Moose FM’s Ollie Williams sits down with Rebecca Alty, a candidate in Yellowknife’s 2015 municipal election.
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OW: When you look back, what do you think – as a council – has been achieved?
RA: There are a few things. I’m proud to be on the council that rolled out composting. I really want to continue to look at ways we can improve our solid waste facility. The one thing I don’t think crosses a lot of people’s minds is how much it costs, and how land it takes, to continue to dump, dump, dump. When the landfill gets to a certain capacity, it costs a lot to close that cell and then to open a new one. We’re so tight for land with the Aboriginal land settlement claims around us – plus a giant lake, and all that – so I think we always have to maximize our land.
The other thing is we did a lot of work to introduce secondary suites, so people can have a second rentable property on their land. And also removing the minimum space that a house has to be, which opens up the ability to have tiny homes. We did actually approve a little tiny-home area – the log cabins behind the Gallery of the Midnight Sun. I’m proud of those accomplishments.
What do you expect sticks in people’s minds most, from the last few years of council? It may not be the landfill or tiny homes when they come to vote.
I think the big one would be the 50-50 lot. That’s the one we hear when people email in, saying they’re for it or against. Their last line tends to be: “Depending how you vote, that’s how I’ll vote.” That tends to be the big one for people.
So to what extent did that kind of communication shape how you voted on that issue, on council?
When I go to cast my vote I read the memos, I do some research to see what’s happening in other jurisdictions, I talk to people – and I always appreciate hearing from people. We hear a lot when people are against something. We get all these emails from people who are passionate against things – if you’re for a project, email in. It’s good to hear both sides.
In the future, IServeU wants to have an online democracy system which would make that much easier: you click a button and tell a councillor your choice. Whichever is more popular, the ayes or nays, is what councillors using that system would go forward and vote with. What do you think about that system?
It’s one part of the system but sometimes we have to stand up for the minority. The majority can’t always rule on certain issues, otherwise women would never have gotten to vote and lots of those issues. It’s one way to communicate with residents but it’s also reading the memos, looking at other research and synthesizing all the data to figure out which way to go.
So, in your opinion, that tool is not a finished article with which to conduct municipal politics?
Correct. I think it’s one tool but that would be like saying, “I’m just going to read the memo. That’s how I’m going to vote.” That’s one tool. We have to take all those tools and put it together.
Could you ever see yourself using a system like that, further down the line?
I think it’s great to consult and to take a look at that, and at what other places are doing and work it all together. I see the value and it’s easy to get out there – it would be particularly helpful not just to see people vote a certain way, but also have a comment on why they’re voting that way.
Which is something IServeU say they’ll offer.
Yes, but it’s only optional, so it’d be handy to have… not necessarily a mandatory but, you know… one of the things recently was Mary Brown’s chicken and whether to allow this conditionally permitted use on the lot they want to put it on. Are people voting on it because they like fast food, or voting against it because they don’t support fast food? And are those really the things to consider when approving a conditionally permitted use? It’d be good to see why people are voting that way.
Going back to the 50-50 lot. That lot has been essentially unused for two decades. Council and city administration have had years at this, and there has been a lot of planning since the lot was purchased last year. Why is it that there has been 12 months between the city purchasing that and then coming forward with a proposal, only for it seemingly to be something council doesn’t want?
I’m not quite sure how it’s happened. I think we were pretty clear that we wanted options and that a plaza or park wasn’t all we wanted to see. Now it comes back and it’s kind-of rejected and let’s go back out and consult. I hope the message is loud and clear that when you come back to council, we want to see options.
The feedback we heard is people do want to see a library, or an arts and cultural centre, and it would have been nice to see what this public municipal building could have looked like. And what would it cost? We could have started exploring that stuff.
It’s a good start and now we’ve got to continue to refine the process. With some of these projects, we’ve been consulting with people for years and years and nothing has really advanced – but now that we own the lot, I think there is a bit of a fire beneath us to start doing something. The next council, if re-elected, I hope we can continue to make progress there.
