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Evidence of meeting #41 for Natural Resources in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was community.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Francis Bradley  Vice-President, Policy Development, Canadian Electricity Association
Peter Mackey  President and Chief Executive Officer, Qulliq Energy Corporation
Melissa Blake  Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Thank you. I don't have a lot of time here, but I think Mr. Daniel talked to Mr. McKay about the strong mentorships. Perhaps it was the mayor who talked about this strong mentorship in Fort McKay, and I'm just wondering if you could talk a little about what that looks like when you see a community that's done very well in this situation.

We've had quite a bit of testimony from further north, from communities that are really uncertain about how they will move ahead and engage with the economy, how they will move ahead and advance the education of their people so they can get employment.

Can you give us a bit of an overview of what the Fort McKay leadership has done so that their people can really enjoy the benefits of what's going on in your area?

9:45 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

I'm going to do it from the perspective I had when I was just a kid getting into the workforce. At the time, our leaders in the organization were Eric Newell and Jim Carter. Eric was passionate about being able not only to employ first nations individuals but also to give them the economic opportunity that would advance them.

In the community of Fort McKay, it's a tough reconciliation. The time is not long past when traditional living was very much a part of the everyday life for members of the first nation. I think a dramatic shift in interest came from understanding that the land was going to change before them and that adaptation was what was going to ensure survival.

The necessity in the region has always been about having completed at least grade 12 education. You wouldn't be able to get a job on-site unless you had that qualification. This automatically, if you were looking for those opportunities, forced a higher completion rate for high school.

There are still struggles with that. The way they got students engaged was to bring in some incredible people—the principal at the school, the teachers they brought in. There was a period of time when they had very strong school support that helped the youth be able to step into that situation.

When I go to the community I look at elders. These elders have actually lived the lifestyle, as I say, of the past, but they're also the business company owners who are bosses of all these folks who are part of the band and others who come in for the opportunity. For me, having watched that transformation, really in about the last 20 years, has been phenomenal.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

It seems from the conversations we've had here that encouraging the young people to stay in school and getting them through to that grade 12 level is really the key to the future development of the communities in the next generation.

Is it realistic to say that?

9:45 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

I would say it is, absolutely. One thing is starting earlier in the schools. They have something called the registered apprenticeship training program. If students are interested in pursuing trades, they get the first year of their journeyman certificate as they complete their high school. It's a marrying up of the two initiatives, school and work, at the same time.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Thank you. That has been a topic of conversation a number of times.

Mr. Bradley, I'd like you to talk a bit. You mentioned the future of micro or mini grids. I wonder if you could tell us a little about how you see their being constructed and used. Perhaps Mr. Mackey could also talk to this. You were talking about these little grids that would be set up. You have great distances. How do you see that system working?

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Leon Benoit

You'll have to make the answer short, please, Mr. Bradley.

9:45 a.m.

Vice-President, Policy Development, Canadian Electricity Association

Francis Bradley

Yes, absolutely.

This is fairly new technology. This is work that relates as well to what is being referred to as a smart grid. We have newer, more efficient technologies coming on line that will assist in lower- as well as high-voltage transmission, but also in the distribution system. It's a question of taking some of those technologies that are being developed for urban areas and adapting them for these sorts of circumstances.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

How do you see the adaptation for rural, small, isolated communities? I guess that's what I'm interested in.

9:50 a.m.

Vice-President, Policy Development, Canadian Electricity Association

Francis Bradley

It's going to be a question of the economics, but I believe there's a great deal of potential, and not just for our northern and rural communities in Canada. The sorts of systems we will be developing here would be technologies we would also be able to export around the world.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Leon Benoit

Thank you, Mr. Anderson.

We go now to Mr. Nicholls for up to five minutes.

June 5th, 2012 / 9:50 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Your Worship, thank you for appearing here today before the committee.

I have to say that as deputy energy critic for the NDP, I'm looking forward to visiting the Wood Buffalo district later this month. I had a friend in the planning department of Fort McMurray, Cole Hendrigan, whom I used to talk with about Fort McMurray at length.

You mentioned earlier in your testimony the airport. It's ironic, because we have a town in Quebec that doesn't want an expansion of an airport—Neuville—and here we have a municipality that desperately wants expansion of their airport. In both cases the federal government doesn't seem sufficiently engaged in the process.

I'd like to ask you about any other services you're having challenges with in Wood Buffalo, or in Fort McMurray specifically. Could you elaborate on services and infrastructure required for your town in the next five years?

9:50 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

Again, when you look to the increasing population—and we on our part had a doubling of population—any facility that would have been in federal jurisdiction would have experienced what every other association in the community has experienced. You only have so much space, so much staff, and so much capacity to process what comes in; but if you double, triple, and then eventually quadruple that population, you're going to require four times the service capacity that existed before.

