EDGE YK Online
We currently have three candidates running for mayor of YK on October 15: Tim Doyle, Paul Falvo and Mark Heyck. EDGE YK asked each candidate about a range of topics, some of which include: why they decided to run, the city’s future, and whether YK receives the respect it deserves from the territorial government. As promised in our Fall Issue, here are the interviews.
EDGE YK: What got you into politics?
Tim Doyle: Politics has been a life-long passion; I did study political science in addition to commerce when I was at St. Mary’s University in Halifax.
EYK: Did you have any prior involvement, before running for mayor?
TD: In addition to my duties as executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, where I have to meet and work with politicians at all levels of government, I’ve helped run leadership campaigns in other provinces; I’ve helped run city council and MLA campaigns and federal candidate campaigns, so I do have a fair amount of experience. In Yellowknife, I’ve helped out in federal campaigns six or seven years ago, but I’ve been a little quiet due to job duties.
EYK: What made you decide to run for mayor?
I think the strong desire for change. I’ve worked very closely with the municipal politicians here for two years and the administration, and I’m not satisfied with the direction we’re seeing the city move in. This place was vastly different seven years ago than it is today. By that I don’t mean that it’s moving in a good direction. I think it’s moving away from the traditional culture of what Yellowknife is and who Yellowknifers are. That was one of the things that captivated my wife and family to want to settle down here and stay for the long term. We just fell in love with the place. I think that’s why half the east coast came here. It feels like home.
EYK: What are the most significant issues that council has dealt with in the last five years?
TD: The geothermal project was a huge issue that I think was probably mishandled. They didn’t have the data and they were asking for approval of $66 million in financing. After the Deh Cho Bridge, residents of the NWT are not so trusting about spending large amounts of money on capital projects unless they have the information up front and know they are protected.
That leads to number two: the cost of living here has sky-rocketed in the last few years. A lot of it is from our politicians who are spending money without realizing what will happen when they borrow large amounts of money. And they over-spend on projects or can’t keep costs under control. We’ve had eight straight years of tax increases in Yellowknife. That’s not sustainable. We’ve doubled the size of civic staff in the last five years, but we haven’t doubled to size of the city. Somebody has got to pay the piper, and it’s the residents of Yellowknife who are paying, having their property taxes jacked up.
EYK: What are the most significant issues facing Yellowknife in the next five years?
TD: We have to deal with the homeless problem downtown. It’s eating the core of the city away. We have to change the attitudes of city administration. They are trying to finish off the destruction of downtown by buying up entire streets. People have said they don’t want the city being the developer. So when you look at City Hall trying to buy up 50th Street and tear it down and put in low-income housing because we think that’s going to deal with the homeless problem, it just moves the homeless somewhere else. They go to the post office. They go to Centre Square Mall, but it doesn’t solve the problem. We have to find a solution and there has been no discussion of that or planning. I want to go to City Hall and address that situation. The Chamber has probably led the way over the last two years on working on homeless issues and we’ve come up with some good ideas.
The cost of living is number two. If we don’t reverse the trend, there isn’t going to be anyone who can afford to live here.
We have to get some balance back in the system. There has never been a city administration more anti-business than the present one. They have to realize that it’s the business community that pays the bills. If they are going to keep jacking business fees by 33 per cent, and make it hard for people to develop and drive away investment dollars, they’ve succeeded in their goal. I plan on stopping that. Call me a bulldog, whatever, when I get to work, there will be a reversal of the negative trends in Yellowknife. There are a lot of folks stepping up now to run for council that feel the same way; we’ve got to change if we’re going to save the city for what it should be.
EYK: What can the city do to encourage development downtown?
