Steve Payne says he’s a “vote for common sense” on city council as he bids for a second term.
The teacher and barbershop owner wants council to focus on helping create more tourism opportunities, and says he now better understands how to get things done after his first three years on the job.
“I’ll support what makes sense and I won’t support what doesn’t make sense,” said Payne, whose election campaign focuses more on talking to residents in stores than posting online.
Payne praised council’s creation of a homeless employment program and suggested developing new forms of housing to help the city’s vulnerable people as an issue he’d like to explore in a second term.
There are 16 candidates standing for the eight positions on Yellowknife City Council. Election day is October 15, 2018.
This interview was recorded on September 25, 2018.
Ollie Williams: Why should we re-elect you?
Steve Payne: I’m running for my second term. The first term was definitely a learning experience. I feel like I’ve gotten my head wrapped around a lot of the policies and procedures now. I’ve been here for 23 years and Yellowknife is in my blood. You know, Newfoundland is always going to be home but Yellowknife is in my blood. My family were raised here and I feel like I’m invested in this city. I care about it, and what happens to the people that live here. I know I’m only one vote but every time I cast a vote, it’s not me that I’m looking after, it’s the people.
Looking back at the last three years, what would you point to and say, ‘That’s what your getting with Steve Payne on council’?
You know what, it’s kind-of a hard one because I’ve never really looked at myself as an individual. I’ve always looked at myself as a part of a team. There’s eight, plus the mayor, and that’s the team that I’ve been on. So my vote? I’ve always voted for common sense. And I’m a little bit of a conservative so I’m not going to just vote for something that’s new and shiny. I try to look after people’s money. In regards to what I can pick out that I’ve done, I think there’s a few things that I’ve requested and that I’ve gotten done. We have a set of traffic lights going on Franklin and 44th, I believe, next to the school. With the congestion of traffic up on the hill to the new condo development, I felt like, safety-wise, we needed something there. I’d seen a lot of near misses. That will be done next year, hopefully next summer. I’m proud of my votes. I’m proud of how I voted.
Talk us through, then, what kind of momentum you’re hoping to keep going. Council has a whole bunch of issues on the go. Looking at your priorities, what would you pick out?
Our last year has been pretty busy with some personnel matters at the City. There’s a lot of focus on that and not so much on getting down to work. Right now, we have a tourism industry that’s baffling, it’s stunning, we’re getting people from all over the Asian market and the world. You never know who you’re going to run into. So I think we need to keep our momentum on that one and do what we can to get people involved in tourism companies. I think we as a city need to open it up to get more access to things for people to do once they’re here. You drive down through town here in the evening and you see a lot of people walking but I wish there was more for them to do. I think we need to start building relationships. There’s no reason why we can’t have relationships with Behchokǫ̀, and Ndilo, and Dettah. Up in northern Newfoundland we have a Viking working village and I’ve been there to visit – you get to go in, you get to see people working how they would done years back, in that time. I think even a cultural centre up here… the Indigenous culture is beautiful and I wish people had more access to it to see, and to learn, and to feel what people have been doing up here for generations and generations. It will go a long way in building us as a community and in adding to our tourism industry up here.
There are twin issues downtown: the revitalization is one, working on homelessness is the other. Do you look downtown and wonder just how much progress we’ve made?
I see a lot of progress. I see new businesses open. I see additional food trucks. I see restaurants. The food industry downtown is phenomenal. It’s not like we’re doing nothing. It’s not like we’re being stagnant in our economy downtown. It just takes time. I feel we have a great downtown and personally, I’ve never had any issues. I know we have a homeless issue up here and I think we need to sympathize with people who are going through that. I’m pretty sure anybody who had a choice wouldn’t live like this, and I feel that it’s easy for people to come down on homelessness – but addictions are a bad things and I think, as a society, we need to treat our most vulnerable with respect. You get back what you put in.
Looking at the 10-year homelessness plan, which of course you’ve been a part of as a councillor – it’s about a year in. The aim is a bold one, it’s a big target to essentially wipe out homelessness in a decade. Do you believe the City’s plan is on the right track?
It’s a big goal but this is not a goal just for one council or two councils. This will run over three or four councils and, with every council you get, you get different people, opinions, and mindsets. I think we can do it. We’ve just got to keep working and pick away, one step at a time; get people housed. One success I’d like to mention is the homeless employment program. I don’t know how many comments I’ve received but everyone is pretty happy with this program. Not only that, but the people involved with this program are very happy with the work they have been doing. If you give somebody an opportunity, I think people will shine.
Are we getting people housed? You mentioned housing – Housing First is at the front of that. Is it delivering so far?
