Municipal funding, housing shortages and community well being were just some of the issues tackled by Hay River council candidates in an online forum, held Oct. 3.
Nine of 10 nominees vying for a seat on Town of Hay River council in the Oct. 18 municipal election provided their viewpoints on a range of questions over an hour and a half..
Cabin Radio provided the moderating service for incumbents Robert Bouchard, Keith Dohey, Jeff Groenwegen, Brian Willows, and Linda Duford and newcomers Peter Magill, Kim Brockway, Keanan Kipling, and Karen Wall.
Only incumbent Emily Chambers did not participate. Mayor Kandis Jameson was acclaimed to her position so will be ushered into a second term.
Throughout the evening, major issues facing the town were raised including housing, social issues, whether the recreational centre should include a gym or fitness centre and and municipal under-funding from the GNWT.
Lack of funding
GNWT funding came up several times throughout the evening.
Incumbents Keith Dohey, Brian Willows, and Robert Bouchard all pointed to under-funding and downloading of services from the GNWT to the town as the most important challenge facing the community.
“Our ability to go forward, our ability to have a capital plan, our ability to address social issues, our ability to affect the cost of living,- all of these are centered in that one (municipal funding) pot so we really need to sort our finances out,” Willows said.
Bouchard, former MLA for Hay River North said the GNWT has over time put too much responsibility on the shoulders of municipalities. He pointed to under-funding with the Hay River Ski Club, the lack of bussing for students, and new access to information and privacy requirements expected by municipal staff.
“We (the municipality) used to take care of streets, dogs and and ditches (but), whether it’s the ski club or whether it’s busing, all of that stuff is the GNWT’s but it comes back to the municipality,” he said. “The GNWT keeps downloading stuff onto us.”
Wall, president of the Hay River Ski Club, said that more partners have to be involved in ensuring the club stays viable, which includes the town, but also the GNWT and other groups like the golf club,
“We have been lobbying MACA for about six months now, and it’s been pretty much fruitless,” she said.
“We don’t want to blame one group, and then not have funding for another group. We don’t want to blame the GNWT and then Hay River doesn’t take any responsibility.”
Housing and social issues
Concerns about housing and social issues took up much focus from candidates as well. Candidates were asked how the town should manage and prioritize the already short availability of housing when there is expected to be population expansion in the coming years.
The town currently has a draft zoning bylaw that has been presented by its consultant Stantec and is expected to be passed in the near future.
The municipality has also recently entered into an agreement with the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation to survey and come up with a community housing plan – expected to be released early next year.
Candidates pointed to other projects that have been prioritized as well including Fraser Place and Aspen Heights as areas for housing growth.
Jeff Groenewegen said that steep development costs has made it difficult for the town to create more lots for housing. He said the Mackenzie Place apartment tower should be reopened in light of the housing crunch in town.
“I think that (development costs) is one of the biggest challenges to us creating more lots that are actually serviced and that we can put out for sale to businesses and residents here in town,” he said. “Definitely the closure of the high rise had a significant impact on the town, but I believe that, there’s good news to come and I’m certain that the high rise will be redeveloped and opened again sometime here in the future.”
One of the questions that received some push-back from candidates had to do with what Hay River’s business community should expect from town council.
Peter Magill said the businesses and their patrons have to provide more feedback on problems they see, called for more promotion of the business community in the surrounding community and more Chamber of Commerce leadership.
“We need to look at is there a way that we could actually help as a town revive the important role of the Chamber of Commerce in our community?” he said. “It is essentially dead and it has been dead for many years. But we need leadership, and I think that is a place to start.”
Incumbents echoed this sentiment and added the town needs to represent businesses, who provide a large amount of the tax base, as best as it can.
“Businesses have to feel that the town is looking after them, but the town also has to know what the businesses need and how they can help,” said Linda Duford.
“I think the most important thing that we can do is to continue to keep the town of Hay River secure infrastructurally, provide good communities and stability…. and then the businesses grow from that.
“I also think that businesses have to step a little bit more up to the plate and let the town know what we can do for them.”