What to expect from the new Whitehorse city council

Politicians are not renowned for keeping campaign promises, but if what was said during the recent election can be believed, Whitehorse residents can expect the new council to play a bigger role in addressing social issues.

Politicians are not renowned for keeping campaign promises, but if what was said during the recent election can be believed, Whitehorse residents can expect the new council to play a bigger role in addressing social issues, such as homelessness and affordable housing.

The last city council was hesitant to take on that responsibility. “It’s not in our mandate,” was a common refrain.

Even when it came to something as innocuous as joining the Canadian Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism and Discrimination – a largely symbolic gesture – it took a tremendous amount of public pressure to force council’s hand.

Making any firm financial commitments to social enterprises – the ski hill notwithstanding – was something the previous council had little stomach for.

The new mayor, Dan Curtis, was hesitant to make firm commitments to pricey propositions like expanding transit services without first having funding in place.

The city doesn’t have a lot of leeway in terms of generating revenue.

Council has looked at taxing derelict and underused proprieties at a high rate in an effort to force owners to develop them, but it dropped the idea because it ran counter to the Municipal Act.

While the Municipal Act narrowly defines what kinds of taxes the city can level, it is less stringent about the kinds of services that the city can offer.

Under section 248(1), it states: “A municipality may, when it is in the public interest, supply for public consumption; or provide for public benefit or convenience, any service or product which the council considers is necessary or desirable for the residents of the municipality.”

That means there is nothing stopping the city from implementing what Betty Irwin termed an Ardrie-like solution to the affordable housing crisis.

Ardrie, Alberta, is a small town – about the size of Whitehorse – just north of Calgary.

When oil prices spiked a few years ago, Ardrie found itself facing an acute shortage of affordable rental housing.

To solve that problem, Ardrie, with the help of the Alberta government, set up an arms-length non-profit to buy properties up around town – including a 32-unit apartment building that was in the process of being turned into condos – and rent out to people in need.

It took $9 million for Ardrie to set up that corporation. While Whitehorse doesn’t have that kind of money sitting around, the Yukon government does.

The federal government gave the territory more than $17 million back in 2008 to pay for affordable housing. The Yukon government only recently started to spend that money so there is still a lot left in the bank – more than enough to pay for an Ardrie-like non-profit.

Getting both the municipal and territorial governments working together to solve the city’s issues was something that almost every new councillor said they would work on.

Curtis was so amenable to working with the Yukon government that rumours of political impropriety started to dog his campaign.

While Curtis adamantly denied he was working for the Yukon Party, he pledged that as mayor he would work with them and build a better relationship between the two levels of government.

But Curtis isn’t just planning on reaching out to governments. On election night, he vowed to follow up on his promise to set up town-hall style meetings outside of council chambers to give the public a chance to sound off in a more informal setting.

“From what I’ve heard, knocking on doors and talking to an awful lot of people, they just honestly don’t feel that their voices are being heard,” said Curtis.

Better communication with the public was a theme for almost every candidate. The city was already moving in that direction.

Under the urging of Coun. Kirk Cameron, one of three incumbents to keep his seat on council, the city held two public meetings with the residents of Old Town to work out new zoning rules for the neighbourhood after two high-density developments caused a stir.

There will be more of the same in the next term.

The previous council, with one of its last acts, put aside $60,000 to work with Hillcrest residents to figure out what future development in the neighbourhood will look like.

For Hillcrest, one of the big issues will be the cleanup of the Whitehorse tank farm.

After the environmental assessment is done, it will be up to this next council to ensure public concerns about the project are addressed.

While none of the new councillors are against cleaning up and redeveloping the tank farm, it’s going to be a different story for Porter Creek D.

Two members of the council – Irwin and Joy Curteanu – along with Curtis have opposed the proposed subdivision. The rest of the councillors are reserving their decisions until they see a preliminary design, which is still in the works.

If history is anything to go by, the issue of Porter Creek D will be one of the more controversial decisions for the new council.

Contact Josh Kerr at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The City of Whitehorse will be spending $655,000 to upgrade the waste heat recovery system at the Canada Games Centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New waste heat recovery system coming to the CGC

Council approves $655,000 project

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate education advocates and volunteers help to sort and distribute Christmas hamper grocery boxes outside Elijah Smith Elementary School on Feb. 23. (Rebecca Bradford Andrew/Submitted)
First Nation Education Directorate begins Christmas hamper program

Pick-ups for hampers are scheduled at local schools

Cyrine Candido, cashier, right, wipes down the new plexi-glass dividers at Superstore on March 28, before it was commonplace for them to wear masks. The Yukon government is relaunching the Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program as the second wave of COVID-19 begins to take place in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program extended to 32 weeks

More than 100 businesses in the territory applied for the first phase of the program

City of Whitehorse staff will report back to city council members in three months, detailing where efforts are with the city’s wildfire risk reduction strategy and action plan for 2021 to 2024. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Council adopts wildfire risk reduction plan

Staff will report on progress in three months


Wyatt’s World for Nov. 25, 2020

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

City council was closed to public on March 23 due to gathering rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council is now hoping there will be ways to improve access for residents to directly address council, even if it’s a virtual connection. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Solution sought to allow for more public presentations with council

Teleconference or video may provide opportunities, Roddick says

Most Read