A coalition of rural hamlets and aboriginal communities addressed the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo’s council on Tuesday night, looking to strike a better deal for residents who live outside of Fort McMurray.
Spokesman and President of the Fort McKay Metis Community Association, Ron Quintal, says there’s been an uneven balance since 1995. That’s when an agreement was struck between the city of Fort Mac and the surrounding hamlets to form the amalgamated Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Quintal says he doesn’t want a rural versus urban fight, he wants to make sure the urban centre is successful.
“However, at the same time we want to ensure the rural communities are just as successful, and that’s not the case. With 95% of the Regional Municipality’s tax revenues coming from the rural areas, we are only getting, actually, 4% of the overall budget.”
Quintal says, when people have to go outside to use the outhouse, that’s a sign of major disparity. He says there are many communities in the region without water or sewer lines.
“They’re building neighborhoods on a daily basis in Fort McMurray with piped water and sewer. The one major thing, the one major difference in terms of our argument is that, we feel that because these communities are signatories to the amalgamation agreement, we feel that they should be looked at in a higher standard in terms of infrastructure projects in the region.”
He says their projects are given a lower priority. He points to community rec centre that’s been planned for the town of Conklin, funding for which has been delayed numerous times.
Quintal says the system is stacked against rural communities with just three rural seats next to the seven urban seats on council. He’d like to see a balance of seven urban councillors, seven rural councillors with the mayor’s seat able to break any deadlocks.
Following Tuesday’s council meeting he says he was surprised to find Mayor Melissa Blake and members of council open to their plight and suggestions.
“There was some positives coming from a lot of councillors, that they feel that they want to work with us and they identified the fact that, and recognized the fact that there is a huge disparity in terms of the contrast between the rural and the urban.”
And so Ron Quintal remains, “cautiously optimistic.”