Lynn Napier-Buckley is the only incumbent mayor in the NWT running in the October 15 municipal elections.
If re-elected in Fort Smith, she plans to continue the many projects she has started – as well as add a few more.
In addition to fighting the centralization of Aurora College, stabilizing the riverbank, and renovating the rec centre, Napier-Buckley wants to see a community daycare open up.
“I think really that’s one of the first things we need to take a hard look at, because it is stopping people from coming to Fort Smith,” she said of a daycare.
She’s running against newcomer Don Matthews, and former mayor Brad Brake, who she ousted in the 2015 election.
Sarah Pruys: Why did you want to run for mayor again?
Lynn Napier-Buckley: We had started quite a few initiatives in our term as mayor and council, and I’ve really enjoyed working with council and with the employees of the town. I’ve been really proud of the work that we’ve been doing and I’d like to continue it and see the continuation of these projects and to be a part of these new projects that we have in the works that are coming out.
Let’s talk about some of the things you’ve accomplished over the past three years, and then we’ll talk about the things still in progress and the things you’d like to see happen in the future.
The big ones are we had met with the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories in regards to the low level of radioactive waste in our landfill and out at Bell Rock and south of our border near around Fort Fitz. So when they had originally presented to council – that was in October 2015 – we had invited them back to the community to talk to us about their recommendation to have waste stored in our landfill. With the feedback we received from the public we had declined the opportunity to have it put in the landfill, so plans are now to remove that waste.
I think the initial timeline for remediation is around 10 years, and I think that timeline is now down to around five, so we’re looking at what opportunities that presents to members of the community. Can we work with the college to get training on hazardous waste removal, or get local businesses capacity to do that job and have it as economic opportunity for our local businesses? So that’s one of them.
And then this year we had the 50th anniversary of the landslide and one of our priorities was the landslide remediation. So while the area where the slide occurred was remediated several years ago, there still has been sliding, up and downriver from that location. So we were able to access climate change funds–
Sorry, was that federal money?
That was federal money. So federal money to get the design of what would need to be done and costs for the scope of the project that would go down past where our water intake is and behind Axe Handle Hill on Park Drive, and then down past where our sewage lagoon is and Queen Elizabeth Park. So that again is in the initial stages – finding out what is involved in the scope, how much that’s going to cost – so that we can apply for further funds when they become available in the future.
One thing that we’ve really tried to push is planning our projects like this so that when funds become available – and they’re often looking for shovel-ready projects – we have the plan already available and we can go directly with our application because we already know the scope of it, how much it’s going to cost, and what work is going to be involved.
So we did participate in the commemoration of the landslide. There is a park that has been dedicated to remembrance of the event.
Then we have our economic development strategy that has been a major project for the new position of our economic development officer. She created the economic development strategy and has been working on that. That was brought to council, passed by our council, and she has been working on the initiatives in the strategy.
We have the downtown development plan; so that includes the work that has been done down Riverside Park with the snowboard park and the sledding hill; there was an expansion to the sledding hill this year. We had a cemetery expansion. Looking at what we’re going to do with Conibear Park, and kind of bringing all of the downtown core together and connecting them with trails and paving down Marine Drive.
And we did get federal funds for our rec centre renovation, and so that will be a really big project. Right now we’re looking at our space usage across the facility and what our needs are going forward with this rec centre retrofit, how can we make better use of the space, and what upgrades or changes need to be made to the facility.
So you have money for the rec centre project but you’re not sure how it’s getting used yet?
Right. We were approved for federal funding, so now we’re looking at what is the best way to do the renovations. So we do have a few more years to spend those funds, and so just making sure that the renovations that we make are in line with the space that we need, the changes that we need to make. So we’re still in the planning process for that of what do we want our recreation facility to look like and what kind of programming do we want to run out of there. The facility’s been there a while and we know there are some issues with the heating, overheating, and how can we deal with that along with all of the other renovations that we need to make.
Then we have the waste management project. While it was passed by council, we do need to prepare our landfill before we move ahead on that, so a transfer station and cement pads. There are some new federal funds that are available that we may be able to access so we can move forward on that. That was one of the major projects that came out of our Sustainable Development Advisory Board, so we would like to get that going and do the capital work that needs to be done before we go out with that initiative.
And that also include composting and recycling plans as well, right?
Right, so we would need – at the landfill – a transfer station for the recycling. Before we can roll it out, we need to get that foundational work done in order to be able to do it successfully.
And then we have this very big clean water wastewater project that’s happening. So some of the work on that was started this fall with replacing some valves downtown, so there was some interruption to traffic over the past couple of weeks. So the downtown core, next year, there will be some interruptions as the pipes are replaced on McDougal Road between Breynat and Portage.
So those are the big projects that we’ve done since the beginning of our term and that are going into the future, alongside Arctic Winter Games, which was huge, and was a big focus of our council.
And still working with the Department of Education with the recommendations that came out from the [Aurora College] foundational review and ensuring our community doesn’t suffer because of decisions that are made. How can we be a partner in the decisions that are made? How can we ensure that Fort Smith remains a sustainable, viable community for education? What courses can we bring to the community or bring back to the community?
Even with the plans for the early childhood development course that was in Inuvik for two years, it was in Yellowknife for two years, and eventually will be coming to Fort Smith; how can we be a partner in that? We know that there is a need for daycare in our community, can we partner with the College? Can we help to make the connections with organizations that can run a daycare? Because we know that that has been a barrier for employment, for people planning to move to Fort Smith, even students planning to move to Fort Smith.
