Yellowknife 2018 council election interview: Chris Gillander
Chris Gillander, whose ‘wizard’ sign elevated his profile in this fall’s municipal election, says he’s against unnecessary taxation and wants to pare back spending.
Gillander, from a financial management background, said: “I definitely think there are probably things in the budget that can be nickel-and-dimed. Nickel-and-diming doesn’t seem like much but it can add up to dollars over time.”
His platform also calls for increased transparency at City Hall and fostering improved relations between councillors.
He believes he can also help the city work on its homelessness issue, saying: “As long as we’re starting to solve the problem, to see some kind of progressive nature, I count that as a win.”
There are 16 candidates standing for the eight positions on Yellowknife City Council. Election day is October 15, 2018.
This interview was recorded on October 5, 2018.
Ollie Williams: Why do you want to run?
Chris Gillander: I was born and raised here. I didn’t know for sure, when I went off to university, if I was going to come back to Yellowknife. The more I was away from the town, the more I ended up missing it. I finally decided to settle back here and, now that I’m back, I want to take the opportunity to be a voice and part of the community, not just for myself but for all Yellowknifers. I feel I’ve got a skillset that I can do that.
Tell us more about your skillset.
Most of my background is in finances. I’m a financial planner with IG Wealth Management. What I do in the day is look at budgeting, market analysis, things of that nature, as well as I get a really good taste for the discrepancies in Yellowknife – I get to see multi-million-dollar clients and people who can put $25 a month away. So I think I’m bringing a lot of expertise not only on the market side, but just with how diverse Yellowknife can be in our discrepancies through our classes, if you will.
When you look at it through that lens, what are the priorities that you identify?
I think, first of all, I want to take a better look at the budget. I’ve skimmed through it right now, to get a bit of an idea. I saw we were up 71 percent from last year on our loan repayments, things like that. I haven’t looked deeper into where that came from, but I definitely think there are probably things in the budget that can be nickel-and-dimed. Nickel-and-diming doesn’t seem like much but it can add up to dollars over time.
To take some of the bigger-ticket things that the City is looking to do – the pool is an obvious example. Do you think maybe that’s an unnecessary expenditure, what’s your opinion on that?
I’m really trying to listen to the public right now. I’m trying to form all sides of the opinion on it. I come from a very sports-heavy background so the first thing in mind for me is I want to promote sports in the territory. Obviously, that’s a big aspect of it. I want people in the community to have somewhere they can go out and spend their time. On the other hand, I do know it is going to be a big expenditure. Right now, I’m building my argument for both sides of it to see where my opinion will really lie. From my kind of emotional side, I think we should have it. I want to look at the fiscal side to make sure that emotional side is right. I think we need more facilities in town.
Where are the arguments where you already know which side you’re coming down on? Are there issues where you already know what you want to see happen at municipal level?
Let me see here. Transparency is one of them. I want to see a better relationship with City Hall and with the community, as well as a better relationship just amongst city council and the staff. I’d like to see the public know the inner workings a little bit more – not the backend but little things like road construction. I went out door-knocking the other day and a lot of people said, ‘We were told it was going to be done by the end of the summer, now we haven’t heard back. When is this going to be done?’ Little things like that, just a little bit more of a voice, even if it’s delayed, people can at least set their expectations for how long before they’re going to get it back. That’s one of the big ones.
I’m against unnecessary taxation. I know taxation is a must and there’s only so much we are going to be able to do to lower the cost of living here. If it were an easy solution, someone would have done it by now. I think we’re going to have to look at what is an unreasonable taxation, what’s a reasonable one, and I don’t know what they are going to be until I see them, until they come across my desk. Those are the two-kind of big ones that…
There was a letter to the Yellowknifer newspaper published last week, by a man named David Connelly – who’s a mining consultant and a member of the Conservative political party here – who advocated for Yellowknifers picking a bold and transformative mayor and council. He said there are huge challenges ahead with the economy, diamond mines, many other factors, that mean we need transformative ideas. Do you agree with him?
I agree with need some transformative ideas. I’m not going to have all of those ideas. I like to think I might be the voice that differentiates the logic behind what’s good for the city and what’s not, but I’m a man of playing odds. There’s one of me, there’s eight of council, there’s 20,000 Yellowknifers. As long as I’m listening to the people out there, that’s where I’m going to pull a lot of those ideas from. They might not be mine but at least people can step forward and help.
So to paraphrase that, people shouldn’t vote for you for your ideas, but they should vote for you for your ability to parse other people’s ideas?
