Garett Cochrane 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’s your Yellowknife background?
Garett Cochrane: I’m a born-and-raised Yellowknifer, third generation, proud 2SLGBTQ+ Métis who’s looking to give back to his community, I have done this in many ways and for many years as a volunteer, a board member, a justice of the peace and as a general citizen. I’ve actually had the honour of being able to officiate over 35 local weddings in the last few years. And outside of that, you can usually catch me around karaoke or our local festivals or sometimes at the library where I also work part-time. But that’s less of a job and more of an exercise of Zen.
So if you’re elected, what is your philosophy going to be? What kind of city councillor are we going to get?
The current times that we live in are inflationary times, where prices of food and gas haven’t been at the levels that they are since the early 1980s. I think the philosophy of the council has to be – with the escalating cost of living – and my personal one is to do as least harm as possible to the citizens of Yellowknife. Now, I’m not going to say that this is not going to be a time where there are going to be some tax increases here or there. That’s the nature of our lack of revenue options, which I would like to be able to change with the Cities Act hopefully coming down this year. But essentially what the government has to be here, what the Yellowknife city government is here for and what I intend to be able to do with it, is take care of roads, lights, garbage, and recreational facilities.
What should happen to municipal taxes next year?
Well, I’d have to go through that budget proposal with a fine-tooth comb to decide what proposals they’re putting forward here and be able to make the decision at the time. Theoretically, if we’re still in the current inflationary situation, I would try to keep them as low as possible. If we’re in a growth period, which I would like to see, especially with the oncoming of the building of the North Slave campus for the new Aurora polytechnic, and if it is booming, I’d like to be able to move and do other things that I’ve been really wanting. For example, a recreational facility that I’m looking to be able to do, a multi-use facility, is using the old Ruth inch Memorial Pool – moving the current library out of where it’s situated in Centre Square, put it there. I’d also like to be able to get an indoor skatepark, which youth have been talking about for years, even since I was a kid going to Range Lake North School. And then also set up an art space in there as well. Oh and also, being that there’s an amazing patio there, I’d like to set up an RFP, get a cafe in there, so people could rent out a book from the library and then go enjoy that amazing view of that lake with the weird black sediment at the bottom.
What role should Yellowknife City Council play in housing and homelessness in Yellowknife?
Well, we already play a larger than necessary role, I think. We’ve already taken these powers and there’s no real way of giving them back. With the CAB committee, we’re basically supposed to steer the NGOs to be able to address this issue on the front line. One part of my policy platform is to be able to work in partnership with the GNWT to address this issue holistically – so, have trained social workers on the ground, being able to directly intervene and de-escalate the situation, but in tandem with our municipal enforcement officers walking around 48 and 49 Street and directing as they are supposed to as peace officers, and keeping the peace. I’m not saying we’re supposed to prosecute, I’m not saying that we need to enhance their powers. But if we see people breaking the bylaws, they should be enforced. Now, for the other aspects of it, there’s a territorial program that was started under Covid where they would take a part of the homeless population out to Aurora Village on a daily basis for sometimes weeks at a time, where they could situate themselves and have on-the-land healing, which was far more conducive of sobriety. And if anyone actually had a conversation with some of these homeless people and also had a conversation with some of the workers, this was a very beneficial program that was well received by everyone.
In reconciliation, where should the city be going?
I’ve had the pleasure of serving on the municipal heritage committee for the last four years and I have to say, we have this weird paradigm of prioritizing mining heritage over Indigenous heritage, I think utilizing that committee to be able to do proper research into the area, with the partnership of both the YKDFN and the NSMA, to be able to improve proper recognition for these areas is a good start. I think we also need to be able to consider re-Indigenizing parts of Yellowknife that should have been a long time ago. For example, Old Airport Road. That’s basically been a placeholder name for forever and a day. I think it’s about time we have a conversation about changing that into something more applicable, say either Chief Drygeese or Akaitcho.
To what extent is it your job as a Yellowknife city councillor to worry about climate change?
