Whitehorse’s all-candidates forum on Wednesday had all the trappings of a bad date, featuring its share of bad jokes, awkward silence and crying.
Dave Stockdale’s introductory jokes left the audience cold. Conrad Tiedeman started strong but trailed off halfway through his opening remarks, then spent at least 15 seconds – which felt like forever – breathing into the microphone. And Helen Geisler kicked things off by shedding a few tears.
“I didn’t cry this much at my wedding,” she said. The impromptu remark got more laughs than Stockdale’s opener.
But while the evening started off a little rough, the candidates quickly found their footing.
The forum, which was organized by the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce and moderated by former MP Larry Bagnell, was a chance for the candidates to make their case to the public and respond to questions from the chamber and the audience
With 17 of the 22 candidates in attendance, each only had a minute to deliver their responses.
To stay in their limits, most candidates were brief, but Jocelyn Curteanu took a different tack.
Responding to a question about why she deserved a council seat, Curteanu sounded like an auctioneer, quickly rattling off her experience as a mother, an immigrant, a homeowner and a financial worker.
It was a crowd pleaser. By the end of her spiel, she had the audience cheering.
The city’s lack of affordable housing was the big issue.
“I’ve seen this city get to the stage where my grandchildren can’t afford to live here,” said Al Fedoriak.
When he bought a lot in Porter Creek almost four decades ago, Fedoriak spent only $5,000, about 30 per cent of his income at the time.
“How many people here make $300,000?” he asked.
“Housing is much more a problem than people think,” added Garth Brown.
Incumbent councillor Betty Irwin wants the city to take a page from Airdrie, Alberta, and form an arms-length non-profit to buy up housing units and rent them out to those in need.
While the city is in desperate needs of housing, for Pat Berrel, Porter Creek D is a non-starter.
Building a subdivision near McIntyre Creek is not going to come close to creating the kind of affordable rental housing the city needs, said he said.
Berrel would like the creek to become a heritage park. He was one of the few candidates who took a firm stand against a subdivision.
Cam Kos was surprised that the issue of McIntyre Creek even came up.
“The majority of the people have already spoken,” he said. “I’ve gone to all the hearings, I’ve gone to the public input sessions and the majority of the people have asked to keep it untouched, so I don’t know why there’s a decision involved here.”
Only Tiedeman was willing to take a more development-friendly position, which won him a smattering of applause from the audience.
Because development issues tend to be contentious, Jean-Sebastien Blais proposed that the city host a citizens’ conference to bat around ideas about the future of the city.
Whether the topic was fiscal responsibility, economic diversification or environmental stewardship, many of the councillors seemed to share a similar vision of the future.
That’s good news for the city, said John Streicker, because Whitehorse needs a council willing to work together.
“Good governance is about leadership,” he said. “It’s about building community, not dividing it.
Candidates Mike Tribes, Patrick Singh, Randy Collins, Michael Kokiw and Sharon Shorty were absent.
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