I don't think we're looking for a host of new services, other than the potential to have immigration officers in the community. I have the most incredibly multiculturally diverse community. When you look at our school system, we have no less than 100 different countries represented in our public school system. I think I've heard numbers of 127 different countries in the community. Many of them will go through the citizenship ceremonies right here in Wood Buffalo. The necessity for all the transactions that occur forces them to go out of town to get those things addressed.

That would be a new service, and even if it's an exception for a unique place in Canada, it's not about the temporary labour and not about just being able to satisfy oil sands; it's about the combination of all of those entities that would really benefit from having something locally.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

That brings me to my next point. The census for your community in particular doesn't seem to be the appropriate tool that you need to assess funding. I assume there is a high amount of temporary foreign workers and Canadian workers who consider home somewhere other than Fort McMurray, perhaps the Atlantic or other regions of the country.

One of the members across the way mentioned that they're fast-tracking the people, but without the service funding being fast-tracked as well. This is posing particular challenges for your community. Do I understand that correctly?

9:50 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

I would say that is accurate. When I look at the census numbers that we give for the region, I said there were 104,000 people in 2010. The federal census tells me that it was 65,000 for that same period—or I guess their numbers are for 2011. So there is a dramatic difference for the overall region.

In Fort McMurray they claim that 61,000 are a part of my community. In 2010 I had demonstrated there were 76,000. The difference between those two is how much you put into developing the community and the services. I may be overbuilding some things, but I can prove to you by waiting in traffic for the duration that I do that we have more people than are reflected in that census.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Thank you.

You said the following in 2010:

Therefore, it is imperative the Provincial and Federal Governments join with the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo to achieve managed growth for the good of the oil sand industry and its surrounding areas. Anything less is chaos as we have experienced short years ago.

Could you please describe what you were referring to when you said “chaos” in those years?

9:50 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

Again, when you have more people than capacity in anything.... I can go to a Tim Hortons lineup—which was a joke from my member of Parliament—but, seriously, we've had to reconfigure how they go through a Tim's line so they're not blocking traffic flow on our two streets where they exist.

If you go into any of the shops or services you'll find, what I'm going to call, a deplorable state. Stock can't get on the shelves quickly enough, because of the volume of sales that are happening and the lack of staff able to manage that.

If you go to the health spectrum, we've made some big improvements in getting doctors into the community. I'm a 30-year resident here, and I still have trouble trying to get a doctor for my family.

These kinds of things are what I would call, maybe not so much chaos as, a good Friday night in town. We have enough policing services now, but honest to goodness, the population is so much greater than capacity in almost every respect.

We're in a better position now. I will say that up front. The two years of the recession gave us an opportunity not only to plan for what we were experiencing but also to hire staff. Frankly, the municipality itself has never been better staffed because of that time.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

What role would you like to see the federal government take to achieve managed growth, as you've talked about in the past, going forward?

9:55 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

At that time, I'm sure I was referring to the pace of the oil sands approvals. Every time a company announces a $10 billion project, for example—which is commonplace in this region—it draws a population that comes with it. What we're not capable of managing is what happens when people come and are not adequately prepared for the cost of housing in the community. We end up with more people having to utilize shelter services and the like.

Again, what we want to make sure of before those transactions occur is that we're sufficiently capable of managing the inevitable effect of the population coming to support those transactions.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Leon Benoit

Thank you, Mr. Nicholls.

Mr. Trost, for up to five minutes.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I believe it was Mr. Bradley in his testimony who talked about how he felt that the regulatory reforms the government has taken have been a good, positive step. I forget how you worded it, but they weren't sufficient or weren't fulfilling everything, and there were still some concerns about things that needed to be done. Could you elaborate on that more for a minute or two?

9:55 a.m.

Vice-President, Policy Development, Canadian Electricity Association

Francis Bradley

Yes. As an association and on behalf of our members, we've provided some recommendations and suggestions on some of the specifics to, for example, the subcommittee of the finance committee that is studying on Bill C-38. We have some suggestions for fine-tuning some of the approaches, and we'd be delighted to provide that information to this committee if required.

Broadly, we're supportive of the direction we're heading in. For the longest time we have been concerned about regulatory processes that are both duplicative and sometimes overlapping, so anything that moves to address those sorts of issues is something that we would support.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

Is that a particular concern in the north—and Mr. Mackey can answer this too—or is it more of a generalized concern affecting both the south and north equally?

9:55 a.m.

Vice-President, Policy Development, Canadian Electricity Association

Francis Bradley

Yes, I would suggest that it's something that's universal. It's an issue that isn't specific to the south; it's something that is a concern, really, across the country.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Bradley Trost Conservative Saskatoon—Humboldt, SK

So as far as your industries are concerned, there aren't any particular hurdles in the north for the two groups you're representing?

9:55 a.m.

Vice-President, Policy Development, Canadian Electricity Association

Francis Bradley

No, it's the same issues that we see in the south with respect to regulatory efficiency.