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

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The 'Fasten Your Seatbelt' Sign is Lit - Turbulence in the Fort McMurray Skies, Part Two

Two days ago I wrote about the ongoing saga of Phoenix Heli-Flight and their decision to end 24/7 lifesaving helicopter medevac transportation due to an inability to secure funding - or even a commitment for funding - from the provincial government or industry. Since then I have heard a great deal more about this issue, including speaking to Paul Spring of Phoenix Heli-Flight and reading several stories about the issue. What I haven't seen, though, is a response from government or industry.

It seems Fred Horne, Minister of Health, is declining to comment on this issue, passing it on to Alberta Health Services to be addressed. Alberta Health Services indicated they had not heard that Phoenix Heli-Flight was being forced to cancel 24/7 helicopter services and they would not be commenting on it further either.

And so we once again encounter a government stalemate where nobody is going to say anything to anyone, least of all to the people who are most impacted by this issue: the people of this region.

You know, it gets a little tiresome having to fight for everything in this region. I had someone send me an email this week asking why I felt Fort McMurray deserves such "preferential treatment" over other areas of the province, and all I could do was snort.

Preferential treatment?

It took the deaths of seven people, including two children, to secure a commitment to twin a highway that serves one of the most economically valuable industries in North America (and even then that only came with huge community advocacy).

It has taken years of fighting to even begin to get adequate infrastructure for our growth, including new roads so we aren't stuck in traffic for hours as we are caught on the wrong side of the bridge during an accident or other traffic snarl.

We are still fighting for an aging in place facility, more land for development, and more services for a rapidly growing region - a region that, incidentally, does more for the Canadian economy than perhaps any other region in the country.

We could go into the numbers, how many jobs in this country are reliant on the oil sands and how much revenue is generated for our economy, but I think we all acknowledge the industry has tremendous impact on this province and country in terms of economic benefit.

For years we were the poor country bumpkin cousin of Edmonton and Calgary, forgotten way up here in the north and conveniently overlooked as we got their hand-me-downs of services and goods, often too little and too late to address our issues. Never mind that the economies of those cities are hugely reliant on ours and our industry - we were just "lucky" to get anything at all.

The reality is, though, that Fort McMurray has come of age. We now have two MLAs who advocate for us and with us. We have a growing sense of community advocacy, and far less willingness to be the poor country cousin who must accept being "less than" their big city counterparts.

In my humble opinion the decision by Fred Horne and Alberta Health Services to decline to speak to this issue is simply further evidence of the attitude towards our region that has plagued us for decades. Does anyone think they would not speak to this if it impacted the other major centres in this province? Does anyone think they would not find a way to address this if it was Calgary that did not have night-time medevac services that could mean the difference between life and death? Or is it because we are a region that can be conveniently overlooked and forgotten, just the engine of the economic vehicle of this province and not the shiny chrome exterior?

Here's the reality. It doesn't matter how much you polish the chrome and shine the mirrors. Unless you pay attention to the engine of your economy it will eventually fail in some regard. This region is the economic engine of this province and it is deserving of attention to our issues and problems, including finding a solution to the current issue raging about Phoenix Heli-Flight and their ability to continue to save lives in this region.

I would like to see the stakeholders in this issue start talking, and soon. I would like to see the Government of Alberta and industry players come back to the table and begin to discuss not if this service should be continued but how they intend to ensure it does. And I would really, really like if we started to see all levels of government begin to pay real attention to this region and start servicing the economic engine of our country, before the "fasten your seatbelt" sign isn't the only one to come on and the "check engine" light begins flashing instead.

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