TD: They have to stop being the developer, first and foremost. We have an administration that likes to tell developers what colour the walls should be, and what type of lights they should have in the building. We have a National Building Code, and we’ve adopted our code for environmental reasons and eliminating greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. That’s fine, the developers here have bought in. But we’re going over that. Once developers have paid to get architects and engineers to develop plans, it comes to a standstill at City Hall because administration thinks it should have a say on how the buildings should look. That’s wrong. It either fits with the code, or it does not. Why are we stonewalling developers and controlling all the land in Yellowknife? Let’s turn development over to developers and focus on fixing the roads. Get back to doing the things we should be doing.
EYK: What’s the future of Old Town?
TD: I think it’s being developed according to what the owners of the land want to see down there. There is a lot of nostalgia; there are some new touches, such as the Gino Pinn condominiums; there is a mix of old and new there. I see some folks are renovating cabins. You’re going to see smaller business down there, artists and folks who want to be there. It’s a good walking community; it’s a close-knit community. I’m not sure what will happen with land development there, long-term.
Les Rocher owns a lot of the land, so it’s up to him really, to say what he wants to do. I always joked with him that the old lumber yard there would make a fantastic spot for a convention centre with float plane fly-ins just like they have in Vancouver. Maybe it should be a park, but it’s his land, and as mayor, it’s not my job to tell someone what to do with the land.
EYK: Is there anything the city can do to encourage development in Old Town?
TD: I think there is, but I think they have to engage the developers. For the last number years it has been the city coming in and telling them what to do with their own land. The only thing that does is get their backs up. We need to engage them and get them back to the planning table. We need to let them know what we need in the city for the next number of years, so they can see how they fit in there.
Les feels close to his heritage there; he grew up in Old Town and he wants to protect it. I understand that. He doesn’t want to see it bulldozed to make way for a 20-storey tower. I would definitely be having those conversations with Les to see if he wants to swap it.
EYK: What is the long term future of Yellowknife?
TD: We have to accept something: we live up North, we’re a resource-based economy, we have a number of airlines, we are going to be the hub for other northern communities, but I think we’ve fallen off the radar a bit and we need to get back to being the hub for the entire North. Whitehorse and Iqaluit are both straining to take away influence. We need to work closer with partners in Edmonton. I think there is an opportunity to work together; we get all our goods and services from the Edmonton area.
We’ve kept housing so hard to get, we’ve kept Yellowknife from growing. We should be open to the idea that we can have more population here to sustain the services that we’ve put in place: the new multiplex and fieldhouse, parks and trails. We have to sop being afraid that people will want to live here. It’s a great place to be. We have to allow growth and let outside companies know that they are welcome to come here and do business and let our companies know that we support them. We will go back to being a boom town.
EYK: What will drive the economy?
TD: There is more coming – high-speed fibre optics. Once we move ahead technologically, we can attract companies here that are more human-based than labour-based and focused on the mines.
Mines will be our backbone. We have to be open to the possibility of mining within the city limits again if someone wants to develop the Giant mine.
EYK: Does Yellowknife get the respect it deserves from the territorial and federal governments?
TD: No. We don’t. You can start by saying why do we have 50 per cent of the population and only seven of 19 MLAs. The position is not unique; any capital city is the subject of scorn because it has more than the rural areas. What people in the communities don’t seem to realize is that we pay for what we have. We have amongst the highest property taxes in Canada. You need a substantial family income just to live here. As a capital, we should have more government jobs: this is where the government is, where the ministers are. We don’t have the technology to relocate senior people to small communities.
EDGE YK: What got you into politics?
Paul Falvo: It’s an extension of community service, or an aspect of that. I have a lot of interests and I’m involved in a lot of things, so specifically for this office: I live here, I care about the community I live in; I have opinions. I want to have an opportunity to do better for the community. I see it as another part of community service. I’m involved in a lot of organizations. I’m interested in what goes on around me.
EYK: Why are you running for mayor?
