Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Telling Our Own Story - State of the Region Address, Mayor Melissa Blake

I started my day yesterday listening to CBC news with my 12-year old Intrepid Junior Blogger. It was 6 am, and she had called me into her room to hear, as she put it, "this guy screwing his own career". Which guy? Rob Ford, the histrionic-prone and controversial mayor of Toronto. I won't go into the details (you can read them here) but as we listened I had to agree with my daughter that the man had likely taken a flame thrower to his own political life. I then commented to her how lucky we are that our own mayor is of such a different sort entirely - and I had that confirmed to me when I had the opportunity to attend the Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Sawridge and hear the mayor deliver her 2011 "State of the Region" address.

I'd only heard about this address the day before on Twitter. I was intrigued, as I always love hearing Mayor Blake speak, but I was even more interested than usual as so much has happened in the past year - and so much is beginning to happen. I contacted the Chamber of Commerce and spoke to Megan, the lovely office administrator. Not only did the Chamber kindly offer me a spot at the luncheon they also accepted my registration as media (I struggle with this, people, as some days I feel like "media" and other days I feel like a woman with a keyboard, and one who should at times probably have the keyboard taken away from her).

I arrived at the Sawridge early (as I had seen the notice that the event would be heavily attended). What I  found gathered at my table was a mix of local media and local business owners. I was impressed to see the business owners almost immediately exchange cards and begin talking about life in this community, both business and personal. That is what the Chamber is all about, of course, an opportunity for business owners and the like to network and strengthen their ties in the community. The Chamber also represents businesses in the community and helps them to grow and develop to reach their maximum potential. And, yesterday, the Chamber luncheon played host to the mayor, most of city council, several MLA's, and people like me.

I wish everyone who reads this could have been there to hear the State of the Region address. You can read it here, and I suggest you do as it's a wonderful speech about the road map for the future of the RMWB. Listening to Mayor Blake deliver it, though, was a pleasure as while she is always an excellent orator I particularly love it when she interjects into the written speech and ad-libs a bit (perhaps a joke, or a tidbit of news that wasn't in the body of the speech). I'm going to quote some of the speech here, and anything in italics is directly from the mayor's speech, as I believe she should get credit for these words.

So, what was the speech about? About the Municipal Development Plan, or MDP.

As Mayor Melissa said at the beginning of her speech the MDP is the blueprint for the future. The MDP gives us a strategy and a vision for the future and a balanced future with opportunity for all. If you watched the video I posted yesterday I think that's pretty clear. We are already seeing some of that future, with the opening of the long-awaited and desperately needed new bridge this week. We are going to see some of those projects in the near future, too, like the Continuing Care Centre planned for the former Willow Square complex. But the MDP is not a short term plan - it's a long term plan.

Mayor Melissa said that we will look back on August 29th, 2011 as one of the most significant days in our region's history. It is that day we took control of our destiny. You see, that's the day Melissa joined with the provincial government and signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the creation of an urban sub-development region. What does that really mean? It means more land, land for residential, commercial, and industrial development. It means an opportunity to grow in size and not just in population, because our population will likely double in the next two decades. If we see that rate of growth we need to be able to address it - and that, of course, is the fundamental goal of the MDP.

Mayor Blake spoke about the need for improvement in transportation, not just for today but for the future. This includes improved roads, rail, and air transport. This means improved transit services. This means, eventually, a bypass route to allow the safe and expedient transportation of goods. This means some day in the future looking into an all-season road to Fort Chipewyan and Fort Fitzgerald (places I admit I have not visited, but would love to see). This means a larger airport, and one designed to handle international travel.

Our mayor also spoke about the need to develop economic resiliency in our community. We are heavily reliant on resource development of course, but we need to diversify. We need to explore other avenues, and to promote a culture of innovation, education, and training.

And, close to my heart, she spoke about how a revitalized downtown is key to becoming a smart city. This rings so true to me, and so very important. If the core of a city is rotten and stale it does not take long for that to seep into all areas of a community. On the other hand, though, a vibrant downtown core, one that is a hub for arts, entertainment, and culture also spreads throughout a community.  The City Centre Action Plan is a key part of the MDP, and it, coupled with the expansion plans for MacDonald Island, will revitalize not just our downtown but, I think, our entire community.

Mayor Melissa spoke about the importance of Keyano College, our public and Catholic schools, and the remarkable openings of three new schools in our region - all within a month. She spoke about our successful bids for the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games, and for the 2013 Canadian Junior Curling Championships.

Then we got to the part of the speech that I have circled in my notes. In fact, I put small hearts around it (yes, I know, but I do live with teenage girls, okay?). Why? Because it's the tagline for this blog. It's why I began this blog just over 6 months ago. It's why I devote my time to it, willingly, and without pay. The line? It is about telling our story - because it is a story we must tell - if we don't, others will, and we've seen the result of that in the past. In some ways I think these were the most important words in the State of the Region address. The address was all about telling our own story - about trumpeting our successes, and outlining our plans. It was, in essence, about telling our story - and people, we all have a story to tell of our life here, every single one of us - and we need to share those with the world.

Mayor Blake's final words were these : I am proud and humbled to represent you at this exciting time. I am proud and humbled to work with Regional Council to articulate a shared vision. I am proud and humbled to walk with you. We are no longer following others...relying on other people to plan our route. We are now leaders, plotting our own course...and realizing our destiny". Those words have a ring of authenticity and of sincerity. I share them too, as I am so humbled by the chance to spend time with passionate and visionary leaders like Mayor Melissa and our council. I am so humbled by the opportunity to tell my own story of life here, and to share it with the world. I am so very, very proud of Fort Mac, and of our leadership as we achieve our destiny. I am proud of our community, people, and of all of you. I was reminded of this yet again as I sat at a luncheon, surrounded by members of our community, and listened to our mayor tell the story of our community as it is today - and as it will be in the future.

My sincere thanks to the Fort McMurray
Chamber of Commerce for inviting
me to attend the State of the Region
address - and for being the voice
of our business community.

And to Mayor Melissa as I said to
you yesterday thank you for not being Rob
Ford ;) - and for being someone I am so proud
to have as my mayor!

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