It is the season of good cheer and good tidings, when merriment is on many minds and lights are twinkling across the city. It happens to come at a precarious time in our history, though, as oil prices tumble and with the fall comes worries and concerns about the impacts. This week I found myself splitting my time between wrapping gifts and signing cards and reading ominous stories about our doom and speaking to journalists from across North America as their focus shifts to the oil sands, this time due not to environment but economics.
I consider myself a member of the media to some degree and so I feel I can comfortably say that dark stories bring the media types out, circling a bit like vultures over a dying animal. The advertising adage says “sex sells”, but so too do stories of dark tones and suffering, and often the media is far more prone to tell those stories, perhaps because their audience is far more likely to read them. The recent oil price decline has raised alarm bells about the financial security of the oil sands industry, and so some journalists have come looking for stories to tell, eager to be in on the ground floor of telling the tale of the demise of our community.
And in case you think I exaggerate I assure you I do not. This week one journalist who contacted me asked me how long I thought it would take Fort McMurray to fall apart exactly, as if I would put some sort of numerical value on the length of time it would take my community and home to die. I admit I tartly replied that our interview was over, almost as soon as it had begun, as his question was a bit like asking “so when did you quit beating your wife?”, and I seethed for some time afterwards at the instant belief that a tumble in oil prices would somehow destroy Fort McMurray.
I am not naïve. I know the price of oil will impact our community but this is not a new phenomenon in our world and is not the first – or likely the last – time oil prices will fall and a slowdown in our economy will occur. But the belief that this is will somehow result in the destruction of my home – and finding some almost salivating at the prospect of being able to record it for posterity – troubles me because it shows that those with that belief understand little of the resiliency of the people who have chosen this place as home.
Let’s be frank. This is not always the easiest place to live. We contend with the kind of low temperatures in winter that make your flesh freeze and your bones ache. In summer we are home to mosquito populations of almost biblical plague proportions. We are not remote in that we are well connected by road and air, but it does take time to travel to other places. We still lack some of the services and amenities we would like to have, and we still find ourselves struggling to some degree with infrastructure that has not caught up with our growth. Sometimes I wonder why anyone chooses to live here, in a place where there are so many challenges.
And then I remember. We live here because the people who have chosen to be here are those who are the kind to meet the challenges, to tackle them head on and to wrestle them to the ground. We stick together through the good times and the bad, showing our spirit and our nature. We are in some ways the modern pioneers, long after a time when most other parts of our world have been tamed and civilized and the major challenges conquered.
I met with another journalist recently and we were discussing the challenges in this community. I simply said to them that “we embrace the challenges” and they laughed and said perhaps that should be the new slogan on the signs into town. I laughed too and suggested we have had enough slogans here to last a very long time, this place of big spirit and energy, and that we didn’t need to put a slogan onto a sign to believe it – or live it.
The recent economic crisis with the price of oil will impact this community and of that there is no doubt. But it will not be the demise of this place or these people or my home. This is just another one of those challenges we face, nothing more or less, and as we head into this holiday season I do so not with fear or worry for the future but with anticipation for the chance to face the challenge and do it just as we always do in Fort McMurray – together.