The issue: The year that was
What we say: Lots of questions for 2020

Not to sound clichéd but if we’re looking back at the year that’s been, 2019 had all the hallmarks of what people might call a “change” year.

After decades of navel-gazing and political inertia, the GNWT finally launched a territory-wide 911 emergency phone service. No more will residents and visitors alike be left frantically trying to figure out what number to call in an emergency. At long last, the NWT has joined the rest of North America by enacting the universal phone number.

It was also the first that NWT residents were charged a carbon tax, although likely few noticed until seeing the rebate deposited into their bank accounts.

Last year was the first full year of cannabis legalization in Canada. In March, city council responded by approving a cannabis production facility in the Engle Business District – a development that might have seemed almost unthinkable a decade ago. Owner Jordan Harker predicts the legal grow-op will require a dozen full-time jobs and 20 to 25 part-timers – welcome news in a city facing a relatively grim and uncertain economic future with the expected closure of diamond mines over the next decade.

Perhaps 2019’s biggest story in Yellowknife has been the troubles faced by the combined day shelter and sobering centre on 50 Street.

Residents were shocked last spring when April Desjarlais, owner of the neighbouring Finn Hansen Building, posted videos to Facebook depicting the mayhem and disorder outside, including one showing a tenant running to the aid of a woman choked to unconsciousness. These incidents culminated with the beating death of Mark Poodlat outside the shelter in September – also caught on video, by NNSL security cameras, which owns the property. These were sad and shocking events but they also ushered in some much needed debate and soul-searching.

A good neighbour agreement was signed in October between property owners, the city, health officials, police, and the NWT Disabilities Council, which runs the shelter. Hopefully, this new atmosphere of co-operation will lead to greater progress on the social issues front. Yellowknifer has argued for an expansion of services downtown, and we continue to do so — one that benefits residents, property owners and the shelter users who need these services.

One notable user group left in the cold are the shelter users who are not “homeless,” people with roofs over their heads but nowhere to go during the day. They were banned in November after the disabilities council claimed their presence was creating safety issues. Something must be done to accommodate them.

The biggest change in 2019, no doubt, was a political one. After decades of advantage for incumbents in the legislative assembly – and most of them men — “the old boy’s club” was shown the door. Out of 11 incumbents seeking re-election (not including acclamations) only four prevailed. Of the 19 seats in the legislative assembly, 12 went to newcomers, and after years of dismal returns for female candidates, nine women were elected to the legislative assembly.

Five of these women are now in cabinet – representing a majority on the seven-seat executive council – including the premier, Caroline Cochrane, the only cabinet minister from the previous government to win re-election.

Cochrane quickly promised this assembly would be the “most progressive” in years, and with all the new blood and with more MLAs interested in social/environmental issues, there is little doubt about that. But now the hard work begins, and 2020 will set the tone for what will or won’t be accomplished before the next campaign in 2023.

If there’s anything 2019 showed Yellowknifers, it’s that getting results is more easily said than done. These MLAs will be grappling with competing needs, between the desire to fight climate change and protecting the environment and the realization that there is no ready alternative to replacing the emission-heavy mining that represents a full third of the territory’s economy.

Their counterparts on city council, meanwhile, themselves elected just a year earlier, will have to work out how to build a new, adequate aquatic centre that the residents of this modern Northern city – all of them, housed or not – need and deserve. They must also insist the GNWT get down to business and build the city a proper tourism centre – missing from the landscape now for the better part of two years.

There is much work to be done. To all those who must do that work, we wish you well. Here’s to a prosperous and progressive 2020.

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