I think I’m going to be able to have both. I have some ideas of my own, more on the economic side of it. But I do think one of my big strengths is going to be listening to the community. If someone wants to come forward and talk to me, I’m opening to listening and putting things forward to council, because again, I like to play the odds. There are probably better ideas out there than all the ones I have.
You mentioned economic ideas. What kind of things do you have in mind?
I’d like to see a bit more hybridization downtown between residential and commercial. For myself, I pay rent for my personal dwelling as well as rent downtown for my office. For a lot of people, that equates to being about one-and-a-half to two mortgages, financially. That’s really hard for anyone stepping new into the game to try to overcome, but there are some places downtown that would be tourist-accessible that you could convert into having kind-of that in-house dwelling and having certain types of businesses run out of it. Obviously, there’d have to be noise restrictions or whatever it might be. We could have certain businesses run out of there that could be promoted through the City, for tourism, to bring in more people. And seeing a little bit more of helping the small business community. It’s going to be hard to take down the cost of living so we’ve got to find something. If we can keep them from having this essentially dual-mortgage expenditure, at least that’s a step.
What do you see the City’s role being when it comes to AirBnB?
I’ve been hearing a lot at the doors. There really are two sides of it. We don’t want to diminish the AirBnBs because, right now, we’re running out of room on our hotels and I know they’ve built expansions – and that’s good for now – but if we were to increase tourism by even 10 percent, they’re going to be at capacity again. Unless we bring more opportunities for people to stay here, we’re going to bottleneck ourselves and limit that. I really don’t want to see AirBnBs too tightly regulated. If anything, I’d like to see regular BnBs deregulated to help promote them, to put them on the same ground, because I don’t think it’s fair they have different levels of requirements to meet. At the same time I don’t want to deter them either, which would take away from our tourism. I don’t know exactly what deregulating BnBs looks like right now, but I think that’s probably the better option for us growing our economy than to regulate AirBnBs.
The other big issue we look at when we talk about downtown Yellowknife is homelessness. The City has its 10-year plan, it’s a year into it, it’s budgeted to cost a lot of money but it has an extremely ambitious goal in looking to end homelessness in that 10-year span. Is that the right approach?
I’ve read through the plan a couple of times now and think they have the right idea with it. I think it is ambitious in how they’re planning to relocate, move around, where they’re going to get… I know they’re trying to pull people in to vacant spots right now, then they want to build their own to move the second phase forward. We need the funding for it, I don’t know where we’re getting that if the territorial government doesn’t come forward to give it to us. I feel we also have an opportunity with the next federal and territorial elections to make sure we are lobbying for that and make sure we are electing people that are going to be advocating for helping us out on that.
The mayor’s position is key to that. Yellowknifers can either elect a mayor who represents some form of consistency with what council has been for the past few years, or they can look to two first-time candidates, both of whom are promising some quite significant departures in terms of policy. What do you think the best option is?
You know, I was rather impressed with how Bob’s been speaking, but I do think that experience is going to be more important on this. I am looking to probably either Rebecca or Adrian. I have talked with both of them and think I could work well with either of them – not that the other two candidates don’t have some good opinions on things. But I really think we need expertise in the mayor position right now. I think it’ll be one of those two, and I honestly still haven’t made up my mind as to which one. I think they are both really strong options.
Do you think a lot of Yellowknife’s successes over the next few years are likely to be more incremental in nature, or do you think transformative ideas actually do exist out there?
I like to think of myself as a fairly logical person and I think they are going to be incremental. Right now I think we are looking more to the homelessness issue – we are not going to end it tomorrow. If it were that easy, a previous council would have done it. As long as we’re starting to solve the problem, to see some kind of progressive nature, I count that as a win.
To what extent has turning yourself into a wizard helped your campaign?
I would say it’s probably been the best thing for my campaign. I honestly thought I would get a little bit of flak, the odd person saying it was childish or whatever, but we came from a problem-solving stance on it and, I mean, the community has been great about saying they appreciated the fact I made the best of the situation. The community really liked it and it has really helped the campaign. I can’t argue with the results of it. I can’t confirm or deny, in the next cycle, win or lose, I will have wizard signs out, but it’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about. It has made me stand out.
Finally, in all seriousness, let’s sum things up and look at a vision three or four years down the line for Yellowknife. If you’ve been on council, what changes do you hope Yellowknifers would be able to notice?
I would hope they notice a decrease in our homelessness issue. I don’t plan to solve it but I hope we can at least have a noticeable look back on the streets and say, all right, there aren’t as many as there were. I’m hoping we can bring on new economic developments in the way of small business; I hope we can try to flourish our downtown again, not that it should be our only focus. For me, if we have more small businesses, more people getting involved in the community, a little bit less homelessness, that would be a win for me.