Municipal election sees Council shakeup

By Becky Benoit

The signs are coming down, the ballots have all been counted, and another municipal election is behind us, but the shockwaves of Monday’s vote will continue to be felt in the coming months and years, as several incumbent councilors lost their seats, replaced by enthusiastic newcomers promising more accountability, more fiscal responsibility and more public input into decision-making at the RMWB.

Mayor Melissa Blake hung onto her seat, winning with a healthy 60 per cent of the vote over challengers Gene Ouellette and Jim Rogers. Now entering her fourth term as mayor, Blake promised that the strategic plans formed under her leadership will finally begin to bear fruit in the coming term, including the formation of a utility corporation to bring more services to rural communities and the catalyst projects under the City Centre Redevelopment Plan.

Councilors Phil Meagher and Sheldon Germain, both seasoned veterans around the council table, were the only incumbent councilors re-elected this term. Meagher, the longest-serving Wood Buffalo councilor with six terms under his belt, promised to work on bringing the aging-in-place centre for seniors into reality, relieving traffic congestion and infrastructure woes and improving communication between the three levels of government.

Germain, who was first elected in 1999 as the youngest councilor on record, focused on aligning the priorities of the public with the spending priorities of the municipality, calling into the question the much-debated Snye pedestrian bridge and the proposed downtown location of the new arena. Germain also wants to see more modern transportation solutions to the region’s chronic traffic problems.

Popular councilors Christine Burton and Colleen Tatum, who won their seats in the 2012 by-election, were defeated, resulting in an all-male Ward 1 line up this time around. Incumbent Russell Thomas was also defeated.

Replacing these familiar faces are newcomers Tyran Ault, Lance Bussieres and Keith McGrath. Ault, who narrowly lost in the 2012 by-election to Burton and Tatum, was first to announce his candidacy, and has promised a more engaged public consultation process, and more municipal funding for basic services like snow removal, line painting and emergency services.

Bussieres, a vocal advocate for seniors in the region, has called for council to lobby the provincial government to finally make some progress on the aging-in-place centre, and eliminate wasteful spending, taking aim at the Snye bridge and the downtown arena. Bussieres has promised to push for municipal spending on improving core services in all areas of the region, not just the urban centre.

McGrath, who has sought a council seat for more than a decade, has proposed the creation of an improvement tax on hotel and motel rooms and camp accommodations to be used towards tourism and infrastructure. He has also promised to explore alternate transportation routes within the city to ease the chronic traffic congestion.

Guy Boutilier was the big winner of the evening, taking the most votes with nearly 13 per cent. Boutilier started his campaign off with a bang, accusing city administration of being “inmates running the asylum,” and stridently calling for more grassroots input into decision-making and more accountability for government spending.

In Ward 2, Julia Cardinal and John Chadi defeated incumbents David Blair and Sonny Flett, while in Ward 3, Allan Vinni beat out Brad Friesen by a fairly narrow margin of 69 votes. In Ward 4, Jane Stroud hung onto her seat with a comfortable 72 per cent of the vote.

With so many councilors campaigning on eliminating wasteful spending and improving public consultation, many of the municipality’s proposed big-ticket projects, such as the downtown arena and the Snye walking bridge, are in question. The fate of such projects, as well as the direction of the municipality under the new council’s leadership, will begin to become clear at the first council meeting, scheduled for November 12 at 6 pm.