Regardless of party banner, the territory’s next MP needs to listen to Yukon municipalities and recognize their role in the Yukon, says Association of Yukon Communities (AYC) president Tara Wheeler.
“We are on the front lines,” she said in an Oct. 7 interview, pointing out it’s largely municipal governments dealing with issues that impact residents on a daily basis — water, infrastructure, waste and so on.
Funding comes from Ottawa to municipalities for a number of municipal initiatives, but Wheeler pointed out that money is funneled through the Yukon government without a lot of interaction between communities and the federal government.
And though Wheeler said the Yukon government makes significant efforts in dealing with municipalities on that funding, she would like to see all governments talking to each other.
“The municipalities need to be at the table,” she said, going on to question why there’s not some sort of “four-corner” system where municipalities, First Nations governments, the territory and federal government sit down together.
“I think everyone just wants to be heard,” she said.
Groups like AYC and, at the national level, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, bring forward larger municipal issues to the federal government, but individual needs of each community can be very different and it’s important that be recognized by Ottawa.
All five candidates seeking to be the territory’s next MP highlighted their plans to listen to communities on a variety of issues.
The Green Party’s Lenore Morris highlighted attending the AYC annual conference and board meetings throughout the year as one way to do that, while also stating her office doors would be open.
As Jonas Smith of the Conservative Party pointed out, it’s not uncommon to run into municipal officials and others out and about in any community, in line at the coffee shop, for example. It’s also more likely in the Yukon than in larger centres that an MP could meet one-on-one with municipal officials and that’s something Smith said he would like to do.
Liberal incumbent Larry Bagnell is drawing on his past work as AYC’s executive director, noting: “The municipalities know that, as a former executive director of AYC, I am very sensitive to their issues. I attend their annual AGM, and am happy to talk with municipal mayors , counselors, CAO’s and AYC , whenever the opportunity arises. I then take these concerns or input to Ottawa and to the appropriate Ministers.”
The NDP’s Justin Lemphers said how he connects with all communities — municipal, First Nations and those groups in society that may be marginalized — will largely depend on what they want. Do they want formal meetings or do they prefer to pick up a phone and get in touch with his office when there’s an issue to be looked at? He would first see how they want to be heard and then move forward with that.
Finally Joseph Zelezny of the People’s Party of Canada would work with community leaders to “ensure that any federal issues are dealt with in a timely fashion and not politicized or delay funding announcements to coincide with future upcoming elections.”
There are some changes to federal funding Wheeler would like to see to give municipalities more leeway in how funding is spent. For small communities like Carmacks, where Wheeler is a councillor, it can be difficult to move forward with major projects when only 50 per cent of the funding is secured. If communities were able to stack multiple federal contributions, those projects could move forward more easily, she said.
Wheeler said its something that is in place for First Nations governments, but not something municipalities can do and she’d like that to change.
Meanwhile, the mayor of the territory’s capital city says municipalities everywhere across the country have a lot in common as they work to ensure the health and safety of their communities within the limits of their tax base.
Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis said that while the city has benefitted in recent years from large increases to federal funding for infrastructure and more, it is also facing the challenges that come with growing as a city.
“It’s really facing unprecedented growth,” he said.
The population in Whitehorse has increased by 750 people annually for the last three years and that has meant added stress in all sectors of the housing market from rentals to home ownership, which impacts overall affordability.
Curtis said it’s important the next federal government consider the importance of housing and infrastructure in all communities.
Most Yukoners live in the capital city, but it’s also important smaller communities get the infrastructure they need for their populations.
Having that infrastructure and housing that’s affordable and attainable in all communities throughout the territory would be a benefit for all, he said.
For their part, the candidates agreed the role of the federal government in municipal dealings comes in the form of federal dollars that help municipalities provide services.
Bagnell was quick to highlight the federal infrastructure funding that has come to municipalities through a variety of funds, while also pointing to transit funding available to municipalities (though in the Yukon, Whitehorse is the only community with a transit system).
Affordability and housing are being identified as major issues by municipal leaders to the candidates.
While Bagnelll pointed to the Liberals national housing strategy which will see new houses and rental units built along with renovations and rent subsidies put in place, he also acknowledged “there is much more to be done, and we are committed to doing it.”
By comparison Conservative candidate Jonas Smith highlighted his party’s platform, which he argued, would go a long way to addressing the issue of affordability that continues to come up throughout the territory.
Pointing out that he’s made stops in all Yukon communities during his lengthy campaign of more than a year, Smith said plans to get rid of the GST on home heating fuel and eliminate the carbon tax would go a long way to putting money back in the pockets of Yukon, which would make things more affordable.
Smith pointed out that for rural Yukoners it’s especially difficult to deal with a carbon tax as they are left with little choice but to drive to Whitehorse at least once a month to stalk up on groceries.
A carbon tax in the Yukon, he said, will do little to address climate change.
Smith said the other issue he’s heard from Yukon communities is about the need for additional hydro capacity.
While it’s not an MP’s job to choose the location or be involved in the other details of any hydro projects, the MP’s role comes in securing federal funding for such initiatives in the territory.
Green Party candidate Lenore Morris also highlighted the “dire shortage” of housing as a major issue for all Yukon communities, though it seems to be acutely felt in some smaller areas.
She also cited the federal role in providing dollars to programs used by municipal government that’s funneled through the territorial government, arguing in favor of changes to make it easier for municipalities to gain access to the funding.
Zelezny also spoke of his party’s plan to eliminate the carbon tax and simplifying income taxes as a way of freeing up money for residents that could then be spent locally along with outlining a number of methods to cut spending at the federal level.
Finally, Lemphers highlighted NDP initiatives that would help municipalities and First Nations government access funding through a Canadian Climate Bank that would help them move to renewable energy sources that cost less then conventional sources while also benefiting the environment.
Lemphers said he wants to work with individual communities on identifying the infrastructure needed and look at how to go about ensuring that infrastructure can provided.
Voters go to the polls Oct. 21.
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