Weekly update: EMS dispatch returns, Higdon's out, Conklin's housing gets worse

The news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo

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Happy weekend, Fort McMurray!

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  • Syncrude Food Bank Drive: The Wood Buffalo Food Bank is busier than it’s ever been and needs help. Dec. 1 to 3 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Volunteers can sign up online for shifts. Monetary donations to the food bank can also be made online.
  • Stuff-A-Bus Toy Drive: This annual campaign encourages people to donate for local families new unwrapped toys, gift cards for local businesses and monetary donations. Information and how to donate is online.
  • Keyano Huskies Holiday Camp: Coaches from Keyano’s soccer, basketball and volleyball teams will be present along with some special guest stars. Ages 6-13. Entry is by food or cash donation to the Wood Buffalo Food Bank. Register online. Dec. 1 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Syncrude Sport and Wellness Centre
  • Santa Claus Parade and Starry Night Holiday Party: Celebrate the most wonderful time of the year at Council’s Starry Night holiday party from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. and the Santa Claus Parade at 6 p.m. Dec. 2. at Kiyām Community Park. Information and parade route is online.
  • Winter Makers Market: Arts Council Wood Buffalo is hosting a Winter Makers Market featuring local artists, artisans and handcrafted goods. The Market also includes two needle felting workshops. The Winter Makers Market runs Dec. 3rd from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Doug Barnes Cabin.
  • Joy Unspeakable Joy—Christmas at Keyano 2.0: The Family Christian Centre’s presents Joy Unspeakable Joy. Performances are from the church’s adult choir, a live band, vocal solos and a special feature from the church’s kids choir. Dec. 3 at Keyano Theatre on 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets are online.
  • Buzz Brass: The Buzz Brass ensemble band presents a Christmas-themed concert. Through their appearances at prestigious festivals and collaborations with renowned symphony orchestras, Buzz Brass showcases the expertise of Canadian musicians and inspires aspiring musicians worldwide. Dec. 4 at Keyano Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are online.
  • Name That Plow: Help pick six names for the snowplows and other vehicles keeping Fort McMurray’s streets clear of ice and snow. The RMWB has more information on how to vote. Deadline is Dec. 6.
  • Fort McMurray Oil Barons: The MOB face the Blackfalds Bulldogs on Dec. 7 and Olds Grizzlys on Dec. 9 and 10 at Centerfire Place. Dec. 7 and Dec. 9 games start at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 9 game at 2:30 p.m. Tickets and schedule online.
  • Toys for Tickets: If you get a Winter Maintenance Zone or time parking ticket until Dec. 8 and pay the fine by Dec.11, the money will go towards the Salvation Army’s Adopt-a-Family program. More than $30,000 has been raised since 2016. More information is at the RMWB.
  • Jess Moskaluke—Winter Wonderland Tour: Country music artist Jess Moskaluke brings her Christmas-themed Winter Wonderland tour to Fort McMurray. Moskaluke promises an unforgettable evening of country music excellence that showcases her remarkable voice, pop-infused hooks and engaging stage presence. Dec. 12 at Keyano Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are online.
  • Mean Girls: The Musical: Dec. 14-16 at Ecole McTavish High School. This totally fetch show is $15 for adults and $10 for students.
  • Nominate Your Neighbour: Wood Buffalo Communities in Bloom wants you to nominate businesses or homes in your neighbourhood with festive light displays and decorations. Deadline for submissions is Dec. 15. More information is at the RMWB.

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Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz and a dispatcher with Regional Emergency Services. Supplied Image/RMWB

Local EMS dispatch returning, ending fight with province

The Alberta government is returning EMS dispatch to the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region by the end of 2024. This ends a dispute that began when the province announced in 2020 that EMS dispatch would be run from centralized hubs in Edmonton, Calgary and Peace River.

The RMWB will staff and run the dispatch centre, which can also ease surge pressure on the three dispatch hubs. The program will cost an estimated $2 million to launch.

