Yellowknife 2018 council election interview: Josh Campbell
Josh Campbell says his communications experience will help create a more open, transparent City of Yellowknife if he is elected as a councillor this month.
In his election interview, Campbell told Cabin Radio a “plate of glass” exists between the public and the mayor, in his view unfairly limiting access.
Campbell said he would have treated issues like the relocation of Kam Lake-based dog mushers very differently, were he already a councillor.
Campbell endorsed Bob Stewart for mayor of Yellowknife – an endorsement he has retracted since this interview was recorded – and acknowledged he was not familiar with regulations governing how he, a broadcaster by trade, should act as a candidate during an election period.
“Is any candidate perfect? No. I sure-as am not,” he said. “I’ve got my faults, I’ve got my past. But for the most part, I think I’m honest and a straight shooter.”
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 27, 2018.
Ollie Williams: Why are you running?
Josh Campbell: I’ve been living here for 11 years and I’ve been a critic of some of the things at City Hall. I feel, if I’m going to criticize, I should be able to put my name forward. I hope to bring my skills as a communicator and former journalist to the table, to help City Hall be more transparent and communicate more effectively.
Let’s talk about some of those criticisms, then. Obviously, people want their candidates to focus on what they are going to do – but let’s start that by addressing what you think is going wrong.
Well, I haven’t covered City Hall as a journalist for quite a few years, but I’m a bit of a media personality as well down at CKLB and, just as a citizen of Yellowknife, the changes I’ve seen since moving here – when Gord Van Tighem was the mayor – there’s quite a change in culture over there.
When I first moved here, there was no plate of glass between the public and the mayor’s office, and you didn’t have to go through three to four people to get an appointment to see the mayor, talk to the mayor, or to speak to some of the directors of public departments. I agree you have to have communication strategies and there are protocols but, for a city our size – even though it’s a capital city – the media, and the public, deserve to have open access. More likely than not you’re going to bump into these folks while you’re buying groceries so, while we’re a city that still has that wonderful, small-town feel… and I don’t want to be putting blame or shaming anybody… but being able to communicate and talk better, I think, will at the same time alleviate a lot of those pressure.
We’ve seen it, I thought there was a wonderful editorial from former mayor Dave Lovell the other day, saying, you know, why is Doug Gillard carrying all this weight? I don’t know Doug so well, I know his wife – the city clerk – very well, and they are very professional over there. I just want to come to it at the angle of, let’s be open; let’s be able to talk to each other. I think that will alleviate a lot of the stress that we’ve seen, not so much out of your news outlet but out of News North and other places. It’s just been… there’s a tension there that shouldn’t be there, and I think we can alleviate a lot of that, just by talking to each other.
So you believe Doug Gillard has been treated unfairly.
I don’t know if I’d put it that way, but from what I’ve read… once again, this is what I’m seeing in other media, but when I saw the letter published from a majority of his staff, it changed my attitude. I, at first, thought: ‘Man, here’s a guy with a big-cop syndrome who’s a bully.’ That’s what my initial thought was. That has since changed since I saw the letter from all the other officers, including females on staff. When I saw female members of staff’s names on that letter, that was a game-changer for me. To hear these other bylaw enforcement officers, the folks that check our meters, the ones that put parking tickets and speeding tickets and do our check stops, going to bat for their boss… it was a change of tone for me.
So who do you blame for the fact that the tone was wrong in the first place? Or the fact that this situation was allowed to reach the level it did?
There have been a couple of changes, people leaving roles in that administration… I don’t want to get into that. And I understand–
Could council have done a better job?
It goes back to, I think, the initial review. If a job is done right the first time, then you don’t have to keep going back to something. It’s like, for instance, I had an infection in my leg and I scratched it, and it got infected, and I let it go, then I go to the doctor, and the prescription doesn’t work, and I have to get IV. It’s a triage approach and it gets escalated. It then goes back to the initial handling of it.
And City Hall has subsequently put lots of policies in place. There are lots of new procedures to deal with lots of the issues here. You don’t feel as though they have addressed the problem?
I’ll look at it from a policies perspective, OK? As a former government staffer as well. When you look at policy… when I am looking at, like, a land claim or a document, I need the plain-speak version. We are getting things that are too technical and hung up. Let’s bring it down. And I know council–
Well, you haven’t even seen the latest policies. They’re not public.
No, exactly. And that’s, again, to the thing about being transparent and communicating. So–
All right. But you can’t criticize them for being too technical and then criticize them because you haven’t seen them. It’s one or the other.
OK, well… let’s put it this way. It’s not public. I’ll take it back to my personal experience. Let’s go on a case-by-case basis if you want to talk about the bylaw department. I have a longtime friend in Gary Jaeb. I also have a longtime friend in the dog mushing community here, in the Dog Trotters’ Association. These are two people, two organizations – because Gary also represents the tourism industry – that were mishandled by our capital city’s government. I’ll just put it that way to be more succinct.
