Don Matthews was born and raised in Fort Smith and, if elected mayor, would like to increase community engagement and tourism – and lower crime.
While he’s not comfortable making promises, he was adamant in saying, "Whatever goes on in this community, I’d be out there."
Matthews is running against incumbent mayor Lynn Napier-Buckley and Brad Brake, who served as mayor the term prior.
The municipal election takes place on October 15.
Sarah Pruys: What motivated you to run for mayor?
Don Matthews: Well, there’s a lot of people in Fort Smith here who didn’t like how the town was running here. They weren’t getting a lot of information from the town so a lot of people told me, “Put your name in.” Hopefully I’ll get in there; I want to make a change for the people in Fort Smith here.
And what kind of change is that?
Well, I want to hear what Fort Smith has to say. This is my community, I was born and raised here. I want to hear what they have to say, what they need in Fort Smith. I know they need lots of stuff in Fort Smith. I want to work with people, and I want to work with youth, and the Elders in Fort Smith.
So people must have been telling you some of the things that they need. What are some of those things?
Like the crime thing here in Fort Smith, it’s a big thing here. We’ve got to try to fix that. There’s lots of break-ins, that’s a big issue, what I’m going to work on.
I was looking through the RCMP reports and it looks like crime is down from last year.
Yeah, but, there is still crime out there, it's still going out there. They’re not just going to say crime went down, it’s not going to take overnight, you’ve got to work at it.
And as mayor, how do you work to prevent crime?
Well, you’ve got to go with RCMP and you’ve got to work with them, and you’ve got to work with the people in the community. You’ve got to have stuff for the youth here too. That’s who I want to work with too, is the youth, and get them doing stuff in the community. Activities and stuff like that.
What other things would you start up for the youth in town?
You could do quite a bit for the youth. In the summertime lots of youth don’t have anything to do. You could open up the arena in the summer and play some sports in there, you could open up gyms, the rec centre, let them go in there and play. You could do stuff in the wintertime, activities, you could do culture stuff.
All of these things will cost money. Have you looked at the town’s budget to see where that money could come from?
I didn’t look at the town’s budget there, but there’s money out there. You can get money from all different places. There’s different communities I’ve been to in the North here, like I’ve been to a lot of communities for hand games and that, and I asked them where they get their money from and they say there’s lots of money out there. The government, they can help you; the mines, they can help you. There’s lots of money out there, and they’re willing to help the community, and help the youth out.
So you see part of your role as writing grant applications for funding?
What are some of the other issues, aside from crime, that you would look to address during your term, if elected?
What I don’t see in this town, from the mayor and council now, in this last term, I don’t see them having meetings and getting issues from the people, what the people want in this town. There’s some stuff that the people need, they want the town to have meetings and stuff like that, and more stuff going on in this town, more tourists.
You mean public meetings? I know the town has many meetings that are open to the public.
Yeah, but that’s just at the town chambers. They should have a town meeting for the people to come there at the rec centre or at the arena or wherever; in the summertime, at the arena or outside, have a barbecue and stuff like that. I don’t see that in this town, and I used to see it a few years ago, but not now.
I know that the town councillors [and mayor] do attend the July 1 barbecue and the volunteer barbecue.
Well I don’t see all of them attend that. They should be out there talking to the people, saying okay, we’re your town council, introducing to them.
As mayor, what would you be doing differently? You’d be out in the community?
Oh yeah, I’d be out there. Whatever goes on in this community, I’d be out there. The people, if I get elected, the people, that’s who elected me, and I’ll be out there every time there is something going on in this community.
Public engagement, crime… anything else? What else is part of your platform?
Not much else, just working with the people, that’s it. When I put out my pamphlets, people ask me, “Are you going to listen to me? Are you going to listen to the people?” And I just tell them, “Your voice is my voice.” And a lot of people said, “That’s a good thing, but you’ve got to keep it that way.” And I tell them, “Yeah, I’ll keep it that way.” I’m not going out there to promise anything.
What do you mean by that?
Like all the other people, all the other mayors, they say, “Oh, I promise you I’ll do this and I’ll do that.” I’m not going to go out there and say, “Okay, I promise you we’ll get this done.” You know, I’m not going to promise people that, because what if you don’t get it done in the last three years you’re in there? Then they’ll say, “Oh, you didn’t do this for me.” That’s why I’m not going to go and promise anything.
