At Open NWT’s YK Centre election forum on Sept. 18, the city’s downtown took centre stage.
Thom Jarvis, Arlene Hache, incumbent Julie Green and Niels Konge gathered in the J.H. Sissons school gym and agreed that the city centre is deteriorating at a rapid rate and that solving the issue would be complicated.
But both Hache and Jarvis distinguished themselves by criticizing the RCMP for taking a hands-off approach to policing in the downtown core.
“Where are the police?” asked Jarvis. “They are nowhere to be found. They’re probably in the other end of town checking someone’s registration while all hell is breaking loose downtown.”
Hache accused the RCMP of ignoring the issue and suggested implementing a previously suggested idea: creating a downtown satellite office with RCMP members and social workers to tackle violence and disorder.
While Konge said a new location for the city’s joint sobering centre and day shelter needs to be found, Green argued the government had no choice but to put the shelter at its current location after numerous attempts to find other spots failed.
Green also pointed out that the GNWT, “Just sign the cheques.”
“(The RCMP is) an autonomous organization, they set their own policing priorities and I understand they have stepped up their patrols on 50 Street,” said Green. “I’m not saying it’s enough but it’s been supplemented by a street patrol group. There are actions underway there to address the problems we all see.”
She also said the government would be investing in a new purpose built shelter at the old RCMP building and that it would be open in three years.
All candidates agreed that it would not be difficult to get MLAs from other Northern constituencies to work together on the problem as the majority of shelter users are from communities outside of Yellowknife.
Konge criticized the last assembly for allowing the joint sobering centre and day shelter to open at its current location.
“It’s a stopgap measure that’s had detrimental effects on the neighbourhood and I don’t think that is acceptable,” said Konge.
The four candidates all presented their ideas for fixing the economy, which is projected to slump in the coming years as the territory’s diamond mines wind down.
Jarvis said he wants to take a balanced approach to improving the economy with a strong focus on rejuvenating mining.
“Mining is the root and the base of the NWT’s economy and always has been,” he said.
Hache said she is excited by the new work in agriculture, the sharing economy, supporting arts and supporting mining exploration after land claims are settled.
“Northerners have done well for the 50 years I’ve been here, the 50 years before that and we will continue to do very well, we just need an innovative strategy,” she said.
Konge also agreed to support mining and exploration, but said unsettled land claims are hurting our ability to develop mines, he said.
“We need to ensure our Indigenous communities have the tools they need,” he said. “They need help to settle these land claims at the territorial and federal level.”
Konge also pointed to the GNWT’s grip on Commissioners Land as a roadblock to development in communities.
Green said tourism could be a good job creator for the territory and underlined the need to build a new visitor’s centre for the city and more campgrounds across the NWT.
She also said retrofitting homes to become more energy efficient would produce savings for homeowners, create jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As the owner of his own construction company, Konge said there were flaws in Green’s ideas.
“In Yellowknife the reality is that for $75,000 we can rip out your windows, redo insulation, get windows, (put in new siding) and you’ll save about $1,500 per year in energy costs,” said Konge. “There is no return on that.”
He then pushed for district heating systems for Yellowknife which he claimed would have just as many benefits as retrofitting.
Green responding by saying that the retrofit plan will require government investment to be workable.