Local emergency leaders argued centralization delayed response times and sent paramedics to wrong addresses, particularly in rural areas.

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The RMWB and the province were fighting in court after council unanimously voted to stop sending EMS calls to the centralized dispatch system in Feb. 2021.

Local dispatchers took over until the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench issued a temporary injunction against the RMWB a few days later.

“At the end of the day, facts prevailed,” said Mayor Sandy Bowman in an interview. “I’ve been meeting with every health minister and advocating for this. We can do this. We are an isolated, northern community that is bigger than the province of Nova Scotia. Our needs are unique.”

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A volunteer sorts food at the Wood Buffalo Food Bank in Fort McMurray Alta. on Saturday November 28, 2015. Garrett Barry/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Demand ‘through the roof’ as Wood Buffalo Food Bank prepares for annual food drive

The Wood Buffalo Food Bank is the busiest it’s ever been in the 12 years that Dan Edwards, its executive director, has been with the organization.

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Demand hasn’t grown this quickly since the COVID-19 pandemic, while inflation is limiting how much food the organization can buy in bulk.

The next year will likely be even harder to meet the demands of the community, said Edwards. It’s a scenario that food banks across Canada are reporting.

“It’s going to be really hard. The light at the end of the tunnel is still quite a ways away. There’s a lot of things going on right now in the world and how they play out will create circumstances we may have to adapt to,” said Edwards. “Our numbers are just through the roof.”

The Syncrude Food Bank Drive is Dec. 1 to 3 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Volunteers can sign up online for shifts. Monetary donations to the food bank can also be made online.

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conklin
A home in Conklin in October 2023. Image by Willow Springs Solutions

RMWB defends progress on Conklin subdivision as local leaders blame red tape

Despite millions of dollars from industry and government for housing, Conklin’s leadership says no homes have been built since the first funding announcement was made nearly four years ago.

About 75 per cent to 85 per cent of Conklin’s 178 residents live in homes considered insecure or unsafe. Conklin’s leadership hopes to build a new 15-lot subdivision. Rent will be based on income. At least 40 new homes are needed to solve the crisis.

Scott Duguid, CEO of the Conklin Resource Development Advisory Committee (CRDAC), said the RMWB is slow to send building inspectors to the community, approve permits or answer questions on building new homes.

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The RMWB says it took longer than usual to send inspectors to Conklin for a review of a planned subdivision in the hamlet. However, the RMWB says the housing project is still within a normal timeline compared to similar projects. The lots were also raw, undeveloped land. Six of eight development steps for building a subdivision is complete.

“The social conditions that go with poverty and a lack of stable housing is increasing,” said Duguid. “Drug and alcohol use is up, property crime is significantly up, violent crime is definitely increasing.”

Jonathan Higdon
A screenshot of Jonathan Higdon speaking in a June 20 Facebook video to supporters and critics after Pride YMM called comments he made on his private Facebook page transphobic.

Citing work schedule, Jonathan Higdon resigns as FMCSD trustee

Jonathan Higdon has resigned as a trustee with the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division (FMCSD). He said his resignation is not because of comments made on his private Facebook page in June that critics called transphobic.

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Higdon said his resignation, announced at the district’s Nov. 27 meeting, is because of a hectic work schedule keeping him from attending monthly meetings and events.

“I will continue to be an advocate for Catholic Education and will hold the relationships I have built closely to my heart and look forward to contributing to this community in other ways,” he wrote in a Monday evening statement from FMCSD.

Higdon faced criticism from Pride YMM when he was accused in June of making hateful comments towards 2SLGBTQIA+ people on his Facebook account. Pride YMM wanted Higdon to apologize and join them in sensitivity training. Others wanted his resignation.

In a video he posted to his Facebook page after an emotional school board meeting, Higdon said he did not mean for his comments to be considered hateful. But he would not apologize for beliefs he called typical of Catholic school trustees.