PF: I continue to see problems of communication between residents and administration, council and administration, even council and residents. The mayor doesn’t control everything. The mayor doesn’t even get to vote on most issues. I think people need to remember that; that councillors may have more say than the mayor. The mayor has a different role, as a facilitator, a spokesperson for the city communicating with residents. But the mayor also has an important role in setting the agenda as it comes before council and I think those are things I’m good at. I think I’ve shown, and residents appreciate, that I have improved communications through my newsletter and social media. I listen to people. I see myself there as an advocate, not as someone trying to advance my own interests. There are times when I have voted not the way I would have for myself, but for what I thought was best for the community as a whole and what the residents wanted. So I bring that.
I think it’s because I work as an advocate in my professional life that I’m used to representing the interests of others. So I come on there representing the interests of the community as a whole as best I can, because it’s impossible to do that when you’ve get 10 people in a room saying different things. You can’t do what everybody wants, but you try and chart the best course. I think I’ve shown I’m someone who does question administration and stand up to administration, so for that reason too I think I would be good at the job.
EYK: What ranks as the leading issues of the last five years?
PF: The geothermal plan was interesting. I don’t think people were voting against it; they were concerned about costs and unhappy with City Hall. They didn’t see the benefits. It’s part of our effort to lower the cost of living here. It’s expensive to live in the North. We can’t make Edmonton closer, but we can reduce our own costs. Geothermal is going away in a more private way than it would have. If it was a public utility, residents would have benefited more directly from the profits. There was solid engineering and economic advice.
Land assembly and development. I would prefer to see things done privately, where that can be done. I would rather see the City stick to the basics, but it is called for in a case where we want to do something specific – a hockey rink, a library. We want them done the way we want. It gets grayer when we talk about 50th Street. Should we let the market prevail, or do something. If we want it done a certain way, doing it ourselves is the only way it’s going to happen. Letting nature take its course got us where we are at now. It’s a long-term process.
EYK: What are the most significant issues facing Yellowknife?
PF: Whatever the biggest issue is depends on who you’re talking to, and the day you’re talking to them. Things can seem vitally important to someone and the next guy doesn’t know about it. The perennial is ditches and dumps; we can’t get away from the basics in the city: making things run efficiently, and making sure people are getting good value for their tax dollars. Planning and development continue to be a very important issue, creating places for people to live. We want the city to be attractive and affordable. I think affordability is the one issue that keeps coming back. But that is tied in to so many other things: development, capital spending. We want to be efficient, frugal and affordable, but we also want to give people a good quality of life. We want this to be a good place to live and work. I think we want to preserve the character of Yellowknife; we don’t want to be just another western town, we want there to be a difference in living here. The economic viability is also vital. This is a town that was built on the gold mines, and diamond mines. They have a finite lifespan so we have to be realistic about that, we have to have a diversified economy, we have to have our eggs in more than one basket. We’ve got heavy metals potentially coming on line, but these things boom and bust. That’s the nature of it. We have to diversify as much as possible. I think tourism needs to be explored more; I don’t know that we’re doing enough to get people up here to see the wilderness features.
EYK: What role can the City play in the redevelopment of downtown?
PF: With can also be facilitating, providing incentives. We have a mix of low density and commercial and vacant lots. We could be cracking down on the vacant lots. We can make it very expensive to keep the lot empty. We can use taxation powers to increase taxes on vacant lots. They are eyesores that turn people off. Someone wants to sit on it and make money in the long run but in the meantime something like that helps to foster crime and creates a negative impression of the city. We can provide incentives for downtown infill, and make it more interesting for developers. Maybe that means relaxing some requirements. We make it hard with constraints on developers. We need to have a conversation with developers about what would make it attractive for them to build downtown.
EYK: What is the future of Old Town?
PF: Old Town has fantastic character; it’s one of the things that makes Yellowknife the special place that it is. It’s been doing that without the City’s direction, so we need to stay out of it as much as possible. Old Town is Old Town. There are areas though that could be cleaned up. The dead cars, in some cases you can’t even see the buildings because there are so many dead cars. Some people think that adds character, but I think there is a line. It’s time to clean that up to preserve the things that attract people. I would like to see greater public access to the waterfront. I remember my very first evening in Yellowknife, I wanted to see the lake and I couldn’t find it. I knew it was out there, but I couldn’t find an access point. There are node parks and little bits, but I think we can do more. A Latham Island boardwalk needs to be pursued. That will anger some people, but I think people can’t expect to privatize public land.