Now, Gary… in 2014, he was allegedly – and you can see the video yourself, it’s on YouTube – manhandled by bylaw enforcement over an alleged seatbelt infraction. His wife – it’s quite terrifying – she’s on the cellphone calling for RCMP. ‘These guys are beating up my husband, why?’ It was a Saturday afternoon, a Sunday afternoon after brunch. Getting beaten up by two officers over a seatbelt violation? I think that’s a little bit extreme. Then there was also, before that, the case… this is history, and these are the facts… a grandmother yanked out of her car for taking a wrong turn during the Christmas Santa Claus parade. What kind of a town are we living in? Are we downtown Moscow?
But you’re referring to events that are all several years past, even a council gone, and–
But they build up, they build up.
And City Hall will tell you, ‘We’ve instituted a raft of changes since the events that you’re talking about.’
I’m hearing other things, too, like what’s going on with Kam Lake. Let’s talk about this topic then, if you… it’s current. There’s a move to get people into the Engle Business District. I don’t know about you, I’m also a radio guy, but would you want to build a new house on a diesel spill? Would you want to go to a place that’s been industrial and put a new house up? I wouldn’t want to. It was zoned as an industrial site, it was zoned as a place for dog mushers… the dog musher community has been pushed around, and moved around in this city, three times now. Before I even moved here.
We’re in an era… and I don’t mean to put words in the mayor’s mouth but, like he said, we are in an era of reconciliation. ‘It’s time to talk about some things that make some people uncomfortable. Let’s make it uncomfortable.’ Well, not to point the finger at him, but how do you think these people feel? The original inhabitants of Yellowknife, the original families who built this capital… the prospectors, the hunters, the trappers… they’ve been pushed around and told to move because of their dogs, and their dog crap. Not once, three times, and now again, when we say, ‘Oh yeah, the TRC, these things are so important.’ But at the same time we are saying, ‘Sorry, your land lease is up, you’ve got to move.’ I don’t know one, single musher that has $100,000 sitting there to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll go to this new lot and I’ll redevelop it.’ None of them do. They all have young families. Not to name them but the Reids, Jordee and Cai Reid, young mushers – the next generation of mushers – they’ve got a family that’s growing. They don’t have $100,000 to… these are things that the City is doing, and it’s up to council and good governance.
Instead, what do council do on this issue? The Dog Trotters’ Association issue? They put it to administration. Administration has lots of work to do. They don’t need council to sit on their hands, and not do their job and govern and make decisions, and give it to administration. Administration is there to do checks and balances.
So, as one person out of nine, what would you bring to a situation like that?
I believe I’m a team player. You look at my work history, I’ve worked in a lot of small organizations, but we are small organizations that do a lot with a little. So that means I know how to keep things on a shoestring budget. I’ve only spent $300 on my campaign so far. I don’t have the dollars that some of these real estate and construction guys have. I’m on a very shoestring budget.
I’m not asking for handouts, but what I’m going to do is I’ll work with whoever the other seven councillors are that get in there, and whoever the next mayor is, but I’ve said publicly – and I’ll say it again – the only mayoral candidate I see as a real mayoral candidate is Bob Stewart. He’s a small business owner, he’s an entrepreneur, he knows the realities of trying to get a business going in this town and the red tape that has to get done, and he’s also worked in the financial sector.
And he wants to move the homeless population to a facility out by Bristol Pit. What do you think about that?
I didn’t know about the facility at Bristol Pit, but–
That’s one of the key planks of his campaign.
The new facility–
Well, no, we’re talking about the facility out by Bristol Pit that’s part of the–
These are… that’s his platform, but I’m just saying–
You’ve just said he’s the only viable candidate for mayor.
He’s the only one that I’ll vote for.
Right, so what do you think about the key plank of his campaign, which is to–
The key plank is… if you look at his signs, it says, ‘Pay attention.’ He’s also the only mayoral candidate I know of that bought all of his election stuff here in town and supported the local economy.
Yeah, but you’re not answering the question.
About Bristol Pit?
Moving the homeless population out of the downtown to a purpose-built facility. What do you think?
Bristol Pit’s a ski hill right now, I don’t see–
He said near the airport. Somewhere in the Bristol Pit area, is what he said.
I’d have to find out more from him and what it means about transportation for them. What I do know now is the downtown facility, that just opened on Monday, is a great facility. This is… once again, look at jurisdiction. The warming shelter is paid for and operated mostly by the territorial government. It’s not a City-run thing. The City is a partner. We are partners. It’s about partnerships, it’s about working together. Is any candidate perfect? No. I sure-as am not. I’ve got my faults, I’ve got my past. But for the most part, I think I’m honest and a straight shooter on this thing. I’m not a career politician. I have been the executive assistant and constituency assistant of others. And I’ve got to say, all the politicians that I’ve worked for are good people.
There are very few career politicians, if any, that I can think of in this race. Let’s be a little visionary here, let’s look at some positives. What do you actually want to do to effect positive change in Yellowknife?
