Though it wasn’t a debate, the mayoral all-candidates forum Thursday night started with a war of words.
“I put my name forward for one purpose only, to become mayor of Whitehorse,” said Rick Karp. “I have no other aspirations. I don’t want to use the position as a stepping stone to territorial politics, and I have no hidden agendas.”
It was an obvious dig at Dan Curtis, who unsuccessfully ran as a Liberal in the last territorial election. He rose to the bait.
“There’s been a lot of misinformation put out by people already up here, and I’m really discouraged by that and disappointed,” said Curtis.
The forum was a chance for all five mayoral candidates to pitch themselves to the public.
Karp touted his work as a businessman and his tenure as president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
Curtis highlighted his longtime ties to the community and his work as executive director of Skills Canada.
Scott Howell talked about his own affability and the public’s desire for change.
Mandeep Sidhu played up his youth and tenacity. And Bernie Phillips told stories about his family to promote his beliefs in equality and helping those in need.
The first question touched on many of the major issues facing the city. Candidates were asked to rate, in order of importance, rising property taxes, sustainable development, affordable housing and transit.
Karp was the only one to put affordable housing first on the list.
“Our problem now is the affordable rental market, so families can save up the down payment on their first home and others can have a reasonable place to live,” he said. “According to the CMHC, we are short more than 450 rental apartments.”
Taxes were the big issue for Sidhu. He suggested that they be capped.
For Phillips, sustainable development comes first
“I put it at the top because that is the guiding principle that the city is operating under now,” he said. “The entire Official Community Plan is based on the concept of sustainable development ... it meets the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their needs.”
For Howell and Curtis, prioritizing these issues was too tough a task.
“I struggled with this question, not because I can’t read or anything like that, but more because city council has to work on issues concurrently, and to rate one over the other means in essence you’re putting one person’s priorities above another person’s priorities, and I don’t think that’s very fair,” said Howell.
His idea to promote affordable housing was to develop lot guarantees. It’s a system where people would rent a city lot for a nominal price but own their own home. That would allow people to build equity without the need for a large down payment, he said.
Curtis used the question as an opportunity to take Karp to task for suggesting that the city has a surplus of more than $300 million.
“It’s fearmongering,” he said. “The $371 accumulated surplus that he’s referring to is the buildings, the roads and the pipes.
“We can’t sell the bridge to clear the snow ... I want to get home tonight. I want the bridge.”
On diversifying the economy, Sidhu suggested that the city should make more land available and ease off taxes on small businesses to help them establish themselves, while Karp promoted the idea of turning Yukon College into a university.
Karp was also the only one who committed to expanding the city’s transit services and who was open to the idea of developing Long Lake.
The idea of developing Long Lake was another issue that raised the ire of Curtis.
“Never in my lifetime would I permit that to happen,” he said. “If we have urban sprawl it’s going to cost a lot more money for infrastructure that we don’t have ... it’s just not viable, it’s not possible, it’s not right, it’s not ethical.”
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