Campaign kicks off for Fort McMurray's first new mayor in over a decade

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Mayor sees no need for Fort McMurray fire inquiry, but candidate supports idea

Ten months after the devastating wildfire, Fort McMurray is nearing a crossroads as the campaign to elect the city's first new mayor in more than 10 years kicks off.

"This election is extremely important for all the people of Fort McMurray," said voter Peter Valing, hours after lawyer Don Scott announced his intention to seek the mayor's chair in October.

Many in Fort McMurray are in dire straits and citizens need new municipal leadership to help give the economy the jolt it needs, said maintenance worker Bill Alba. 

"For me it is so slow. My hours are getting cut," Alba said. "A lot of people have left Fort Mac and have gone to live in other places."

'Running to restore confidence'

After months of rumour and speculation, Scott, a former Progressive Conservative MLA and provincial cabinet minister, formally announced his candidacy Monday morning.

"I am running to restore confidence in the region and its government," he told supporters at the Fort McMurray legion.

Melissa Blake has served as mayor for four terms, but said she will not run again.

Blake led the oilsands capital through a boom town trajectory that saw it outgrow its housing capacity and infrastructure.

She was also at the helm as the wildfire tore through the city, destroying over 2400 homes, one of the country's costliest insured disasters.

The city was already struggling through one of the province's worst recessions in history.

'Too much grandstanding'

Some residents have said the mayor and municipal council have not done enough to get people back in their homes or building new ones soon enough.

Scott supporter and local PC party president Steve Auty said many voters are tired of the current mayor and council.

"I am seeing too much politics and too much grandstanding and not enough long term governance," Auty said.

Scott agreed it's time for change.

"Some of our councillors have taken steps (that) residents question," Scott said. "House prices have dropped. People are leaving this community. Many are struggling to rebuild their homes."

Scott took subtle shots at the federal government, suggesting it has ignored Fort McMurray.

"I believe that [Fort McMurray's] confidence has been shaken," Scott said. "Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has visited our region once since the fire – the biggest natural disaster to hit Canada."

He also went after the province's Bill 21, the Modernized Municipal Government Act, warning it could significantly reduce the city's tax revenues.

The bill caps the ratio between the highest non-residential tax rate and the lowest residential tax rate. 

"Premier Notley is implementing Bill 21, which is fundamentally going to change the tax structure of our region," Scott said.

Scott said his website outlines five key pillars he will focus on during the campaign.

He also said he is committed to constructing better secondary access roads to Fort McMurray's communities, removing obstacles to obtaining building rebuild permits and sitting down with residents to understand their concerns.

Scott also said he's also committed to seeing an aging in place facility that has been long called for in Fort McMurray.

Follow David Thurton, CBC's Fort McMurray correspondent, on Facebook, Twitter or contact him via email.