Last night my social media feed exploded with the news that yet another celebrity was visiting our region - in this case, you. There was a great deal of excitement - after all, you are a well regarded actor, respected for your work. And then there's that whole "hottie" thing, which made my own Intrepid Junior Blogger, who normally ignores all things Hollywood, demand we cut short our Florida vacation to rush home on the mere chance she may get to glimpse your face (as much as I love my kid, though,we will return as scheduled). But I know you aren't in the Wood Buffalo region to film a movie or meet fans - you are there to learn about the oil sands.
Did you notice how I welcomed you to "Fort McMurray"? That's because I am welcoming you to our home, a community much like any other in North America. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo might encompass the oil sands projects, but Fort McMurray is the bustling little city at the heart of the region. Now, some recent visitors have had some trouble differentiating between industry and community, going so far as to compare Fort McMurray to Hiroshima and then when challenged claiming that everyone knows that when you say Fort McMurray you mean the oil sands.
Not everyone knows that, Mr. DiCaprio. In fact within the urban limits you will not find one oil sands site or project. While the community is heavily involved in the industry, as all resource based communities are, it is not synonymous with the industry, a key point to remember. Fort McMurray is home to thousands of people, including families and individuals of every demographic. Our culturally diverse and vibrant community is something of which we are justifiably proud. We have built a resilient, energetic and strong community in Canada's north, and while you may have concerns about our industry you would do well to acknowledge and recognize that.
About those concerns regarding industry? Well, you aren't alone. Many of the people in this community share the belief that we need to ensure our industry is as environmentally friendly as possible, pursuing every innovation to improve what we do while we continue to meet the world demand for our product - because until an alternative is found the demand will not end. We have a responsibility to do it right, but simply "shutting off the tap" won't solve anything, and it won't just impact the people of my community but the people of communities across North America who rely on our industry for associated employment - and for the oil we produce.
I hope you get the opportunity to meet some of the local people. I don't just mean the ones from industry, either. Speak to people in our hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and businesses. What you are likely to find is that we are no different from any other place. Our home is not perfect, but we love it regardless and have chosen this place to live, work and play. Some may stay only for the jobs, but others - like me - have stayed because we have been so overwhelmed by a community of such generosity, with a can-do spirit and energy unparalleled in our experience.
I'm not expecting you will come away with a glowing report on how wonderful the industry is. I hope you will be balanced and fair and avoid the use of hyperbole and exaggeration and rhetoric. What I truly hope, though, is that while you see the industry you also see the community, a place where your visit has created both excitement and trepidation as we fear being maligned as has happened far too often in the past when "celebrities" have visited.
I welcome your visit and your opinion of our industry, and I will give your opinion the consideration and respect it deserves as we all have the right to hold and express one - but I hope you will give Fort McMurray - my home and my community - the consideration and respect it deserves as well when you speak of us after you leave. As a visitor to my home I don't think that's too much to expect, and I have faith that you will extend that consideration and respect to us, because frankly you don't seem like the kind to be a rude guest who slams his hosts as soon as he has closed their front door behind him.
Welcome to Fort McMurray, Mr. DiCaprio. Enjoy your stay, fill yourself with the knowledge you seek and if you happen to see a petite, beautiful kid with salmon-coloured hair and a t-shirt with some sassy slogan about science that would be my kid (a kid who shares your concerns about the environment, our world and the oil sands industry). Maybe you could give her a wave - because she adores you and she loves her home, too. Please don't disappoint her - or us, your hosts in the community of Fort McMurray. Enjoy your stay.