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

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Not My Wheelhouse

On occasion I become quite taken with a certain phrase and its meaning, using it perhaps far more often than I should but always finding ways to connect it to a topic or issue that seems relevant. The title of this blog is one of those phrases that has captured me, and it is the one that kept popping into my head this week when I wrote an email to Edmonton mayor Don Iveson regarding the comments made by Edmonton Police Services Chief Rod Knecht.

As I wrote earlier this week Knecht gave an interview to media recently in which he expressed several thoughts and opinions and supposed facts about a community and region. Regrettably these were not comments about his own community or the region his polices services serve, but about mine, a place far beyond his scope and mandate. Equally regrettably some of his facts were inaccurate and the comments he made were not only poorly thought out but poorly delivered, and one had to wonder why he would do something that was simply not in his wheelhouse.

You see, your wheelhouse is the area in which you have knowledge or expertise. There are a few things I am quite good at and I would consider these my wheelhouse - writing, blogging, parenting, pet ownership - but there are others which are not, and when people come to me seeking comments, thoughts or advice on these areas I am the first to declare that these areas are "not my wheelhouse" and suggest they speak to someone who is steering that particular ship because they are the ones behind that particular wheel, not I.

It was indeed the phrase that popped into my head when I watched Knecht's interview, aghast that he would give opinion on a region clearly out of his wheelhouse and under the control of other ship captains. It led me to wonder what his motivation could possibly be, and I entertained the thought that perhaps it was related to the EPS' desire for increased funding and he thought this was a good strategy to foment enough concern about terrorist activity in Alberta to boost his attempts to secure more money for his police services - but of course dragging others into your issues is never a wise idea, and if this was an attempt to secure more funding it was a terribly poor idea as all it did was offend an entire region of people who support his community economically every time we head down Highway 63.

I followed my blog post earlier this week with a letter to Mayor Iveson as I believe angry words on a page, while they feel good to blurt out in places like this blog, are meaningless without action. When this blog first began and an Edmonton city spokesperson and an Edmonton councillor blamed Fort McMurray for a surge in crime I blogged about it - and then I confronted them directly through emails and phone calls, trying to make them understand that their comments had consequences and that they would be held accountable.

Rod Knecht may well be a remarkable police chief and good leader in his community - I couldn't really speak to that as it is not my wheelhouse. However, his comments showed his ignorance of Fort McMurray and our industry, and they were damaging to a region that has invested millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work and energy into building and bolstering our image in the world. With some careless comments about a community not in his wheelhouse, Knecht managed to drag my region and community onto the national stage again, and his motivations, whatever they happened to be, cannot explain or undo what he has done.

Many of us in this community - myself included - work very hard both personally and professionally to develop strong collaborative relationships with our neighbours, including Edmonton. We partner with them on events and initiatives. I have lost track of the number of times I have been invited to attend events in Edmonton by their organizers as we seek to strengthen those bonds and build the kind of sustainable and healthy relationship we all want to enjoy. It is truly unfortunate that one individual, a leader of an important and valuable organization, would risk harm to this relationship for uncertain reasons and perhaps to meet an agenda that had nothing to do with the community he disparaged. I would suggest he would have been far better served if he had solely addressed terrorism and radicalized individuals in his own community - in his own wheelhouse - and left my community and our wheelhouse out of the conversation entirely.

I suggested to Mayor Iveson than Police Chief Knecht owes my community an apology. I have no idea whether or not it will be forthcoming, but if I was writing his comments I would know where I would begin. I would start by saying: "I made some comments recently about a place that is not in my wheelhouse..."

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