Meet Jerald Sibbeston, one of four candidates vying for the position of mayor this election.
A long-time Yellowknifer, born in the Old Stanton Hospital, Sibbeston says he loves it here.
“I am the kind of guy that could have just picked any old city in the world and made a go of it and done well, but I must have that lake water in my blood,” he says.
He brands himself as the “anti-corruption” candidate and says the key plank of his platform is the introduction of a type of city court.
“It would be referred to technically as an ombuds office. And the type of ombuds office I imagine would be a three-panel board, that basically is a miniature Supreme Court of Yellowknife as far as anything related to the city goes.”
That could include contractor complaints, as well as complaints about city staff and policy, he says.
This body would not be able to make new bylaws, but they could interpret them.
“This is actually directly modelled on the Supreme Court of Canada’s system whereby they can interpret laws, and they make rulings on them but they can’t actually produce any new law.”
Why do you feel the City of Yellowknife could use this mini court, as you described it?
“Basically, I had an issue with the city that was basically unresolvable after talking to the SAO for a grand total of about seven minutes in between her and the other person that, in a matter of two minutes, shot me down, told me that I basically had to admit guilt to a criminal offence, or I would not be able to go back into the facility. That’s not what they said, but that is the actuality of it. That incident never did happen, and as a result, I could have greatly benefitted from an ombuds office.”
Do you mind if I ask more about that incident or -?
“Every other media outlet has covered that extensively, I would rather discuss other things. If you are curious about what happened, by all means, go check out any of the other media outlets at this point. I think that we’re way beyond that…. and it’s better, more beneficial for the media to start asking questions about people’s campaigns. Because at the end of the day, you’re voting not just for a person, you’re voting in a set of ideas, a platform. ”
So, other than that court, what are the other parts of your platform?
“The other parts of my platform that I’m trying to promote are getting the city really back to its basics. The main point of a city, or a municipal corporation, is the administration of the most basic types of infrastructure, roads, sewers. And I basically think that we lost our way on this file a long time ago. It’s been improving slowly, and I believe that our last mayor understood that we have a huge infrastructure deficit, and started to work away at it. I think that it was a good scratch of the surface, but if you do go driving around at all – and that’s what I do in my spare time, just to think and relax, I’ll listen to the radio and I’ll drive around Frame Lake or Finlayson Drive and into Dagenais and I’ll do that. And I understand what people are saying when they’re frustrated that it’s six years ago and they haven’t paved our street or those types of complaints. I clearly get it, and I hear you all loud and clear Yellowknife. I want to be the mayor that gets us back to basics and starts working on our roads and sewers again and removing that infrastructure deficit so that sometime down the road, we’ll have money to spend on other things than just infrastructure. Probably well after I would be out of office.”
Is there a particular road or area of town that you would want to tackle first if you were in office?
“There’s so many of those little roads and backstreets that need redone I wouldn’t pick a particular one. That being said, we have been going forward on all of our most obvious infrastructure problems. Franklin Ave and the main pipe and so on and so forth, but as a result of that, we really haven’t had the resources to pump into everyone’s neighbourhoods. And that’s really what I see in the future spending more money on, more capital on would be putting money into the roads and streets and making sure that everyone’s sewer runs again because that’s what a city is at its core. You could argue that could be the only function of a city.”
“That’s it. And anything above and beyond that would be contracted out or – and I’m not saying that’s what I believe. I’m just saying that there are people out there who would argue that that is the only sole purpose of a city. I don’t personally believe that but I hear the people that do have those views. Above and beyond that, Yellowknife needs to grow. I am in the middle of having an org chart assembled, kind of along the ideas that I’ve posted on my webpage. A lot of people have been saying on my Facebook page… I’ve noticed a lot of people saying they’re unsure of one of the ideas that I’ve pitched. Which would be a road from suicide corner at the Co-op to the Niven intersection. And I have not a lot of interest in the road itself, I have a lot more interest in turning that into a developed neighbourhood the entire area with a beautiful park along each of the shores of Frame Lake and Jackfish. If we were able to do that, we would definitely at least have the land base available to increase our population by that lofty goal of 2,000 people that the GNWT has set. As for everyone asking, well how am I going to actually fill those spaces, last year the City of Yellowknife had a total marketing budget for the city of Yellowknife, including all the tourism budget of $270,000. There were over $90 million in tourist dollars spent here last year. One of the new departments that I’m going to create will be dedicated entirely to tourism and it will have a substantial budget of – I’ll just say that if I was to establish a tourism department, they’d definitely have an annual budget of $2-5 million a year. It just depends on how my final numbers end up crunching out. Like I said, I’d be happy to release those as well as a costed chart for you guys in the next little while. I had run into an issue where I had some uncertainty regarding the numbers I was provided from the City of Yellowknife, so that did delay my financial forecasts.”
So tourism is a big part of bringing money into the territory as well as into the city. You want to create an entire department of tourism within the city, but the territorial government also has its own Industry, Tourism and Investment Department. So what would your tourism department look like?
“Basically, I personally feel that the GNWT is managing and handling the tourism marketing strategy for Yellowknife by default almost. The truth of the matter is that all of our councillors, all of the past two mayors have totally missed this opportunity to a degree that’s just dumbfounding. Why don’t we already have a tourism department? For the same reason that we don’t already have an ombuds office. A lot of stagnation, a lot of spinning wheels, and not a lot of actual output have come from the last few councils and mayor. I’ll be unabashed about it, we should be expecting more from our politicians in terms of actual output and production, in both councils, bylaw and impact. The truth of the matter is, the last I checked two days ago, I was the only candidate to have gone into any of the homeless shelters or facilities and actually talked to any of the staff or clients. It’s shameful that my competitors have all these fantastic homelessness plans, but they’ve never actually been in or stepped foot in the facility to my knowledge.”
