Yellowknife 2018 mayoral election interview: Jerald Sibbeston
Jerald Sibbeston bills himself as a libertarian, anti-establishment alternative to Adrian Bell and Rebecca Alty for the position of Yellowknife mayor.
Speaking to Cabin Radio, Sibbeston said he was angry at the City and using his mayoral run to bring his concerns to a wider audience.
“I would be pretty surprised if I actually won,” he admitted. “That being said, I am going to give it my 100 percent.”
Sibbeston’s campaign pledges include pushing for cuts to a range of departments, weeding out “bad apples” at City Hall by reducing what he perceives as staff complacency, and introducing an ombudsman to hear complaints.
Listen to the full interview in Cabin Radio’s Lunchtime News podcast (begins at 6:00 mark) or read the transcript below. Interviews with the other mayoral candidates – Alty and Bell being the only two, to date – will follow. Election day is October 15.
Ollie Williams: Why are you running for mayor?
Jerald Sibbeston: Basically I’ve decided to run for mayor because I ran into a situation in City Hall that I couldn’t resolve through any normal means. My top priority is the writing into the City’s charter of an ombudsman’s office. Basically the layout at City Hall right now is there is a legislative branch, there is an executive branch, and then there is the bureaucracy. We don’t actually have a judicial branch at City Hall, there’s nowhere you can take a complaint to other than the manager of the department. In my experience, the managers of those departments are more invested in protecting their employees than they are in helping the public.
There are some people who might listen to that and think well, hang on, the guy’s just said he had one issue at City Hall and now he’s running purely to pursue a complaint. How would you respond to that?
I would say that’s somewhat accurate although it would be a little bit narrow. The truth is I have a budget that I’m working on at present and I hope to release the numbers in the next few days. I already have an org chart that shows which divisions I would financially support or discourage from being financially supported.
You’re proposing significant cuts to four departments.
Let’s say you’re voted in, how will you communicate that to staff and how will you manage that relationship?
It’s not about communicating it to staff, I don’t feel–
Well it would be, wouldn’t it?
I think it’s about communicating it to the public in this election, first and foremost, that–
But you’d have to worry about how you’d manage your staff.
Oh absolutely but, if I’m given a mandate from the people, that’s more important than my staff at City Hall. I’m responsible to the electorate.
You’re also responsible to your staff, as well.
I’m responsible to the staff as mayor insofar as they’re doing their jobs properly.
Do you feel like City Hall staff, in general, are?
I feel that the majority of City staff are honest, good, hard-working people that generally do their jobs at an acceptable level. That being said, there hasn’t been a justice system there for anyone to complain to, so there are a few bad apples there, for sure – and I’m not just talking about one particular department. If you have an unchecked system with no balance, you end up with inherently bad actors due to the fact they are no longer afraid for their positions. There is absolutely no chance they will ever be confronted with making a bad decision.
Should people be ‘afraid for their positions’ in order to perform well in a job?
I don’t think people should have to be afraid for their positions to perform well at their jobs. That being said, when you wake up in the morning, you should be thankful that you’ve got a job.
OK. You mentioned corruption and animosity toward the public in your initial statements on Facebook for your campaign. Where do you see the animosity?
I see the animosity when I walk in to City Hall and I am greeted there, I wouldn’t say by the front staff, but if you walk up to the mayor’s desk, definitely you are not going to be getting a very warm and welcome response there – the odds of you actually ending up being able to have a civil conversation with any of the top managers there is almost zero, in my experience, personally. I am sure there are a lot of other members of the public, anyone ranging from builders who had issues – they would actually benefit greatly from an ombudsman’s office – to guys like me who had a little issue and are told by upper management, ‘That’s it, no, we’re not going to consider this any more,’ and you’re straight-up out of luck.
What was your issue?
My issue – and here’s the thing, I think a lot of people who would call themselves politicians, which I very hesitantly call myself, would be afraid to even have something like this on the air, out in public – the fact of the matter is I’ve been banned from the field house for what the City claims was me uttering death threats and other totally, totally cockamamy things they’ve said that I’ve done. There’s no actual video or audio evidence, there is zero evidence it actually happened, and – just for our listeners – I’m looking our host here right in the eye and telling him it absolutely didn’t happen, it’s a complete fabrication.
Looking me in the eye doesn’t necessarily mean anything…
No, I understand, but it’s a step forward from me looking all shifty and dodgy, here, right? The fact of the matter is, I know that’s probably going to be a lot of people’s first impression. All I can really tell the people that would be skeptical of that is I wouldn’t be here running for mayor if we had an ombudsman. The other two candidates that have stepped forward so far have zero vested interest in making that happen; in fact, that would be a detriment to them and their platforms, because then they would have a check on their power.
Both of them have advocated for increased transparency and accountability in their platforms.
