Yellowknife election 2022: Ryan Fequet interview
Ryan Fequet 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.
Polling day is October 17, though most votes are expected to have been cast by mail beforehand. Results should be available on the night of October 17.
Mayor Rebecca Alty has already been acclaimed to a second term as nobody ran against her.
Yellowknife’s school board elections also resulted in two sets of acclamations.
This interview was recorded on September 27, 2022. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: What’s your Yellowknife background?
Ryan Fequet: I’ve lived in Yellowknife for about 15 years and I’ve been mostly involved with sports on different organizations: slo-pitch, volleyball, soccer. I spent a good number of years helping at Folk on the Rocks. My professional career is in the environmental regulatory field, working for an administrative tribunal who manages resource development, created from a modern-day land claim. I live here with my family in the downtown core and we love it here. We love the outdoors and the lakes and the trails and everything that the city has to offer.
If you were elected to city council, what would your philosophy be? What kind of councillor do you think you would be?
Culture trumps strategy every day of the week. I noticed that in the city’s strategic plan, they talk about improving culture and continuous improvement. And I think that’s really important. And I think that’s important at the council level, too. We need to be an effective team, within the council team, but also be an effective team as a city, so the council and the administration working together. I think right now a lot of the concerns we hear are that people actually don’t know all the good work that the city is doing. I know, I’ve been doing my homework for the last month or two and learning all of the great strategies and plans and implementation plans that have been created. And I think the city and the residents of Yellowknife would benefit from really understanding all the great work that everyone is doing is actually taking place behind the scenes.
Municipal taxes next year – what do you think should be happening to those taxes?
That is a tricky conversation. We actually don’t know, right now, what the value of our services are that the city is offering. I think that the 2019 asset management roadmap really underscored how the city has never really done lifecycle costing for all its assets in order to deliver services. And so without that information – I know the city is putting together an asset registry – but without that completed, it’s hard to know what things are going to come up in the near future and so what taxes actually should be. I think, in general, the simple answer is they should be as low as possible, because people are already struggling right now with the increased cost of living. So surprising folks each year is not OK. There should be a policy framework that says it will either match inflation or be, you know, plus or minus two points above or below inflation, just so people have an idea. But to be truly informed and to set taxes at a level that reflects the services that people want, we actually need to know what our lifecycle costing of all the assets in the city is, and what programs actually cost us to run. I think that’s been a big challenge over the years.
What would you say are the next steps in reconciliation for the City of Yellowknife?
I’m very happy to see all the work that the city has done on the Starting the Conversation document in 2019 and the framework and the action plan that were approved last June, in 2021. I think there is a whole action plan that outlines all of the things that the city has done and some future actions that they want to do. I think the biggest outstanding action that is on everyone’s radar is the Truth and Reconciliation recommendation that every capital city in Canada should have a residential school survivors’ statue or memoriam in some way. And I think that’s one of the big outstanding ones, and I know the city has been bugging the GNWT to work together and get that sorted.
What should the city’s role be in housing and homelessness?
To start on the housing front, I think we recognize that there are so many examples of GNWT departments offering letters of offer to people down south that accept them and then can’t move up here because there’s no place to live. The city’s community plan from 2020 does outline that there need to be more single and double units available. And we’ve heard – from Bellanca and potentially the 50/50 lot, the Tin Can Hill condos opening up and the School Draw condos opening up – that there is a lot of housing coming online in the next few years. So I think housing is going to be less of an issue in the coming years.
When you start to talk about the underhoused population and homelessness, I think that’s where it gets tricky, because we know that there are about 300 public housing units within the city of Yellowknife. About half of them are owned by the GNWT and half of them are rented from a single landlord, who is also, in its best interest, concentrating a lot of those units, which isn’t in alignment with the housing first principles of staggering and making sure those units are integrated into the community. While there is Housing NWT and a local housing authority board, the city does provide funding to various not-for-profit organizations like the YWCA and Yellowknife Women’s Society to run shelters and to run those services. So I think that’s part of a bigger ask to the GNWT, because all of those services would have to be provided by the GNWT if all of these not-for-profit organizations ceased to exist tomorrow. So just because not-for-profits can do it more efficiently – they don’t have all the huge salaries and benefits, which is another problem that the GNWT has – they’re delivering the services way more nimbly, but often just making ends meet. The Spruce Bough almost closed down. The outreach van got damaged. The not-for-profits are operating all of these social services very leanly. And that’s where the City of Yellowknife needs to become a bigger advocate to the GNWT.
To what extent does climate change need to be at the fore of every decision that city council’s making?
