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Three candidates on the mayoral ballot in Haines Junction

·5 min read

Haines Junction is located at the junction of the Alaska Highway and the Haines Road, on the traditional territory of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation (CAFN). It is home to nearly 1,000 people. A candidate forum was hosted in a hybrid-zoom format on Oct. 6 for the three mayoral candidates and the three councillors vying for one council position. Over 30 people listened in.

Issues raised included lot development, housing, recreation facilities (pool), composting, light pollution and roads: all were familiar faces with a variety of experience.

The Incumbent

Thomas Eckervogt is the current mayor, campaigning on a platform to continue the direction the Village has been part of for the past 8 years as councillor and mayor. By that means, he says, “continue with updating the village systems and policies to prepare Haines Junction for the future”.

Eckervogt explains how an economic development strategy done for HJ in 2016 judged the community as ill-prepared to attract economic development initiatives because the necessary systems, policies, and infrastructure were not in place. This is why he has made modernizing village bylaws and policies as a priority for council. He believes that success will be achieved by following the direction of the Official Community Plan (OCP) coupled with current initiatives that are clearly within municipal mandates.

He is concerned that the town is still too small for the kind of recreation services everyone wants, and acknowledges that no one wants to pay more taxes. “The existing tax base barely covers sewer and water,” he said.

Eckervogt added that “a big conversation we haven’t had with YG yet” concerns the regionalization of waste management.

He believes that good relationships are important to get projects done. He keeps an open mind and is appreciative of available funding that the administration has been able to access. He believes that the lack of housing is inhibiting access to the labour pool that the community needs for growth and for expanded services.

The Challengers — Kari Johnston

Kari Johnston is a confessed “die-hard optimist” who thrives in possibility. She sees “nothing but opportunities for the community.” She began her introduction at the forum speaking in Dän k’e (southern Tutchone). The next day she told the News that she hears so much more of the Tutchone language spoken in the community than when she first arrived in 2007.

“That is our seeds of growth,” she said.

She is running for mayor to play a larger role in bringing people together. She says she is a team builder, and believes in doing that with a combination of curiosity and safety. She is adept at social media and used it to gather and distribute information about COVID-19 in the community and beyond.

Johnston says there is a long, challenging conversation that needs to occur regarding the Agreement in Principal (AIP) between CAFN and the village of Haines Junction.

“I think a key part of that is how we move it forward has to really honor the final agreements, and the roles of a municipality,” Johnston said.

She explains, that the first section is about “adjusting the current municipal about boundary with the view of incorporating voting rights and responsibilities for those persons residing on designated First Nation settlement land outside the current municipal boundary. That’s the key.”

And then, the “administrative interests like municipal services integration and bylaw development and infrastructure development, road operations maintenance, like all of the service level agreements will flow from that.

“COVID has destabilized things, but so many new things have been born. I think they’re just reconfiguring. I see new business growth and volunteerism everywhere. There’s a new dance collective that’s now offering dance classes in our community.”

This feeds her optimism.

“Ultimately, if we build from a place of reflection, reflection asks us to think. When we take that more balanced approach to how we build, no matter what it is that we build. We build a healthier community.” Johnston concludes.

Bruce Tomlin

Bruce Tomlin has been on council before. He served from 2000 to 2009 and again from 2012 to 2016.

“A vote for me would be a vote for a positive change in this town. I would like to see the town grow in a fiscally responsible way,” Tomlin said on Oct. 6.

He will be focused on roads, taxes, sewer and water and a pool.

One of his ideas was for Haines Junction to ‘draw down’ subdivision approvals and lot development from the Yukon government as a way to lower costs, and reflect local wishes.

He expressed “concerns over the mill rate, and the water and sewer rates that have been going up for the last couple years, and that it is projected to go up next year.” For him it didn’t seem right that the mill rate and the water-sewer rates were going up during a pandemic.

“Especially when our assessments have been going up. You’re basically pricing people out of this community,” he said.

As a Haines Junction born and raised, he didn’t want to see that happen.

He would look to Champagne and Asihihik to partner, possibly for a recreation director position and/or for recreation programs. And would look to Whitehorse to learn more about recycling and composting.

Tomlin admits to being one of two mayoral candidates in Haines Junction that “avoids Facebook.”

Having grown up in Haines Junction, Tomlin has been around a few blocks in the community. He listed off the volunteer activities he has participated in over the years, everything from hockey to rangers, but failed to mention that in 2020 he received the “Fire Services Exemplary Service Medal” from Governor-General Mary Simon.

Election Day

Haines Junction residents will go to the polls October 21. There will be three names on the ballot for mayor and three names on the ballet for one council position — Bill Karman Rob Moore and Diane Strand. One of those three will join acclaimed council members Angie Charlebois, Mark Nassiopoulos and Vicky Maynes.

Ed. note: this is one of a series of community profiles the News is publishing in the leadup to the Oct. 21 election.

Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News

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