Fort Smith 2021 mayoral election interview: Jessica Cox
Town councillor Jessica Cox, who has lived in Fort Smith since 2000, says she’s running for mayor so she can continue to make Fort Smith “the best community to live and work and visit.”
If elected, Cox says she will work closely with council to determine priorities such as determining the replacement fire hall. She supports initiatives that promote active transport, like more sidewalks, and more consistent bylaw enforcement of things like traffic, unsightly properties, and animal control.
Over the past three years on council, Cox helped to oversee the community recreation centre’s renovation, the opening of a community daycare, the paving of the Thebacha Trail, and the installation of five new playgrounds in Fort Smith.
Cabin Radio also recorded an interview with mayoral candidate Fred Daniels. Polling day is October 18.
This interview was recorded on September 24, 2021. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Sarah Pruys: Tell us about your background and the qualifications that make you think you’re the best person for this position.
Jessica Cox: I’ve been a town councillor for the last three years. As part of my work with town council, I’ve been chair of the communications committee, a member of the bylaw review committee, the council representative on the community services advisory board, and I also sit on the community and recreation centre steering committee, which is the committee responsible for overseeing the renovation of the community and recreation centre.
In addition to my work with council, I also have a long history of volunteering in community. I am an active minor hockey coach with Fort Smith minor hockey. This year I will be assistant coaching with the bantam team. I also volunteer with the Fort Smith Animal Society. I was on the host society for the 2018 Arctic Winter Games that were held in the South Slave, Fort Smith and Hay River. I also sat on what used to be the recreation advisory board for almost 10 years before I was elected to council, and then became the council representative. And I was on the DEA [District Education Authority] for three years. I also was on the board for the Northern Life Museum and Cultural Centre about 10 years ago. When I first moved to Smith in 2000, I served for six years on the volunteer fire department.
In terms of a little bit about me, I moved to Smith in 2000. I met my husband here and we’ve married and settled here; we’re raising our family here, our kids. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to live in Smith and be raising our family here. And yes, we’re privileged to be able to live here. And we love the community.
Did you mention what your day job is right now?
I work at Aurora College as the coordinator of continuing education. I work part-time, so I am at the college in the morning during the week.
If you were elected mayor, would you hold on to that part-time position and do both of them part-time or would you become a full-time mayor?
My plan is to continue working at the college part-time in the mornings and do the mayor’s job outside those hours if I’m successful in the election.
Why did you decide to run for mayor?
I’m running for mayor for the privilege of representing the community, in part as an official spokesperson. I want to work for the whole community, all the residents in Fort Smith. And I want to work with council to continue making Smith the best community to live and work and visit. I believe fiercely that Fort Smith is the best community to live and work and visit.
I would work with other community leaders to present a united voice for the community. I’ve been on council for three years and I am familiar with how the municipality operates. I understand that municipal government is very important to our day-to-day lives. The town is responsible for water and sewer, garbage, dogs – the things that affect residents on a daily basis. And so it’s what I consider the most relevant level of government, the most immediate level of government. And yes, I think it’s a privilege to be elected to office at the municipal level, it’s the most relevant and the most immediate.
You’ve been on council for three years. What are some highlights from that time? What kinds of things did you help accomplish?
I think there’s a couple of ways of answering that question. One, obviously, is to list the concrete things we’ve done. But something more intangible that I would be proud of is to have been part of a council that really works together to make things happen. I feel privileged to have been a part of council with councillors who are passionate about the community, committed to working together, and really making decisions in the best interests of the whole community. That’s not to say we agree on everything all the time, but there’s definitely a commitment from this term of council, from everyone, to really work together in the best interests of the community.
But in terms of concrete things? Well, most recently, I would say that I’m proud of completion of the paving of the Thebacha Trail. That just finished this week, actually, so we now have a 10-kilometre paved recreation trail around and through the community. That’s something I think we’re all very proud of. And I think what’s critical to that is, aside from being an outdoor recreational venue, it also provides pedestrian access along Calder [Avenue]. Calder is the main thoroughfare through the community, and there aren’t any sidewalks on it at the east end of town. And so now the trail leaves Bell Rock and goes down Primrose, down Portage, and now along Calder to King Street. So it provides pedestrian access in what is otherwise a main route through town that did not previously have sidewalks, or any kind of hard surface trail. So that’s exciting and it just finished.
