Story & Photos
By Dan Davidson
A turnout of between 75 and 80 citizens and the presence of eight of the nine candidates seeking office in this month’s municipal elections indicates that local politics has lost some of the stigma it suffered after the 2004 removal of the council that was elected in the fall of 2003 when the town was declared bankrupt.
Mayor Peter Jenkins, who has declared that unfinished business caused him to reverse the very public assertion that he would not run again, made at the Association of Yukon Communities AGM here in May, pronounced this a good thing during his closing remarks at the election forum on October 9.
Jenkins said little that would explain his late date decision to file nomination papers, which he had previously said he would do only if someone “really pisses me off”, but he did speak to the issues which he feels he needs to be there to wrap up.
These include the building of a new recreation centre with artificial ice, improvement of the potable water supply, resolving issues with YTG over the Quigley landfill, developing affordable building lots, achieving affordable wastewater treatment and district heating, finalizing the new Official Community Plan and gaining control of mining activity within the town boundaries.
He felt that the outgoing council had inherited an administration in which only the fire department was running up to par, and that his council had done a lot to put in place more effective financial controls and work towards more enforceable bylaws.
Wayne Potoroka, who has served on this last council as well as an earlier one, agreed with many of these points and actually introduced a number of them as he spoke first.
Potoroka, who has been running for the mayor’s office since May, presented himself as a cooperative and approachable person with a history of consulting and working effectively with others. In his view cooperation, rather than confrontation, is the way to accomplish positive results.
Running down the same list of priority items that Jenkins would list just after him, Potoroka noted that very little had been accomplished on any of them over the last three years, and that the town lacked any kind of long term strategic plan to make them a reality. Such planning would be key to any administration he led, he said.
Each of the six candidates who were present introduced themselves and made a brief pitch for their candidacy.
Incumbent Stephen Johnson emphasized planning and his engineering background as major assets.
Incumbent Bill Kendrick, who works in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in’s Lands Department, introduced himself as an independent thinker willing to ask tough questions.
There were five new candidates, of which four were present.
Dick Van Nostrand, husband of the town’s Senior Financial Officer, Joanne Van Nostrand, and former owner of the Downtown Hotel, was unable to get back to town in time for the forum.
Hector Renaud, father of city manager Jeff Renaud, spoke of his experience as a land developer in dealing with negotiations at several levels of government.
Darren Taylor, a former chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, and currently employed as the Director of TH’s Lands Department, presented himself as having experience in both government and business, as well as having held down jobs in a number of other fields.
Johnny Nunan has spent six years on the Klondike Visitors Association Board and worked for Parks Canada for many summers before taking on his current job as a mining inspector. He is active in soccer at all levels from local to national and has a special interest in sports. He, too, likes to ask questions and find answers.
Kyla McArthur is currently the Administrative Assistant at the Yukon School of Visual Arts, but has an impressive Dawson résumé including bartender, Zamboni driver and researcher for the Across the River Consulting. Her list of involvement in Dawson organizations is a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms. She is new to politics but promised to work hard and listen.
It’s not unusual for Dawson election forums to spend a lot of time on issues over which the municipality ultimately has no control.
With the new hospital on Sixth Avenue nearing completion (in spite of delays that will push the opening back some months) people are wondering where the increased staff for this 24/7 facility are going to live.
According to mayoralty candidates Potoroka and Jenkins, Yukon Housing social housing units on Sixth Avenue are currently being renovated to house hospital staff. As the question made its way down the line of candidates the number varied from 8 to 12 units, but most seemed to feel that converting social housing to staff housing for the Yukon Hospital Corporation was going to put a strain on Dawson’s already tight housing market.
The surprise question of the evening was asked by Dina Grenon and refined by Shirley Pennell. What was the opinion of the candidates on the issue of a bridge across the Yukon River and where should it go? All were in favour of a bridge, but there was some division on where it should go.
Johnson opined that Dawson would have suffered Eagle’s fate in 2009 had the bridge been built across the ferry route where YTG wanted to put it before rising cost estimates put the project back on the shelf.
Potoroka reminded everyone that it was a YTG Highways project over which the town had no control, while Jenkins said discussion was possible.
Business owner Bill Bowie brought up the issue of boundary expansion, which most of the candidates converted to a question about voting regulations. Presently, as Jenkins noted, Dawson services all of the Klondike Valley down to Henderson’s’ Corner.
Several candidates felt those people should have some say in how the town is run, but some form of boundary adjustment is the price one would currently have to accept to get that right. Comments about different levels of taxation (keyed to the level of municipal services provided) ran up and down the table.
Expansion was attempted in the early 1900s. Aside from extending the boundary down the valley to Quigley Gulch, it resulted in Dawson being given control of much of the settled area across the Yukon River, territory, which the town subsequently relinquished because it could not service it.
Johnny Nunan tied the building of a bridge and boundary expansion together, which did echo a Municipal Board recommendation from the early 1990s. It would, he said, expand the tax base and provide easy access to land for building lots, a topic that popped up in most of the candidates’ statements.
Recreation was a topic that emerged from several directions. All the candidates were in favour of improving recreation facilities, Jenkins was most adamant about building a new one, though Johnson was a close second, calling the current building a WRECK Centre.
All agreed that the town should not be the only municipality in the Yukon without artificial ice, but Nunan, Taylor and Renaud were prepared to study options for dealing with the existing building before acting.
The present council enacted a tax increase that will put about $180,000 annually into a Rec. Centre reserve fund for the purpose of exploring options and getting started with solutions.
There wasn’t much discussion of UNESCO World Heritage Status, though it was raised as a footnote in a couple of responses.
There was general agreement among all the candidates that the issue of mining within the town’s boundaries needs to be settled.
Johnson noted that the town had had to spend around $60,000 dollars in legal fees dealing with the problems raised by the operations of the Slinky Mine, just off the Dome Road.
Along with several others, Taylor suggested that buy-outs, land swaps and other options needed to be looked into, but that ultimately it was up to the territory to enact legislation to put mining within town boundaries off-limits.
Other questions involved the need for youth programs and issues related to food security and energy independence.
The forum, sponsored by the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce and Emceed by the Klondike Visitors Association’s Bill Holmes, was well mannered and the audience was attentive. Holmes had a little trouble holding some of the candidates to their time limits and some citizens’ preambles took a while to get to their questions, but the two hours were well filled.