culling the candidates

Many Whitehorse residents love to moan about how their mayor and council are a bunch of morons. With municipal elections on Thursday, now's your chance to do something about it.

Many Whitehorse residents love to moan about how their mayor and council are a bunch of morons. With municipal elections on Thursday, now’s your chance to do something about it.

With five mayoral candidates and 22 people vying for council seats, you’re spoiled for choice. The big challenge is figuring out how to thin the herd of contenders, when you can only vote for one mayor and six councillors.

There’s a common misunderstanding that the mayor runs the show. In truth, he or she merely moderates the discussion, and only casts a vote to break a stalemate among councillors. Besides setting the tone of council meetings, the mayor is the city’s public face.

With that in mind, consider the personalities vying for the mayor’s seat. None are quite what they seem at a glance.

Rick Karp, the former head of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, isn’t the cartoon capitalist villain that his critics sometimes see him as. He supports the city taking a more active role in creating affordable housing, and he’s probably the best-versed on the territory’s housing shortage of any of the contenders. He’s also championed the importance of expanding the city’s public transportation system.

Karp is also probably the least charismatic of the candidates. And he can be erratic and prone to exaggeration during last week’s election forum, he was called out for describing the city surplus by using a figure that includes the value of Whitehorse’s municipal buildings and other assets.

Dan Curtis has been tarred by his opponents – namely Karp – as a political opportunist who seeks to use the mayor’s seat as a launching pad to territorial politics. It’s a charge that he hotly denies. Opponents have also made hay of how Curtis, who ran as a Liberal in the last election, is teamed up with some conservatives to help run his slick campaign, which is the most priciest-looking of the lot.

Of course, you could also see this collaboration with supporters of all stripes as a good thing. It could be a sign of an inclusive, big-tent approach.

Curtis has fewer proposals than Karp, but he’s a better communicator. He says he only wants to make promises he can keep. Is this sensible, or merely smooth talk? You’ll have to decide.

Karp and Curtis both sparred during last week’s election forum. Karp is bullish about allowing private developers to create a new neighbourhood near Long Lake, on the far side of the Yukon River, and using money generated from the project to build a new bridge. Curtis is opposed to the scheme.

Karp also seems warm to developing Porter Creek D – a plan that’s drawn the ire of conservationists, who want nearby McIntyre Creek preserved as a park. He insists the new neighbourhood could be built without sullying the wilderness nearby. Curtis opposes this project, too.

Karp opposes further increases to property taxes. Curtis hasn’t been so clear. He seems more interested in introducing curbside recycling than holding the line on taxes. But Curtis has also cautioned against expanding the city’s social mandate without securing more money from the territory first.

Beyond the clashes between these two dominant contenders are three other candidates.

Bernie Phillips is the only candidate with past experience as a city councillor. Strangely, he hasn’t always capitalized on this experience during the election forums. Last week, he seemed more keen to talk about his childhood. On the radio last night, Phillips remained more focussed, but his sometimes-lackadaisical tone left the impression that he didn’t want the job that badly.

During Phillips’ time on council, from 1996 to 2000, he developed a reputation for being a flip-flopper. But perhaps that sort of flexibility would be an asset as mayor. That’s also for you to decide.

Phillips wants, among other things, to see the territory take over operation of the Canada Games Centre. That sounds great, as the centre bleeds money – but would probably be a tough sell to have the Yukon government take up the task.

Scott Howell, a contractor, hockey guy and former Yukon Party partisan, talks more like a self-help guru or spiritual leader than a right-leaning politician. He promises “real change” that will pull the city from a self-fulfilling spiral of tax increases, but he’s short on details of how he’d accomplish this. He frequently drifts into abstractions and could be hard to follow at times during the election forums.

Howell’s big idea is to provide lot guarantees to new homeowners. This system would allow residents to rent a lot on which to build a home, bypassing the need for a big downpayment. It’s an intriguing idea. We have no idea if it would work.

Mandeep Sidhu is young and brash. Last night, he vowed to donate his salary as mayor to correcting social wrongs. It’s an audacious proposal – and probably only possible because Sidhu’s father is a wealthy businessman.

Sidhu favours developing Porter Creek D, but only as a last resort.

He’d also like to see the city help provide rehab services – a matter that’s currently the territorial government’s job. Sidhu sees this as key to reducing public drunkenness and related crime downtown.

Not all of Sidhu’s campaign promises add up, such as his plan to demolish the city’s traffic circles in favour of traffic lights. Sidhu claims that traffic circles are less efficient than lights. A considerable body of research disagrees with him – but traffic circles are unpopular with many residents, who apparently find them flustering. (It’s not hard, people: yield.) Let’s call this what it is: populist pandering.

Then there’s the council race. Remember: you’re able to vote for up to six councillors, but you can vote for fewer if you like. If only three candidates speak strongly to you, it will help them more to only tick their boxes, rather than randomly vote for another three competitors.

We don’t have space here to mention more than a few contenders. But if you want dedication, consider Cam Kos. He’s one of the few residents to regularly attend council meetings, and, while unelected, he’s already saved the city money with a proposal to strike a better deal with Bell for the lease agreement of a cellphone tower.

If you want someone with a firm grasp of finance, consider Jocelyn Curteanu, who has worked as an auditor for the Canada Revenue Agency. Or if you’re looking for someone who knows firsthand what it’s like to be hard on his luck, Garth Brown is a recovering alcoholic who’s campaigning for greater rehab programming.

Need to bone up a bit more before you vote? We’ve created a new page on our website that includes a profile of every candidate in the Whitehorse election, as well as other ongoing election coverage. We hope it helps.