Meet the 3 people running to be Whitehorse's next mayor

·6 min read
Patti Balsillie, Laura Cabott and Samson Hartland are all running to be mayor of Whitehorse. (Submitted/Alistair Maitland/CBC - image credit)
Patti Balsillie, Laura Cabott and Samson Hartland are all running to be mayor of Whitehorse. (Submitted/Alistair Maitland/CBC - image credit)

Yukoners are going to the polls one more time this year — this time to vote for mayors and councillors. Municipal elections will be held in several communities on Oct. 21.

In Whitehorse, that means the city will soon have a new mayor for the first time in nearly a decade. Mayor Dan Curtis announced earlier this year that he would not seek a fourth term.

Three people are running to replace him. Two of them — Laura Cabott and Samson Hartland — are now city councillors, while the third candidate, Patti Balsillie, is new to politics.

All three mayoral candidates spoke to CBC about why they want to lead the city, and what their priorities are.

Patti Balsillie wants to bring 'change' to city hall

Balsillie doesn't think it's a big deal that she's never sat on city council before running for mayor. She points to former mayors Ione Christensen and Flo Whyard, both elected to the top job without having first been councillors.

Balsillie says she has "boundless energy" for the job, and a wealth of relevant experience.

"You know, I have a very accomplished resume. That feels boastful to say that, but it's not wrong. I've been in leadership for 25 years, for Whitehorse and Yukon."

Balsillie is currently a director with Destination Canada, a tourism marketing organization. She's also worked with the Yukon Chamber and the Tourism Industry Association and has served on Yukon College's board of governors.

She describes herself as a team-builder and collaborator, and promises to bring "change" to city hall.

"It's about accountability, it's about being thoughtful, and it's about inclusivity. I'm proud to say I'm non-partisan and I'm able to work with all governments, for all people," she said.

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

She says she's focused on five priorities — housing, waste management, city finances, crime, and youth engagement.

"To not address housing would be to be deaf to the pulse of what's happening and what everyone is feeling," she said, promising to work with other levels of government to find solutions.

She's also proposing an "environment-friendly incinerator" for the city, to deal with a growing amount of waste and prolong the life of the existing landfill.

Balsillie says she doesn't want to raise taxes, but wants to "create more value" for city taxpayers.

She also wants to address crime, which she argues is on the rise in Whitehorse.

"It's been bad and we are at a tipping point. I want to work arm-in-arm with the RCMP and the community to understand the root causes, find solutions and take action — but it must be done together."

She's also proposing to establish a youth advisory council for the city.

"There are models of this across the country whereby we can give a voice to the youth that serve — their ideas, their governance and their input, to issues that are important to them," she said.

Laura Cabott aims to bring city 'into a better place'

Cabott, first elected to city council in 2018, says she's learned a lot over the last three years.

"I feel like I have a good sense of what's working at the city and what's not. And I'd like to move into the role of leading the city into a better place," she said.

Outside of city hall, Cabott is a lawyer who has managed a firm in Whitehorse that's specialized in work with residential school survivors. She's also operated an outdoor guiding company, and done volunteer work.

She says her campaign is focused on three priorities — housing, climate change, and the local economy.

On housing, she's proposing to work with other stakeholders to find new ideas. She says they city has taken some steps to get more housing on the market but "we get further and further behind."

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

Cabott says the city could purchase more empty lots in the city and develop them. She also says the city needs to improve its development approval process, and support the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council's efforts to develop their lands.

"The city absolutely needs to get behind them and support them. This is a maybe a novel idea, to lease land in the city of Whitehorse, but it is done throughout the country and I think it's a fantastic idea to partner," she said.

She also wants to establish a citizens' advisory committee on climate change and adaptation, improve the city's cycling network, and establish more electric vehicle charging stations on city land.

Cabott says that as councillor, she's seen some "missed opportunities" for the city to work in partnership with other groups or organizations, such as the RCMP on addressing crime, or Yukon University on transit and student housing.

She says she sees the mayor as the "face" of the city government, but also someone who can lead behind the scenes. She says there will be many new faces at the council table this time, so the mayor can play an important role.

"I see the mayor this time as being a real mentor, to encourage those new councillors, to support them, to, you know, tease out great ideas."

Samson Hartland says he'll be a 'consensus-builder'

Hartland says running for mayor feels like a "natural progression" after his three terms as a city councillor.

"I just feel like this is the time to make that transition to the next level, take those skills that I've acquired over the course of the last two decades and create an opportunity to be able to serve the citizenry in a greater way," he said.

Hartland was elected to his first term on city council in 2000 when he was just 21 years old. He was elected to another term in 2015 and reelected in 2018. He's also worked for the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, and spent the last seven years as executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, a position he resigned from last month.

Hartland says he wants to be a "consensus-builder" as mayor, and ensure that all councillors' perspectives are heard. He says that will be important as the city finalizes its official community plan.

"I want to be able to tap into those energies and those new ideas and build consensus amongst the group of seven [on council] and chart that course moving forward," he said.

Paul Tukker/CBC
Paul Tukker/CBC

He agrees with the other candidates that housing is a key issue. He says he wants to work with other levels of government to "think outside the box" and come up with solutions. He says the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council will play a "critical role" in land development.

"We know that the secret is out on the fact that Whitehorse is one of the greatest places to live and people want to live here. So we've got to deal with this supply and demand that is, you know, clearly out of kilter right at this moment," he said.

Hartland also agrees with the other candidates that climate change is an important issue for the city. In 2019, the city declared a climate change emergency, and Hartland says that as mayor he would work toward reducing the city's emissions.

"There's going to be different opinions on how fast we should be able to adapt, how much we should invest. And that's what's going to be key with the incoming council to understand," he said.

"The long and the short of it is, we're committed. And anything is possible. But you know, we also have to manage expectations."

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