Whitehorse has hired a new city manager, but it didn’t have to go too far afield to find her.
Christine Smith will take over for acting city manager Brian Crist in April, leaving behind her current post as the director of community affairs for the Yukon government. Crist found himself temporarily in the job after the city fired its previous manager, Stan Westby, last fall.
It’s a move that makes sense, Smith said, given her professed love of municipal politics.
“I’m really excited. I’m super passionate about municipal governance. It’s one of the most democratic and transparent forms of government because it’s the closest to the people,” she said.
With a background in science and a degree from the University of Alberta, Smith said it took her a little while to figure out that working in government was more her speed than spending her days working as a biologist with fish.
“Fish just didn’t do it for me. They don’t give a lot of feedback,” Smith said, laughing.
“I had the opportunity to work with the development assessment branch as a senior planner for a couple of years. It made me realize how I love to collaborate and influence and gain common ground with people, having them move forward in a common direction. When the opportunity came up to move over to community affairs I took that right away,” she said.
It was in that role that Smith really got to learn the ins and outs of Yukon’s municipal governments, both in Whitehorse and in the communities.
That experience is one of the things that set her apart from the other candidates, Mayor Dan Curtis said.
“She has a tremendous history with Community Services,” he said.
“Community Services deals with the municipalities and mayor and councils – anything to do with the heart and soul of our community. We learned pretty early on when she put her hat in the ring that we had a pretty special person,” he said.
Curtis said the hiring process was long and exhaustive, with dozens of applications submitted from across Canada and a lot of strong ones from the Yukon.
“We went through this long, arduous journey, and we are very proud that those who hit the short list were all locals,” he said.
But ultimately Smith’s experience won her the job.
“I worked extremely closely with her in my role as mayor. She’s our go-to person when it comes to Build Canada or the gas tax or any legislative stuff, or the Association of Yukon Communities,” he said.
Smith was born in Calgary, and moved to Nova Scotia at age five. At 10 she and her family moved to Faro, before bouncing back to Nova Scotia, then back again to the Yukon, this time to Whitehorse where she graduated high school at F.H. Collins.
Along the way she even spent some time at the National Ballet in Toronto.
“I’m a Canadian, but mostly I’m a Yukoner,” she said.
Smith said her first order of business when she takes over in April will be to get to know the people she will be working with, at least the ones she doesn’t already work closely with.
“The way I like to approach any situation is to fully understand it. To do that, I need to talk with the people. I need to talk with senior management, their staff, folks around the city.
“There’s the on-the ground perspective, really meeting people, finding out what their interests are, something they’ve always wanted to see. That’s the kind of data I’m looking for. I like to see the big picture. I am not interested in just making change for change’s sake. It has to be from the ground up,” she said.
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