Vince Sharpe’s platform centres on solving Inuvik’s housing shortage and lowering utility costs through developing local gas fields and investing in solar energy.
He decided to run for mayor because he believes the town needs “stronger leadership” and his seven terms on council and network across the territory make him “the fellow for the job.”
Sharpe is running against Natasha Kulikowski in the October 15 election. Meanwhile, all eight town councillor candidates are set to be acclaimed.
Why did you decide to run for mayor this year?
I think we need stronger leadership. The other candidate has got one term on council, I’ve got seven. I’ve got contacts in Ottawa and Yellowknife. I know people down there in the government and I think I’d be a good fit for the mayor’s position at the present time.
What have you learned in these seven terms on council that you think makes you stand out?
Well basically I’ve learned to listen to people and bring their concerns to the council chambers. I pretty much know all about the government and what works up here. I think that’ll be a big asset.
Can you expand on that?
I’ve spent 30 years on the town fire department. I sponsor baseball, hockey games, and curling games in town, so I’m pretty much involved in the community as well.
I’m pretty well-known; people bring their concerns to me. I’m pretty open and I listen to them. As a matter of fact this morning I got three phone calls from people concerned about different issues.
What are some of the concerns that people have been bringing to you?
This morning people were asking me, our town council has never discussed what we’re going to do with the marijuana policy. That hasn’t even come to the table yet and people want to know what’s going to happen because this thing is going to happen next week. Are we going to allow them to smoke outside the bars and in the streets? Are we going to allow them to have a grow operation? Where are we going to sell it? None of this has been discussed in town council yet. Next week it’s going to open and we don’t have a bylaw.
So what would you like to see happen in that case? How would you handle this situation?
Evidently it would have to be the first thing on the table. We’d have to get the senior administrative officer and the bylaw officer together and look at other bylaws in different communities that have bylaws concerning marijuana, and try to get some things from their bylaws to put in our bylaw so that we actually have one. That’s going to have to be done pretty soon. This thing is next week, like the 17th next week, and we’re sitting here totally unprepared.
What are some other things that you see as issues in the community?
Housing is a big one. I’m watching housing being torn down here in town, these are houses that are owned by the territorial housing corporation, they say that they are no more good and I see them as good units if they are renovated. If they tear them down… They could be selling them to people, you know, at a good rate, a cheaper price, because they consider them to be no good. People could get those houses, renovate them, and then have a perfectly good house.
We’ve got 150 people on our list for housing and here we are watching all of these houses torn down and taken to the dump. I think if we used these perfectly good units, if they just sold them and let people renovate them…
What would you as mayor do to step in there?
I’d definitely have to talk to the housing corporation about what they’re doing, you know, ask them to put them up for sale before they just decide to demolish them. If they can’t sell them, then demolish them.
I’ve also heard that utility prices are quite high in Inuvik and that’s a struggle for many people. Can you speak to that?
Gas is a huge one, we need to get the gas from the gas fields in the town here. We just can’t afford to keep paying for propane shipping from the south. We live here in the North, right on top of huge gas fields, very close to Inuvik. There are 100-year wells that could supply Inuvik for 100 years and we’re shipping in propane from the south. How does that make sense?
The Inuvialuit have done a study on the fields and now all they’re looking for is partners to get together and build a pipeline. Once that pipeline’s built, we’ll have the gas that we need and we’ll be able to lower prices and we’ll be self-sufficient with gas. It’ll also provide employment for people, building the gas pipeline, which boosts the economy.
So again, what’s your role as mayor in this project?
We need to support them and write letters if that’s necessary and do whatever we can to support them. I don’t think we can do too much to support them financially that way, but writing letters and getting the support so that people know the town is behind them.
When you say ‘them’ do you mean the Inuvialuit?
I’ve seen stories about how you’re a proponent of solar power. Is that something you’d like to see expanded throughout the town?
Well yes, certainly on the town arena. We could get a million dollars’ worth of solar panels on our arena, at a cost to us of about $250,000, and then after that’s been done we can save $150,000 a year on a $700,000 bill. I think that’s just a no-brainer. Get ‘er done. We need to do that.
Where are these numbers coming from? Have studies been done already?
We’re having a study done right now. But the panels themselves cost… We got a million dollars, we could do the whole side of the arena and the top of one roof with a million dollars’ worth of solar panels.
So this money has already been set aside?
No, it hasn’t. That’s the thing. We would find the money in the town budget to be able to put up our end so that we could get the money from the federal and territorial governments to put up the other $750,000.
So it would cost $1 million, but you’re hoping that the town would chip in $250,000 and then the $750,000 would be found elsewhere?
Like my house, it’s actually net zero, nobody can tell me that solar doesn’t work up here. My house is net zero. I haven’t paid a power bill over $18 in the past four years. I burn wood… I’d be happy to tell anyone how that’s done.
And the $18 is just the hook-up fee?
It’s just the hook-up fee, just to have the line hanging down there from NTPC [the Northwest Territories Power Corporation] so they can supply me with power in the wintertime. I’m putting out power into the grid all summer long, and then in the winter they give it back to me. It’s very good.
So you see that as something that would be an option for the arena, if not many other places in town as well.
It’s an option for anybody that wants to save money.
It sounds like you’ve thought about how solar can support the arena and the town. Would you like to see the town help residents install solar panels on their own houses as well?
We don’t have the money to give grants, but we can certainly tell them and show them how to get it done.
The NTPC is putting up a wind farm right now and that’s going to save energy for NTPC but it’s not going to for the people of Inuvik. NTPC is just doing that to save power for themselves, they can save on fuel, they don’t have to burn fuel, they’ve got a wind farm going. But that money’s not going to trickle down to us. We’ll get the same power bills, if they’re not higher by putting a rider on our bill for the wind farm. So that’s not going to help us at all.
The only thing people can do, really, is to help themselves. We can’t help them, but we can show them how to get it done.
We’ve talked about some of the challenges facing Inuvik. What are some of the opportunities you see? What services would you like to provide, what things would you like to bring to town?
Well I don’t think there’s too much we can bring to town. I mean, we’ve got our arena that’s one of the best in the Northwest Territories, our school is brand new, we’ve got playgrounds – well there are a few places we can put playgrounds – but we’ve basically just got to keep things running.
With the economy we have right now, people are leaving town. So that’s not good, because they’re not paying taxes. When they leave they’re abandoning houses, and you know that’s not a good thing.
We need to keep it together and just struggle along until something happens. And we need large projects, like building the gas pipeline. We just finished building the road to Tuk, and that was a big boon to the economy. We need projects like that to keep things going.
I also understand that you were on town council this last term but because of some unpaid bills this summer you were asked to leave. Do you want to talk about what happened there?
The bills were unpaid worth $700. So I said, “Here’s the $700,” right at the table – and they refused it.
So are there some relationships that will need to be rebuilt there with council?
I don’t think so. It wasn’t the councillors at all, they were just as surprised as I was when it happened. I’ve got a good relationship with all of the councillors.
Would you like to talk about your personal abilities that you feel make you the best person for the job?
Well, like I said, I’ve lived here for 50 years, I know the government, I know how it operates, I know the people to call. Some of them I have very close relationships with. I’m familiar with the government; having seven terms on council gives me familiarity with the council and people and how we work as well. I think right now we need strong leadership and I’m the fellow for the job.
Do you want to talk about your leadership skills?
I was captain on the fire department so I’ve led them. I’ve been deputy chief a couple of times on the fire department. As a matter of fact, I’ve gotten awards from the Governor General for long-time service to the fire service. I’ve got my own company. I have to lead my men and show them which way to go and it’s successful so I don’t see a problem there.