Councillor Mike Allen is running for mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, making the race for the mayor’s seat a battle between two current councillors.

In a Wednesday interview, Allen said he decided to run for mayor after discussing the issue with supporters, his friends and family.

“Right now my platform is to continue on with the completion of the strategic plan that we have now,” he said. “Economic development and relations with Indigenous and rural communities are an ongoing thing. We’ve made some major in-roads in some of those areas, but they’re ones we can constantly improve on.”

A more detailed platform will be released in upcoming months. But commitments will include economic recovery from COVID-19 and last year’s crash in oil prices, and bracing the region for post-pandemic challenges. This includes supporting local businesses, partnering with Indigenous and rural communities, and community-led downtown revitalization.

Allen also wants to improve the municipality’s relationship with industry, local businesses and Indigenous communities.

“We have a lot of opportunities ahead of us where we can continue working on redeveloping the downtown core, which really is the lifeblood of any community, and support small businesses,” he said. “We’ve already seen the closure of a significant number of small businesses… we need to do all we can to help make businesses successful as they rebuild.”

Allen said he had no interest in resurrecting the failed ban on commuter work camps, calling it “unrealistic” to eliminate them. But he proposed turning the Fort McMurray International Airport into a hub for commuters and lobbying industry to encourage full-time transient workers to move to Fort McMurray.

He also plans to continue opposing Alberta Health Services’ centralized EMS system, which the municipality is fighting in court in May. When Allen and Mayor Don Scott were PC MLAs, Allen said the two fought hard to keep the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo area out of the system.

“For us, it was a hill to die on, we fought that battle and were successful at it,” said Allen. “Now it has reared it’s ugly head and I’m very disappointed the provincial government is moving ahead blindly with something that has clearly had significant challenges since being implemented.”

He also criticized Alberta’s changes to the Disaster Recovery Program, which places a one-time relief payment worth up to $500,000 on properties damaged in natural disasters. Funding would only cover uninsurable losses. But he also said communities have to consider how and where development happens.

“Clearly we’ve seen quite a rise in natural disasters not just in Alberta, but across North America. We have to consider that when we make decisions for the future,” he said.

Allen was first elected as a Ward 1 councillor in 2007, then left in 2012 after successfully running as a PC MLA. He briefly left politics in 2015 after a three-year term as an MLA, losing to current UCP MLA Tany Yao. Allen returned in 2017 to win his council seat.

Allen sat as an independent MLA in 2013 after he was charged with soliciting prostitution during a government trip to Minnesota. He pleaded guilty and paid a $500 fine, and was welcomed back into the PC fold in July 2014.

Allen said his return to council shows voters have moved on from the incident, which he says is rarely mentioned these days.

Allen also served as president of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce and was on the Centre of Hope’s board of directors.

Allen is the second person to run for mayor after Councillor Verna Murphy declared her candidacy earlier this month. Scott has yet to mention publicly his future plans.

Councillor Jane Stroud of Ward 4—which represents Anzac, Conklin, Gregoire Lake Estates and Janvier—is the only incumbent councillor running for reelection so far.

Local business owner and sports advocate Sandy Bowman and community volunteer Joseph Mugodo have announced a run for one of six Ward 1 seats.

Anyone interested in running for mayor, council or school trustee can apply between Jan. 4 and Sept. 20. Election day is Oct. 18. Potential candidates can contact the Elections Office at 780-743-7001 or elections@rmwb.ca for information.

Information for interested candidates and voters will be provided on the RMWB website at rmwb.ca/elections. More information on the upcoming election can be found on the Alberta Municipal Affairs website.