Steve Payne is running for Yellowknife city council in the fall 2022 municipal election. Here’s a full transcript of our interview.
We asked every candidate roughly the same questions, to allow residents the chance to compare and contrast answers before placing their votes in the city’s mail-in ballot.
Questions include a little candidate background information and their thoughts on municipal taxes, housing and homelessness, climate change, reconciliation and the city’s economy.
We also ask each candidate how they would have handled three big issues that faced councillors during the past four years: a new swimming pool for Yellowknife, a proposed university campus on Tin Can Hill, and the question of requiring proof of vaccination at city facilities during the pandemic.
This interview was recorded on September 27, 2022. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: What are you most proud of from your past term in office?
Steve Payne: Actually getting through Covid fairly unscathed. It was difficult. We’ve done most of the last two and a half years online. When we got back in person, that was good. Some of the decisions that we made – there are a few controversial ones. The MOU for the polytechnic, I think not everybody likes that decision. But I think for the future of Yellowknife, I think it’s a good thing if this actually goes ahead.
Are there areas where you feel like council missed the mark, or you personally or council collectively could have done better?
Hindsight is 20-20. Did we hit a home run on every decision? No, we didn’t. But I do think we did our best with the information that we had at the time. Over the last couple of years, we had some pretty big decisions to make, like the homeless shelter downtown. Obviously, a lot of people didn’t like our decision on it. But we had some background knowledge that there was a possibility of the visitor centre parking lot for modulars, which I think worked out very well. And then we had the vaccination ID decision. And obviously, I voted not to have that policy in place but I lost that vote. I’d still vote the same way if I had that same decision to make. I think that Yellowknife has always been an inclusive town. And I think that we could have accommodated non-vaccinated people in our facilities if we wanted to.
Looking back on the vote for a new swimming pool, what do you think of that?
My kids are grown, my kids will never use – for the most part – that pool. But we don’t pay for the facilities that we’re using right now. Somebody else has paid for it. Other taxpayers have come in and paid for those facilities. When it comes to the pool, I do think that there are a lot of people that maybe will be thinking about moving to town and having a facility like that might be the tipping point of them moving here or moving to Grande Prairie. We live in a beautiful city here and I do believe we have more facilities than any other city our size because it’s just us, we don’t have another community or a city 15 minutes down the road that we can take advantage of. So Yellowknife has always been the place to encourage sport, encourage activity. And we need to have those facilities to attract people and keep people here.
What kind of philosophy do you think you bring to things as a councillor?
Well, I’m into my 27th year here. I do really, really love this city and I think that my philosophy is to keep everybody in mind when I’m making these decisions. Sometimes we have to make decisions for a minority instead of a majority. I try to take everything into consideration. I just want to make Yellowknife a better place than what it was before I started on council. And that could be big decisions, that could be small decisions, but in the end I do have the best of intentions and I will bend over backwards to help anybody in the city.
You were first elected in 2015. Do you feel like you’ve changed as a councillor?
Yeah, I do believe I’ve changed. I feel like it’s aged me. The last couple of years have been pretty tough on me, you know, and I really, I really debated – a lot – about running for a third term. I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost opportunities, I don’t get invited to as many places as I used to. But that’s OK. I’m at a point in my life now where I don’t need to have that. I do my own thing, I’ve got my own circle of friends. But it has changed me. I look at things differently. I’m not as reactive as I used to be. I try to think things through and look at the positives and negatives, and look at the possible repercussions of decisions that we make. And like I said, we don’t always do what some people want. But every decision that we make, we’re never going to have 100 percent of people on board. And part of being on council for the last two terms is I’ve learned to be OK with people disliking me. I used to take it really personally, and now not so much.
What do you think should be happening with municipal taxes in the next year?
That’s a tough one. I’m never going to be in support of taxing people unfairly and without a good reason. Maybe this upcoming term and the next terms coming is where we really need to step back and look at what is our role as a city? What services do we want to provide? Maybe some services need to be reduced. People are having a hard time paying their bills now. We’re looking at high interest rates, we’re looking at high inflation, high grocery costs, everything’s going up except for people’s wages for the most part. So if the city can come in and help out with keeping our costs reasonable, I think that’s what we should be doing.
For housing and homelessness, what do you think the future needs to look like there for the city?
We’ve applied for federal funding as a municipality. I believe the number I just heard a couple of weeks ago at council was we’ve inputted $11.8 million into homelessness initiatives at different levels. So as a city, I think that we’re doing a good job. But the issue seems to be getting bigger and I think about this all the time. We drive through town, and we see public drunkenness and we see people with issues, and I think it goes well beyond what we see on the streets. There are big reasons why people are there. I do think that we need to get to the bottom of it and see why – why people are experiencing these substance abuse issues. Mental illnesses play a big role. The last two and a half years haven’t really been good for people that are experiencing mental illness. I think that’s been put off to the side to deal with the pandemic. So as a city, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and hopefully, like I said, work in collaboration with the territorial government.
What are the next steps, do you think, in reconciliation for the City of Yellowknife?
We’ve got some things in place. We have a really great affirmative action program in place. We were working with the YKDFN to do what we can and I think we can just focus on implementing some of the recommendations of the truth and reconciliation study.
Through all of this, is climate change something that city councillors have to keep front of mind?
I think we’ve done a pretty decent job in my two terms. We’ve been moving a lot of facilities to wood-pellet boilers, we’ve been changing lights, we’ve been just making better choices in some of the equipment. If we have a choice to buy something that’s more energy efficient, obviously, we will, in the future, I’d love to see a loan program from the city where people can maybe install a new pellet stove in their house or help with new windows or something like that. I know the Arctic Energy Alliance and the city have been working closely. We’ll just keep picking away and we’ll keep trying to make changes. We are a city of 22,000 people in a territory of 44,000 people in a pretty big landmass. It’s a lot of land and we have a lot of trees up here. I know that our forest itself takes care of a lot of our carbon emissions. But I think, for us, it’s choice. We have to make better choices and I see the city doing that.
And when you look at the economic future of Yellowknife, what do you think that future is? And how can city council support that?
I think we’re going to see a more diversified economy here. Tourism is starting to come back. I had a friend last night in from out of town, and he was saying he was trying to find a hotel and everything’s booked. So our tourism industry is starting to come back. And I’m seeing a lot of strangers around town. So I think tourism is going to play a big role. Hopefully, TerraX – if they get on the go, if they get going, that’s going to be a positive. The Giant Mine remediation – I know it wasn’t a positive past but I think that the future has a lot of possibilities and a lot of positivity. It’s going to employ a lot of people and, right now, we have quite a few projects on the go where not the city itself, but developers within the city are working to increase rentals here in town. That’s going to help in a big way. But I think Yellowknife has always been been a place where local business hopefully will thrive. And I know, myseIf, I’m not a big Amazon shopper. Every year we make a commitment to buy 95 percent of our Christmas gifts in town, whether it’s a jacket at Aron’s store down there or jeans at Mark’s or Canadian Tire, or my local coffee companies, I try to spend all my money here. If more people decided to spend their money here in Yellowknife, that dollar means a lot more than going in Jeff Bezos’ pocket.
Is there anything else you want to add?
I see the slate of people that are running for council and I think pretty-much everybody is really good people and I know they have the best intentions, and they want the best for the city. So it’s going to be interesting for people getting out to vote this year, with the mail-in vote. It’s hard to complain if you don’t throw that ballot in, right? So I’d love for everybody to vote and, you know, I’d love for them to vote for me but there are a lot of good people on council and I know there will be eight people on council that will be determined to make a change in the city and make the city a better place.