I haven’t even looked at their platforms yet, because–
So how can you sit there and say that you think they’re not for this, if you haven’t looked at their platforms?
I don’t think those people are going to ever serve my interests. That’s one of the reasons I am running, is what you have in Yellowknife right now is a couple of professional politicians vying for that seat so one day they can go on and run for MLA or even premier.
One’s a real estate agent, the other’s a community relations manager. They’re not professional politicians.
Well, I would call them professional politicians at this point. They’ve both been on council and have crafted, and set up, the environment that we have to date.
People won’t want a single-issue mayor, they want a mayor that’s going to be able to tackle anything. What do you bring to the job, beyond the ombudsman, that people can look at and say, ‘Right, this guy, I want him’?
OK. The other thing, my second priority – and thanks for lobbing me the nice question – my second priority is absolutely finishing off all of the streets, and back roads, and sewers, and so forth. The City’s business is pretty basic. They should be looking after the roads, and streets, and sewers. They should probably be doing a little bit better job on the homelessness thing, although I didn’t list that as one of my highest priorities and there’s a reason for that. But I think the City’s lost its way when you start looking into thermal energy projects out at the mine that will only benefit the biggest buildings in town, and going to war with the houseboaters instead of saying, ‘Hey, that’s a potential tax base where we could install a very short wharf at least and maybe provide sewer and garbage pickup for these people, and power,’ without causing a whole bunch of animosity between the houseboaters and City Hall.
It’s a long time since I’ve heard anyone talk about a war between the City and the houseboaters. I suppose there may still be people who perceive that. So you would look to charge houseboaters a fee for garbage pickup and sewer?
If they were willing to tie up to a wharf that was serviced. Houseboats in this town, it’s one of the reasons I love being here, it adds some colour. The people that live on houseboats are generally pretty interesting people to speak to.
They tend not to want to move, either, so if you try to get them to tie up to a wharf…
They tend not to move, and that’s what I mean, so I don’t want to make that a huge, huge deal. One of the planks of animosity you were asking about earlier is I think the houseboaters and City Hall don’t really get along. I’d like to have better relationships with those people and maybe even draw them into the tax base.
OK. Which you think can be done.
I think it should at least be attempted, like in Vancouver, like in Toronto, like any other cities on the waterside. A lot of those municipalities are probably exceeding their expenses on those wharves in income. I haven’t looked that up but will make sure I can put that on my website.
Sure. What experience of governance do you have?
I’ve worked for a year at the Government of the Northwest Territories in the PSP division, planning and strategic policy division, with ENR. I’ve seen and written briefing notes for the minister at that time. I was actually the guy that did a lot of the fact-checking on those briefing notes, so I had to interact quite extensively with all of the people with their policy positions at that time.
I’ve also got a Bachelor of Arts in law and a minor in political science, a major in political philosophy. Those are the two big ones. As of recently, I’ve kind of been, you know, I’ve gone through a couple of years of some pretty hard times here. Normally, I think my trajectory – if I’d had an easier life in certain ways, perhaps – would be working in a government job, making a hundred-thousand-plus a year, and so on. That didn’t happen, so… I feel that I can offer the citizens of this city a real alternative to a couple of established players, and also maybe shake the chains a little bit here and get people talking about things that aren’t talked about currently.
What is your vision for Yellowknife 10 years from now?
My vision will be that it’s a great place to live. It is a great place to live, it’s just we’ve got some issues that need sorting out. I understand why people say homelessness is a problem here in town, and there are some reasons for that. One is I think the GNWT releases people from prison and they bring them out, I’ve been told, to the airport. They’re offered a ticket home, but according to the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms they don’t have to take that ticket home and often they end up here in town. And another one that actually a nurse just told me about is medical travel: sometimes, some of the people from the communities end up here in town and decide they want to stay a little while longer.
What happens in many of these cases, and I’m not saying it’s… it just is, that’s what I mean… they end up in a bad situation and don’t have a way to get home. I think us offering a plane ticket on an infrequent basis – I put one year on my website but maybe a little less frequent than that – would be a lot cheaper, to just fly them home, and even if they ended up here again, for the duration that they’re there it would end up being a less expensive thing for the City of Yellowknife.
As you said, people don’t have to accept that.
As mayor, I would totally lobby the GNWT to do a prison transfer to the place of the offence before they are released. There is often an RCMP station and holding cell, that’s usually where they got arrested, I don’t see why they shouldn’t just be let out there.
Will they get the rehabilitation and support they need there?
Well, I’m not saying they need to go there for more than a few days right at the end of their sentence before they are part of the general population again. I was told their rights as prisoners, including mobility rights, are pretty restricted, and they don’t have the same level of rights as people that are not in that system.
OK. Let’s be very careful not to equate people who don’t have homes with criminals.
