Mark Bogan wants to focus on transforming Yellowknife's downtown if elected a city councillor.
Bogan, best known for his fathers' rights campaigns, works at the downtown shelter. He believes "cleaning up downtown" is the first step to correcting some of the city's broader economic ills.
"I want to work hard to make it a better place to be and to raise children and families," he told Cabin Radio.
"The piece here is to create a happier community, a healthy community, an inclusive community, and that's my plan."
That plan involves increasing accessibility to services for the city's most vulnerable inhabitants, while lobbying the territorial government for greater supports.
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?
Mark Bogan: I've lived in Yellowknife for over 30 years and I'm concerned about the current conditions in Yellowknife. So I thought I'd take a crack at running for city council, to see if I could assist in making some improvements.
When you say you're concerned about current conditions, what do you mean?
Well, I recently moved downtown so I'm really concerned about the conditions downtown – a lot of buildings have come down. It's pretty hard to get people to invest in retail downtown. And of course, the homeless population being downtown... there's more sirens, more... it just seems all of the social problems have increased downtown. That's something I'd like to look at.
What makes you decide, rather than bringing those concerns to a councillor or to City Hall, what makes you decide that you should run to fix that?
I've been politically active in Yellowknife for over 30 years and think I have developed a good relationship with the Government of the Northwest Territories and our MP, so that's why I'm running. I want to try to boost the economy and get some investment into our centre, as well as to help the homeless. I work at the shelter, there are things that could be done there to improve the situation.
That, obviously, is a unique viewpoint among those people running for council. What do you see from the perspective of being on that front line, offering services, that makes you think things could be done differently?
William Greenland is running that Arctic Indigenous wellness camp out there and it's not really that accessible, and I really like the work he's doing out there. I've been out there a few times, so that would be priority one, at least for the homeless population – to make it more accessible.
The plan is already to move that, isn't it?
That I don't know. To move the foundation? It looks like they're going to be there over the course of the winter and it's not very accessible to our clients. I'd like to get the outreach van going out there first-thing in the morning to bring clients out there, because he is doing really wonderful work. That would be one piece. Once we can start better healing those clients, I think we might see a turnaround with people looking at downtown as a more secure place to invest. When you look at the headlines, we've got high crime rates, high rates of domestic violence, alcohol, and drug consumption... these aren't attributes that bring in big business. I don't think the GNWT has done a very good job with these things, and my plan would be - as a social worker I do a great deal of research – my plan would be to lobby the GNWT to introduce social programs with a proven track record that work well, have great numbers, and hopefully we can start lowering some of these terrible social programs. The other piece is I'd like to increase recreational facilities for children, youth, and families, because I've done some community meetings and so on, and there are gaps with the public where there is just not enough to do. My vision is if you build a healthy, fun, active community, that it will reflect on people wanting to invest in Yellowknife.
The City is already committed to building a new aquatics centre. What do you make of that plan?
I'm not so sure we need a new pool.
You just said new recreation facilities!
I was think of alternative recreation facilities. One thing I would wish to do is an indoor mini-putt with an attached arcade.
But an indoor mini-putt is not a lifelong occupation the way swimming and aquatics is in terms of fitness and health, though, is it?
I understand, but again, I've been to the pool and think we could probably put that on the backburner for a little while. It's a pretty good facility, it works well. I see people having fun, children and families. I don't see that we need to spend millions of dollars on a new pool right now.
Have you been to one of the public consultations to hear the City's rationale?
Actually, you know, that's a good question and I haven't. If elected, I'd certainly take a look at it, but I'm not convinced we need a new pool at this time. What I'm convinced of is we need to fix this town. Downtown is an eyesore. The conditions downtown are not pleasant. People don't feel safe and they don't want to go downtown because there are just a lot of problems. The piece here is to create a happier community, a healthy community, an inclusive community, and that's my plan. That's what I hope to achieve.
The City is a year into a 10-year plan to end homelessness. How much do you know about the contents of that plan?