Although that accountability to the people is important…
…and how can they can hold you accountable to the things you say you’re going to do...
Yeah, they’ll say, “You said this, and that, and it didn’t get done.”
...if you’re not saying what you’re going to do?
I’m not going to promise anything, that’s what I’m trying to say. I’m going to go out there. Your voice is my voice. Like, I want to hear from the people, what they want in Fort Smith, I want to see more meetings in this town, more stuff, more activities.
We’ll just pivot here. Fort Smith is very concerned with what’s going on with Aurora College right now. Do you think it’s important to keep the headquarters in town?
Yeah, l want the college to stay here. I support that, because if the college goes to Yellowknife, we’re going to lose out. The businesses are going to lose out on the business. The Northern Store, the Kaeser’s, the Field’s, the drug store; they’re going to lose out on money. If the college goes, this town isn’t going to have anything. The college is a big thing here, and I’ve talked to a lot of college students about that. Like, how’s this community treating you? And a lot of them have said it’s a nice community, nice people in this community, but we don’t want to move to Yellowknife. I want it to stay here.
What would you do to ensure the town doesn’t lose the headquarters?
Well I’d work my hardest, I’ll do my best that I can do.
What kinds of things would you do though?
Like I would say, “We can’t lose this headquarters or we’re not going to have anything in this town.”
The college has been here for how many years? And if they go to Yellowknife, there’s no places for them to stay. There’s not enough places over there for them. We’ve got places for them to stay here. We’ve got four different places for them to stay here.
And what do you think about the progress that the special [post-secondary] committee has made so far? Is that a committee that you would maintain as mayor?
What do you think of the progress that they’ve made?
I don’t know.
You did mention tourism briefly earlier, was there anything you’d like to say about that?
Well, there are some tourists coming in here. I want to see more, there used to be lots coming in here before. They’ve got to get more in here. They’ve got to get more stuff for them. Like the parks, they’ve got to get them fixed up. Pine Lake used to be really beautiful before and now it’s just run-down. I want to see more stuff going on around the park and around the town. The park here, it’s nice and that, but I want to see more of them coming over here and looking at the buffalos, and looking at the pelicans, and stuff like that.
When you say the park, you mean Wood Buffalo National Park?
So how would you work with Parks then?
Well actually, I want to work with Parks, and I want to work with the people in Fort Smith, like the businesses, the Salt River First Nation, the Métis, Smith’s Landing, all those other bands and stuff like that, Parks – I want to work together with them too.
But as far as encouraging revitalization in the park, how would you go about having that conversation?
Well, try to help them out and see what we can do to clean up the park and that, and get that all nice, and get stuff out there for the people to go out there and camp out there and really fix it up like how it used to be before. I would really help them try to get that back up and going.
The other mayoral candidates, Brad and Lynn, have both served one term as mayor. How do you, as a newcomer, compete with the experience they have?
What I see, I didn’t see very much going on when they were in there. Brad, he served one term, but I didn’t really see much, and people didn't really see much of him or do much for the town.
And then Lynn came in there, and a lot of people said, “Why is she sitting in that seat?” Like she didn’t do anything for Fort Smith either. That’s from the people, what I heard from them.
Three years ago, I had my name in for mayor. A lot of people told me, “Put your name in there, put your name in there,” and so I did. And then the day came when if you don’t want to run you take your name out, and so I thought about it, and I didn’t know this Lynn Napier, and so I thought, OK, I’ll pull out. So I pulled my name out. And now this term coming up, this election now, and I thought about it, and people were telling me, “Put your name back in there, and don’t pull it out. Don’t pull your name out.” So I told them, “I’ll put my name back in there and do my campaigning.”
I didn’t see what the mayors did, people just didn’t like how they ran the show.
I was talking to some people too, they’ll say, “Oh, Brad, when he was having council meetings he wouldn’t listen to his council.”
Could you speak more about at your abilities and experience, and how you stand out from these other two candidates?
Well I want to go out there and work together, I want the people to know, I want to do the stuff people want in this town, I want to go out there and say, “Let’s work together.” I want to have more meetings, and more stuff. I want to do the best I can. I want to work out there, I want to go out there, I want to show the people that I can do it.