Guy Boutilier, the last mayor of Fort McMurray, the first mayor of the massive Wood Buffalo municipality that now includes the oilsands city, and at various times a Progressive Conservative, Independent and Wildrose MLA for the community, died Friday. He was only 65. 

Alberta premier Ralph Klein, who gave Mr. Boutilier his first and second cabinet posts (Photo: Lieutenant Governor of Alberta).

In his heyday, Mr. Boutilier – who pronounced Guy in the French way, Ghee, and Boutilier in the English Way, Boot-a-LEER – was one of Alberta’s best known and successful politicians. He was widely recognized by the nickname “Guy Boots.” 

Mr. Boutilier played a key role in granting the Wildrose Party the respectability it required to become a major player in the province’s politics. 

Born in Glace Bay, on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton, Mr. Boutilier turned up in Fort McMurray as a summer student after his studies at St. Francis Xavier University. He was elected to Fort Mac City Council in 1986 at the tender age of 27. He became the city’s youngest mayor in 1992. 

In 1995, when Fort McMurray and surrounding municipalities were amalgamated into the massive Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Mr. Boutilier became its first mayor. 

He was recruited by premier Ralph Klein in 1997 to run for the Progressive Conservatives and was soon the MLA for Fort McMurray. Once in office, Mr. Klein made him intergovernmental affairs minister, then environment minister.

Alberta premier Ed Stelmach, who kicked Mr. Boutilier out of the Progressive Conservative Legislative Caucus (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

When Ed Stelmach took over as premier after Mr. Klein’s resignation in 2006, he made Mr. Boutilier his minister of international, intergovernmental, and aboriginal relations. But things were not quite the same for Mr. Boutilier after the 2008 election. 

After winning the election, Mr. Stelmach didn’t give him a cabinet post – some speculated at the time it may have been because he’d first backed Lyle Oberg, now the chair of Alberta Health Services, during the leadership race.

Then in 2009, Mr. Boutilier sharply criticized Mr. Stelmach over a plan for a new seniors’ long-term care residence in Fort Mac, which the popular MLA characterized as a broken promise when it didn’t get built. 

Perhaps Mr. Stelmach concluded that Guy Boots had grown too big for his nickname. Whatever the reason, that summer the premier kicked him out of the caucus, after which he sat as an Independent for close to a year before joining the Wildrose Alliance caucus in 2010, which by then had three members, one elected in a by-election and two defectors from the PCs.

Mr. Boutilier’s political transformation into a Wildroser was a significant moment in Alberta political history, because it finally gave the Wildrose Alliance the fourth MLA it required to achieve official party status in the Legislature. Danielle Smith had become the leader of the party in 2009, but would not hold a seat in the Legislature until the 2012 election. 

Former Alberta Union of Provincial Employees president Dan MacLennan (Photo: David J. Climernhaga).

But when the Wildrose Alliance faltered in the final sprint to voting day on April 23, 2012 – thanks in no small part to the homophobic ranting of one of the party’s Edmonton candidates – Mr. Boutilier’s chance to return to the Legislature wreathed in laurels turned to ashes.

He was defeated on election night by the PC candidate, Mike Allen, who was later ejected from the PC caucus himself.

It’s been a long and winding road from there to here – mostly a story for another day – but the Wildrose now forms a majority government in Edmonton (albeit doing business under a different name, the United Conservative Party), the PCs and their big-tent approach to Alberta politics are no more, and the province has been taken in a direction with which Mr. Boutilier would likely not have been very comfortable.

While Mr. Boutilier was happy enough to find a political home and a banner under which he could seek re-election, it’s said here he was never really a natural Wildroser.

“I was fortunate to have a great relationship with Guy since I had lived in Fort Mac in the early 80s,” said Dan MacLennan, who served as president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees from 1997 to 2006. 

“He spoke out in the media while in cabinet supporting an increased northern allowance for Fort Mac AUPE members when the province was saying no at the bargaining table,” Mr. MacLennan recalled yesterday. 

In 2013, Mr. Boutilier returned to Wood Buffalo council for a spell, but resigned in early 2015 after a controversy about whether he was living in Fort Mac or Edmonton. There were rumours from time to time that he might seek re-election as an MLA, or election as an MP, but nothing came of them. 

After leaving politics he taught government and public policy to students at the University of Alberta, worked for an Edmonton-based lobbying firm, and ran his own consulting business. 

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