So while daycare is not, I’d say, a municipal service, it’s to the benefit of our community that we do look for options to bring a daycare in; and knowing that this course is coming to Fort Smith, how can we bring those two things together and make it work for everybody.
Now isn’t the YWCA planning on building a modular daycare this fall?
Yes. I don’t know what the plans are with the tragic fire that occurred in Yellowknife. We hope that their plans are still going forward but as the town we haven’t heard if anything has changed.
Can we talk more about the foundational review for Aurora College? What progress has been made so far? What will you do as mayor to ensure that the headquarters remains in Fort Smith, if that’s what the town wants?
We had presented, the deputy mayor and myself, with feedback from the community, to the Standing Committee on Social Development on August 21 and brought to them concerns with regard to the recommendation that were provided in the report; as well as the lack of consultation with the report, not just with our community but across the North.
The initial expectation was that the report would be a review of the College and what came out was the aspirational goal of this university in the north. I think before proceeding there really needs to be a lot more communication. Not just with us as the Town of Fort Smith, but with Indigenous governments across the territory, with the community leaders across the territory, to get a better understanding of what it is that the people across the North are expecting from post-secondary institution in the Northwest Territories.
Before we had presented to the Standing Committee on Social Development, we had also requested a meeting with the Premier and cabinet. On Thursday afternoon, the 27th of September, the deputy mayor and myself had presented to the Premier and to the Minister of Education, Minister Cochrane, as well our MLA was in attendance, and we presented concerns not only with the issues we had presented to the standing committee but also concerns about centralization, centralization of the college, centralization as whole, ensuring communities across the North are sustainable, that we don’t have opportunities that can be made available in small communities just automatically going to Yellowknife. There were concerns with the recolonization of education in the Northwest Territories, that with the recommendations not being brought to community leaders and to Indigenous governments there is a disconnect between the path forward recommended in the review and what the people of the communities actually want.
So we had prepared an initial response to the review, we prepared an additional response that we brought to the Standing Committee, and we are currently preparing another document to go to cabinet and to the MLAs that kind of goes into more detail with our arguments and also with the impact that this is potentially going to have on our community.
While we do have a lot of issues with how this has transpired, we do want to be a part of the solution going forward. We do want to continue to be in talks with the Minister of Education. Really our community was built around the college. The college is an integral part of our town. How do we keep it that way, how do we attract people to Fort Smith, attract them to the college and stay a part of that?
On that note, what kinds of things are being done to attract people to the community – both tourists and long-term residents?
One of the things, and this kind-of goes back to the daycare issue, is that we realize that has been a barrier to students coming in, to even students applying to attend the college – because when they are coming in from other communities, they don’t have the same familial connections that they might have in their communities. So by bringing in that essential service to our community, whether it’s partnering with the YWCA or the [Fort Smith] Daycare Society or if we have to look is this something we take on as a community, I think really that’s one of the first things that we really need to take a hard look at, because it is stopping people from coming to Fort Smith.
And not just students, but other professionals. That, I think, is going to be a critical piece over the next three years in moving forward economically with education, with the college. I think that’s one of the big pieces. And again, looking at how can that be a partnership with their Early Childhood Education program, and are there other programs that can also run like that in a community? Are there other programs like the Bachelor of Education program, where the students had done their practicums in our schools here, where we can bring in the long-term academic programming that really is part of the success of our community?
You’ve talked a lot about projects that are in the works and that you’d like to continue, and then the daycare as a new project in whichever form that takes. Do have any other big goals for the community, things that aren’t started yet but that you would like to start over the next three years?
We have a pretty big list already. One of the things that we would like and that we are looking at is a project manager position. I think what people don’t realize is the town actually has a very small number of staff members and so one of barriers that we have is just manpower resources. There is a position that can be funded, I think 80 percent through capital funds, for project management, where we can look at other opportunities for federal funding for capital projects, for infrastructure projects. And by having this project manager position, it would put less strain on our staff, who are already quite busy with all of the projects that we have. So how can we access this funding, what other projects can we look at to get outside funding and outside resources to look at other things that are needed in our community? It would be great to be able to do that.
So this person would look for other funding for projects, that would that be part of their role?
Right, so projects like the landslide remediation, projects like the rec centre renovation, and our clean water wastewater. Even what can we do for our water treatment facility or for any water sewer, any kind of infrastructure projects in our community. We know that we are coming to end-of-life for some of our buildings like the town hall and the library, and what options are there for funding projects?
And again, talking about some of the stuff that we did earlier, a lot of it goes to just pre-planning. Once we have the plan for the landslide remediation, when those federal funds become available – and a lot of the time it’s short notice – when we have the plans already available we can access those funds. When we have the plans all ready for our downtown development – and what we need as far as sidewalks and pavement and water and sewer – when that funding is available, it’s something that we can act on quickly because we’ve already done the groundwork on it. So I think even just being able to do that and look at where funding pots are, what kinds of resources we can access… without dedicating the staff that we already have that are working to their capacity already.
So my last question is why you? Why would you tell people to vote for you as mayor?
We’ve done quite a lot in our three years, and not just in our community. We’ve gone out and lobbied for our community, we’re lobbied for funding.
We’ve also had rep at NWTAC [Northwest Territories Association of Communities]. We are making sure that our voice is heard. It was unfortunate we lost the Northern Journal in Fort Smith and we’re very glad to have you as a reporter so that you are able to get our voice out to the territory, to other communities.
In the meantime, we’ve also been doing that. We’ve gone to Ottawa and lobbied for money, we’ve gone to Yellowknife and lobbied for our community, for our college, for the things we need to help our community succeed.
I’m focused on our community, I believe in our town what we have to offer, and I would like to continue to be able to do that.