Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.
Friday, April 27, 2012
An Open Letter to Premier Alison Redford - Fort McMurray and Highway 63
Dear Premier Redford,
You might remember me. We have met a few times in Fort McMurray, most recently when you visited our community shortly after you announced a provincial election. At that time you kindly agreed to sit down with me for a brief interview, and we chatted a bit about your passion and vision for this province, and about why you chose to do the job you do. I listened to you and was impressed with your sincerity and authenticity, and today I would like to speak to you about my passion and vision. You see, Premier, my passion is this community and all the people in this region - and my vision is making this community the best place it can possibly be. We are wonderful in so very many ways, as I think you have seen, but there is one issue that is hurting us, Premier. It is an issue that has been much discussed and too often, at least in our minds, ignored. It is an issue that isn't going away. And it is an issue that demands attention and action. The issue is Highway 63.
Today, Friday, April 27th, another horrific accident occurred on the 63, and I am quite certain you heard about it. Six dead at the scene, and three transported to hospital by air ambulance. One died shortly after. As I write this two others continue to fight for their lives. Perhaps you saw the same photo I did on Twitter, Premier, of a vehicle in flames. I had been on the verge of tears since hearing about the accident but the photo caused me to weep. And I wept even more upon learning that when that photo was taken one of the victims was still inside the inferno that had once been a vehicle.
It appears that this head-on collision was caused when someone crossed the double solids and attempted to overtake other vehicles and instead struck an oncoming vehicle. I know that twinning Highway 63 won't prevent every single accident - but it would have prevented this one. Seven lives saved, Premier. Maybe "statistically" that doesn't seem significant. I think it's significant to those seven, and their families. And it is significant to every single person who lives in this community.
Premier, all of us who live here have travelled on Highway 63. We travel it with our families, our beloved spouses and children. We travel it for work and for play. We travel it because it is our main transportation link with the rest of the province and by extension the rest of the world. It is our connection to everything, and it is, in some ways, our lifeline. And in other ways it is killing us, picking us off one by one in senseless accidents. And the time has come for this to end.
As I acknowledge above twinning will not prevent all accidents. Attitudes need to change, Premier, and I am aware of this. There is aggressive driving on Highway 63, and there are issues with the sheer volume of traffic, industrial loads sharing the road with much smaller vehicles. I think the time has come for action, though. The time has come to complete the twinning of Highway 63 because while I know some accidents are caused by idiocy twinning could at least prevent that idiocy from taking lives. But we need to do more, Premier. We need to patrol Highway 63 more aggressively, and we need to ensure that those who abuse their privilege of driving (and it is a privilege, not a right) are held accountable.
So, Premier, your government has just been granted a new mandate. We have, in fact, elected two individuals in Fort McMurray who are members of your party and who will sit beside you in the Legislative Assembly. During their campaigns Don Scott and Mike Allen committed to making the safety of Highway 63 a top priority, and I firmly believe they will do so. I also know they cannot achieve this without help, and without the support of your entire government. When you visited the region I was impressed with your understanding of it, and with your acknowledgement of the economic impact our community has on the province, and, to be truthful, our entire country. I was pleased to hear your comments about how this community contributes so much to the fabric of Alberta. And now the time has come, Premier. This is, quite literally, when the rubber hits the road in Fort McMurray. This is when action needs to start, and it needs to start now. There is no more room for excuses in this community, no pointing at weak representation sitting outside the government doors crying for change. We have two community members who sit in your party, and in your government. We are the economic driver for this province, and we have been very, very patient. But our patience has worn thin, and on this day, when 7 people lost their lives, I think our patience has disappeared. You cannot afford to ignore this a moment longer. Premier, if you do not make action on Highway 63 a top priority I can guarantee you will lose the faith and trust of an entire region. And you will lose my faith and trust, two things I do not grant lightly or without thought.
Premier, when we met I spoke to you as a writer. Today I speak to you as a resident of Fort McMurray, and as a mother. You see, I have in my house two young women, one 12 and one 14, not much older than your daughter. In fact you met them when you visited, my beautiful, intelligent girls. Today among those seven victims was a young woman as well, one who has now had her brief life snuffed out in a horrific accident. It could have been my daughter, Premier, or my niece. It could have been your daughter, the one who inspires you to do what you do every day. I am not willing to see my children die beside Highway 63 because it has not been twinned. I will not see see them die because it has not been adequately patrolled. And I will not see them die because I did not raise my voice to say "enough". This is my call to action, Premier Redford. I am saying "enough".
The people of Fort McMurray demand to see a plan to twin Highway 63. Yes, we've heard about the caribou migration and the other issues - what we have not heard is a concrete plan with completion dates and a timeline. We demand that this highway be better patrolled - and frankly I don't give a damn what it costs to do so. As has been stated again and again we are driving the provincial economy with our oil sands industry - and we are paying for it with our lives on a highway that is inadequate for the traffic it sees. And we are done with that, Premier. We have paid too high a price. Today seven people paid the ultimate price, and the ripple effects of their deaths on their families, their friends, and their community is staggering.
Premier, when we chatted last time I was struck by your passion, vision, and drive. I never doubted your sincerity or authenticity, and I saw the fire in your eyes when you spoke about why you do what you, and about the future of this province. I realize you cannot see my eyes, Premier, but I genuinely hope you can feel the passion and drive in my words. I hope you can sense the fire in my heart about my community, and about the people who call this home. I hope you don't doubt my sincerity and authenticity. And I hope you can sense that this issue is so close to me that I am making it a personal cause. I hope you can see my vision of a safer, patrolled, twinned Highway 63. I know it won't happen overnight. I know it will take time to complete. And I know there will still be accidents, and lives lost. But I also know that it will save some lives, and in a cost-benefit analysis the benefit of those lives saved outweighs any cost our province will incur to improve this highway.
So, Premier Redford, I am watching. I am waiting. And with me stands an entire region, watching and waiting to see what your government will do to end the carnage on Highway 63. We don't want promises, we want plans. We don't want ideas, we want action. And we don't want to wait. Because every single passing day endangers more lives, and the cost to our community grows. I am no longer patient, Premier. I am no longer content to not know exactly what is going on, or exactly when the highway twinning will be completed. Our region looks to you and your government now, Premier. We look to you to put into action those things you put into words during your campaign, and we look to seeing our literal connection to the world made safer and stronger. We will not wait any longer. The time has come, and it is now. Our province, and our region, granted your party a mandate to lead our province into prosperity and a brighter future. For many years Fort McMurray has provided the prosperity. Today the future of seven people disappeared. They have no bright future. They have no future at all. We have ensured the prosperity, Premier. Now you need to ensure we have a future. The rubber has hit the road. And now it's your move.
Blogger/writer, mother, wife - and passionate advocate for Fort McMurray/Wood Buffalo