Shauna Morgan says she is willing to challenge information, positions, and assumptions to push Yellowknife forward and make the right decisions for the city.
In her election interview, Morgan told Cabin Radio councillors must do a better job of working as a team and focusing on collectively agreed priorities.
“We are trying to make this city a better place,” she said, looking back on her first three-year term as a councillor. “It shouldn’t be about personal issues or egos, or any of these things that sometimes get in the way in politics.”
Morgan highlighted her background in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency and their importance to Yellowknife, while also noting her work to help the city’s fire hall receive extra staff.
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 19, 2018.
Ollie Williams: Why should we re-elect you?
Shauna Morgan: I believe I still have a lot to contribute. I love this city with all my heart and I have learned so much in the past three years. In general, I’m a hard worker. I think carefully and critically about all of the issues that are brought before me, and I’m someone who is willing to challenge both the information, the positions, and the assumptions brought to me either by administration, those presenting to us, or by my colleagues. I think I’m able to do that respectfully, in a way that is productive and generates more conversation. I also try to understand the complexity of a situation and how we got here, and what has come before – what people have tried to do to solve a problem, why that hasn’t worked or why that hasn’t progressed, and what we can still do. I bring all of that and I’ve spent a lot of time, over the past three years, understanding how City Hall works, how we got here, the background to various issues, and trying to move things forward as best I can. I think, in the coming term, I can be even more effective at pushing issues forward and being more proactive in bringing forward new ideas and new policy directions.
If we look back at the last three years, what examples would you point to and say, ‘Here’s the difference I’m making, this is what you’re getting with me on council’?
I have acted as the chair of the Community Energy Planning Committee, that’s been my portfolio, you could say. We’ve come a long way. We managed to approve our second 10-year community energy plan, which takes us from 2015 to 2025. We have got off the ground a district biomass heating system for several City facilities – the Multiplex, Fieldhouse, fire hall, public works garage – and that actually won an award this year at the Federation of Municipalities. That’s bringing more efficient and renewable energy systems to our facilities to try to make them more affordable and sustainable. We’re building on that. We’re at the beginning stages of a plan for a second system. We also have many other aspects of the plan we are working towards: better active transportation, a waste audit looking at how well we’re doing as a city on compost and recycling… there are lots of things under way and I think I’ve had a critical role in that.
That is a committee that would exist with or without you. What are you bringing to that committee that means we should have you in there, doing that job?
I have a background in energy efficiency and renewable energy work. I bring some knowledge coming into it, and one of the key projects that we’ve been trying to move forward – and are now on the verge of making a breakthrough on – is the loans for heat program. That’s trying to help homeowners have access to financing to be able to make their own homes more energy-efficient and have renewable energy systems like wood stoves, things like that. That was a program that, before I was on council, I worked with the City as a consultant to design the program and do the background research. We have been pushing the GNWT hard to get some legislation changed that will allow us to do that, and now it’s possible that could be achieved this fall and we can finally move forward with that program. That’s some of the background knowledge I’ve been able to bring and contribute both through the committee and council, and working with the GNWT.
Your energy committee has had a lively 2018, in terms of some of the issues it has dealt with and some of the things that came forward to council. The building bylaw and some of the changes there is one example. What was happening there? You had a particular frustration, in that you couldn’t be there for key meetings when some of this stuff was going on. What was happening?
Part of the community energy plan that we passed, and council endorsed, is to maintain and keep improving our energy efficiency standards for homes that are built in Yellowknife. That has existed in the plan, council has been aware of it, and the committee has endorsed that as well. There was a proposal brought before council to take away our energy efficiency standards, for the meantime, while we’re in a transition period to come up with a new standard. The committee got together, as stakeholders in the community, as experts in this field, and decided unanimously that we didn’t feel it was a good idea to take away our energy efficiency standards, but rather maintain it while we transition to even better standards moving forward. That was a message I tried to bring to council, but that message was not heeded in the end, which is unfortunate. That was frustrating for the committee and in my role.
There were lots of discussions going on amongst council, lots of different factors being brought into play. One frustrating thing, procedurally, that happened with council was that the issue was tabled indefinitely while we waited for more information, and research, and work, to be done by administration. Certain councillors decided, spontaneously, to take that issue off the table when I happened to not be present for that particular meeting – but there was no warning that the issue was to be discussed at that meeting. In my view, the information that we had asked administration to work on, and bring back, and not been yet prepared. There were some unfortunate things that happened in terms of how procedure was used, and I don’t think that this issue was properly debated to ensure the best outcome.
If you make it back onto council – I’m sure it’s frustrating for you to have gone through that, you see your role in a certain way and have already talked about the views and the background you bring to council – what would you do differently in your next term to make sure that voice can be more effective, and not lose some of those battles?