So do you have a plan like you’ve mentioned your competitors have plans to target -?
“Well no, they don’t actually. If you go onto their Facebook, they have very amorphous, undetailed plans that are basically based on them reading consultant reports, I’m pretty sure of it. It’s obvious to me that these people haven’t gone down and talked to the frontline staff. For two reasons, because the frontline staff have said that no, these people haven’t been down and talked to us, and secondly, they seem so out of touch with the plans that they are presenting. Better communication from one of my components, $170 million over the next ten years on another when the fact of the matter is the most problematic individuals on the street are actually the ones that need the most love. They’re the ones that need the most caring from the community. The reason I think that a lot of the times you’ll have maybe 20 individuals that are basically the most visible people in Yellowknife, in kind of the wrong way. We don’t need to spend $170 million on 20 people, we need to actually start taking responsibility for them in ways that they aren’t able to take responsibility for themselves. My entire homelessness platform is based on the idea that the highest calling of government is compassion.”
So with that idea of government as compassion, how would that play out for, like you said, those 20 recognizable people?
“Here’s the thing, my educational background is that I have a Bachelor of Arts from Carleton University, not an LLB but my major was law and my minor was political science with a concentration in political philosophy. As a result, I understand the Charter implications that obviously my other competitors are unaware of. And haven’t either put forward concrete plans because they are afraid of putting their foots in their mouths, or they put forward a concrete plan that actually makes no sense because it violates people’s charter rights. You can’t just round up all of these people, okay? The only way you’re going to subvert these people from being issues to our tourism industry to our working people in the towers, and stuff like that is by offering them something they currently don’t have, or that is so compelling that they’ll volunteer. What do all these people that have addictions issues have in common? Well if you were able to supply them with their basic chemical needs, they wouldn’t need to do any vandalism or breaking into cars or any of that type of thing. It’s called a wet shelter and this has been successful in many many cities. I basically want to put a couple of trailers out by the Bristol Pits and feed them alcohol and if they’re on any type of drug, that drug under a medically supervised condition. They’d have somewhere to go for 12 hours a day and be warm and have a judgement free place to work out their issues without restricting their basic human dignity. At the end of the day, an addiction is a terrible thing and we should have compassion for them, not criticize them and hate them. And that’s more what I see around town than anything, is a sense of hatred for these people amongst the general population. We need to move in a different direction and away from that and give these people just a little bit of love.”
Sibbeston says he’s seen people detoxing from drugs before and it was scary stuff.
“It’s not something we should hate these people for, it’s something we should probably feel a lot more compassion for them. And further to that, just try something. Anything. For god’s sake Yellowknife, let’s try something! We haven’t tried this yet.”
At this proposed facility there would be counsellors and medical staff on hand to help anyone who needs it, he says, and the street outreach van would offer free rides there from downtown.
Sibbeston says the alcohol provided at this shelter could be produced by the city at a facility certified by the GNWT.
“Basically buying tax-free liquor negotiated from the government for the purposes of medical use,” he says.
So then the government wouldn’t profit off this program?
“That’s right. The government shouldn’t profit off of this type of program, and the fact of the matter is the government is currently profiting at 40 or 50 per cent off of the taxes on alcohol from the poorest members in society. They can barely afford to keep their habit going, nevermind feed themselves.”
Sibbeston says the shelter staff he spoke to told him that 90 per cent of the social problems in Yellowknife amongst the homeless are due to alcohol addiction, with the other ten per cent being mental health issues and other drug addictions.
You mentioned that you studied political thought and political philosophy. Beyond that, do you have any experience that you feel qualifies you for this job? What makes you unique from the other candidates in terms of experience you bring to this position?
“As far as experience goes I have worked for the Government of the Northwest Territories in one of the policy departments. I did a full year there and decided that policy itself was not for me. I felt that just trying to freelance and so on and so forth would be a lot more rewarding and it has been. The experience I offer to Yellowknife is my tenacity, it’s more personality trait. I mention on my Facebook page, if I got elected as mayor, you wouldn’t have seen this type of politics or politician since my father was the premier and throwing teacups and punching people. I promise you though that I won’t be throwing teacups or punching people but I will absolutely with every hair and fibre of my body pursue the goals that I have set out in my campaign and I will make them happen. Vote me in for trying and if I fail, you can vote me out. ”
Is this your first time running?
Yes, this is my first time as a candidate for anything.
So what made you decide to run now?
“I am the only candidate, other than my pub owner opponent, that has zero ties to the past administration. And with that recent leak of a confidential letter onto my Facebook page, putting into broad daylight all of the misdeeds of certain staff over there that are still on the payroll and still in charge of the cameras to my knowledge.”
Sibbeston argues that his outsider status makes him a better candidate because he wasn’t involved in the recent scandal involving the municipal enforcement division.
I’m sensing you have a lot of frustration with the way things are now, is that part of why you decided to run?
“My hair is on fire, okay? I am not a connected individual, I don’t have the friends that my two other council colleagues in this race have, I don’t have the financial resources that any of the above competitors have. Yet at the same time, I’ve had over 2,000 people see my Facebook page. So you tell me, is it just me? Or is it over 2,000 people that also feel that frustration and their hair is also on fire?”
Anything else to add?
“I just wanted to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to actually address the issues…Some of the other media stations have decided to focus on more personal quirks of me and my other libertarian candidate rather than on the issues that both of us are presenting. The role of the media, and I can’t understate this, the role of the media during an election is to present the ideas and platforms of the candidates, not to focus on the personal quirks thereof.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. It was originally recorded September 20.