Money the main thing

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Oct 17/97) - Talk of dollars dominated question period at the mayoral all candidates' forum.

The five people hoping to win a three-year job as Yellowknife's mayor faced tough questioning on issues such as the cost of living and doing business in the city, taxes and economic development.

"I can't afford to live here," said former alderman Jo MacQuarrie, who vacated her seat on the current council earlier this year when she moved to Calgary. "What is each of you going to do to keep long-term residents here?"

Both Vi Beck and Dave Lovell said the city should allow the market to decide housing prices.

Lovell added the North will always be a more expensive place to live than the south -- "You can do what you want to cut costs, but it's still going to cost more to live in Yellowknife than Saskatoon."

Ruth Spence noted she could well understand the difficulty seniors have staying in the North, being one herself. Spence said two of her rivals, Lovell and John Dalton, were members of the council that, in 1992, introduced a $2,000 cap on seniors' exemption from property taxes. Prior to that, seniors payed no property taxes.

Matt Grogono said unwise spending decisions by the city add up to significant costs for residents.

"I see a lot of spending in bad places that amounts to millions," he said, offering cost overruns and ongoing design problems with the Old Town bridge as examples.

The talk of money was fine by candidate and former alderman John Dalton, who last week delivered a "discussion paper" to Yellowknifer outlining his approach to city finances.

"There are a variety of steps we can take (to drop the cost of living), but we have to be innovative," said Dalton. Among the changes he proposes is the establishment of an independent board to advise the city on economic affairs.

The first questioner, Bill Enge, asked what each candidate was going to do to ensure a diamond-sorting plant was established in Yellowknife.

"It's a political decision," said Beck, saying the federal government has the final say in where the facility will be located. "I think we're lobbying them hard, and I think it will come here."

Lovell said that lobbying has included meetings with Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew and the four Yellowknife MLAs and was aimed at adding as much value as possible to the minerals before they leave the North.

Grogono said the city should be offering diamond-mining companies such as BHP incentives, rather than lobbying the federal government to force them to establish the plant here.

"It's unlikely the federal government will change the mining regulations to say sorting will have to be done in the territories," said Dalton. Because the government would insist only that the plant be located in Canada, it was up to the city to work with industry itself to show the advantage of establishing the plant in Yellowknife.

Questions asked by members of the audience at the Chamber of Commerce debate

A franchise fee the city charges Northland Utilities shifts about $50,000 a year in GST payments from residents pockets to federal coffers. If elected, would you drop the franchise fee?
Beck: No
Dalton: Yes
Grogono: Yes
Lovell: No
Spence: Review issue

Will you stop wasting $30,000 a year on the city newsletter Skyline?
Beck: No
Dalton: Yes
Grogono: Yes
Lovell: No
Spence: No

Would you support a youth curfew?
Beck: No
Dalton: No
Grogono: No
Lovell: No
Spence: No

Does the city need a new twin-pad arena?
Beck: Yes
Dalton: Yes
Grogono: Yes
Lovell: Yes
Spence: Yes

When asked at a council meeting, the city administrator once refused to say what city employee was responsible for Tuaro Dairy being under-billed for months last year. Will you force the senior administrator to answer questions posed by council at council meetings and fire him if he refused?
Beck: Not if question relates to personnel issue
Dalton: Yes, if posed at public venue
Grogono: Yes, if it is an appropriate question
Lovell: Not if it relates to personnel issue
Spence: Not if it relates to personnel issue

How can you oppose secret meetings now after attending them for at least the last three years?
Dalton: The public has said they don't want the meetings and I'm prepared to accept that.
Spence: I and Jo MacQuarrie objected to them, but the rest of council agreed the meetings should remain closed and we accepted that.
Lovell: Stopping briefing meetings would allow for manipulation of council by mayor. They should continue to be closed.