Edwin Castillo says he comes from Yellowknife’s first Filipino family, and half a century in the city marks him out as a candidate for council.

“I think there are still a lot of efficiencies that can be realized,” Castillo told Cabin Radio, emphasizing his accountancy background.

Castillo lists a platform built on fairness, service, and community. He wants to look at turning the 50/50 lot into a visitor centre.

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“I think we do need to support sports and recreation here in the city to make it attractive,” he said, “but you also need to take a look at the arts and cultural aspects as well.”

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 23, 2018.

Ollie Williams: Why do you want to run?

Edwin Castillo: Before I answer that, I’d like to thank my supporters first for encouraging me, so I really appreciate that – and also for your invitation here of course. I think I’ve got a lot of things to offer. That’s the main thing. In speaking with others, I think there’s a lot of room still for improvement. I’ve lived here since I came here, we were the first Filipino family in Yellowknife in 1968. I’ve lived here now for 50 years. Over that time I’ve seen a lot of change: I’ve seen a lot of development, I’ve seen downturns, and the boom and busts. I think, with all that experience, I’ve got a few things to offer. In terms of improvements, I think there are still a lot of efficiencies that can be realized. I’d like to increase efficiencies and effectiveness, all in the context of economizing, especially with the cost of living here in Yellowknife.

You mention efficiencies. Give us some examples of where you think those could be found.

In terms of administrative efficiencies, I’m running on a platform of fairness, services, and community. I’m an accountant by trade. I’d take a look at the budget and determine where costs could be made a lot more effective. We’re trying to stretch our dollars as best we can here, right? We want to ensure that, for all the revenues we have, we are using them in the best way possible. And of course in terms of the costs of well, we want to be in the black end of things. Over the years in terms of city council, it’s always been a deficit situation. There have got to be some kinds of improvements and efficiencies we can realize. There are always certain expenditures we could look into that perhaps could be reallocated elsewhere, in terms of reprioritizing our needs.

It’s always tough because, when you look at reprioritizing… people want the cost of living to go down but they also want nice things.

Absolutely. And that’s where we need, for sure, to take a look at what… in terms of our finances, right? Again, as I mentioned, I’m an accountant by trade. And making sure that everything is balanced. I want to… again, one of my planks is in terms of fairness. I want to respect everybody’s rationales for doing everything. We need to ensure all the voices are heard at the table, and then we can try to see where we can get the best bang, if you will, for the dollar. My mother was a teacher here. I’m an advocate of what she always said: ‘An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.’ If we can root out problems at the start, I think we can go a long way. There are a lot of issues that have come forward over the past years and it’s tough to address them over the short-term, but I think, if you get a good start with the things that are happening right now, there’ll be a better payback and a better future later on.

You have this platform of fairness, service, and community. What does fairness really mean? Does that imply you have a concern about fairness at City Hall right now?

Well, I would really… in general, in terms of residents and the businesses of course, right? All the three words really are integrated. My fairness platform is based on ensuring there’s a level playing field. Ensuring everything really is looked at in the best way possible.

Are there some examples of ‘playing fields’ that you worry about?

Ensuring there is no stereotyping at all, for example. It’s difficult, with people’s views at times, because there are obviously certain biases. Ensuring that there are proper policies in place and standards we can all abide by and, if you can have that in front of you, use that to guide you, and treat everyone on a consistent basis. That’s basically what I mean by fairness.

A lot of people are talking about the homeless people of Yellowknife. The City has a 10-year plan to end homelessness and is a year into it. How much do you know about that plan, and how convinced are you that it’s on the right track?

To be honest, I haven’t really looked at the plan itself. However, it’s been a recurring and chronic issue, really, in terms of the North. Even 10 years ago, even when I was running for MLA, it was a big priority. It’s a difficult situation. It’s difficult to address the problem as it is now because it’s so chronic. I see the increase in homelessness and addiction progress ever year. There are a lot of good developments that the City has. I do need to take a look at it a lot closer, but there need to be all these partnerships and stakeholders that need to get together. It’s not just a City problem, although, everybody seems to be coming here from the communities, for example, because Yellowknife is the place where these programs and shelters are available. We need to be able to work with the other governments and all our partners to ensure that we can address the problem as it is. I don’t like Band-Aid solutions but the way it’s done right now, I mean…

It’s a $100 million-plus, 10-year plan. It’s not really a Band-Aid, is it?

