Incumbents shine at forum MUNICIPAL ELECTION

‘Why do I want to be mayor? “On top of my list are two or three reasons: stop global warming, stop all wars and feed the world’s…

‘Why do I want to be mayor?

“On top of my list are two or three reasons: stop global warming, stop all wars and feed the world’s hungry.”

With the quip, Ray Kitz garnered hearty laughs from the 50 or so, people gathered at the Gold Rush Inn Monday.

“But seriously,” he added.

“My answer is short and simple — choice.”

Choice, or the lack thereof, has been a key issue in the past few weeks of the municipal election campaigns, which some say were overshadowed by the territorial vote.

With incumbent Ernie Bourassa, councillor Bev Buckway and two political unknowns — Kitz and Robert Barry — throwing their hats into the ring, Whitehorse has a full-fledged race.

Monday, during a Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce forum, the sprint began.

Bourassa rattled off a laundry list of accomplishments that were hard to rebut — from bike lane and trail creation to striking advisory committees, beginning waterfront development and working toward the Canada Games.

Buckway floated improving relations with the city’s two land-holding First Nations, budgeting for a transit plan, supporting cold-climate innovation and, most important to her — communication.

“I see the mayor’s role as more listening than telling, more facilitating dialogue and inquiry rather than suggesting I have all the answers,” said Buckway.

But the same cannot be said of Barry.

He began well enough, touching on revisiting the smoking bylaw, barring outside consultants — unless necessary — and improving community safety.

But he soon faltered.

And a question about fostering economic development left him speechless.

As the evening wore on, the candidates fielded questions about everything from land development to how the city can capitalize on Canada Games benefits.

Most advocated for a little bit of infill and a lot of long-range planning to solve land-development issues that have dogged council for three years.

“I think we’re moving into a really exciting phase and we’ll see a lot of different developments and affordable housing solutions,” said Buckway, citing a coming revision of the Official Community Plan.

Barry wants infill areas developed.

So does Bourassa.

“We can’t continue to have urban sprawl,” he said, floating increasing downtown’s population density by raising the height restrictions in specific areas, like the Qwanlin Mall.

“I can’t think of a nicer location to have a series of condominium towers of six to eight storeys,” said Bourassa.

“Downtowns become alive when people live there.”

Downtown is vital, added Kitz, who also wants more industrial lot development.

“It’s the old NIMBY — nobody wants it in their backyard,” said Kitz.

“With compromise and people getting together to discuss issues, we can have development and a community that people can live in.”

Then the focus turned to the Games.

Look for sponsors, said Kitz, adding the Games centre might draw a hockey team.

Increase sports tourism and bring more people up to the centre, said Buckway.

“It’s the local people that will make the difference in the centre.”

Careful what you wish for, warned Bourassa.

Every outside event hosted by the centre costs the city money because there’s no fee to use the facility, he added.

“I’m terrible at spur of the moment questions,” said Barry, adding the centre should stay open without burdening city coffers.

During the councillors’ portion, incumbents outpaced the newcomers, answering questions with ease and confidence.

Eight-term sitting councillor Dave Stockdale adopted a creative introduction.

“My favourite food is lobster, my favourite book is Forever Amber, my favourite movie is The Hoosiers and I have a secret desire to be elected to council for three more years,” said Stockdale by way of introduction.

Some say nine terms is too long, he said.

“But I’d like to remind you that a good wine improves with age, and 1940 was a vintage year.”

And, Stockdale didn’t pull any punches.

“It’s not possible to have a bus schedule that satisfies everybody else’s schedule,” said Stockdale.

“It’s not possible to protect all the greenspace.”

Incumbent two-term councillor Dave Austin also shot from the hip.

“Regardless of who is elected on Thursday, be prepared for them to tick off one special-interest group or another, and they will,” said Austin.

“That doesn’t make them bad people either.”

Newbie Jeanine Mhyre kicked off with an eloquent statement about her aspirations and limitations, which lost some of its jazz because she hid behind a few chunks of her long sandy hair and read it too quickly into the mike.

The 21-year-old wants to create new subdivisions with greenspace plans. She’d also extend the transit system.

“With my age comes a willingness to learn, work hard and do the right thing.

“I do not know what all the issues are and I certainly do not claim to know how to do everything right the first time,” said Myhre.

When it came to the infill question, most candidates suggested careful planning.

“If we do not infill, there will be a shortage of lots over the next two years,” said Stockdale.

“I don’t object to infill, I’d like to see a little bit of infill in a lot of areas, as opposed to whole great chunks of infill in a few areas,” said Austin.

“It would be great if we could all have greenspace out our back door, but we can’t,” said incumbent councillor Jan Stick.

And most agreed to consider raising the downtown height restriction, if it can be achieved without blocking views.

Throughout the evening, the mood was light.

But the banter was marked by long, pensive pauses from contender Brian Eaton.

He wants council to foster projects like the Downtown Urban Gardeners Society.

As the evening wore on, neophyte Florence Roberts gave Austin some gentle jabs.

“The infrastructure downtown is deplorable,” said Roberts, who finally seemed to find an issue that turned her crank.

“I understand the infrastructure is older than I am, so it’s probably time to change some of it,” said Myhre with a smile when it came time for her to answer.

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