Representatives from a long list of local community groups heard from the three candidates running to be Whitehorse’s next mayor at a forum on Oct. 6.
At the online forum hosted by Volunteer Bénévoles Yukon, candidates Samson Hartland, Laura Cabott and Patti Balsillie outlined their positions on a variety of issues facing NGOs.
As Wendy Morrison, chair of the Yukon Non-profit Advisory Council, noted in a short presentation ahead of the forum, the non-profit sector employs about 10.3 per cent of the workforce in the territory with 600 registered organizations in the territory.
The various organizations represent diverse interests that were evident in the groups represented at the forum. A total of 17 organizations participated, ranging from the Yukon Quest to Raven Recycling to Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre.
Over the course of the approximately hour-long forum, the three candidates emphasized their own experience working and volunteering with a range of community groups, noted the important role the groups play in the city and how they might work with non-profits if elected as the city’s next mayor.
All stressed improving partnerships with NGOs.
“We can do better,” Balsillie said, highlighting a proposed NGO hub as one opportunity for that to happen.
Cabott pointed out that a number of major issues facing the city during this election — housing, climate change and others — are matters many of the organizations have been working on for many years.
Groups like the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition and Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre have all been involved in moving forward the housing issue, for example.
Hartland told the groups he wanted to learn what their key priorities are.
“I came here today to listen,” he said.
Questions from organizations dealt with everything from candidate’s views on the city’s role in social issues to animal welfare and diversion credits.
When Kristina Craig, the executive director of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition, asked about the city’s role in services outside of roads, water and waste, all three candidates agreed the city’s scope goes well beyond that now.
“We are much more than that,” Cabott, a current city councillor, said.
She went on to highlight council’s recent involvement in ensuring federal funding got to the Safe at Home project that will see the former Coast High Country Inn renovated into low-cost housing.
Hartland, who also serves as a councillor, also highlighted the project as well as a development incentive for the Cornerstone supported and affordable housing project.
Balsillie spoke to the territory’s Municipal Act, which Craig had brought up in her question, noting that the act needs to be modernized to reflect the growth that has been seen in recent years and the expanded roles municipalities like Whitehorse now have.
“I will start that conversation,” she said.
Facing questions from Raven Recycling, both Balsillie and Cabott agreed the city’s diversion credit system, which provides funding to recyclers for diverting waste from the landfill, needs to be looked at.
“It’s completely outdated,” Cabott said, later adding as well that she would advocate to bring back the free store at the landfill that was closed in recent years.
Balsillie argued a full conversation about how to deal with waste is needed with the Yukon government, recyclers and the private sector.
Hartland said it is a long-standing issue that he would be open to looking at with the support of council.
Similarly, when questions came up about the city’s responsibility to animal welfare and whether candidates would consider greater support for Humane Society Yukon, Hartland said with council’s support he would be willing to look at a potential funding formula for the Humane Society Yukon.
The society, which operates an animal shelter in Marwell, often takes in animals from the city’s pound.
Cabott argued there is some duplication of services between the city pound and shelter that she would like to look at. If the shelter were to take on more responsibilities, funding would be needed along with more space, she said, noting there would need to be more communication between eh city and shelter to find solutions together.
Balsillie, meanwhile, argued discussions should have “happened a long time ago.”
A similar forum for councillor candidates is scheduled for Oct. 13.
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