I think the services we are providing now are working, and working well. The new centre is going to help a great deal, we are going to offer increased programs and services. There is always more to do for homeless people. Again, I don't think the GNWT has handled this very well. We have some of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in all of Canada but we don't have a treatment centre. We don't have proper trauma therapists. People think the homeless people are just a group of alcoholics – there is much more to it than that, and I've been working with these people for four years. There are some deeply embedded traumas that some of these people have had over their lives, and they are not getting the proper services to deal with that trauma.
If you believe it's on the territorial government, primarily, to put in place some of the services you've just spoken of, what would you do as a city councillor to change that?
I would certainly be a lobbyist and lobby the GNWT for change. What we can do as a city council is, again, little things like increasing accessibility to Mr Greenland's camp. I would continue to increase our programs and services within the shelter – that's my job. The things that the City do are, I think, limited, because the services for the homeless population are the responsibility of the GNWT.
Looking at the role of a councillor, there's obviously a lot that ends up on city council's plate. You'll be tasked with economic development as well, and regulation of AirBnBs is an example. How invested are you in those concerns, how much attention have you paid to those issues?
I think the economy is quite stale right now and I don't think it's really going to pick up for quite some time. What I see is, how are we going to attract investment in Yellowknife? What I see is we've made it very difficult, because of the downtown conditions. That would be my priority, to help clean up downtown. I think, again, by creating a more fun, healthy community, and better educating our children and youth... we're still doing a very successful 'Don't be a butthead' campaign, so why not throw in a 'Don't be a bottleneck' or 'Don't have a bong brain' campaign? To teach these kids to grow up in a healthy, clean, positive environment is going to reflect a lot more on the future of Yellowknife than what we're currently doing now, which, I think, is failing.
When some longer-term Yellowknifers hear your name, they may think not, first, of a campaign for city council. They may think of the campaigner for fathers' rights, and some of the more headline-grabbing stunts you've been known for in your time. Remind us of a few of those?
Sure, well... first off, we were a part of a national organization called Fathers for Justice. Really, what that organization was about was the rights of children to have an equal, loving relationship with their parents following separation and divorce. I felt that campaign went very well. We raised a lot of awareness in this country.
You raised awareness with some pretty novel methods. I wasn't here at the time. One I seem to recall reading about involved crickets in a courthouse. What else happened?
We ran under the auspices of a civil disobedience protest. What the giants once did, our Martin Luther Kings and so on. Again, I thought that era was very successful. However, we never did achieve a presumption of equal parenting with the federal government. We continue to hope; I continue to advocate for a presumption of equal parenting. I find it's a very noble goal. I've completely lost contact my children, I haven't seen them for almost 20 years now, and there is no best interest of the child in cases like this. For me, it's the children that suffer. If we are going to build a healthy, happy, positive... and we want to raise children to grow up to be the best that they can, divorce laws are something the federal government should really take a look at, because they're not helping children like mine. They really hurt children like me. You get the picture, I think.
And in the course of advancing that campaign, you did a number of very public stunts. You had a certain approach. Is that how you would be as a city councillor?
I would certainly not conduct civil disobedience protests as a city councillor. But I would be very aggressive on pushing policies. Another thing at City Hall is I find they are not very responsive, and something I wish to do is be more transparent, accountable, and responsive. If people are going to call, email, or write to people like me, I'm certainly going to take ownership and get back to them regarding their concerns. I find City Hall has been mute and that's something I wish to change, something I would pursue aggressively.
You ran in 2015 and weren't successful then. What makes you think, this time, that can be different?
I'm hoping people elect new faces at City Hall. I think it's time for changes. I hope to get in with fresh, new ideas, and a different perspective on what to do within Yellowknife.
There are a lot of new candidates, why select you?
I think the length of time that I've lived here is one. I've been very politically active. I love this city, this is my home. I want to work hard to make it a better place to be and to raise children and families. And I want our families to feel safe, secure, have fun. For kids to learn to grow up to be safe adults and happy adults, responsible adults. And to help minority groups, and targeted groups, and so on.