I think there was a time in the past when Fort McMurray was a small community, one where the same issues plagued each area of the city. And even today there are some issues common to all of us, like lack of infrastructure, traffic woes, and other problems we all share. However, as this city has grown something has become increasingly clear. Different areas face different challenges, and this was pretty stark earlier this summer.
Flooding of the Hangingstone River had a serious effect in downtown Fort McMurray, but my area wasn't impacted even slightly. What was a huge issue for one area of the community was barely a blip on the radar in others, although those from other neighbourhoods leapt to help in the effort to minimize the flood impact. What became clear to me, though, was that Fort McMurray has changed significantly, and as new neighbourhoods come online this community is about to go through even more changes. Different areas see different issues and problems. So, the question I have is: why don't we have more than one municipal ward in the urban area of Fort McMurray? Isn't it about time we went to a true city-style ward system with representatives elected to represent different neighbourhoods and areas as opposed to electing councillors to represent an entire community?
Look, I think our current councillors do a great job, and stay quite informed about the community they represent. I think, though, that those councillors who represent smaller areas, like those from our rural communities, have a much better chance to get to know the issues well and bring those concerns and issues to council. I think they are better able to represent their constituents because the concerns are similar based on area and types of issues, while those elected within the urban area of Fort McMurray deal with issues that range from the commercial to the residential, and all in between. They are expected to represent the needs of all constituents from across the urban area, and frankly I think it's expecting a bit much. And as we grow this is all just going to get worse.
Perhaps the current ward system made sense when Fort McMurray was a smaller community, but it has changed in just the eleven years I have been here. Each area and neighbourhood faces issues, some which are similar to each other but some of which are unique, too. I find myself wondering if the current ward system does more to harm than help us, and if it actually makes the job of representing the electorate more difficult than it needs to be. And I suppose I have some degree of urban-envy, because large cities don't have a ward system like ours. They recognize the unique character of different areas and neighbourhoods, and they have created systems where individuals elected as representatives can bring forward the concerns from those specific areas while working together to form a cohesive and functioning community. The current system, enacted in 1994, made sense then - but now, almost twenty years later, one has to wonder about the present impact of this system, and the future impact.
Now, it's too late to change this for our election looming this year - but now might be the time for us to start thinking about having these wards in place before the next election, four years from now. The next four years are likely to see exponential growth, and I would like to see due consideration given to this as we start to develop into an urban centre through city centre redevelopment. If we want to be a "big city" in the way we look and appear, and if we want to be considered a true urban centre, then we need to begin to have our municipal politics function in an urban way. Fort McMurray is on the grow again - and we need our civic politics to adapt to our brave new world as an urban centre.