Let’s be realistic. The social scene is not great. It’s in dire straits. It needs attention. That new facility down here is one of the steps. That didn’t happen overnight. I give Mark and the current council and MLAs, like Julie Green, and Kevin, and Minister Glen Abernethy, kudos on that. That was a lot of hard work, it was a lot of decisions, and it’s hard to find a facility. I think the big thing we’ve got to look at in Yellowknife is space. Until the Akaitcho regional land claim happens, we are working in a very tight space. I’m not saying it’s their problem, but we are in a land block.
That’s part of the problem with Kam Lake and the Engle Business District, isn’t it?
And it ties into that. So… and it goes back to that, partnerships–
So you actually have some sympathy with the City, when it comes to the Engle Business District and Kam Lake?
I do. And I think it’s also the reason why the costs are so high. In reality, we do have a budget coming up. I’m going to work… if I get on there with them, I’m going to work with them. There’s no ‘I’ in team, except for a really good friend of mine who’s an athlete, who goes, ‘There’s an M-E.’ Anyhow, we won’t go there. But there’s a budget coming up. And for anybody that’s in a working family, myself, paycheck-to-paycheck situation… that’s not the government’s problem, but we don’t need any more taxes. We have to look at creative ways. I can’t really define them right now, but we do have to look at what our rates are for these wonderful facilities we do have right now. Previous councils, what they did do great – I think of Bob Brooks, he’s not here any more, but Bob was one of the ones that said: ‘We need a Fieldhouse, so we have a soccer program, so we have these things.’ Those are good things that we have. It’s not all bad. My mood and some things have been changing. Things evolve as we move along. I have some sympathy for Doug Gillard, now, that I didn’t have if you’d asked me this question back in June.
You’ve mentioned a few times that you are in the radio industry. You’re a broadcaster here in town. The CRTC regulations mandate that on-air broadcasters cease all on-air activities during an election period, if you are a candidate. How’ve you handled that?
I haven’t been told about the regulation, but I have the support of our new CEO. As you know, CKLB is owned by NCS and, as far as we… there’s some different clauses here, so, CRTC? I haven’t looked into that ruling. But I’ll look into it now. But… we’re not flying under the same radar as the Moose or other private radio stations. We are a not-for-profit.
But you have a platform on the air that other candidates do not. You are allowed to go on the air every day.
I have a show.
So let’s look at my mandate – if you want to go there. I am the host of Denendeh Sunrise, I’m a co-host. I do some news but I do not touch any news stories that deal with City Hall or the campaign. That’s the agreement my CEO and I have, and my board directors have agreed, too. The chair of our board – if you want to, you can call them – JC Catholique’s the chairman–
Well, they don’t make the rules.
They do! I–
The CRTC would beg to differ.
OK, well let’s see what they’ve got to say. They want to give me a call, we’ll see. I’ve signed things before where I left the federal government and then worked for CKLB, that I had to disclose that I worked for the federal government one time. So… I’m a transparent guy. I’ve got nothing to hide.
You went back and forth a little bit on whether you were going to run in this election. What was it that made you decide, in the end, you did want to put your name forward?
I went back to my home province of New Brunswick and spoke to many of my direct family members. I only have one biological aunt that lives here, she works in the medical field. Most of my family – I’m an only child – are back in New Brunswick. I have lots of people that have been in different levels of politics, I’m fortunate in that way that there’s no lack of experience in supporters and friends of mine. And they said, ‘We’ve heard you’re pulling out. Now, why? You’ve been there for over 10 years. Yes, you’re family, but municipal politics is the training ground where you should go and you’re going to learn things, so you should really reconsider. If it’s financial, we understand.’
And that was probably the main thing, was financial. I had bought a vehicle in April, my motor went in June, and I’ve talked to many other mechanics… it’s a really bizarre situation. It’s not about the truck. I can walk to work, I can walk to council meetings. So that, that was the major hurdle, was financial, and it was… I still don’t have a truck. I’m making payments on a truck that doesn’t run. But anyhow, that was the main reason. And it’s just… it’s hard getting campaign signs out there when I don’t have a truck either. That’s where that is. I can see the concern in that, but, you know, Yellowknifer and other media outlets haven’t given me a hard time on it.
I’m not giving you a hard time. I’m just wondering why you decided to run in the end.
It’s those things. It’s this culture of communication, as a broadcaster. I remember my first day when I was working for CJCD, when it was still locally owned and Mix 100… I used to cover City Hall, that was 10 years ago. And I walked in, and I was new. I knew what the mayor’s name was but I didn’t… they didn’t have pictures, and all that, back then. The person I talk to, it’s Gord Van Tighem. I didn’t know it was him. I’m like, ‘Which way is the council room?’ And he pointed me to the hallway where the bathroom was. We had a good laugh about it later on. But it’s those things that don’t exist over there any more, and I’d like to see it get back to that. I think the staff, they do the best jobs they can. It’s not council’s job to interfere with that, so much. It’s on us to do the right job and I feel like, whatever the team is, if I’m fortunate enough to get on with the next council. we can help create positive change.
Since this interview was recorded, Campbell has retracted his endorsement of Bob Stewart for mayor, and has announced he will step away from his on-air duties with CKLB until the end of the election period.