If it did nothing else, Wednesday’s all-candidates forum proved you can teach old dogs new tricks.
At 81, the straight-talking Duke Connelly has re-entered politics and recast himself for a new era. Now, believe it or not, he’s uncensored.
“I’m running because I like to disturb council and raise shit,” he said. “I’m free to run because my wife passed away and I won’t get lectures about how I behaved at council.”
Connelly, who served on city council in the 1990s and was frequently controversial, vowed to stir the pot if elected.
“I’ll probably get kicked out,” he said.
He was the only candidate to cuss during his opening statement.
And the coarse talk immediately set Connelly apart from the other 12 candidates crowded onto the stage at the Old Fire Hall before about 50 people.
Hosted by the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce and moderated by president Rick Karp, the forum offered all candidates the chance to answer questions posed by the public and the chamber.
Many related to development and the city’s housing crisis.
All candidates agreed the city needs more housing.
“We need affordable rental housing,” said Pat Berrel, the former principal of Whitehorse elementary. “I know it’s not the purview of the city to deal with affordable housing, but I think we’ve got to get together and set up a committee to deal with this issue.”
The idea was echoed by Kirk Cameron.
“People wonder why the four levels of government (territorial, federal, municipal and First Nation) can’t work together on some of our tough issues,” he said, promising to draw them together and to push, “aggressively to get these issues under control.”
However, some cautioned the city shouldn’t jump the gun on development.
“I don’t think we’re out of the crunch yet,” said Mike Tribes. “But I’d be very careful to make sure that we don’t overdevelop.”
Cam Kos agreed.
“I think in the last few years we’ve been playing catchup,” he said. “The faster they rise, the faster they fall.
“We really need to move slowly.”
Kos, who has opposed infill in the city’s suburban neighbourhoods, said Whitehorse must consider increasing taxes on abandoned and unoccupied properties in the downtown to spur development.
“There are a lot of derelict properties that we’re not getting anything from,” he said.
If the city has to do infill, it should come with caveats, said Kos.
“The city doesn’t require owners to build on new infill lots,” he said. “I’m disturbed by that.
“It’s the city’s right to demand they build.”
Connelly favours developing the downtown first.
“There is no reason they can’t build buildings six storeys high,” he said. “You got all of downtown and you’re not blocking scenery because of the clay cliffs.
“This is something council have got to open their minds to.”
But there are other places that the city could also consider, said Kirn Dhillon.
He floated the idea the city set aside some land for a pilot project with the private sector.
“I think the Upper Tank Farm would be the perfect location for that project,” said Dhillon, referring to a chunk of oil-soaked land once owned by White Pass that the territory formally declared a contaminated site in January.
Everyone agreed that they didn’t want to see increased taxes or service hikes.
There are other ways the city could be raising money, said Berrel.
Whitehorse should be working with the Association franco-yukonnaise to promote more tourism from France, he said.
“We’ve got planes coming in from Frankfurt that are not completely full,” said Berrel.
When asked what their vision for the future of the city was, most candidates were optimistic.
“The city is at a crossroads, becoming more sophisticated and cosmopolitan,” said Patrick Singh.
A small businessman himself, Singh said the city’s diversity and entrepreneurial spirit will help it weather the storm when mining starts to slow down.
“These things are going to smooth out regardless,” he said. “The Yukon is open for business.”
But to keep it open, the city must plan for the future, said Martin Lehner.
“No growth is sustainable if we don’t have a plan for it,” he said. “We need to look five, 10, 15 years in the future.”
People will continue to come to the Yukon regardless of what the city does, just as they did years ago when “Whitehorse was a little shitbox,” said Connelly.
“People come here because it’s God’s country.”
Contact Josh Kerr at