I think it is an important part. I do know that there are levels of restrictions, especially within our budgetary restrictions and our ability to directly affect, but I do think there are things that we can do on the ground to start addressing this by greening our permitting process, our development process, and also expanding and incentivizing our public transportation. For example, I’d like to see our routes go to places such as the airport – this is the only city I’ve ever seen that actually doesn’t have a route to the airport – and expanding the time of it. I’ve had people tell me all the time that the buses end too early. If we could get them going to 9pm or 10pm, which is quite regular in other cities, I think that would be a great way to get people no longer driving, no longer idling and utilizing an infrastructure that we’ve had for years now. And a great one at that, if anybody’s ever taken a bus.
What do you think the economic future of this city is? And how do you think Yellowknife City Council can support that?
I think we need to diversify and we need to diversify now. If the chamber of mines is correct, contemporary mining is ending here in 2029. Our best option for this is being able to find sectors that we haven’t regularly utilized that will be able to be the backbone of the future economy. I’m not saying that mineral extraction and development is not still in our future – you see projects around the North Slave and the remediation economy plan that’s coming through the GNWT – but the development of the knowledge economy, based around that capital project of the North Slave polytechnic campus, and also being able to get our tourist industry back to a place of where it was pre-Covid, I think, is a great start. If we start moving down that direction, I am looking for business leaders to really take leadership on this and to innovate this, but I’d like to be able to give them the tools and opportunities to do just that, especially with our labour force where we are currently. We have some real issues being able to fill positions here. But if we can train in-house for not only trades, but also more professional careers, which is being offered in our sister territory right now with their brand-new university, I think that is a great way for us to move towards a well-developed and sustainable economy.
Let’s look at three issues that faced the outgoing council over the past four years. Would you have voted for a new swimming pool?
I actually did vote for that new swimming pool as a citizen in the referendum. I think our construction industry has to be able to be supported in these times. And I think this kind of project is what’s moving towards the right direction, not only sustaining that for the foreseeable future, and what is looking likely to be a global recession, but you know, as a kid who’s used the Ruth Inch since the early 90s or even probably earlier that, it’s been in need of some sort of retooling or renovation here for at least a decade. And a brand-new facility demonstrates to the public and to the future generations of Yellowknife that this is where we’re planning to go. If anyone’s ever taken look at the plan, it’s gorgeous. And where it’s going to be situated now, looking over the lake, is going to be a perfect area to be able to move into a more perfect recreation zone. Plus this is right beside Gitzel. This is across from Lanky and Sissons, and this is beside Northlands, areas that are represented by some of our lower income thresholds, and would be perfect for accessibility towards them. And as I said earlier, I would like to be able to utilize the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool as a multi-use facility for our library, art space and indoor skatepark. Of course, this is years down the line.
Would you have supported a university campus on Tin Can Hill?
No. I would have preferred the downtown integrated model to begin with, especially utilizing some of our highly underutilized infrastructure downtown, primarily the mall. And then with future extension going on to the remediated Con site.
And this time last year, would you have voted to support proof of vaccination at city facilities?
Absolutely. I actually was working at one of those city facilities at the time, I knew what it was to be able to deal with my colleagues who, you know, a fair amount of them were petrified about what they were dealing with in the pandemic and I was enforcing that policy. And I have to tell you, it worked. It was a rational-based decision that was provided from experts for the city to be able to interact. And I prefer to take my advice from experts over my feeds on Facebook, shall we say,
Is there anything else you want to add?
This is a mail-in election. I know everyone’s having a bit of a trouble really understanding how this is going to go. I’ve had this question constantly at the doors. So your ballot should be here any time. The moment you get that you can mail it in, but I would more suggest taking down to the City Hall drop-off box. If you are not fortunate enough to be able to get your ballot in on time, on October 17 there will be two voter assistance areas, one at the Tree of Peace and one at the Multiplex. If you need any assistance to be able to have more detail on this, either reach out to the city or reach out to me over my social media, and I will be able to help you in any way I can.