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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

This is what re-birth looks like

Many weeks ago, I applied for a business license from the Municipality of Wood Buffalo to begin a new adventure. I had been approached many times about ads on this blog, or becoming an affiliate, and the timing never seemed right. But then just after Christmas, I decided to make the leap. I am guessing that I would have had my license some time in May, but as you all know, The Beast stepped in and wracked havoc again on my best laid plans.

Yesterday I returned home to Fort McMurray since the first time since we left by flight on May 5th from north of our city at one of the camps. I will tell you the story of how we made our way out at another time, but tonight, I wanted to talk about driving up Highway 63 to reach home yesterday.

Our oldest, Mitchell, had received a call about returning to work, and we had still not gotten our car back from the camp site, so we decided to drive him up to his truck, and retrieve our car. The drive up was fairly quiet given the early morning get up, but as we neared the city and started to smell the smoke again, we all sat up a bit straighter and started to watch the tree line a bit closer.

When we finally hit the turn off for the airport road and started to see the remnants of what the huge fire had left in it's path, I fell silent. Mitchell and Tim chattered and pointed out the losses to each other along either side of the road. I am convinced after the last month that men and women are totally wired differently. As we made our way down Beaconhill, and into the downtown area I felt a lump in my throat, and my eyes tearing, but it was not from the smoke or air quality. The amount of loss for the people in Beaconhill, Waterways, Abasand, Saprae, Wood Buffalo and Parsons hit me like a wall once I started seeing just corners of the total damage from the drive down the hill. And as we made our way to the camp parking lot I sat trying not to cry for all that had happened during the last few weeks to our community. We switched around, made sure Mitchell was safely on his way and I started back south towards Edmonton in the rental car, while Tim drove our car in case it was smoky. In the last few years my lungs have gotten worse, and this past winter I struggled with breathing on several occasions due to my issues, including asthma.

My first reaction as I came back south from site was to get in the far right lane to go up Confed as I got closer, it was just automatic. But the RCMP had the exit blocked and I was reminded to keep south. By the time I reached Gregoire, I was crying. I wanted to stay so badly, but in the short time I was in the area, my breathing became heavier, and I had to break out my puffers. I cried because I had to leave, I cried because I couldn't go see if my house was okay, I cried because I felt guilty for still having a house when so many lost theirs, and I cried because it feels like our community had been through a hard enough 18 months even before the fire happened.

I had my little pity party, and I turned on the radio and felt sorry for myself and Fort McMurray all the way to Wandering River. And then I stopped to get gas, and some air, and it was crazy busy at that little stop. And I looked around at all the work crew guys heading north to help rebuild our city, and had a moment.

If you have read this blog in the past, you know that we have had our own personal challenges over the years. And standing there in Wandering River, looking across the parking lot as my husband, Tim approached me I realized that we would be fine. I could have died from having a bone marrow transplant, he could have been killed instead of badly injured by a drunk driver, our little girl could have passed away from complications when she was young, but we are fine. We have a home to go home to once we do whatever we need to do to make it safe, and we will go back.

When you have a transplant, you celebrate that date like it is a new birthday. Every time I hear the word, "re-entry", for some reason, I think "re-birth".  So today, June 1, 2016, I am declaring it a new beginning, again, for the Murphy family in Fort McMurray. We remember life "before" and "after" the transplant, the accident, and now we will add the "before the fire" and "after the fire" to the mix as well.

And on an even more personal level, this blog will be reborn. Before it was always "Around the Kitchen Table", because I had envisioned it would contain the conversations that people had at their own kitchen tables. From here on in, my new blog will be known as "Murphy's View From McMurray" for a few reasons. Months ago when I asked friends for their ideas, they all said that I should have my name in the title somewhere, and over the last few weeks I really wanted to make sure that Fort McMurray was included as well. Because through all of the last month, and everything that happened, I know that I love being a Murphy more than ever, thanks Tim, and I love being from Fort McMurray more than I ever thought possible. The way that my heart swells with pride when I think about our community, well, I think I will just have to dedicate myself as we all head back to trying to capture how deep that feeling of pride really runs. It will be hard to put it into words.

