The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo will soon have a new mayor.
Three candidates are vying for mayor in Wood Buffalo in the municipal election on Oct.18. The current mayor, Don Scott, isn't running again, leaving the race wide open. Two of the candidates are currently on council, and one hasn't been in politics before.
Mike Allen is no stranger to Fort McMurray politics. The current councillor and former owner of Campbell's Music was formerly the president of the chamber of commerce and an MLA for one term. Having served two terms on council, Allen thinks his experience sets him apart.
"I think that there's going to be a significant amount of change in the upcoming council and I think it's very important that we have some experience and some knowledge," Allen said.
He said after the 2016 fire and the 2020 flood, many families moved away. He's now made downtown revitalization a key part of his platform.
"It's going to be a period of rebuilding and economic development," said Allen.
He said many outside developers and local businesses have told him that the municipality is difficult to do business with, and he wants to change that.
The municipality is currently trying to regain control of EMS dispatch in Wood Buffalo, which was recently centralized. Allen said he's the best person to lead this fight because he's done it before as a councillor and MLA.
"I will continue to fight that until we come up with a satisfactory resolution," he said.
In 2013, when Allen was an MLA, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offence after he was arrested in a prostitution sting in Minnesota. He said voters have moved on from that issue.
"From what I've heard from the public, it's behind us," he said. "It's an issue that was a very dark period in my life and I made a mistake, but I owned it and I dealt with it and I paid the price."
Sandy Bowman, the owner of Bowmans Martial Arts, was moved to run for mayor after seeing the other candidates who put their names forward.
"I wanted to be a part of a change," said Bowman. "Fort McMurray deserves better."
He said instead of trying to attract new people to live in the region, he would like to "take care of the people that are already living here."
Though Bowman has never been on council, he said he does have some notable experience, including his involvement with the Western Canada Summer Games, the Arctic Winter Games and Alberta Taekwondo. He also helped write the municipality's combative sports bylaw and chaired the commission for eight years.
He believes the job of council is to run the municipality like a business.
"We need to spend within our budget, keep our employees happy and our employer happy, which is our community residents," Bowman said.
Bowman said his No. 1 priority is flood mitigation.
Once that is taken care of, Bowman would like to create a business advisory committee to "guide what we need to do to create more business in town and help the ones that are already here."
For economic recovery, Bowman would like to he would like to see the municipality remove some red tape and make things easier and faster for businesses to operate.
Verna Murphy is a current member of council and has lived in Fort McMurray for 12 years. She worked as a reporter until joining council in the last election. She said she has experience covering every issue in Fort McMurray.
"I really think that knowledge and that experience will help me," said Murphy.
Murphy, who was first elected in 2017, said she would love to see Fort McMurray thrive.
"We haven't had a great relationship with the province or industry in the last number of years. I would work to nourish those relationships and see if I can get some catalyst projects to help us start to really get into that recovery mode," said Murphy.
She believes her experience on council showed she can handle pressure and work in a team.
"I really try to bring as much information to the table when I'm making any of my decisions," she said.
Part of Murphy's platform includes several initiatives for supporting business recovery during and after the pandemic. Those ideas include a two year moratorium on business licence fees, creating an incubator system for businesses that are struggling, and a low-interest small business loan program to help new businesses start.
"Flood mitigation is crucial," she said.
She said there is a clay shortage throughout Alberta, and she's brought that to the attention of the department of transportation, because she said there needs to be a solution for the berms to be built.