By Dan Davidson
Two days before the election day is a bit late to be having a municipal election forum, but it was better late than never in Dawson City. Even then, two of the candidates, one of whom is in Vancouver undergoing physiotherapy after a paragliding accident early in the summer, had to attend by speakerphone.
Present at the council table were incumbent councillors Kyla MacArthur and Bill Kendrick, and aspiring candidate Jay Farr. Stephen Johnson phoned in from Vancouver and aspirant Driss Adrao was also on a phone link.
The format followed was to allow each candidate a two minute opening statement, one minute to respond to questions from the audience and a one minute closing statement at the end of the forum.
Mark Wickham, of Across the River Consulting, kept a firm rein on the timing, and the warning bell was heard quite often.
Opening statements tended to be general in nature.
MacArthur spoke of being captured by the town 16 years ago and talked a bit about her depth of work and volunteer experience in the community. For her, communication between the council and the citizenry was a key requirement.
Jay Farr is a former Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in councillor who confessed to being nervous in the new setting, but who pledged to get up to speed on the issues and work hard. Farr is a hometown boy who grew up here.
Bill Kendrick has a 20 year history in the town, having been involved as a small business person, and has served on a number of local non-profits and one city board. He felt the last council had accomplished a lot and hoped to expand on that record with another term.
Stephen Johnson’s phone link was weak and people had to strain to hear some of his comments. As a resident since 1999 he had been moved to run for council six years ago, seeing a need for good planning, which he felt his engineering background enabled him to provide.
Driss Adrao has only been in Dawson a year, but said he had fallen in love with the place and wanted to be able to contribute. There would be a number of issues on which he disqualified himself from commenting, saying he would need to learn about them and pledging to do so.
Questions from the audience focussed, quite properly, on municipal concerns.
Former councillor Bill Holmes asked each candidate to name the previous council’s biggest success and predict the greatest remaining challenge. Most had trouble getting to the challenge in just 60 seconds.
MacArthur chose improved communication. Farr praised the development of the extensive trail system around the town. Both Kendrick and Johnson mentioned the increase in the number of building lots, and Adrao commented on the improvement in recreation facilities.
Jim Taggart, a regular gallery attendee, asked about waste management, the first of a couple of questions that came up on this topic. All candidates stressed the need for continued efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle waste, given the potentially short lifespan of the Quigley Landfill.
Former councillor Shirley Pennell wanted their views on heritage management, especially in light of the UNESCO World Heritage Nomination process, which was also mentioned in an emailed question later in the evening.
All were in agreement that Dawson needed to preserve its unique heritage and look, but also needed to find ways to allow growth to take place. All were in favour of obtaining World Heritage status.
Food security was raised as an issue. Incumbents noted that the last council has loosened the restrictions on placement of greenhouses, and development of garden plots. While praising the successful farmers whose wares stock the summertime Farmers’ Market. McArthur noted that there really wasn’t much in the way of space in the town itself for the development of garden spaces.
Tied in with this issue was another question dealing with lot and square footage size for houses. The incumbents noted that the mandatory size requirements had been reduced, but added that there were other factors, such as attachment to utilities like sewer and water, that were part of the equation.
Holmes returned to the podium to ask about the sudden increase in petty thefts and break-ins that seems to have been on the upswing in the past few months. Crime prevention is not, actually, a municipal responsibility, but the council does maintain a close relationship with the RCMP and helps to set the local detachment’s annual priorities. It was suggested by a couple of candidates that some relief might be found in social issues, such as providing alternative activities and helping to improve employment opportunities.
Issues surrounding the conflict between the rights of the town under the Municipal Act and the rights of miners who might have grandfathered claims within the expanded town boundary came up. Again, the incumbents felt they had handled the Slinky Mine issue as best as they could within the barriers that they had faced. The objective, they generally agreed, was to have the miner finish his business as quickly as possible and relinquish the claims for residential lot development.
Can a council do anything to promote business development? asked Helen Bowie. Answers generally focussed on possible incentives for new businesses and a review of tax and fee structures.
The question of winter housing for new residents and for students at the Yukon School of Visual Arts remains an issue in search of solutions. Again, there might be incentives to have businesses that shutter their windows in the winter make rooms available but, on the other hand, many of those shuttered rooms are not winterized and would not be suitable.
There was some discussion around the question, asked by Holmes, as to how all the items under discussion related to the larger umbrella issue of a sustainable lifestyle. Taggart asked what was being done with the town’s long dormant Sustainability Plan, which had been required in order to access federal Gas Tax funding, but which had been gathering dust since the current federal government dropped that requirement.
Incumbents indicated that some of its features had been incorporated in the latest iteration of the Official Community Plan, but felt that it could be looked at again.
Closing statements were brief and the audience applauded their efforts at the end of the evening.
The meeting was broadcast on video over channel 12 on DCTV and recorded on audio for later podcast on CFYT-fm’s website. In addition the Klondike Sun’s Chris Healey posted on Twitter regularly throughout the nearly two hour event.
Other than this forum, the major thrust of the campaign, which saw Wayne Potoroka acclaimed for another term, was advertising and candidates’ personal statements in the October 7 edition of the Klondike Sun.