How far away are we from the council that solves Yellowknife’s downtown social problems?
It’s a tough question. It’ll depend on the next council, plus the next territorial and federal governments – it’s all three of those governments working together. It’s not any one person’s problem, it’s all of us.
Within the city’s power, what more would you like to see administration do about this in future?
We’ve got the community advisory board on homelessness, which is one of the great projects, and transitional youth housing – that’s a great step to get kids off the streets and off couch-surfing. People probably don’t realize how many kids because they’re couchsurfing, and people don’t realize how dangerous that can be. That’s an incredible opportunity for our future generation. The downtown issue for future councils might not necessarily be there because we’ve got a whole generation that can finish high school, and stuff like that. We should also continue to work with the Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce to explore business improvement districts – if businesses downtown want to get together and create one, that would really help and beautify downtown.
You mentioned youth couchsurfing and the potential, there, for under-representation of just how many people are actually homeless in Yellowknife. The city did a point-in-time count earlier this year and it came in for some criticism on precisely those grounds – what did you think of the way the city went about that?
It’s a start. That was the suggested method to go forward, from the national homelessness council or… they actually have a really long name. That was their recommended study. We’ll have to continue to flesh it out, to see if we can find a better way to capture the real numbers.
I want to finish by looking ahead. There will be lots of things you want to achieve, if re-elected. What will be a failure if the city doesn’t achieve it in the next few years? What has to be done before we get to 2018, or 2019?
We have some really big capital projects coming up in 2020: the Ruth Inch memorial pool, which is about $15 million, and the submarine water intake line at $15 million. We need to start having a conversation about where we want to draw our water from – right now it’s at the Yellowknife River and there’s the possibility of drawing it closer to the water treatment plant, but some people have concerns that there might be more arsenic near the water treatment plant. There have been studies to show there isn’t, but as a city what do we want to do? That’s a conversation that, as a council, we really need to have and to commit to either spending the big bucks and going for Yellowknife River, or going with the option nearer the water treatment plant.
Talking of big bucks that could be spent, should a Canada Games be held in Yellowknife?
I don’t see the benefits to Yellowknife yet. It’s a big undertaking and is there any value coming back? Then let’s talk about tourism. That’s our busy tourist season so we’re going to be pushing out the Japanese and Chinese markets that support us all year round. Really, are the Canadian tourists or Canadian athletic tourism… is that going to increase our tourism outside of the one Games?
But you’re a veteran of the Arctic Winter Games, you must have seen the benefits that can be brought to host cities as well, and of course hundreds of NWT kids.
There are definitely advantages. I’ve been to Canada Summer Games in London, Ontario, Regina, and PEI, and Prince George, but those are big places that really already have the assets. When Whitehorse hosted I think it cost them $70 million. When Halifax hosted it only cost them $20 million or $30 million. For me, I don’t see the value yet. I’ll wait and see the whole package of what comes forward, but the $3 million that the city would have to commit to the operating of the Games – could we take that $3 million and use it for tourism?
At the end of the day, there is still going to be a Canada Summer Games. The kids are still going to get to go and participate. And that’s a whole different political topic: whether we should be sending the NWT to the Canada Games or just stick to the Arctic Winter Games. The politics of sport is always interesting.
Politics in itself is interesting: you’re not a councillor in a vacuum, you’re a councillor on a council. Who do you want to work alongside next time around, if re-elected?
Anybody that is committed to doing their homework, to reading all the memos, to getting research, to getting out and talking to people.
Are some councillors not doing that?
No, everybody is doing their part and they bring a different aspect to council. It will be a new-ish council because at least three seats are up, so it’ll be interesting.
What haven’t we covered? What more do you want to say?
I also really want to focus on stuff that the city can do, and that’s the city’s mandate. A lot of times, and even for myself in my last platform, it was dealing with some issues at GNWT level because we’re not seeing enough action there. If we focus too much on trying to fill the void that might be at the GNWT level, we’re forgetting about our house. We’ve got to focus on our mandate of our roads, the sewers, the water – because if we’re not focusing on that, then nobody is.