Council has to become an effective working team. We have to develop a culture amongst ourselves where we communicate effectively, where we listen to each other’s views, where we understand where each of us is coming from and the expertise we bring – and we can agree collectively on what our priorities are, what our strategic plan is, and how we can keep refocusing on that. I think we can do better as a team, as a council, to basically establish better group dynamics for how we can work productively. And keep focused on the fact that, ultimately, we are trying to make this city a better place. It shouldn’t be about personal issues or egos, or any of these things that sometimes get in the way in politics. What we can do, I think, is right from the get-go of a new council – during our orientation – we can be more clear with ourselves, and each other, why we are here. What our strategic priorities are. And then use that as a springboard, going forward, to ensure we keep refocusing on why we are really there, which is to serve the citizens of Yellowknife and make the city a better place.
Moving away from the topic of energy, obviously your role as a councillor is holistic and looks at every aspect of city life. What else would you point to, where you feel you have had a positive impact?
One area I became quite concerned about, and spent a good deal of time focusing on, is our emergency response capacity. Early on in the term, I became aware that we’ve had a couple of reviews of our entire fire and ambulance division done over the years, and it seemed we hadn’t actually implemented some of the recommendations. This is such a critical service, whatever your political ideology or background – everyone should care about emergency response being robust, that it meets standards everyone expects, and that it’s a workplace that serves both the staff that are working so hard in it, and makes sure it’s a healthy, safe, and productive place to work.
One thing that came to my attention was that the reviews of this division showed we were severely understaffed. This created a lot of pressure on existing staff to do a lot of overtime, to strain the resources. We didn’t have the kind of response capacity one would ideally hope for, if we had multiple calls for ambulance or fire at the same time – how prepared were we for that? So I took a closer look at that and championed that we hire additional staff to address the shortage. I know that sometimes administration is reluctant to come to us, asking for more staff, perhaps because in the past councils haven’t wanted to add additional positions. That, obviously, is increased cost on an ongoing basis, you are committed to sustain those positions. But I felt it was important based on the evidence I had. I championed that and we have managed to hire eight additional paramedic firefighter positions. I see that as a big win for the entire city.
You mention hiring additional staff. Administration did just come back to council with a list of blue-sky, ideal-world extra positions. Where do you fall, when you look at a list like that?
If you’re just debating whether you are pro or anti staff, I think you are missing the point – and I think, sometimes, council falls into the trap of that. To me, the point is we need to decide, as a council, what level of service and programming, and standards, we are committing to give our citizens. That’s obviously based on citizen input. Based on that commitment, what level of staffing is required in order to meet that? Sometimes, we have missed that first step and we add or subtract positions on an ad-hoc basis, or for political reasons. We’re missing the long-term effect that will have on whether we can still offer the quality of programs and services we committed to, or whether we adding things nobody asked for. We first need to decide what we are committing to and whether our residents are comfortable with that, and then decide what is needed.
For many years, in the past, we have committed to certain programs and services and then not been able to properly staff them or provide the resources to meet them. And nobody is happy with that. If you establish a park but don’t have resources to clean it or dump the garbage bin, no-one is happy with a facility that can’t be properly staffed and maintained. What’s the point? So if you are going to establish a facility or a program, make sure it is properly resourced and staffed, so you can do it right.
Over the next few years, Yellowknife’s future is a mix of challenges and opportunities. Where do you see the big ones from your point of view as a councillor. If you get back on to council, where will you be looking for the issues you have to deal with?
My vision for this community, overall, has to do with resilience. I think we have so many resources and different, emerging industries and fields; so many exciting ideas, so many energetic people and resources in this community we just need to build on. Resilience needs to be strengthened at various different levels. At the individual and family level, I think we need to continue to focus on making living here more affordable, but also making sure that living here, the opportunities are accessible to all – making sure the City’s programs and facilities are accessible to anyone, no matter their income level or background.
At the governance level, I mentioned we need to have clear standards and expectations set for what our facilities and programs are going to look like. I would like to see us establish a public dashboard system – other communities have done this, say, on their website, where they say: ‘This is what you can expect from us. This is the level of service, these are the standards. We are going to monitor it and you can check on this website: how are we doing?’
I think we have many more opportunities to make sure infrastructure is more affordable and sustainable, for example switching more facilities to renewable energy and making them more energy-efficient. And then, at the community level, we have many opportunities to continue to diversify the economy – continuing to pursue plans to promote a post-secondary institution, or various forms of post-secondary facility in Yellowknife; obviously tourism; the local food economy; there are many opportunities to continue to diversify, and to make the city more livable, to build on our strengths. For example, we have beautiful trail systems. It’s very walkable, it’s very compact. We need to make sure that people continue to choose to stay here, for example, because they can have a five or 10-minute walk to work through a beautiful trail and not worry about traffic, congestion, and all these things. To build on the unique advantages we have as a city, and make it more livable, and affordable.
Who should be the next mayor of Yellowknife?
I think residents need to think about the advantages of having a leader that is very collaborative, and works well with other councillors, with administration, with other levels of government. I think that is a really key role for a mayor, someone who is a good communicator, is a good negotiator, works well with other people, and is highly respected and collaborative.
You’d know the candidates more than most, who would you say that is?
I’m not officially endorsing any particular candidate but, certainly, I would be happy to chat with citizens about what they are looking for in a mayor and what I have seen so far.