Cost of living, emissions up for debate at Yellowknife city council forum

Candidates for Yellowknife city council faced off in a debate Wednesday evening at Northern United Place, the final scheduled debate for candidates prior to Monday's municipal election.

Fifteen of the 16 candidates running took part in a mock council meeting Wednesday night

Yellowknife council candidates Julian Morse, Cynthia Mufandaedza, Steve Payne, Rommel Silverio, Stacie Smith, Terry Testart, and Robin Williams were the first group to take part in Wednesday's debate, formatted to resemble an actual city council meeting. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)

Candidates for Yellowknife city council faced off in a debate Wednesday evening at Northern United Place.

Alternatives North, a social justice coalition, hosted the forum ahead of the Oct. 15 election. Fifteen of the 16 candidates were in attendance.

The candidates, who are vying for eight seats on council, were divided into two groups. Each group had one hour to debate two resolutions concerning social and environmental issues in the city. Alternatives North said this was meant to simulate a real council meeting.

"We wanted to have that opportunity for candidates to have thoughtful responses, but we also wanted to see how they would engage with each other [and] respond or build off of each other's ideas," explained Susan Fitzky, who moderated the debate.

"That would give us maybe a snapshot into how they might carry themselves as members of the council."

Council hopefuls discussed resolutions that the City of Yellowknife put more resources toward:

  • Reducing the cost of living for residents earning less than minimum wage

  • Implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's (TRC) Calls to Action

  • Reducing the environmental impact of the city's community waste system as a whole

  • Reducing the city's carbon emissions 

After discussions, each group voted whether to 'pass the motion'. Candidates stood united in favour of a majority of the referendums, but when it came to reducing the cost of living, three voted against.

Candidates Josh Campbell, Edwin Castillo, John Dalton, William Gomes, Niels Konge, Dane Mason and Shauna Morgan debated the issue.

Konge said the wording of the referendum needed tweaking before he could support it.

"I think that as a council we shouldn't be focusing our attention on individual groups … it should be our mandate that we try to reduce the cost of living for the entire city," he explained.

Campbell and Mason also voted against the referendum.

Fees and access to City facilities, building more affordable housing, and attracting more businesses to create jobs were suggested by candidates as solutions.

Last debate before Monday election

Candidates Josh Campbell, Edwin Castillo, John Dalton, William Gomes, Niels Konge, Dane Mason and Shauna Morgan take part in the second group of Wednesday's debate. Mark Bogan arrived to the debate late after returning to the city from the community of Fort Good Hope, and joined the group. (Gabriela Panza-Beltrandi/CBC)
When it came to putting resources toward reducing the environmental impact of the community's waste, the group was unanimously in favour.

One solution many candidates had was making recycling easier and more accessible. Suggestions included having blue bins at townhouses, having more blue bin stations around the city, and ways to divert more construction waste like drywall and wood from the landfill.

A "reverse vending machine" was pitched, where residents would put in their recycling, and out would come pocket change.

Candidates Julian Morse, Cynthia Mufandaedza, Steve Payne, Rommel Silverio, Stacie Smith, Terry Testart, Robyn Williams and Mark Bogan faced off in the second round of debates.

When discussing reducing carbon emissions, many pointed to encouraging alternative modes of transportation like bikes, and changing how the buses run.

Some suggested creating a "hailing" service similar to Uber to cut back on the number of buses driving around with no passengers during slow periods of the day.

The discussion around the TRC's Calls to Action focused on what the City has been doing right, and what more work is needed toward reconciliation.

One idea: rename streets to honour Indigenous people, and create a monument to remember the story of residential schools.

More education around the residential school system was also pitched by several candidates.

This was the last of the debates for the 16 candidates. Election day is on Oct. 15.​