EYK: What can the City do to encourage redevelopment of land in Old Town?
PF: I’m reluctant to see the City interfering too much in the character of Old Town. It’s working better than parts of downtown. I think it’s more of a problem in downtown where there are derelict properties. But for Old Town, we should be providing tax incentives and disincentives. We can also relax some requirements. We need to determine why it isn’t attractive for some people to develop land. The privatization of public land is not an isolated phenomena. You have to look carefully before we act. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. We also have squatters shacks that add a lot to the character, and some are paying taxes. We have to look at each.
EYK: Does Yellowknife get the respect it deserves from the territorial government?
PF: I don’t think so. Before division, the territorial government process worked better because the government was in a minority. Cabinet gets its way more easily now. We have some dedicated Yellowknife MLAs, but they are outnumbered. The MLAs represent their own areas, but without a party system there isn’t accountability. Yellowknife gets drowned out. I think it’s popular in other places to bash Yellowknife. Some of the problems are downloaded on Yellowknife. We are the capital and there duties that come with that and a price. But are we getting the benefits and the respect we deserve? I don’t think we are. People come from other places but you can see that health and addictions services aren’t working well enough. We need to stand up. The territorial government didn’t want to acknowledge Yellowknife’s anniversary as the capital because they didn’t want to upset Fort Smith.
EDGE YK: What got you into politics?
Mark Heyck: I’ve always had an interest in politics. My parents were always interested, and when you grow up with those discussions happening at the kitchen table, and listening to the six o’clock news on CBC every night, it’s almost by osmosis, you start to take an interest.
When I studied history in university, I was fascinated by the development of Canada and the political history in particular. When I came back to Yellowknife, I got involved with the NDP riding association. In the territorial election in 1999, I was asked to run. I was working in a hardware store, trying to pay down my student loan, so I took a shot and lost by a wide, wide margin (to Joe Handley in Weledeh) But I really enjoyed the campaigning experience, going out and talking to people and hearing what their issues were. I think I’m a problem-solver at heart, I like to think about the problems the community, or territory, or country might be facing, and come up with some potential solutions. So when the municipal elections rolled around in 2003, I thought: this is a good place to try it out, to get elected to see if this was something I would enjoy.
I fell in love with it, not only with elected office but local government, in particular. It’s the level of government that’s closest to the people, a place where any resident can come in on a Monday night and make a presentation about an issue or concern that they have and we can act on it and effect change fairly quickly. You can have one councilor with a good idea bring that discussion to the table, and task the administration to research the issue and come back with solutions to a problem, and then act on it.
EYK: What made you decide to run for mayor?
MH: Having lived here almost my entire life and been involved in a lot of campaigns, I think people know who I am and where I’m coming from. I’ve always been open about that. My time on council has shown that one of the really important aspects of being mayor is the ability to bring the council together. You’re going to have a diversity of viewpoints, but the most effective and efficient councils are the ones where you can build consensus, move the council forward and thereby move the community forward. I think I’ve shown that I have the ability to work with people with differing viewpoints. Council is much less ideologically driven than politics at any other level. We hear practical concerns about dog bylaws and where sewer pipes will go, so there is a practical aspect to municipal politics that doesn’t exist in other orders of government. I think that as an elected official, and particularly as mayor, you need to be able to take those viewpoints into account and build consensus.
EYK: What are the most significant issues council has dealt with?
MH: Energy issues are a big one. We’ve made a lot of progress internally in municipal operations. That’s one thing that started on my time and council and has been successful.
We’ve made investments in facilities that improve the quality of life in Yellowknife – the field house, civic plaza – we’re building a sense of community by making those investments and giving residents healthy recreation opportunities…I’m proud of those investments.