Hopefully it’s on everybody’s mind that ends up getting on council. I think the community energy plan actually outlines really great ways to reduce the carbon footprint. The city has already made big steps like moving over to pellet boilers and reducing its reliance on fuel. There are simple things that the city could also consider, for example, the Diavik mine turned down their heat one degree and saved half a million dollars in a year. We could do that in recreational facilities – just tell parents to wear a coat. You’ll pay less taxes and it might be one degree colder. The city could do additional things to help work towards its climate change goals. I think the city also has a very ambitious goal – I think it’s 2050 – renewable resources, all the way. That’s pretty ambitious. That’s a lot of work to do. But great steps have been taken so far. And I think this gets maybe at the main goal I would have of being a city councillor. There are a lot of strategies and a lot of implementation plans. As a resident, I’m not sure whether they’re all that. Some of them have been delayed or not implemented for years following the council’s decision. And is that because administration needs more resources? Is that because there are too many priorities? I think council needs to be more effective in being accountable and making sure administration is accountable to it, and that council is accountable to the residents of Yellowknife.
What do you think the economic future of Yellowknife looks like? And how does city council support that?
I think we all know mining is a very significant economic driver across the Northwest Territories and I don’t see that changing in the next four years, even though we do have a couple of mines closing, because there is a lot of continued resource development. And if you think about all the spin-off, you know, businesses and economic opportunities, it’s even more important that the city stays close and has a strong partnership with the chamber of mines and advocates to the GNWT. For example. socio-economic agreements are being reviewed currently. When Dominion Diamonds relocated to Calgary, we lost 100 people from the city who were all making $100,000, $150,000 a year and their households. And if that had been a condition of that socio-economic agreement, Yellowknife would look a lot different right now. So I think being an advocate, keeping those strong partnerships with relevant organisations like the chamber of mines, the chamber of commerce, and ensuring small businesses have what they need to continue operating, I think is really important.
Looking at issues the outgoing council has been dealing with, would you have voted for a new swimming pool?
I don’t know, because I don’t have the information that they had when they made that decision.
Did you vote in the referendum?
I did not. Actually, no, sorry, I did. As a resident, I voted for a pool because I wanted the city council to know that I do support recreational facilities, absolutely. They’re a key part of what makes this place a great place to live. But I assumed council would have requested all of the necessary information to make an informed decision. And so prioritizing a pool over a fire hall expansion, or the lagoon dredging, or other capital expense? I don’t know how that conversation went at city council. I do support a pool. I don’t know if now’s the right time for it. But I think if I got elected, that’s something we would probably very quickly learn because one of the first tasks we have as council is to look at the budget for the next few years, which is already prepared in draft, but really digging in to figure out if things are prioritized properly.
This is one that could feasibly come back onto city council’s desk: would you have supported a university campus on Tin Can Hill?
I absolutely support a polytechnic university in the North, especially in Yellowknife. Yellowknife is a transportation and logistics hub, it’s easy for people to get in and out of here. I think there’s the capacity and the desire, and we have Giant Mine remediation happening right within our city boundaries, so there are lots of opportunities to have cool and innovative programs that focus on Indigenous governance. Whether it’s on Tin Can Hill or not? My preference would be that it’s not, again because I think there are opportunities to integrate it into the city for energy efficiency, for reducing our carbon footprint. But, again, I guess if that is a decision that this next council will have to make, and I’m there, we’ll have to make sure we have all the right information to make that really tough decision, because I know there are a lot of mixed views on on where that should be if it’s going to happen.
And this time last year, would you have voted to require proof of vaccination at city facilities?
Yes, absolutely. I recognize that one of the core functions of the city is to ensure the safety of the public. And so whether that’s from vaccinations or from other things, public safety is definitely number one.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think my skill sets of board governance and strategy and policy are really foundational to what the council needs to do to make sure it’s having respectful debates, it’s requesting the information it needs to make good decisions, and whatever those decisions are are being communicated to residents. I consider myself a pretty engaged resident of this city and there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve learned that I didn’t know about past decisions, or what strategies or plans have been implemented. And that’s my own fault. But I feel like if I didn’t know that stuff, I can see why other people don’t have a sense of what’s going on with all the good work that the city is doing. So I think not just making sure we’re informed and making good decisions, I think making sure that the rationale for why those decisions are made, and giving people a heads-up on when they’re coming into effect, and being reasonable. I know, for example, the building bylaw that just got updated has caused a lot of contractors problems, because they didn’t realize some of the changes that now mean they’re sitting there with materials that they can’t install because it doesn’t align with the building code. That’s not OK. Why are we hurting our own residents? I think there’s just a lot more transparency and accountability in our decision-making and the communication afterwards that’s needed.
More: Ryan Fequet’s candidate Facebook page.
Head back to the full interview list here.