I know that this new "rebirth" will be full of challenges, great people, lots of love and hope. I also hope that it will be full of laughter, fun, and lots of sharing so that we all realize we are not alone with whatever we are going through. My goal with the new blog was to capture more stories of the people, businesses and events around town, and now more than ever I am committed to that goal. Months ago I had visions of having a grand launch day, and a big announcement. But today, June 1, with re-entry starting it suddenly hit me that I didn't need a big announcement, because life is full of every day moments, and huge tragedies, so I will start this journey today, with Fort McMurray, and it's residents. There is not one single doubt in my mind that we will rebuild, and we will help those most devastated in the weeks and months to come. Because we are Fort McMurray, and that's what we do.

As I got back in the car and started my drive back to Edmonton for another couple of weeks, this was the song that came on the radio, so I turned it up, and thought about how Fort McMurray will be there for us, whenever we all decide it is safe to go home.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Northside Rec

I had a speech all set for tonight for the council meeting, but I don't think I am going to be able to make it, so I thought I would share any way.

I come here tonight as a mom, not a council geek, and not a resident who is worried about the future of our city. Just a mom, who stood in her kitchen this morning and told her 16 year old son that it was likely that Phase 2 of the Northside Rec plan would probably be halted by council tonight. And do you know what his reaction was, he said, "It's been so long now it doesn't matter anyway." And I answered that well, some day maybe his kids would use it, and to that he answered, "If I have kids I don't know if I want to raise them here at the rate things are going." It was like a punch in the gut, and I feel partially responsible.

You see when the municipality posted the online survey for the design of the Northside Rec, and held the engagement sessions, I encouraged our sons to participate. I told them that if they didn't participate, they wouldn't be heard, and that you can never get what you want if you don't speak up. I told them that their voice mattered. I told many residents in Fort McMurray the same thing the last few years, "get involved" I said, "make sure you vote" I said. And when they did participate, and engaged with this project they were loud and clear that they wanted this rec centre on the north side. There was no denying it at any level. But what has administration done? Killed it. And tonight, if council votes with the recommendation, they will not only kill a rec centre, they will further alienate the people of Fort McMurray.

Don't come asking me next week why people won't stay. Stop trying to figure out why they are mad. It's because they continue to not be heard by administration, and sadly by their representatives on council.

For years I have corrected people when they said that the current council wasted money on the weather catcher and the expropriation of the downtown core. I have patiently explained that it was last council that made those decisions. But if council votes to kill this project tonight, at the cost of well over $5.5 million, I will only pause and wonder at what they have accomplished during their time in office.

And how do I continue to try to get my children, and possible residents of Fort McMurray to engage, when tonight I am feeling so disillusioned myself?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Difficult Week for Council

As a disclaimer for the following blog, in case you do not know, I did run in the by election last year in Fort McMurray, the result was that Colleen Tatum won that seat. I wrote the following column for the Today this week, but they felt that there was a conflict of interest since I had ran against Councillor Tatum. I respect their decision and decided to publish it on my blog. I feel that I have written about our city for 11 years now, and have never been accused of not being fair, and I have always been professional enough to remove my ego or emotions from pieces that I write about politics. Over the years, many councillors, and MLAs have even become friends, and I did not always write flattering pieces about them. The perfect example would be during the time of last council, when our city decided to expropriate the downtown. Councillor Tatum was on that council, and I spoke out about the decisions to expropriate. We remained close enough friends that on the day I decided to run in the by election, I went to Colleen to tell her in person before I filed my intent to run. Moving forward, this blog will be evolving in the next few weeks. I will now be covering more about Fort McMurray, and it will become a blog that will contain ads and I will be working as an affiliate. I had looked at doing this last year, and the timing was not right. So if you have a business you want me to write about, an event, or if you have a story that you want help telling, please send me an email at Last year I had gone back to working in the community with the Connect, and I realized how much I missed hearing all the stories, and writing about the wonderful people who live in our region, so that was the main reason that I decided to move forward on the new blog. And now you can read my opinion on the latest council news: 

Unless you have been out of town lately, you have heard about Councillor Colleen Tatum being in breach of the Municipal Governance Act(MGA). The Act is law right across Alberta, and all municipalities have to follow it. Part of the Act states that anyone sitting on council cannot be in arrears to the municipality which they represent for more than $50 and 90 days. Tatum breached both when she went in arrears on her taxes to the tune of $6700.00. 