I don’t know the exact number with the people that we’ve housed but we have housed quite a few. However, we still have a long way to go. Maybe it’s time to think outside the box. I know one of the property developers here who had a building burn down. I’m pretty sure that, if talked about in the right place, we could probably get that building specifically for a Housing First program. There’s a businessman in town who brought in some job shack accommodations a couple of years ago and I’ve actually been in a couple of them, and I think that would be a good option; each shack has two one-bedroom apartments. You get the low-hanging fruit, you get seniors in who need housing, and maybe to make the dollar stretch further you get couples – I know there are quite a few couples living on the streets. I think there is a way to go. Not discounting what we’ve already done: I think what has happened so far has been phenomenal and it’s only a step in what’s to come.
With an idea like that, are you the kind of councillor that takes the ball and runs with it – comes to council urging them to follow through with this idea – or are you looking at members of the public, organizations, or interests, to come forward asking to do this, then your role is to facilitate?
We have to be very careful not to overstep our mandate, right? Mostly, this is a government issue. This is a Health and Social Services issue. But the City can be advocates for change. I know with Housing First, this was a government grant we applied for and received. We can be leaders in this incentive but in regards to taking the bull by the horns and going full-force with it, you know, I’m more the type that will… whatever you need me to do, if you need help on our side, whatever we can do as a City, I’m going to be there to support you.
At the start, you said council has been somewhat occupied with personnel issues. Do you regret, to an extent, that that has come to dominate?
There’s no real regret. Realistically, it was beyond our control. This came before us and I’m sure, hopefully, it’s winding down and we can focus on different things. I don’t have any regrets. It is what it is and we’ve dealt with it as best we can.
And you’re happy, now, the City has things in place? Council recently enacted a code of ethics, a complaints policy, an integrity commissioner.
These policies have been coming for a while. It’s been worked on, our senior administrative officer (SAO) has been working hard; Sheila has done a great job with it. We’ve been looking for something like this for a couple of years. Until you need a policy, you don’t really know you need a policy. If you’ve never had a use for it, it’s not something that’s going to be on your radar. But it came up that we needed something, I’m glad we have it in place, and we can move forward.
Would you have done anything differently?
That’s a tough one. As councillors, we sort-of have our mandate as well, right? We can’t get too far down in the weeds, we have to let the managers, directors, and SAO do their jobs. I think how it all turned out was how it was meant to be.
The Mayor of Yellowknife, Mark Heyck, is stepping down after six years doing that job. What aspects of the way he did that job do you hope the new mayor preserves?
I think Mark was a very knowledgeable mayor – is, not was, he’s still there. I think Mark is very connected with the public and I hope that our new mayor remains connected with the public. Mark, overall… I wish him luck in his future endeavours. He provided the City with, was it two terms as mayor? Six years as mayor. And I think it was two terms before that as councillor… or three… three terms as councillor. The man has 15 years of public service to Yellowknife and he deserves to be commended for that.
As that role of mayor changes, now the mayor has a vote and voice where they didn’t previously, what other qualities are you looking for?
Leadership. Adrian and Rebecca are both very, very strong councillors and it’s going to be very close. The unfortunate part about two of them running for mayor is that we are going to lose two strong councillors, and we are going to lose at least one permanently – or until the next term, maybe.
Was there ever any thought in your head to look at being mayor?
No. Sometimes they say you’ve got a face for radio. This is not a face to be a mayor.
Understood. I have every sympathy with that analogy. We have a lot of people hoping to return to office, and they always say they have experience and know how the system works now. What separates you out? What do you believe is uniquely your contribution to council?
I don’t know if it’s about uniqueness. I’ve got the experience now. People come in – and I was the same way – and think you can make changes right away. Things happen slowly. Change happens slow. If you don’t have a good relationship with your fellow councillors, it’s hard to get support on anything. For me, I’m a pretty friendly guy, I know lots of people, I have friends from every different group of people in town. I’m happy about that. I’ll support what makes sense and I won’t support what doesn’t make sense. I respond to every email that gets sent to me and, if anybody has an issue, they can feel comfortable contacting me and I will find an answer. It may not be the answer that they want but I will find the proper answer for them.
You don’t have a website, a Facebook page. Digitally, you haven’t committed any real resource on that front in this election campaign. What is your approach to it?
I have my own, personal Facebook that I have a lot of people on – and I was thinking about starting a Facebook page for the campaign. I did one last term… you know, I didn’t really feel it was that effective. I feel my own Facebook is more effective. I do have an Instagram account. The way I do my campaign is every night, I go to one of the big stores and I walk around and talk to people. I’ve done that during the last election and it seemed to work for me. I work Saturdays at my barbershop and a lot of people come in. The campaign is just not for a month, I’ve been campaigning for the last three years.