Yellowknife 2018 council election interview: Terry Testart
Terry Testart can call on four decades of experience as a councillor and senior administrative officer in the NWT as he bids for a seat on Yellowknife City Council.
Testart, father of Kam Lake MLA Kieron, served on council and as an SAO in Tuktoyaktuk. He feels his grasp of policy and bylaw writing will be a significant contribution to a council he perceives as having struggled in those areas.
When it comes to Yellowknife’s downtown, Testart wants Yellowknife to study models used elsewhere – Edmonton being an example he cites – to come up with solutions.
He also wants to look at transforming transport in Yellowknife, with more affordable bus fares and a new approach to parking.
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 did you decide to run?
Terry Testart: I’ve lived in Yellowknife for over 20 years. I’ve had about 40 years of municipal administration experience, and governance, and I felt with that experience I could add to the depth of council in their deliberations. This is kind-of my first time as a political hopeful – although I did serve on a council for one term in Tuktoyaktuk. So I’m familiar with council procedures, mostly from being an SAO, and I worked for MACA for almost 20 years as a North Slave superintendent, so I’m used to political activities.
It may be your first name as a political hopeful but it’s not a Testart’s first time as a political hopeful. What relation are you to Kieron?
I’m his dad.
Is there anything in his political run, and his becoming an MLA, that made you think you should get into this game?
No, not really. I’ve been more or less in the back room of politics. I’ve been an SAO, I’ve also been a fire chief for a long time, so I know municipal works from a worker point of view. But it didn’t really occur to me that the reason I’m running is because my son is an MLA. It just occurred to me there are things that have happened in Yellowknife that I feel I could add my background to council activities.
You have this experience. When you look at city council as it is right now, and the issues it has been discussing – what do you see, in terms of how effectively it’s functioning?
Talking to people, and my own feelings about councillors… I understand councils and that they have public meetings, and a lot on their plate. Don’t get me wrong, I think living in Yellowknife is great, I think the municipal services are very good. They’ve had challenges with projects this summer, obviously, but they’re good work and I think providing a good service to the residents. The thing I see is there could be improvements to the transparency of council. There have been a few issues… I just heard one on the radio about an employee who had won an appeal for an occurrence where management refused her the summer off, and when it went to appeal she won the appeal. There’s the whole bylaw issue, that may have been improved through clearer policies and activities. I don’t know, for instance if there’s a policy on camera use.
There is now. The City has established a policy in the aftermath of that, and there is now a formal complaints policy, a code of ethics, and an integrity commissioner. A lot of those changes have been made. What would you bring to that discussion, in terms of your skillset, that you think would be unique?
What I would bring to council is my knowledge of bylaw and policy writing. I was at a council meeting last night and there was some discussion on third reading of their ethics bylaw. The bylaw seemed to include ethics and complaints. There was a motion for an amendment on third reading, which surprised me a little bit because normally most of the amendments are on first and second reading…
And virtually nobody listening to this will know much about that. But yes, it’s unusual.
I listened with interest and there was some division between an interpretation difference between administration and council. It was an unusual discussion, in my mind, on a third reading of a bylaw. After the meeting I asked one of the councillors if there was a policy on camera, and he said no, he didn’t know of one.
It depends what you mean by ‘camera’ – do you mean in-camera, as in secret discussions, or cameras as in security cameras?
I mean how to use security cameras.
That policy does exist and is published on the City’s website.
OK. It was interesting to hear that a councillor didn’t know about it.
It interests me, considering it was headline news for the first half of the year in Yellowknife. Moving away from the weeds of council operations, much as that may be something that is germane to how well council functions… what, more broadly, are you telling the residents of Yellowknife about what you feel you’d be able to offer them?