It’s not really a Band-Aid but in terms of, you know, addressing who’s there in terms of the streets right now… there’s a lot of recidivism, you know? It’s always the same people. If we can root out the exact problems… in terms of the 10-year plan, I’m sure it’s being asked, like why, when, where, how? And really scrutinize it that way. What is, in fact, the root of the problem? You know? That’s what I mean in terms of ensuring that gets addressed in that way. You can’t just throw money at programs. You’ve got to look at that a lot closer, because, as you know, it’s a large program but has it abated at all? You’ve got to make sure there are some improvements that are happening.

Is there anywhere you would increase spending in the budget?

You know, I would if the quality is there. Even our revenues, for example, the two go hand-in-hand really. I’m not in favour of increasing any of the property taxes. I’ve talked to residents and I’m a homeowner myself – it’s very difficult for me to support any increase in taxes and I hear that from residents as well. But in terms of user fees, I don’t mind any increases at all as long as the quality of service is there and maintained. In terms of the actual expenditures in that, again, ensuring you take a look at the basic line objects in the budget and our expenditures, and see where, in fact, we can address some of these costs. There are opportunities, of course, for reallocation and reorganization. Where you might be able to take advantage of certain staff and organize that way, use temporary staff in certain areas, so you are optimizing your expenditures.

On the broader, long-term scale, when you look at the City’s plans to develop a new aquatics centre – how closely have you looked at that and what are your thoughts on those kind of big-ticket infrastructure items?

Infrastructure has to be maintained. We’ve got roads that need upgrading continually, the sewer system, water… costs are continuing to go up. In terms of the aquatics centre, I think we do need to support sports and recreation here in the city to make it attractive. But you also need to take a look at the arts and cultural aspects as well. I mean, tourism is a very important part. You want to try to attract investment as much as possible, and make sure that Yellowknife is a very great place to come to and invest in as well, right? So I think, in terms of that aquatics centre, I think that could go a ways too. You’ve got… you alluded to balance, right? You’ve got to know where our priorities really lie in terms of fixing the roads first, what really needs to be maintained – I mean, you only have so much in your budget that you can spend, you know? On the other hand, you’ve got to take a look at jobs, as well, in terms of what the development of the aquatics centre will bring. So if that’ll, you know, promote anything like that with the city… all for it. Again, in terms of the decisions that I would choose, I’d rather be in the plus end than the minus end.

You mentioned tourism. What do you think the City could look at to increase the benefits from tourism?

Well, you’ve got the visitor centre right now. That’s an issue. We’re looking for a home for it. You’ve got a vacant lot right there, nearby – that’s been vacant there for years, my goodness.

You would kill two birds with one stone and put a visitor centre in the 50/50 lot?

Well, that’s an opportunity that’s there, right? I would rather attract investment, first of all, but of course, you want to attract tourists to come here, right? In terms of making sure our city grows and prospers, of course. And the two go hand in hand, it’s not totally disparate. We need partnerships and collaboration, not only with local groups and businesses and residents, and also in addressing, making sure that the homelessness and… but also outside investment, and that’s where I see the role the mayor and some of the councillors can play.

What leadership experience do you have?

As I mentioned already, I ran for the MLA position in the North Slave in 2015. And also I’ve given you my bio, of course. I’ve got a lot of volunteer and board experience. If I can highlight a few things here: I’ve been a board member on several boards and volunteer groups; I was also a director and treasurer at the Stanton Hospital Foundation; I was vice-chair of the Yellowknife Catholic School Board for about eight years; I was a president of the NWT Tennis Association and also a coach; I was a coach in soccer; I’ve been involved in a lot of arts and cultural productions since I was growing up; I was a board member also of the accountants’ association here…

And so, when we put all of those experiences together – and the issues we’ve talked about here – just as a final question, what do you think marks you out?

I’ve lived here, as I’ve mentioned, 50 years. I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs. I think based on my residency here and a lot of the people that I’ve grown to know, and that know me, I believe I stand out that way. In terms of my background and also family, there’s been respect, I think, in that regard. I’m hoping that’ll carry forward in terms of the support that I’ll get for council.