration suggested a timeline that included extensive public consultation, choosing three developer candidates, and proceeding to negotiate with one. The process would have council approve a developer by September 2017.

Several councillors criticized the plan, saying it would take too long.

“We’re over-doing it, we’re over-governmenting (sic.) it,” said Councillor Colleen Tatum. “We just need to decide, what are the objectives that we want this land to meet? What are the key criteria that the proponent needs to meet? And then just get out of their way and let them do it.”

Administration argued that shortening the timeline would compromise proper governance of the project.

Councillor McGrath also took issue with the proposal of negotiating with only one developer, saying that was the problem with the failed arena project. He said it was “embarrassing” that administration would suggest a similar process, and proceeded to write an amendment to remove the commercial negotiation component of the plan.

His amendment, which calls only for public engagement that is to be completed and returned to council by June 7, passed unanimously 11-0.

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