Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad
Critics say council needs vision

Mayor says division healthy

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 31/01) - Aside from the seemingly endless debates over the best site for a new arena, some city watchers believe council faced few tough issues over the past year and needs to overcome ideological differences to handle major decisions that loom ahead.

NNSL Photo

Bob Brooks: Former councillor sees need to work as a team.

"They didn't seem to do anything new and impressive," said Bob Brooks, former city councillor and mayoralty candidate turned policy analyst for the territorial government.

"There is a lot of potential there, but they have to come together as team and feed off their strengths and weaknesses," said Brooks.

With a major multi-million dollar plan to spruce up the waterfront, a three-year budget debate looming, a housing shortage in the face of an expanding economy and First Nations land claim resolutions on the horizon, the coming year will test this council's mettle.

In October 2000, city voters elected a new mayor and slate of councillors -- with some incumbents -- on the strength of their promises. A little more than a year later, it seems Yellowknifers got what they voted for.

Councillors Dave McCann, Dave Ramsay and Alan Woytuik have not strayed from their message of fiscal responsibility.

Councillors Ben McDonald and Kevin O'Reilly both said from the get-go their focus was improving city services.

Councillors Robert Hawkins and top council vote getter Wendy Bisaro both tailored platforms somewhere in the middle. Bisaro moved closer to McDonald and O'Reilly over the year and Hawkins edged closer to McCann's focus on accountability and efficiency.

This group agreed Yellowknife needed improvement but paths to that end varied widely and often conflicted.

Council is ideologically divided. January's budget debate should split them in similar fashion to debate over a three-year budget policy.

Mayor Gord Van Tighem was forced to cast a tie breaking vote to get that policy through.

McDonald fears a creeping new ideology in council threatens the essence of government.

"It's difficult keeping spirits up in the face of a tendency to minimize public services," said McDonald. "It's an agenda proven empty."

McDonald said he believes council is drifting away from its mandate to protect services.

"In previous councils the majority was committed to running a full range of services, but the majority of (this) council has less trust in that function," said McDonald.

Ramsay said money was this year's biggest challenge. Ramsay spearheaded a move to legislate a zero per cent tax increase but it didn't fly.

"Our vision is not cohesive," said Ramsay. "We all have the well-being of the city at heart we just have different opinions to getting there."

Ramsay said some councillors want tax and user fee hikes to keep the status quo. He is in favour of taking a scalpel to the budget and cutting excess.

Over the last year, McCann repeatedly hammered home his message for better efficiency.

McCann said he wants to change the city's current fiscal culture to a business approach.

"I worked in the public sector for 12 years and I saw a lot of waste," said McCann.

"I will have to work harder to reach my colleagues with that message."

Hawkins upset some councillors and city bureaucrats over the last year criticizing what he called "entrenched ideologies" running the city.

"There is a lot of pressure to be part of the system, to bite the bullet and an overall sense that it is easier to let it slide and ignore," said Hawkins.

These apparent divisions have city watchers charging this term's council lacks an articulated vision to deal with the major issues facing them.

"I'm not certain there is a cohesive vision," said John Dalton, former councillor and owner of Yellowknife Cabs.

Mayor Gord Van Tighem doesn't see it that way.

"These councillors represent the full spectrum of opinion in Yellowknife. That is their strength," said Van Tighem, who points to the arena decision that eluded other councils for years.

"I think they shook things up where they needed to be shook," said Van Tighem.

"You can see how history has changed. They definitely have a mindset on where they want to go."