Nope. I’m not. I already mentioned the medical people.
And you don’t necessarily have to be ill either. If there are people on the streets – hang on – and you’re offering them a one-way flight out of here, what happens if they say no?
If they say no, it’s up to them. You ran into the common perception for something like this. This would just be a pilot project, it would be totally voluntary.
Well it has to be!
No no no, I mean from what I’ve got posted on my website, it would be totally voluntary, of course it has to be. My background at school is I took a lot of constitutional law courses, it was fascinating stuff, and as a result I’m fully aware of the implications of the suggestions that I’m making and the way that I’m intending on making those suggestions.
In the system that I’m presenting, I’m not talking about the people who are getting released from the medical system or prison system, I’m talking about just, hey, if you are from Tsiigehtchic or if you’re from Aklavik or something like that, and want to go home, and you’ve been on the streets for a couple of months and things are getting hard, as a matter of compassion, if you want to walk into the office of your own accord, say you’d like to go home, I think that’s something the City could offer these people.
The City of Yellowknife should be less responsible than the GNWT for a lot of the situations that are happening here. I’m not necessarily laying fault or blame, I’m just saying that instead of people always just saying, ‘oh, the homeless problem,’ well, come on, let’s hear your ideas.
I’ve heard a lot of people complain about people in the downtown core. That’s because we put our shelter for the homeless people right next to the liquor store. I’m suggesting we should find somewhere that isn’t too inconvenient for them – walking distance, for sure – but definitely isn’t right down in the downtown core. I’m interested in setting up a wet shelter and a safe injection site. If you’ve ever seen someone go into DTs, you’d have some compassion. It is terrifying to watch somebody drop. I think it’s time for the City to really mature, grow up, and say, ‘Look, we have this here. It’s not in our imaginations.’
But that’s why they’ve built the shelter where they’ve built it. You have to provide services where they are going to be used.
Sure, but you have to also be conscious of what you’re doing to the public and you have to be conscious of the fact that if you’re right downtown, two blocks away from a school in one direction and three blocks away from a school in the other direction, maybe we kind-of landed there as opposed to having a well-thought-out plan.
So you think they just picked it?
I think that it was available.
If you place a site somewhere that people are not, already, how do you get them to go and use that site?
The highest calling of any government is compassion. I truly believe that if it wasn’t right down in the downtown core, it would be like a 15-minute walk at most. The other side is if people can’t get there due to mobility issues, we already have the street outreach van, and maybe one of its mandates should be getting people who want to be at that type of facility out there.
Switzerland is a good example, where the government actually provides heroin for the junkies and they don’t have junkies breaking into people’s cars. The idea for the wet shelter is where we actually feed people alcohol and pay for it. Every time they get a drink, they get a breathalyzer so they can’t exceed a certain level or they are removed from the facility. The point isn’t to feed these people alcohol, it’s to prevent them from going into DT.
Also, people that are hard-up for liquor and are going to go into DTs will break into your car.
In March, you told the Yellowknifer newspaper you won’t necessarily be the guy to change things at City Hall but things need to change. Obviously something has changed since then, as you now think you are the guy to change things at City Hall. What changed?
This goes back to me considering myself as a ‘politician’, which I absolutely don’t.
I’ve got bad news, you have become one by default.
I know! I know. It’s terrible, and all my friends are teasing me about it. What’s changed is that I tried to once again access service at the City, was denied for the same reasons… this is my only recourse. I hate to say it. I considered just putting my name in for council but I would have just totally been lost in the other 20 voices there and nothing would have come of it.
Would you say you are angry at the City?
I have no reservations about saying that at this point in time, due to the things that have happened there, yeah, I’m a little angry at the City.
And that’s OK. I think people shouldn’t necessarily be afraid of somebody who’s got a passion, or an issue they want dealt with. If there’s no other way to do it, that’s the point of democracy – anybody can walk into City Hall with two of his friends, have them sign the papers, and guess what? You’re in. I hope you found me to be a well-spoken, level-headed guy – and you’ve done your job well, you’ve thrown some pretty hard questions at me. I’d like to show the rest of the public what I’m made of in the debates. That’s the other reason why I chose to run for mayor; it gives me a stage with far fewer people to make the public aware of certain issues.
As you say, anyone can go in with a couple of friends and be nominated to run for mayor. How realistic do you think your chance is?
I’m a very realistic person. I would be pretty surprised if I actually won. That being said, I am going to give it my 100 percent in a way that is not typical, I think, for most politicians. I won’t be knocking on your door and interrupting your dinner. I’ll be on Facebook and if you see a whole bunch of Facebook ads for my campaign in the next couple of weeks and find them annoying, I apologize but that’s really how I’m going to be doing my campaigning. Just being around town, walking around the streets. You know?