William Gomes believes his background in accountancy will pay dividends as a councillor with a keen eye for Yellowknife's budget.
In his election interview, Gomes told Cabin Radio he will work to ensure City Hall's spending is appropriate and focused on the people's needs if he is elected.
Born in Bangladesh and now a Canadian citizen, Gomes said: "I really want to focus on the people's voice – what they have to say and how they want to see their city in the future."
Gomes also wants to work on increasing the number of small businesses in Yellowknife, and suggests looking to Whitehorse for ways of developing the city's tourism industry.
There are 16 candidates standing for the eight positions on Yellowknife City Council. Election day is October 15, 2018.
This interview was recorded on September 11, 2018.
Ollie Williams: Why did you decide to run?
William Gomes: I'm a certified general accountant. I started my career in Montreal and then I moved to the North, here in Yellowknife. I figured that this community has given me enough opportunity to build my family, my career, and raise my children, so therefore I believe it's my time to give something back to the community – which is my skill, my experience, my knowledge of accounting, and my wish to do good for other people. That's who I am. I'm a Bengali Canadian citizen, I was born in Bangladesh and moved to Canada on May 25, 1995.
That date is etched on the mind.
Let's talk about finances, first of all. You are an accountant by trade. If you were on council, how would your background help?
First of all, we have to look at the budget. I was doing my homework and looking at Budget 2018. I know where the money is coming from and how we are generating the revenues, but how are we spending this money? How appropriately are we spending it? I'm running as a new candidate so I don't have a lot of information about that, but my biggest focus will be how we spend taxpayers' money. We have to be very wise and we have to ensure we get the outcome the citizens want for the money we spend. My focus would be on the spending more than the revenue.
As you say, you're a new candidate – we can't expect you to know, inside-out, everything council has deliberated for the past few years. But I wondered if we can ask you to talk about what your broad priorities might be, looking at that spending. Where should the City be focusing its expenditure?
What I believe in, and what made me come forward as a candidate, is I really want to focus on the people's voice. What they have to say and how they want to see their city in the future. I'm targeting the people's voice, opinion, concerns. I went out on the street to ask people and noted down everything people were telling me. Some people said they wanted the city to be greener – the City has done a lot of work in the last few years, but still people need to see more. Grass, plants around the city. Also, some people were telling me they don't like going to the library, they want to see more security before they can bring their kids along. They need to be in a comfortable zone where they know they can leave their kids in the library as a safe place. Those are the concerns I'm getting from people.
An employee at Canadian Tire was telling me how sometimes they walk the paths downtown and see the garbage cans with everything piled up. We need a more frequent cleaning strategy in place. All these agendas people are giving me, they all cost money. My focus is what people tell me and how we can accommodate their concerns within the budget we have. Given the current situation of the country itself, in a great depression with a lot of job cuts and the unemployment rate going up, we have to make sure we are going in the right direction, not spending or borrowing too much, and fitting our needs within the budget that we have.
The examples you were giving there would be quite small items in the grand scheme of things–
Well, I've just started my homework.
OK. Let's come on to a bigger one and talk about homelessness. How much do you know about what the City has been doing to address that, and what are you thoughts about what the City should or could be doing?
What they are trying to do is collaborate more with their partners, like the territorial government, and do something combined. On their own, it's impossible to build a huge building that could accommodate everybody – just an example. But with the territorial government, the City can go ahead and do something. It's a partnership deal, right? As a new candidate I have no inside information yet.
No, but when you look at that budget – the 10-year plan to end homelessness has a price tag attached to it, from different funding sources, of more than $100 million. It's a big-ticket item. But as far as you're concerned, that's worth the money?
Yes. We have to work within the budget frame that we have. Partners come in to the scenario to make sure, if the City can't accommodate those needs, they help the City to build something like that. It has to be within the budget limit.
Where is the economy going to fit into this? What can the City do when it comes to tourism, how would you look to keep tourism expanding in Yellowknife?
Going a little outside of the city parameters, ITI is doing a tremendous job to attract people, businesspeople to open up tourism industries. I know that, people are coming to me for tax advice. Again, it is partnerships. With ITI, the City can definitely do something. Number one, a tourist information centre. People need to know what we have in this town.
Someone was telling me yesterday... she was comparing Whitehorse to Yellowknife and saying, 'In Whitehorse, we have so many heritage centres.' The government keeps it that way to bring more tourists in there, to increase business. Maybe we can look into that scenario, we can take the City of Whitehorse as an example and see what we can do to expand our tourism business in Yellowknife.
At the same time, you have to balance the fact that some local people feel accommodation is hard to find. What is the City's role in the planning and development of the city to meet the needs of residents as well as tourists?
I think the City has been doing a tremendous job on that one. Land is being sold to be used as a residential area. Look at the Grace Lake residential area they just built, and Enterprise Avenue. Niven was nothing at one point but they have done it, they have built it. The development is coming. Going forward, we will keep doing the same thing but in a better way – on a timely basis. There is scarcity of supply. We have the demand but the supply is not adequate, so we have to increase the supply. In that regard, we have to work more closely with the builders' community here. What they think about it. The City will be happy to address that issue, it is still working, allocating lands to the residents.
I don't know how much attention you've paid to council meetings in the past. Are there any city councillors right now who you look at and say, 'Yeah, that's the kind of councillor I want to be'?
I don't want to compare myself with any of this council. Everybody has their own agenda and vision. As I'm focusing on the people's voices and vision, I think my style is a little bit different than... it's better not to compare with anybody else.
OK. I'll ask you a slightly different question, which is: we've got a few candidates for mayor. What kind of mayor should Yellowknife have to replace Mark Heyck?
Definitely, transparency is the word I would like to put forward. Everybody should know what's going on, including the citizens of Yellowknife. Workplace environment: everybody should be treated equally, and with respect. That's the kind of personality I want at City Hall.
And when you look at the list of candidates, do you see that person there?
I haven't had any chance to work with them, yet, so I don't know, especially their personality, their way of working. I'm not very familiar with their attitudes or anything. I'm sure whoever is going for mayor will definitely focus on those areas. Everybody wants that kind of environment, right? Transparent, respect each other, that kind of stuff.
We hear a lot about the challenges facing Yellowknife in the next few years – the diamond mines winding down, the cost of living, homelessness. I wondered, though, what opportunities you would identify in Yellowknife over the next few years.
One of the focus areas that I really want to emphasize is increasing the volume of business here. If we don't increase the number of businesses or fail to attract people to come forward and open up businesses, demand will keep growing but supply will never meet it. I want to attract more businesspeople. I need to collaborate, if I am elected, with the City's budget, personnel, and the mayor to see how we can do that. That will balance our demand and supply strategy here.
Do you have any early ideas as to how you might be able to attract more business?
I don't have any clear idea about what resources we have in terms of land, property, where the City can build something to attract more businesses. I have to work with my colleagues, if I am elected, to see if we have a piece of land and can open up a business centre there to attract more businesses.
You already touched on why you want to be a councillor, but what would it mean to you to have a seat at that table and be making some of these decisions?
I have to go back to my past. I like to help. If everybody's phone is shut down at night and someone needs to call at three o'clock in the morning, William's phone is always on. You can call this number, and I will be the first person right out there to help you. I want to help people, especially the citizens of Yellowknife. I want to hear their voice. I want to know what they have in their minds, what their concerns are, how safe they feel. I want to work on the people's behalf. I want to make sure I address everything that I possibly can if I am elected.