Six municipalities in the NWT are hosting elections this year, five of which have contests for the mayor’s seat. The Journal reached out to these communities to see what issues the would-be mayors are addressing in their platforms.
After one term in office, Fort Smith’s incumbent mayor isn’t ready to relinquish his position just yet.
“I still feel that I can move our community forward to better and greater things and as such I am running to continue the good works that this council has started,” he said.
In a second term, Brake said he would prioritize improving the the town’s aging in-ground infrastructure, as well as the chipsealing of Highway 5.
“The Town had a 60-per-cent increase in development permits last year and our economy is vibrant and healthy and is doing better than many other northern towns who are affected by economic downturns,” Brake said. “I think that this was in no small part due to the actions of council’s leadership.”
Working towards community wellness, both mentally and physically, is another item at the top of his list.
“I am further committed to establishing the town leadership to take control of its role as leaders in our community through the establishment of a wellness working group and a working group to lead appropriate parties in lobbying the GNWT to establish a Centre for Arts Excellence in the town of Fort Smith.”
Brad also stated he was committed to increasing transparency and accountability for council.
Lynn Napier-Buckley has held the position of town councillor for one term and is ready to take on the challenges posed over the last three years.
“I love Fort Smith,” she said. “I want to be able to do more for the community through our municipality. Our town needs a mayor that will be a strong leader in community partnerships. We can do more to work with local governments, businesses, and organizations in the areas of wellness, community capacity building, and tourism. The mayor is responsible for providing leadership and direction to council. It is my belief that the mayor should also listen to council and listen to the people.
A healthy community starts with addressing social issues, according to this candidate. Developing further community wellness initiatives, garnering more support for LGBTQ youth and adults, improving access for seniors and persons with disabilities and establishing better child protective services are all important to Napier-Buckley.
Economic development within the town is another priority for Napier-Buckley. She indicated that she would like to improve a sustainable local economy for Fort Smith by instituting local business and shop local policies, training staff and working toward new capital planning projects, including landslide stabilization initiatives.
“As mayor, I will continue to work to make decisions based on what is fair and balanced and on what will benefit us as a whole,” Napier-Buckley said.
Darlene Sibbeston’s platform in her race for mayor is all about transparency and inclusion.
“I’m concerned about what’s happening in council,” she said. “It seems unfair that people can just make decisions without much consultation.”
Currently, Sibbeston noted, items like budgets and meeting minutes are slow to be posted online, if they are at all. Having those documents easily accessible to the public is one of the strategies she has to reach out to her constituents.
“It could be as easy as having a Facebook page dedicated to council issues,” she said.
Sibbeston would also like to see a stronger focus on youth issues within the village. As part of this initiative, she would instate a youth representative on council, in order to get a new generation involved in municipal politics. Additionally, she stated she would focus on strengthening relationships between organizations within the community to build a stronger fiscal network.
“Our funding is squeezed across the board,” she said. “We need to make sure we are building and keeping key relationships.”
“Having myself as a female Aboriginal on council would greatly enhance the village’s working relationship with First Nations,” Sibbeston intimated, stating that having more participation from local Indigenous groups is a key goal for her.
The owner and operator of Fort Simpson’s Northern Store has thrown his hat in the ring for the 2015 municipal election, and his number-one priority is bettering transparency for his village.
“Fort Simpson is a great place to live and I think that I can better support the community and do what I can do pitch in,” Dempsey said. “The main issue is communication and transparency. There’s room for improvement in communications between the village and the First Nation in particular and I think by working together we can be a much better place.”
Dempsey said he would try to accomplish this by ensuring all the necessary stakeholders are involved in important decisions by inviting them to meetings and, if he has it his way, televising council meetings.
“I have a proven track record of doing things for the community. I have demonstrated an ability of leadership, particularly in terms of large-scale business and I care very deeply about the community and I believe everybody is equal.”
Dempsey is determined to take his entrepreneurial skills, developed while running the community store for almost six years, and apply them to running the ship in Fort Simpson.
Incumbent mayor Sean Whelly, who was acclaimed in the last election, is ready for term number three.
“I feel as though we’ve been very effective in improving the life of residents here over the last six years and there are still things that can be done,” he said. “I’d like to stay in there working with a new council to see if we can’t keep on the path that we’ve been on, improving the quality of people’s lives here.”
Whelly’s projects have ranged from improving local recreational facilities, like the town’s new swimming pool, to taking on environmental initiatives, including a $3.4-million biomechanical sewer plant.
“I think that we’ve supported a lot of culture, heritage, literacy things in the community as well,” he said. “All in a firm financial way that we haven’t seen a tax increase in the last six years. Fiscal management and getting things done has kind of been the record that I’m standing on and I think I can still do more for the community. I have the energy to put into it, I’ve enjoyed the job quite a bit, I hope I can still give some more value back to the community.”
It has been a tough year for mayor Andrew Cassidy following the six-month strike by town employees, but the challenge has left the incumbent invigorated and ready to take on the tasks at hand.
“There’s a number of projects or initiatives we started under this council that have not yet been completed. One of them, for example, is the franchise agreement. Another would be the MACA formula funding. There’s some internal organizational reviews that we’re working on as well as changing some of the internal processes to become a better organization for the community,” Cassidy said. “Those are ongoing and I would really like to put in another term to see those through to completion and continue to work with a council that is obviously not afraid to tackle some of these tougher decisions and move forward.”
Top priorities include the updating of infrastructure in time for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, to be hosted in Hay River and Fort Smith; updating town hall; and continuing to build partnerships with organizations such as the Northern Farm Training Institute.
