ELECTION WATCH 2013: Tupper announces bid for Council seat

By Rebekah Benoit Jon, Sandy, & Luna the Cat

Former president of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce and longtime resident of the region, Jon Tupper, announced his candidacy this week in the upcoming municipal election.

Tupper says he’s ready to face the unique challenges of the booming oilsands capital. “We have an incredible region, and we have some incredible opportunities and challenges,” Tupper says. “The challenges facing us today are not necessarily the same as those we faced three years ago.”

Tupper says that, with the recent announcement of the urban development subregion, the municipality can finally begin shifting its focus from acquiring land for development to making sure that development meets the needs of residents.

“Instead of fighting for land, it’s time to focus on actually stewarding it like a normal city, to open opportunities for development. We need more shops, restaurants and entertainment, not just downtown but also uptown and across town,” Tupper says. “We need to bring the services people need to the neighbourhoods where they actually live.”

Tupper says that, while he’s aware of the looming housing crisis and the need for more housing projects, he’s also sensitive of the needs of residents who have already purchased a home here and are worried about the value of their homes in the face of potential new housing development.

“We certainly have to build more housing to accommodate those friends and neighbours who don’t already live here, but that being said, we also have to be mindful of the investments people have made,” Tupper explains. “We have to release land in such a way that we protect people’s investments. Using land responsibly and stewarding it effectively ensures we don’t have a housing crisis and runaway inflation, and at the same time, we don’t harm the investments that people have made who ultimately built this community.”

Tupper envisions a housing development process that he says will allow the rest of the province to catch up with inflation, protecting property values in a manner he describes as responsible.

“No matter where you live, housing costs are roughly the same,” Tupper says, paraphrasing friend Todd Hurst, chief economist for ATB Financial. “Whether you live in a yurt in Mongolia, a condo in downtown Manhattan or right here in Fort McMurray, housing costs roughly 40 per cent of your monthly income, and the data I’ve seen suggests that we’re right on track with that ratio,” Tupper explains. “We have the higher household incomes to support that, although we know full well that there is an income gap between dual-income families and single incomes.”

Tupper believes that organizations like Wood Buffalo Housing and Development (WBHD) are the best solution to the need for affordable housing in the region, rather than tampering with the housing market by opening up huge areas for development.

“The struggle for people in lower income brackets are the same challenges felt in Edmonton and Calgary. We have tremendous work being done by the WBHD to help soften that gap and help people step into home ownership,” Tupper says. “It’s a Fort McMurray model that serves Fort McMurray residents, and it’s received international attention. I believe we have to hold housing prices steady, but I also believe we really do need to support organizations like this to help people in different income levels still achieve that dream of home ownership.”

Tupper says he’s also concerned about the quality of life for families in the region. “We need to have this community continue to be a great place to start a family,” Tupper says, citing the high birth rate in the Fort McMurray maternity ward as an example of the region’s growing population of families and children. “We’re having a baby born every five hours. When those youngsters grow into toddlers and go to school, safety is very important. We need to have a safe, family-friendly place – if we don’t put the focus on that, it’s going to erode.”

If elected, Tupper says he’ll focus on creating safer school zones, streets and roadways, building capacity in the health care system by attracting more family-friendly physicians, and ensuring that aging parents can remain in the community by working with the province and other organizations to support aging in place.

Tupper says he has the track record and networking connections to do excellent work if elected to council. “I’m a very strong voice for a very strong region,” he says, echoing his campaign slogan. “I’ve never shied away from debate, I’ve never hesitated to advocate for the people of this region, but I can also work as a team, using my skills in collaboration to make that strong voice heard.”

For more information or to contact Jon Tupper, visit his website at www.jontupper.com, follow him on Twitter at @jon_tupper, or email jonltupper@gmail.com