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Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation at the frozen shores of Lake Athabasca in Fort Chipewyan on Thursday, January 16, 2020. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Chief Allan Adam, Alberta NDP want review and new leadership of AER

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is calling for new leadership at the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) and that the organization be “reviewed and overhauled.”

Alberta NDP Environment Critic Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse said Energy Minister Brian Jean was not taking recent spills at oilsands sites seriously and called for his resignation.

Last week, the AER revealed that Suncor’s Fort Hills site spilled nearly 10,000 cubic meters of water into the Athabasca River, contrary to the reported 662 cubic meters. The release, potentially ongoing since June 2022, is likely due to a faulty valve.

The AER also confirmed last week Imperial Oil’s Kearl site released 670,000 liters of treated water with elevated suspended solids.

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Kearl previously experienced two significant toxic wastewater releases, with delays in community updates. The AER and impacted companies claim water samples are within safe limits, but Adam says information is slow to reach ACFN.

fort mcmurray court house
The Fort McMurray Court House on Sunday, January 26, 2020. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

House arrest, curfew for Fort McMurray man guilty of sexual assault

A Fort McMurray man will spend roughly six months under house arrest and another six months living under a curfew after pleading guilty to sexual assault.

Kelly Golosky was arrested in Jan. 17 2022 after police received a complaint seven days earlier. After an investigation, Golosky was charged with a single count of sexual assault and released from police custody. The adult victim’s name is not being published to protect their identity.

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Golosky was sentenced on Nov. 23 and given a conditional sentence order of 369 days. The first six months and four days will be under house arrest. The remainder will include a curfew. He is also to have no contact with the complainant. He will have probation after the 369 days.

Golosky is a former member of the Fort McMurray Fire Department. A spokesperson for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo confirmed he is no longer employed at the organization.

Anyone with information about any missing people or criminal activity is asked to contact Wood Buffalo RCMP at 780-788-4040 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS). Tips to Crime Stoppers are always anonymous and can be sent to tipsubmit.com.

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Kids watch the fireworks that kicked off the first night of the 39th annual Lions Festival of Lights at Confederation Park Golf Course in Calgary on Saturday, November 25, 2023. Photo by Gavin Young/Postmedia
  • F@#$ off!: Polling company Pollara’s “Rage Index” found Alberta is Canada’s angriest province, followed by Ontario. Quebec is the least angriest province these days. Most respondents were frustrated and angry about the war in Ukraine, the conflict in Israel and Gaza, and their personal financial situation.
  • Lights, camera, action!: HBO’s The Last of Us spent $141 million and created 1,490 jobs when its first season filmed in Alberta in 2021. The series didn’t come to northeastern Alberta, but FMWBEDT hopes to attract film and TV productions to the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo region.
  • Councillor trouble: Councillor Jennifer Rice of Edmonton has been accused of bullying, disorganization, and creating a “hostile work environment” within her office by five former assistants. The former assistants say Rice made unrealistic demands, is overly preoccupied with her public image, and lashes out and belittles staff.
  • Crosswalk vote: Westlock voters will decide in February if the Pride crosswalks—along with other political, social or religious symbols in town—should be allowed.  The bylaw says crosswalks will only have the white latter pattern and only local, Alberta and Canadian flags can fly. A petition signed by 10 per cent of the town forced councillors to debate the motion. Councillors oppose the bylaw, but voted to let the town decide the bylaw’s fate.
  • Carbon capture help: Alberta’s new multibillion-dollar carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) program will offer up to 12 per cent of capital costs for new projects. Premier Danielle Smith says more details will be announced by spring. The program’s forecasted cost is between $3.2 billion and $5.3 billion over the next decade.
  • Traffic trouble: Banff’s mayor and council knows traffic is awful during tourist season. Transit in the town is up, but so are the number of private vehicles in Banff. Some solutions have been pitched, but the town’s mayor says they’re running out of solutions to the problem.
  • Read up on the politics and culture of Alberta  with Postmedia’s subscriber-exclusive newsletter, What’s up with Alberta? Curated by the National Post’s Tyler Dawson every Tuesday and Thursday.

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