The town also just finished installing playgrounds. There are five new playground structures that were installed – three of them are in new playground spaces. There were two that replaced existing playground structures that had to be torn down because their condition had deteriorated so much. So those old playgrounds have been replaced. And then there’s a new playground on St Anne’s Street and there are two new playgrounds at the rec centre. One is specifically for preschoolers, for young children ages two to five, at the daycare. And then the other one is for older children, I think five to 12-year-olds, and it’s a very large playground structure. So now there’s a playground at the community and recreation centre. Those are exciting to see, those are very concrete and very recent.
I’m very proud to have been part of the council that made the daycare happen at the community and recreation centre. The town did not have a daycare, I think, since 2006. So it had been 14 years we had not had a community daycare. We have day homes in the community but there is always a shortage of daycare or childcare spaces. And on an economic development level, we had reports of people not being able to take work in Fort Smith because they couldn’t find childcare. Students at the college were unable to come take the programs because the community didn’t have childcare spaces available. So the opening of the daycare last year was a significant achievement. And it’s being run on a cost-recovery basis, so the expenses for the daycare are being covered by the fees the parents are paying and by funding the town is accessing through ECE [the NWT’s Department of Education, Culture, and Employment]. And then there were capital funds in addition to that to help with the construction. A significant portion of the rec centre renovation is the construction of a daycare facility. The rooms are being specifically set up to accommodate the daycare on the main floor there.
You’ve been going door-to-door campaigning. What are you hearing from people?
It’s a variety of things. It’s just the last couple of nights but I’ve hit about 50 doors so far. I’ve heard a wide variety of things, everything from the need to pave some of the unpaved roads that are still in the community… which is actually something the town has received funding for and should be done in the next couple of years. So that’s encouraging, that that is something people want to see happen and that the town is able to make it happen.
Also pursuing the completion of an all-weather road south, either through to Garden River or Fort Chipewyan. There were many discussions about it, the last one happened most recently in August 2019. There was a large gathering here in Fort Smith of all the First Nations who are in Wood Buffalo National Park who are interested in having that road completed. So everyone was at the table, everyone agreed we want to see the road happen. Then the pandemic happened and it I think fell off the radar. It is now back on people’s radar. That is something I’ve heard residents are interested in the town pursuing, in terms of lobbying and working collaboratively with all the governments who can make that road happen. I think it’s an example of a project that, if only one government is interested in it happening, is too big, it’s too much. You need to get everybody at the table.
Also Kaeser’s Canal – and this is related to slope stabilization, which you guys did actually a very comprehensive story on. Kaeser’s Canal is a water drainage canal on the perimeter of the community, on the other side of Highway 5. There’s concern that it’s not functioning adequately. The town did hire a contractor this summer to dredge it in the hopes that water would flow better. There’s concern that it’s not working the way it’s supposed to. And so that, again, will require collaboration among many governments because it’s technically on the Alberta side of the border. And also, not only is it on the Alberta side of the border, it’s also on Smith’s Landing First Nation land.
These concerns you’re hearing, do you agree? Are these things you would advocate for as mayor?
The mayor has to work with council to help determine the priorities. So if council provides direction to the mayor that these are priorities to be worked on, then the mayor is responsible for following through on council’s direction.
As mayor, there are other things that I would like to see worked on. But I think it’s the mayor’s job to work with council, to work together and collaborate on what those priorities are.
I would advocate for more consistent bylaw enforcement, which includes animal control, traffic, and unsightly lands. The next mayor and council will also be responsible for determining the future of the fire hall and the replacement building that will house both the fire hall and the ambulance. So the fire hall will be a big capital project that this next mayor and council will be responsible for.
And just in general, with my background in recreation, I’m generally in favour of supporting initiatives that promote active transport in the community. So the completion of the trail was a big accomplishment in that respect but also, related to that, working with council to determine how we can get more sidewalks constructed around town.