There is a lot of discussion about the downtown core. I want to discuss that with proposed solutions. I’m not pretending I would fix the downtown core issues overnight, and I’m not trying to say I have the perfect answers, but that has been like it is for many years and I’m going to suggest very definite ideas around the downtown core, using models from other places, and see if we can get a dialogue between city council, businesspeople, and social services groups. I know that has happened and there have been improvements downtown for, say, the homeless – I’m aware of those issues – but there’s also office vacancy, commercial vacancy that’s almost rampant in this city. There are issues where the tourists, and we have many as you know, I see them walking around the town a little bit lost and like they really don’t know where to go. I think I have solutions.
Let’s hear some of them. You mentioned solution imported from other municipalities. What are we talking about?
For example, there’s a model used in Edmonton – and it’s been used basically for the last 20 years – to fix up the downtown area. Downtown was a little bit like Yellowknife’s downtown, if anybody remembers from going down there in the 80s. It was fairly vacant, and not the pleasantest downtown to walk in, in the evenings – especially if you’re a woman. Lately they’ve had neighbourhood renewal programs where they provide funding for improving the fronts of commercial businesses and buildings. They’ve got a lot of nice areas that were not, in the past. I would look to models like Edmonton, and look for other communities that had the same problems that Yellowknife had and maybe came to solutions. Edmonton has literally rebuilt whole neighbourhoods to have a pleasant face and put in new businesses through a grant process, so three commercial street corners with a lot of vacancies, old rundown buildings, have been improved – and more importantly, they have improved the life of that area.
Where does Yellowknife get the money from to do some of that?
Well, they may do it in partnership with GNWT, and with business. As you know, there’s a lot of tourism in town and there’s limited tourist facilities downtown, in my opinion. One thing I could think of is: why not have a visitor centre, conference centre, in the main downtown area, where people would have a place to go and could get tourism services and information? Right now it’s basically the hotels. And the basement of City Hall, which I don’t think is appropriate for the number of tourists we have.
But somebody’s got to build that. Either the City’s got to build that building, or lure a business in. How do you make that attractive enough?
But you’ve got to convince your partners to partner up.
Exactly. If you don’t have dialogue with your partners, it’s hard to be successful with something like that. And there may be interest from others who would be willing to kick in. An example is what they did downtown with the new building for people who are somewhat like street people, where they set up a new area on 50th–
The joint day centre and sobering centre.
That was through partnerships, and I think we can do the same thing with ITI and businesses, maybe with the hotels. There would be an interest. My opinion is nothing ventured, nothing gained.
That phrase sounds to me like someone aiming to be elected to council who is saying they will take calculated risks.
I would on that, because it’s such a big issue. I think you have to take risks. I don’t think it’s appropriate to run for any office and not put yourself out there to take a certain amount of risk. I don’t think we need councillors that are careful, sit back, and stay with the status quo. I think people in Yellowknife are looking for some change.
And so as we wrap up here, summarize that change you offer people. How would people notice that change if you were a member of council?
I think they would notice the change by suggestions that I can make based on my experience. I don’t want to be a one-issue candidate just talking about the downtown area as needing improvement. I would go to council with a concept of improving their traffic plan; I would look at council working with GNWT for improved funding, so they can undertake strategies like narrowing the gap between commercial and residential users of property that doesn’t see homeowners’ taxes going up; I believe in property taxes, but in stable property taxes that are foreseeable, that don’t keep on rising by one or two percent per year. Businesses should not have to be paying double the tax residents pay for similar-type properties. I think buses could be improved: lower fares, smaller buses, and a strategy to lessen vehicle use downtown.
OK. Tricky one at minus-40 on a January morning to sell to F-150 users. How will you convince them?
As you know, when you’re driving the F-150 to go into town, you have to find a place to park. It’s not always easy, and it’s expensive. If you make affordable buses, improve the routes and improve the service, that might be a method of having the person take the bus.
And what would you say to people who say, ‘Don’t give us more affordable buses, give us more places to park’?
That’s part of it. I see a couple of areas in town that I think the City could promote hourly and day rate parking. Saying ‘promoting’ is saying, again, in partnerships. But if you could do that, it does give relief to that person running around parking meters every two hours when they’re working. Many, many cities are cold, and if the bussing is improved, maybe there would be more riders.