Moose FM’s Ollie Williams sits down with Shauna Morgan, a candidate in Yellowknife’s 2015 municipal election.
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OW: Give us the broad brushstrokes: what are you standing for here?
SM: I think I have some fresh ideas and practical solutions. I have some background doing work in collaboration with the city – I’ve been working as an analyst with the Pembina Institute the last four years, with a focus on promoting clean energies. With the city, we’ve been trying to figure out how homeowners can save on energy costs and have come up with a report on a program that would help homeowners access loans to retrofit their homes and reduce energy costs. The city could coordinate that and help work with contractors. I have some clear ideas for solutions that could actually impact people and make a difference. I also have a lot of experience as a facilitator, working with many different stakeholders from different perspectives. I really enjoy talking with people, bringing people together and finding practical solutions.
You could introduce new energy proposals and programs without necessarily being a city councillor. What has motivated you to take this extra step?
I’ve lived in this city for enough time now – about seven years – that I have a better understanding of what the issues are. I know more people now and I’m really excited to step in there and have productive dialogues. It’s time for me. I’m young enough that I have the energy and time to devote to this, but I’ve been here long enough that I know the issues and know the people who can help get things done.
What’s missing from city council? What part of your voice is missing from that line-up?
I bring a perspective, as a researcher and an analyst, that I think I’m pretty informed about issues. I am willing to do that background work. I think city councillors have worked really hard and I don’t want to pick anybody out or put anybody down. On some issues things are on the right track – the community advisory board on homelessness is great – but I have the energy to push things forward and get the momentum going. I think I have some insights and experience that could really enhance the council and get things done.
If we look back over the life of the last council, what decisions have they taken and what work have they done that you might have done differently?
I would have liked to have seen the work on the 50-50 lot go ahead with more confidence. Things have been stalled for a while and what I hear is some people saying we should wait until we can get a large infrastructure project in there like a library, and other people saying we need to figure out – essentially – how to keep the homeless people out. I don’t agree with either of those positions. I think we can move forward, we can create a positive space that people can hang out in with their kids, and create positive energy. We can work with the malls to get business revitalized there, maybe some new restaurants, we can have a really pleasant space and still keep it relatively low-cost. We don’t have to wait until there’s a huge influx of money into the budget to build a huge building before we can go anywhere with this.
Is that, then, a case of council chickening out when it came to a tough decision on that proposal?
I don’t think I’d use the term ‘chickening out’ but I think sometimes people get paralyzed. They want the perfect solution. Sometimes people forget we work within limited means and need to figure out what we can do now, within our means, to create positive spaces in the city. You can’t always please everyone but you can do something that’s really positive.
What’s the danger of delaying with something like that? Some people would say isn’t it the rational thing to do? Not everyone was happy, so let’s wait and come up with something better…
I think there’s a great opportunity here to make the city a lot better. A lot of people work downtown, they spend a lot of time downtown, they want it to be a great, positive space. There are opportunities for businesses to be revitalized. We’re missing opportunities and wasting time.
When it comes to the city’s homeless community, what would you like to see the city doing over the next few years?
I think the housing first model is the way to go, and it’s the path that is being taken in collaboration with the federal government. But there is still a long way to go. At least we have a better understanding. Now what’s needed is the will and drive to keep up that momentum and find housing solutions for people. I don’t think cracking down is going to get us anywhere, trying to keep people out of places or control their behaviour. We need real solutions for the underlying problems. We need housing.
Meanwhile, the city has been looking at how it might be able to help some Syrian refugees. Is it the city’s place to help Syrian refugees?
I was at that meeting. It was amazing to see how many people attended on such short notice and how many people’s hearts are aching, wanting to do something about this. If the city’s residents want to do something, then it’s the city’s place to try to convene some solutions. We’re not talking about the city emptying its coffers. There are all kinds of things the city can do: host dialogue, bring in other governments. The city has welcomed so many people from all over the world. In the past, there was an amazing response to Vietnamese refugees. There is a history here of people wanting to help and I think it’s great if people want to continue that tradition and see what we can do.
Canada Games in Yellowknife. Yes or no?
I don’t think it’s a simple yes or no at this point. There is still a lot of information the committee needs to bring back to make an informed decision. If it’s found that we can build a legacy project – for example, affordable housing for seniors – that could be awesome. There are also risk of cost overruns and we don’t want to leave Yellowknife taxpayers holding the bag. We don’t want to have facilities built that Yellowknife residents are not going to use. We need to look carefully at whether it makes sense. It could be a great opportunity but we have to look really carefully at it.
Is this a city that should have the ambition to host national and international events? Or is this an example of the city starting to stretch the limits of its means?
Whitehorse was a great host and they’re a similar-sized city. I don’t think it’s a question of Yellowknife not being grown-up enough to manage this – it’s a matter of what makes sense. It would require a lot of volunteers. We need to find out if there is a lot of enthusiasm about this, if people are wanting to get out and volunteer, if it would create huge swells of community spirit. It’s about starting some momentum. If this is the catalyst for other projects and energy then it could be amazing but if people aren’t into it, maybe it’s not the right time for Yellowknife.
IServeU says it will offer residents a direct connection to councillors. What do you think about that system?
I think that initiative speaks to a real hunger for citizens wanting to be more involved and have a stronger say over what their leaders do. There’s a frustration that people are seeing their leaders not following what is clearly public opinion. It’s great that they are sparking more discussion about how citizens can be more involved and have a better say, and clearly there are lots of people signing up. There’s lots of interest. I think, though, that I’m not sure the internet is enough to have the informed discussions that we need to have in this city about decision-making. So, for example, a lot of the issues that face council are not simple yes-no decisions. There is a lot of debate that happens, suggestions for how a motion could be changed or made better. Things go back and forth. I’m not sure that whole process can happen in the same way online. I want to make sure decision-making in the city is really informed and that we find creative solutions. In my mind, that often requires people in the same room, talking face-to-face. I’m not sure decision-making can happen with people clicking yes or no.
How, then, when you’re going door-to-door, will you convince people that they can have the same input with you as they might with IServeU?
My doors will always be open. I want to keep getting out there, talking to people and finding out what they think. I’m a welcoming person and easy to talk to, they can always come to me. It’s really important for me that I am out there in the community. I’m already active in all kinds of things – sports, choir, various committees – the key is to stay plugged in. Where you do hear some issues surfacing, investigating those further. Seek people out. There’s a responsibility on my part to find out what people think and I’ll always welcome people coming to me with their views and opinions.
In roughly a minute, why you? When people get to the ballot box on the day, why pick your name?
I think I bring important perspectives to council. I’m one of the younger candidates. I have lots of energy and ideas. I can make smart decisions and practical decisions. I could be a really strong addition to the council.
Will you be a peacemaker on council or rather more steadfast if you have an opinion on something? Will you seek to find the middle ground?
I don’t think it’s actually about the middle ground. I think it’s about finding creative solutions that actually work. Sometimes you start out with people taking strong positions on opposite sides, but often the best solution is something that no-one has thought of yet. It’s about trying to find that new idea that can break through the impasse. I think I bring that ability. I’ve done so much work in community development, not only in Yellowknife but throughout the NWT. You have a lot of people in the room who have a lot of different opinions and it’s about bringing out the best ideas in everybody. It’s about creating something new.