Seeking better ways to sustain long-term employment for locals

Connecting Council – Public Letter

By KEITH MCGRATH, Ward 1 Councillor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Councillor KeithMcGrath

The fly-in, fly-out programs operated by the oil sands industry and contractors continue to see thousands of people who live outside of the Wood Buffalo region travel back and forth for work and live temporarily in work camps.

While I understand that industrial shutdowns require significant numbers of skilled people on a short-term basis in order to keep up with the vital maintenance turnarounds and fly-in/out programs may be suitable in these types of circumstances, I’m wondering if there is a better way to ensure long-term, permanent employment positions in our region that could be filled by people who choose to call Wood Buffalo home and are willing to settle here with their families.

I fully believe families bond when they live together, rather than provinces apart. I also believe a community grows stronger when we all have skin in the game, take pride in our neighborhoods, support our local businesses and participate in the growth and development of our city.

After speaking with many who don’t have their families here, I can say – without hesitation – that many would move their family here if we improved our healthcare facilities and had more support for children with special needs.

The other outstanding reason many don’t move their families here is our lack of a long-term care facility. Younger families are often split up when one stays behind with elderly parents.

The economic downturn just might be the impetus to start the “fly-in/out dialogue” once again, between all three levels of government and the oil sand operators. The same old unanswered questions and challenges posed by workforce shortages may be answered differently and even resolved, now that there are more people who need work than there are positions available.

With cooperation with our provincial government, we are moving closer to having some of these issues dealt with, but their importance cannot be underestimated.

Hopefully things like a long-term care facility and the helipad at the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre will move forward in a timely fashion.

The economic downturn just might be the impetus to start the “fly-in/out dialogue” once again, between all three levels of government and the oil sand operators. The same old unanswered questions and challenges posed by workforce shortages may be answered differently and even resolved, now that there are more people who need work than there are positions available.

Increased utilization of our local international airport, high rental vacancy rates, housing surpluses, incentives for people who choose to work and live in the region – all of these can be revisited – and many more ideas can be brought to the table and re-examined in a new light.

Now, more than ever, we need to re-open the dialogue and commit to working together to design and steward to a new multifaceted model that will help to build and strengthen both our community and our workforce.

-Connect Weekly-