Yellowknife approves 1.6% tax hike, sunsets Indigenous relations advisor job
'If we don't transform these systems, racism will continue to flourish in Yellowknife,' says advocate
The city of Yellowknife's budget for next year raises the property tax rate by 1.63 per cent — far from the 8.5 per cent jump city officials initially pitched.
The 2020-2021 budget comes in at an estimated $98.4 million, up nearly $10 million from last year's budget estimate.
Cost-cutting measures in this year's budget include reducing the parks budget by $100,000, cutting firefighters' paid on-call program by $35,000, and removing a $75,000 city hall space study.
The reduced budget follows the city's controversial decision to let its new Indigenous relations advisor position expire. The position was created 18 months ago using federal money, but that money runs out in February 2020.
During budget deliberations, Coun. Stacie Smith, who is the only Indigenous person on Yellowknife's city council, proposed making the position permanent, and having the city pay the salary after the federal money dries up.
Smith has said the role made Indigenous people more comfortable, and enabled their voices to be heard.
The plan was rejected by a majority of councillors.
'Racism will continue to flourish'
"I was incredibly, incredibly disappointed that … [the] city diminished the concerns that were expressed by Coun. Stacie Smith," Arlene Hache, a social justice advocate, told councillors Monday night.
Hache, who has worked with Indigenous people for four decades, said she wanted to speak with council about what she believes are the right and wrong steps to reconciliation.
"Reconciliation is the responsibility of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people," said Hache, who said she is a non-Indigenous person.
Hache did give the city credit for becoming more aware of complex issues related to reconciliation and Indigenous people.
She said this city council appears to be more committed to reconciliation than any previous one over the past 40 years. However, she said she hasn't seen systemic change, and that's the problem.
"If we don't transform these systems, racism will continue to flourish in Yellowknife," she warned.
Councillors did allocate $50,000 to several projects in the city's Reconciliation Action Plan, though the plan isn't finished yet. Hache said she would rather the city put the money toward renewing the advisor position.
Coun. Smith thanked Hache for speaking up. Smith said she would not approve the budget without renewing the Indigenous relations advisor position.
"I've spoken loud and clear in regards to my feelings about this," she said. "I'm going to stand by that."
Smith was the only councillor to vote against the budget.