Yellowknife city council unanimously passed a motion to amend a bylaw that bans vaping and smoking cigarettes or cannabis on city property.
The ban comes into full effect May 1 with warnings from municipal enforcement.
“Our MED folks can’t be in all places at once, so we want to make sure we have as many creative ways to inform the public around this,” said Yellowknife city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett on Monday.
The city will roll out a public education campaign and signage in April to make the community aware of the new limitations, said Bassi-Kellett.
“I think with the communications we put out, it will make it fairly clear for residents,” said Dennis Marchiori, the city’s director of public safety in an interview with Yellowknifer.
No smoking or vaping will be permitted around city facilities, ball parks and recreation areas, including the Frame Lake Trail, said Marchiori.
There are exceptions for designated smoking areas and traditional ceremonies.
While the city is not required to establish designated smoking areas, it has the ability to do so.
“We want it farther away from the doors so the kids can’t see people smoking and far enough away from the intakes we have for air exchanges,” Marchiori said.
Will territory offload tourism?
The city is weighing whether to continue to provide visitor services at city hall for another six months until it develops a long term plan for tourism.
The city has not yet finalized its plan, prompting city councillors Shauna Morgan and Adrian Bell to ask for a definitive end to the city providing a territorial service.
In April 2017, the Northern Frontier Visitors Association could no longer operate its visitors centre, at which point the city provided short-term visitors services from city hall. The city took over visitors services on a temporary basis last October.
“We had to step in here because it was the city or no one,” said Bell. “We simply couldn’t be in a position where we didn’t have visitors services. But the last thing I want to see is the GNWT offloading this responsibility onto the city on a permanent basis.”
The NWT’s provincial and territorial counterparts in Alberta, B.C. and the Yukon typically manage tourism in their cities.
“Tourism is a territorial responsibility. I can see that the longer this goes on the more likely it is that the city will be seen to be responsible, or more responsible than it should be for providing these services,” Bell said.
The city is developing its long term plan for where city services will be delivered, in time for the aurora viewing season next fall, said city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett.
The city does not want to continue to deliver its services out of city hall because there are other suitable models, she said.
July “D-day” for cannabis legalization
The city is seeking clarity from the GNWT on whether it will have enforcement powers when cannabis is legalized.
The GNWT is developing its legislation for July, but city administrators and councillors foresee it will be an “enforcement nightmare,” said Coun. Shauna Morgan.
The GNWT will not be sharing revenues, but the City of Yellowknife expects it will accrue some costs related to legalization, said city administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett.
“We’re very concerned within (the) administration that the level of consultation with municipalities has not been as fulsome as it could be and of course everybody is under pressure with the time constraints,” she said.
“The (GNWT) should be commended because they, like many provinces and territories, have had to work at warp speed to make progress to implement the direction that’s been set out by the federal government.”
“We want to urge the GNWT to work collaboratively with us and not download responsibilities if we’re going to do this productively,” said Bassi-Kellett.
Enforcement difficulties will come from not knowing “whether we’ll have control or enforcement powers, or if we even want those powers,” said Kerry Penney, the city’s director of Policy, Communications and Economic Development.
Beyond zoning and business licences, the city will be waiting for direction from the GNWT, she said.
Coun. Neils Konge brought forth concerns about other communities restricting cannabis.
Municipal legislation allows communities to decide whether they want to be a restricted or “dry” community.
“I’m wondering if anybody in the administration, if anyone has given any thought to the effect on Yellowknife, should several communities decide that they want to ban cannabis in their communities,” said Konge.
“I think we see a little bit of a burden in the city of Yellowknife in terms of the alcohol and I’m wondering if we’ve given thought to what this could do.”
An influx of consumers to Yellowknife would be unlikely, because mail order options are available, said Kelli-Bassett, adding people using cannabis instead of drinking, “may not result in the same social issues that alcohol does.”
“One would like to think that some of the violence that’s associated with drinking may not be the same result,” she said.
Ecology North proposes smart streetlight project
Environmental group Ecology North proposed to council that the city participate in the Smart Cities challenge, a competition that encourages making cities more livable through technology.
Ecology North, partnered with Yellowknife as a project proponent could vie for $250,000 in funding for a pilot project to retrofit its streetlights, and darken its skies to promote aurora tourism.
The project would not place any budget requirements on the city.
If chosen as a finalist, the city would be able to retrofit streetlights in Old Town, from School Draw Avenue and down Franklin Avenue. Its second proposed location would include a portion of Frame Lake Trail and 49th Avenue.
Posts could also be installed with WiFi and electric vehicle charging stations.
The lights are built to automatically dim when nobody is present, resulting in saved energy and a darker sky to view the aurora.
Through Infrastructure Canada, there is also one prize of up to $5-million that is available for communities with populations of fewer than 30,000 people.
The project would make lampposts a “beacon for sustainability,” said William Gagnon, green buildings and environmental advocacy program specialist at Ecology North.
The project garnered interest from members of council.
“I have to say that I find this project very interesting. I think it’s very creative, it’s forward thinking and it’s using our wealth that we have naturally,” said Coun. Linda Bussey. “It’s crazy, but it’s the future and it’s planting the seeds.”
Ecology North will seek public input April 3, a month in advance of the submission deadline.
The winners will be announced this summer, and if selected, the project would produce a $5-million budget as part of the final Smart Cities prize.