Earlier this year, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) adopted a vision as part of their Strategic Plan. The articulated vision of a vibrant, sustainable region is one that the oil industry wholeheartedly shares.

Certainly the last few years have been a challenge for the resident of the RMWB. The combination of the 2016 Horse River Fire, a global economic downturn and low Canadian oil prices means there is a much different future for our community than envisioned a few years ago.

Growth, development, population projections, infrastructure needs and revenue streams for the region need to be reconsidered given our ‘new normal.’

A recent survey conducted by the RMWB of local citizens offers some reassurance about our future. Of the 800 respondents who were contacted by phone or rural web, 84 per cent said the region is a good place to work. 70 per cent felt that the RMWB is a good place to raise a family citing employment opportunities, recreation facilities and access to parks/green spaces as the top three reasons for our quality of life.

However, only 48 per cent see the region as a good place to live in the long-term. Respondents noted limited shopping, the cost of living and isolation as reasons impacting their views.

These are issues we cannot ignore and need to consider carefully as we look to build a stronger community for the future.

These key issues facing our community are complex and they require complex solutions. That is why the Oil Sands Community Alliance (OSCA) members are working with the RMWB, business leaders and local stakeholders to address the most pressing regional planning and economic issues, and priorities in the RMWB.

The RMWB’s Strategic Plan cites regional economic development as a main priority going forward. Other priorities include fiscal responsibility, downtown revitalization, and Indigenous community partnerships.

The plan also includes encouraging the promotion of the region as well as increased airport activity and hotel occupancy rate.

Having a clear and strategic path forward for our region is essential. It will ensure we’re making the right choices for our community to support a quality of life needed to attract new families and new workers to our region.

The oil sands industry supports the RMWB promoting the many benefits of living and/or working in the communities throughout this region. It is also important to find ways of attracting businesses to the region and provide the employment opportunities that local residents are seeking.

An economically viable oil sands industry supports stronger and vibrant communities in the Athabasca Oil Sands Area (AOSA). Ultimately the priority and focus should be on creating a quality of life here in the region. In the past, our industry members have supported the community through significant investments in major community infrastructure.

By any measure the tax contribution of the oil sands industry to the communities in the oil sands region have contributed significantly to funding ongoing improvements. In 2017 the operating and capital budget for the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo was $804 million.

87 per cent, or about $700 million was contributed by the rural non-residential rate payers comprised mostly of oilsands companies and service industries.

To build our communities OSCA member companies have contributed over $190 million in the past decade in corporate donations to organizations in RMWB and Lac La Biche as well as to Indigenous communities for school and youth programs, celebrations, cultural events, literacy and community projects.

Oilsands companies understand the benefits of local residency for employees. Wherever possible, OSCA members support employees who prefer to live in the region.

For example, with sites that are beyond daily commuting distances, most companies offer bussing and/or camp services on a shift rotation basis for local workers.

However, as our industry evolves from an intense construction phase to focus more on operations our industry requires an increasingly skilled workforce. Our members must compete globally for qualified workers and offering rotational work is a valuable option.

Ultimately the collective future of residents and the oil sands industry is intertwined. An economically competitive oilsands industry means there will be continued investment in current and future oilsands projects, providing much needed tax revenue and jobs for the RMWB and local residents.

The oilsands industry is eager to develop strategies that strengthen vibrant communities, provide a reasonable cost of living and excellent services and amenities. A high quality of life enables our industry to attract and retain workers.

We must continue the conversation about how we can collaboratively strengthen our communities, our economy and our future. As we have shown over the past five decades, the oilsands industry is prepared to be at the table and have that conversation.