“I think that I’ve shown my dedication, my enthusiasm for the position, my experience being on council for a term, being mayor for a term, I think that speaks to my commitment to municipal governments and my interest, my passion for it as well.”
First-term Councillor Brad Mapes has a love affair with Hay River. He said as mayor he would work to attract more business to the town and to run the town more like a business.
“Any politician will tell you the next few years are the most important, but for our community, we need to move forward quickly,” he said. “The economy is extremely bad and I feel I’ve got the networking skills and plans for our community to move it forward.”
Mapes wants the political process at the town corporation, which is currently trying to fill the key positions of senior administrative officer, director of finance and director of public works, more transparent.
“What I’d like to do is change the structure of how the town is run and go more with a committee structure reporting back to council,” Mapes said. “We get recommendations given to us for council to make decisions (but) right now we’re getting a lot of stuff brought to us to vote on with incomplete information such as financial implications and everything.”
Mapes said he is committed to Hay River.
“I always put our community first,” he said. “A lot of times I look at my business and sometimes should probably go a different route but I’m committed to our community. I’m a great business head, and (maybe) the town needs to get back to that mode where you need to run it like a business.”
After taking a backseat as a councillor in Inuvik, Derek Lindsay has decided it’s time for him to once again take on the position of mayor.
“I want to get back in the mayor’s seat. I was mayor from 2006 to 2009 and I think it’s time we had some leadership for council,” Lindsay said. “I want to attack the high utility costs we’re experiencing right at this time, paying our natural gas and our electrical costs.”
What would be the “method to his madness?” as he put it.
“I want to streamline the operations in the town of Inuvik, be more practical,” he said. “We’re spending a lot of money in certain areas where we really shouldn’t be. We need to cut back on a few things. Energy is a big one, the town consumes a lot of energy throughout our recreation centre. We spend $3 million a year operating that facility, for a population of less than 3,000. I think that’s a bit much.”
Lindsay is confident his experience will lead him to victory.
“I did a good job last time and I helped do a good job again this time,” said the current councillor.
After three terms on Inuvik council, Jim McDonald was ready to call it a political career, but he has supporters who wouldn’t let the acting mayor hang them up just yet.
“I still have the energy and Inuvik is my hometown so I think my heart is here, and my family is here, and I think I can hopefully do some stuff in the mayor’s office that will make the community a better place,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of encouragement from the community.”
Inuvik, a town of about 3,500 people nestled on the Arctic coast, is challenged first and foremost by the cost-of-living borne of its remoteness. McDonald admitted there are no simple solutions to the problem for the residents.
“Our council has been dealing with that for a number of years now,” he said. “There is no single solution, or any solution, at this point. It’s something that will eventually, unless we can get some industry moving to help the economy. It’s a difficult thing to deal with. In the long run, we won’t see much until the economy picks up again.”
In the meantime, the town has to capitalize when opportunities come.
“There is opportunity here on the smaller scale and I think we just have to take advantage of whatever comes along,” he said. “Tourism seems to be on the increase this year, certainly seems to be a lot more people travelling the Dempster (Highway), lots of motorhomes here, motorbikes, pedal bikes, even people walking in so I think we need to kind of capitalize on that opportunity.”
With three terms on city council and another as mayor, Mark Heyck has entrenched himself as a public servant.
“I certainly found after my first term and even after my second term on council that you get a few things done during the three-year term but there’s always unfinished business that you want to see through to its conclusion and I think the same applies to my first term as mayor,” he said. “I think we’ve made some progress on a lot of important issues but I think there’s a lot of work left to be done and I’d like to be in the mayor’s chair to help oversee that work for our community.”
Among the top priorities for the incumbent is the revitalization of the capital city’s downtown core.
“It has been a long-standing issue for the city. We’ve undertaken some revitalization efforts during this turn of office, particularly the cost of power and heating our homes and businesses and I have some ideas about how we might be able to help our residents with those cost of living issues as well.”
Heyck is confident his years of experience and reputation in Yellowknife will win him another term.
“I’ve shown I can bring different viewpoints together in a cohesive fashion from a variety of councillors that will ultimately be elected to make decisions on behalf of the community. As a lifelong Yellowknifer, I’m truly committed to this city and to making it a better place to live for all of our residents.”
A self-labelled “armchair mayor,” Himmelman has always been interested in politics, but decided to participate at the municipal level following debates around the revitalization of the 50/50 lot downtown.
“That didn’t look quite right, then I looked into it further, and I felt like there was a disconnect between their administration and what the public is looking for,” he said. “I think the priorities identified by the public are housing costs and homelessness and it seems like the current administration appears to be more interested in revitalization and beautification. I’d be looking towards a mandate to address the housing and focus more on social issues.”
To start, Himmelman would address the high cost of housing by taking measures to expand the tax base. Ideally, he’d like to see more temporary workers from out of province – like miners – settle in the city on a more permanent basis.
“The city is effectively the gatekeeper and has a monopoly on the land and in a lot of cases the developers will look at the price they want for it and if they do go for it, that increases their costs. I think that’s the driver behind our ridiculously high housing prices,” he said. “That’s a huge problem. The city is actually starting to budget for these profits and so now if we really want to tackle the high cost of housing by looking at the amount of profit we make off land sales, we’re going to have to find that revenue someplace else and that would be increasing our property tax base or trying to negotiate more support from the territorial government or having a close look at what our expenses are.”
The accountant expressed his interest in making the Yellowknife city council more transparent, even going as far as to bring it under the territorial Freedom of Information Act.
Norman Wells Mayor Nathan Watson is running unopposed in his community.