EYK: What are the most significant issues facing council?
MH: We have ongoing challenges: the infrastructure deficit of $70 million. We’ve started to address that. We had a borrowing bylaw to accelerate about $20 million of that. Replacing critical water and sewer, road rehabilitation. We now seek full-cost recovery from land development, so future generations aren’t saddled with the cost of paving, curbs, gutters. In the past, millions of costs have fallen on the city after each new development. Makes it hard to get ahead of older infrastructure that needs to be replaced. Developers now bear the full cost of creating a new subdivision. That means we won’t be adding to the backlog of work that needs to be done.
We’ve also had some success in achieving higher density development. Much of Yellowknife was developed as spread out neighbourhoods of single family homes. Now developers are building apartment-style condominiums and that makes the infrastructure network is much less costly.
EYK: What can the City do to encourage redevelopment of downtown?
MH: The city has brought incentives to encourage redevelopment. We introduced a tax-incentive program for developers building higher density residential projects in the downtown core. On a sliding scale, on the first year, no property taxes, second year, 20 per cent up to full taxes. This year, the first development to take advantage of that is going up on 51st Street. It creates an incentive to buy because there is a built-in saving. From a developer’s perspective, sales are easier…you don’t have to pay full property taxes for five years. So we’re starting to see the fruits of that in the downtown core.
EYK: What role does the City have in encouraging development on private land in Old Town?
MH: There is the opportunity for incentive programs to encourage development in areas like that. When it’s sitting vacant, it’s not doing the community any good. With the Johnson’s property, the city has looked at acquiring property and turning it into something useful…it’s always a question of the price that’s being asked. The Johnson’s land is very desirable, but it’s also not cheap and it’s a matter of what the city can afford to do. I think there is an appetite to look at that in the future, but nothing pending.
With the old Bartam site and the lots on Franklin, there is zoning that allows for a range of uses. It’s up to the developer. Unless there is a clause that requires action in a specified time, there isn’t much the city can do to push a developer’s hand.
This has been a problem in the past: developers purchasing property and not doing anything with it for a long time. In more recent development agreements, we’ve made provisions that if it’s not developed by a specified date, the owner will be required to pay taxes as a developed site. It’s a built-incentive to develop, and there does seem to be some movement on the Bartam site. There needs to be consultation with the neighbourhoods.
It’s been nice to see. In the past there have been two or three developers active in Yellowknife, but in the last three years there has been a proliferation of out-of-town developers, or small-scale developers, looking for lots in the downtown core. This creates competition and adds to affordability, encourages everyone to build better homes.
EYK: Long-term future of Yellowknife?
MH: That’s a key issue for the next mayor and council. Unfortunately in electoral politics, there is a short-range view. You don’t look beyond your own term. The last couple of City Councils have actually been fairly good at looking into the future. The general plan that’s passed every five years now looks much further into the future. I grew up at Con Mine residential area. The year after we moved away in 1991, the house was torn down. It’s easy to see that these things are not permanent. I often go to Con to look at the old neighbourhood, and it’s hardly recognizable.
That’s something council needs to tackle with the community: what’s next? We were incredibly fortunate when gold was running out, diamonds appeared. They aren’t forever. Instead of always waiting to see what the next resource boom will be, we need to start looking at how we sustain the economy in the long term. There are some good opportunities. Government will always have a major impact on the local economy, but looking at academic institutions as a future economic driver could be important. There has been a lot of talk about a university of the North and finding a location for a stand-alone campus for Aurora College. For a lot of people in the territory, there is no option but to go south. We have some natural features and benefits here that could make Yellowknife a place for a future academic institution. If you look at a lot of small communities that have academic institutions at their centre, it’s a boon for the economy, and the health and vitality of the community.
There is talk of in conjunction with a university, a northern science centre. In terms of research into climate change, mining remediation, we have real world examples. If you had an institution focused on these issues, located here, we can turn what has been a liability into an asset.