This week at council, the following motion was made: “That the Regional Solicitor be instructed to cause an application to be made to a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench supported by relevant and material evidence, for an order determining whether Councillor Tatum has ceased to be qualified to remain a Councillor pursuant to the provisions of section 174(1)(b) of the Municipal Government Act and section 22(1)(c) of the Local Authorities Election Act.” All this means is that the decision on whether Tatum should be disqualified or not will be sent to a judge. Council voted, and Julia Cardinal was missing for the vote, and Tatum also did not participate. Jane Stroud was the only councillor to vote against the motion, stating that she would rather see sanctions be brought against Tatum. 

Council really did not have any choice in this matter, as was shown by the almost unanimous vote. For the last two years the words “transparency” and “accountability” have been thrown around, to a point where even I was getting sick of the terms. If council had not sent it to a judge, it could be said that they all think they are above the law and will cover for each other. Sending it to the judge was the most transparent way for the decision to be made for the public to hear all the evidence that will be presented in the case.  Besides, if council had let this “slide by” what other laws are they willing to break and then overlook?

I was wavering on even writing a column about this topic. Why? Because like her fellow councillors, I like Tatum. But if we ignored the law for everyone that we like, every son that committed a crime would be off because his mother would be able to plead their case without fault. It was not until I heard Councillor Tatum on the radio doing the McMurray Matters show that I no longer wavered. 

During that interview Tatum said that she did not know about this law, and if that is really true, than that shows her incompetence. I know for a fact that when she filed her nomination papers she was given a package where it was clearly stated that candidates had to be sure about their taxes, and this specific law. On top of that, our statutory declaration in the nomination papers again was specific about this law. And on top of all that, during the candidate information sessions municipal administration went over this rule because they did not want to have any issues, especially given the fact that Guy Boutilier had  just resigned over questions about his residency. It was very black and white. But during the interview Tatum said that she didn’t know, and that she was given a lot of papers to read. If she didn’t bother to read those papers, what other papers is she not reading when making decisions for our city? She then went on to say that she gives her mail to her assistant, but when you swear to uphold that council seat on the day you are sworn in, then you cover your bases and make sure you are eligible to sit in that seat. 

Council did not bring this forward, and they did absolutely nothing to provoke this issue what so ever. So for them to be blamed for forcing this issue is totally and completely unfair. The mayor has stated that she found out, and brought it to Tatum’s attention. It was only over a week later that the other councillors even found out. This must have been a very hard decision for them.It would have been easier to try to appease those that like Tatum and just impose sanctions. I am sure they are worried about how they look to the public as well, they don’t want to look like a bunch of meanies. So good on them for wanting to uphold the law. 

Councillor Tatum has also used the case in Red Deer as a reference. Councillor Paul Harris was a partial owner of a business there that went behind in it’s business taxes, and the day that he found out, he paid in full. The council there decided to impose sanctions on the councillor when he did not resign. The difference is for Tatum it is her property taxes. But what Tatum failed to mention when she used that case as an example was that there was a huge public outcry. The reporter that I spoke with said that many called for the councillor to resign, and that when council did not send it to the judge people then said that they were a bunch of crooks who were covering for each other. 

There is a bigger picture here that people are forgetting. Our city is currently still trying to shake off the image of being corrupt, and is trying hard to start developing our downtown. Outside investors are still very much watching how we run our city. It cannot appear now that we are still not willing to follow the laws that the rest of the province does on a daily basis. It’s all very sad really, I feel bad that Mayor Blake and the council members have been put into such a difficult position. 

Tatum forced the issue to court by not resigning as is required by law under the MGA. Period. And like many, I wonder now how competent she is on council if she is not able to read and follow the law that was laid out very clearly for her twice now when she filed to run for that seat. She would have had my vote next year if she had admitted her mistake and resigned and then ran in the next general election. Instead she has lost my confidence.