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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

9:35 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

Yes, repeatedly. However, I have really evolved my thoughts on that. Companies have a responsibility to pay their taxes and their royalties, and if we're not charging enough for that, then that's our own silly fault as governments, frankly.

So in my community I have raised my tax rates coming from industry to the point that I can maintain a healthy balance, I believe, in the community for the expenses borne by homeowners versus industry and versus the commercial interest. Their taxes are very high and I tell them I need that to be able to produce the output we're looking for.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Leon Benoit

Thank you, Mr. McGuinty.

We'll start the five-minute rounds now, beginning with Mr. Jean, the member of Parliament for Fort McMurray and area.

Go ahead please, sir.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I think it comes as no surprise that I'll be asking Mayor Blake most of my questions, if not all.

Mayor, congratulations on getting up at Alberta time. It's fun going back and forth between Alberta and Ontario and having to change time zones. I also want to congratulate you on your Queen Elizabeth II jubilee medal. It's well deserved for all of your hard work over the past years in northern Alberta.

I don't know if you had a chance to read the budget brief that I sent you about a month ago, outlining the Canadian government's new budget. But if you have you will notice there have been a lot of changes in relation to how we deal with unemployment and employment and some of the issues there. I will deal with that in due course.

But I do want to make reference to some of the funding for infrastructure that has been put in place since we came into government in 2006, including of course $150 million to twin a large portion of Highway 63 and invest in the two overpasses. Of course, we're excited about the two most recent ones that are almost open: Thickwood and Confederation interchanges. Of course, there are the hockey rinks and other things we did in Canada's economic action plan. Some $500 million has been contributed over the last six years to the municipality of Wood Buffalo from the federal government.

But what I would like to talk about is not land and not road capacity, because both of those are obviously within the jurisdiction of the provincial government and are their responsibility, and that all we can do is to deal with them as a funding partner at their request. Indeed, I want to let you know as well, of course, that we've been talking to Scott Clements. He is the CEO of the airport and made a pitch to the Alberta Conservative caucus some months ago in relation to customs, immigration, and indeed the funding proposal for the expanded airport. So that is with the government and, of course, that is going to be dealt with accordingly.

I have been working on those two files for about two years now—and over a year with Scott. And he is doing a great job for the airport as well. I think most Canadians don't realize that although we have 850,000 passengers in our airport, we also have 1.6 million in our airspace who land at the other airports in northern Alberta. So it's quite a few.

But what I'd like to talk about is the “Tim Hortons” issue.

9:40 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

Can you see my Starbucks cup?

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

The issue of course is employment. I think this budget is a budget for northern Alberta and northern Canada, in particular. The number one complaint I've had in my riding is employment and finding people, keeping older workers employed, keeping apprentices encouraged to work harder, and to change the EI program so that it reflects what actually takes place in northern Alberta versus the rest of the country.

I don't know if you've had a chance to look at those things in this budget, but if you have, you will see a tremendous amount of investment in those things, as well as in expanding first nations' employment credits, etc. Have you seen those things in our budget?

9:40 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

It was a while back, but yes, I recall them.

Again, the only difficulty for me in this region is making the direct correlation. So the programming certainly is an enhancement.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Of course, we know that NAABA, the aboriginal organization, has somewhere around 380 businesses a members in Fort McMurray. And I don't think that many people recognize that Syncrude and Suncor both have pro-aboriginal hiring policies. I think Syncrude has somewhere around 14% of their total workforce. Is that correct?

9:40 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

I think it is a bit lower than that. When I was in recruiting there, 10% of the population was aboriginal, and they wanted 10% of their workforce to be aboriginal in order to reflect what the community looked like.

I don't think they ever achieved a rate as high as 14%, because they made everybody an entrepreneur instead.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Indeed, and there are tremendous success stories in that region among aboriginal businesses, reflecting the tremendous growth and advantages that the entire population has through employment in the region. Would that be fair to say?

9:40 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

That would be, yes.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

I don't know if you've had an opportunity to see some the changes that we've made in the foreign qualification recognition in 2012. I just wanted to ask you, do employment opportunities exist in northern Alberta, particularly for dentists, physicians, K-12 teachers, medical radiation technologists, and engineering technologists?

Are all of those jobs and people needed in that area?

9:40 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

I would say that they all are, yes.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Indeed, engineers, medical lab technologists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, registered nurses, all those people are needed in northern Alberta?

9:40 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

They're needed. Yes.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Jean Conservative Fort McMurray—Athabasca, AB

Well, I want you to know, Mayor, that we have reflected those changes in our budget through the foreign qualification recognition, and, indeed, with our new changes we're able to fast-track those people into our region more quickly. For example, rural doctors are put on a fast track to go into areas have particularly high needs. Does that sound like good news?

9:40 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

It would be great if we could get about 10 more doctors today.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Leon Benoit

Thank you, Mr. Jean.

Unfortunately, your time is up. We go now to Mr. Galipeau for up to five minutes, please.

June 5th, 2012 / 9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Thank you very much.

With your permission, Mr. Chair, I'll share my time with Mr. Anderson.

I have a question for Her Worship. You got up before the rooster this morning.

9:45 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

I got up at an hour that's unusual for me, but everybody else in Fort McMurray gets up at that time.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Did you get to hug your kids?

9:45 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

I didn't. If I don't get home until late tonight, I won't see them for a day.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

You have a problem that many mayors would like to have. It has to do with how you manage growth or how you manage development. How many jobs do you expect will be created in your district over the next five years?

9:45 a.m.

Mayor, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Melissa Blake

I do population anticipation. I would say that in the next 20 years, I'm looking at a population of about 230,000. The population itself is divvied up between those who live and remain in the region versus the ones who come in for a temporary work assignment, if you will. There are commuters who come from all parts of Canada, and the number in my 2010 census was 23,000. This year it's 35,000 who live in camps and are here for temporary shift work.

When I look at a population of 230,000, again, many of them are here as commuters.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Thank you very much.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Leon Benoit

Mr. Anderson, go ahead, please.