Three candidates for mayor of Yellowknife faced questions from the city’s high school students on Wednesday.
Around 70 École St Patrick High School students spent an hour questioning candidates Jerald Sibbeston, Adrian Bell, and Rebecca Alty. Bob Stewart, citing work commitments, did not attend.
While the event took the form of a forum with the same questions asked to candidates in turn, there were occasional, strongly worded exchanges between candidates as they disagreed on solutions for the city.
In an opening address reminiscent of current Mayor Mark Heyck’s unsuccessful bid to build a splash park, Sibbeston promised to pursue the creation of a 10-metre diving board and water polo pool if elected.
Both Alty and Bell namechecked their former high school, neighbouring Sir John Franklin, in their opening statements – though Bell hurriedly insisted he views St Pat’s and Sir John as equally excellent.
The forum’s opening questions echoed those asked at recent Alternatives North and Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce events, with a focus on cost of living, homelessness, and water supply.
Sibbeston took a combative stance throughout, routinely barbing statements with shots at Alty and Bell.
He at one point advocated an experiment in which arsenic trioxide underneath Giant Mine is transformed into the equivalent of concrete blocks, then tested “in a fish tank … to see if it leaches out.”
Without evidence, Sibbeston told students a leak of arsenic trioxide from the mine in its present state would “kill everyone on the planet.”
While a 2014 Vice News article did claim the 237,000 tonnes of arsenic trioxide beneath the mine would, theoretically, be enough to kill the world’s population “several times over” if carved into individual portions and handed out to 7.5 billion people, Sibbeston has not specified how the necessary travel and accommodation would be paid.
With reference to the fish tank, Bell told Sibbeston he “would not survive the experiment … it’s very dangerous” as the two clashed.
The federal government has chosen a containment method involving a frozen barrier around Giant Mine’s underground arsenic trioxide, in part because scientists working on the project believe any attempt to move the substance above ground using current technology is too risky.
Men versus women
The students taking part in Wednesday’s session are too young to vote in this year’s election.
The second half of the forum involved questions from the audience which had not been shown to candidates ahead of time.
Asked how running for mayor is different for men compared to women, Alty replied: “Women can’t be as aggressive in doing attack ads and so on. Voters look poorly on female candidates who do that.
“There are differences in the ways voters see men and women [but] in general, I find everybody is quite welcoming and open to discussing, and grateful you are putting yourself out there as a candidate.”
Bell said: “Being a man, I view the world through the lens of a man. There’s a bias there that I can’t shake. It’s important to understand that in our society, it has been difficult for women to have the same opportunities as men. We have to shake those ideas and stereotypes.”
Sibbeston responded: “I think it’s really important to increase the engagement from women in politics. I’ve been running Facebook ads and one of the demographics I’ve had a little bit of a harder time reaching out to has been women.” He said he now spends 60 percent of his online ad budget specifically targeting women.
One student asked Sibbeston to explain how he would build new roads in Yellowknife if, as other candidates stated, the City of Yellowknife is currently underfunded to the tune of millions of dollars. Sibbeston suggested land sales would pay for the project and be “a revenue source for decades to come.”
As Bell and Sibbeston once again verbally sparred, Bell said the City does have a land fund to pay for similar developments, but such a road would require approval from the legislature “that would never be given.”
Alty said building the road proposed by Sibbeston at Frame Lake would ruin trails and tourist opportunities, and make no contribution to downtown revitalization. “We shouldn’t just blast and construct everywhere … we have other areas of town where we can do some residential development,” she said.
Election day is October 15. You can read Cabin Radio’s extended interviews with each candidate here: