Moose FM’s Mike Gibbins sits down with Mark Heyck, a candidate in Yellowknife’s 2015 municipal election.
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MG: What does a Mark Heyck re-election platform look like?
MH: I think there are several important initiatives that we’ve gotten underway during this last term of office that I’d like to see through and other issues that have arisen in the last three years that I’d like to see action on. Downtown revitalization has been a big issue for the city and city council for several years now. We’re no well positioned to move ahead with some redevelopment opportunities. We’ve acquired the 50-50 lot and three other lots on 50th Street so there’s good opportunities there to establish partnerships with the REITs that own the mall and other businesses in the downtown core. We’ve also developed a business incubation program that we feel could be successful in attracting businesses to some of those vacant spaces you see downtown.
One of the big things I want to focus on are social issues like homelessness which we see in the downtown. It’s been an ongoing problem and it’s probably getting worse. There have been numerous efforts over the years to build coalitions or strike committees to try to address the issue of homelessness but we still see a very fragmented approach to addressing the problem. One of the things I’m proposing if re-elected is the creation of a task force with a very focused mandate and limited timeline to bring together government, NGOs, the private sector and the community at large to really examine where the gaps are for our homeless population. Hopefully at the end of that we can come forward with a robust set of recommendations that we can bring forward to all the partners involved in the task force.
Seven out of 19 MLAs represent Yellowknife. Why do we need more?
We’re nearly half the population of the territory yet we only have 36% of representation in the legislative assembly. We’ve seen that when the rest of the territory prospers, Yellowknife prospers and when Yellowknife prospers, the rest of the territory prospers. There are issues that arise in the legislature that are specific to Yellowknife that get shot down. We feel that a stronger presence of Yellowknife MLAs would assist in that. Homelessness is an issue that is identified as a Yellowknife issue but in fact it’s very territorial in nature. Most of the homeless population come from other communities to Yellowknife fallen on hard times and wind up on the streets.
Your lone challenger has accused you of not even trying anymore after making the decision to buy the 50-50 lot without a plan. Why is it so important for the City to take the lead on this?
As a councillor for three terms and nine years and as mayor for the past three years, I’ve been looking at the issue of downtown revitalization with numerous councils trying to decide how to turn the place around. We’ve seen a steady downward spiral in our downtown for almost 15 years now. As a councillor I opposed the purchase of the 50-50 lot two or three times because I held the view that someone else would step forward and show leadership and I came to the realization in these past three years that that simply wasn’t going to happen. If the City didn’t step up, then nobody would and 10 years from now we’d be talking about the same issues. The City has special abilities to do things in our downtown, and elsewhere, that other private sector entities don’t. When I look back at the decision I made, the easiest thing, most politically expedient thing and least controversial thing would’ve been for me to throw my hands up and say there’s no role for us to play. That’s not why I got involved in local government. I want to be here to make a difference.
You talked about a business incubation program. What are some other ways to could bring business back downtown?
The use of public spaces is a big one to attract people. We see the success of the Farmer’s Market week after week . Throughout the summer hundreds if not thousands of people come downtown and I think there are other opportunities like that. We also experimented with the Food on Franklin initiative. We have a lot of vacant space and coming back to partnership, it’s going to take partnerships with the private sector and the arts community. Customers are what makes a business successful and bringing people into the downtown will help that. On the other side of that is encouraging residential development because when people live in the area, they’ll also work and shop there. Over the last few years we’ve built in some incentives into our bylaws to encourage higher density residential development in the downtown core.
A municipal government can only do so much to address the cost of living, but what are some real initiatives that should be considered?
I think first and foremost, the City can have the most influence in the cost of housing. We have direct responsibility over land-use planning and zoning and the densities of potential new developments. A key focus of the City for the past three years has been to ensure that an adequate supply of housing stock is coming onto the market every year. Generally speaking we’ve been having 100 to 150 new units of housing stock coming onto the market and much of them have been higher density units which are more affordable. That’s key and that’s something we absolutely have to continue.
In terms of energy efficiency retrofits, that was a program that I campaigned for three years ago when I was first running for mayor. The basic idea is that we use what are called local improvement charges. Many communities across Canada are using these on a home-by-home basis. The idea is that the municipality finances either an energy efficiency retrofit or the implementation of some affordable, renewable technology and then the homeowner pays that back through their tax bill on a monthly basis over a certain period of years. It could be an immediate way to affect the cost of living and we know that the issue of energy is huge here. It’s a very low-risk proposition for the City and it’s good for the homeowner. Our Community Energy Planning Committee has done a lot of research into this and I think it’s certainly feasible and something we should pursue.
The one big issue we have right now is that the City’s Towns and Villages Act, which is a territorial piece of legislation, doesn’t allow us to do it so that’s something we’ve approached the territorial government about and we’ll be pursuing that in the next couple of years as well.
What should the City be doing to assist Syrian refugees?
We had a jam-packed council chamber about a month ago when this issue first arose and Yellowknifers are very compassionate people. From that meeting, I saw that we have people who care in this community and want to step up and help in any way they can. As far as the City’s role, we’ve been acting as a facilitator. Citizens and even churches in town are keen to help sponsor a refugee or a family of refugees to come to Yellowknife. We will continue to facilitate those efforts. That doesn’t mean a direct role financially for the City because I think we can depend on the efforts and compassion of our citizens to carry the torch on that.
In a minute, why Mark Heyck for a second term as Mayor of Yellowknife?
There’s still a lot that I think we can accomplish as a community in the next three years. This current council got the ball rolling on a number of issues and I’d like to remain in the mayor’s seat to help guide those efforts. Through my experience as a councillor and mayor, I think I’ve shown that I can work with councillors with very diverse views and try to build consensus among council. Ultimately, I’m simply one of nine members of council and even though I chair the meetings, I don’t have any more power than any other councillor. But I do have a role to try to work with all eight of the individuals who ultimately end up on council to carry the community forward. I think we have some big challenges coming up like local economic development. One diamond mine could potentially be closing in the next decade so we need to work on diversification efforts with our local economy to make sure that we’re insulated and well positioned when those things start to happen. Resource development will always be a big part of Yellowknife’s economy but I think we have opportunities to look at other areas such as tourism, smaller industry, local food production and higher education. I was born and raised in Yellowknife so I love this community more than anything and I want to be there to help guide it into the future.