How long have you been in P2, and where have you worked?
I’m a Vancouver kid originally, but have lived across the country. I have been living in Whitehorse for two years, but before that I spent a decade in Halifax and that’s where I started my P2 journey. I’m a Park Planner and through that I was doing some public engagement activities but it just wasn’t working. So I figured there were some smarter people than me who could handle this, and that’s when I discovered IAP2. I took what’s now called the Foundations course and the rest is history.
Why Whitehorse? – It’s kinda pathetic, but I think I read too many Farley Mowat books as a kid and was destined to go there. But the bigger reason was, my wife and I were starting a family and we loved Halifax, but we wanted a smaller town. I’d lived in Iqaluit before, so we went north.
It’s a well-kept secret that Whitehorse is kind-of entry-level Northern living, or Northern living for Southerners. It’s close to the Pacific Ocean – about a 2-hour drive to Skagway, Alaska. People from Whitehorse will drive down to Skagway for seafood.
It’s a mild climate with big, open broad spaces: we have the big St Elias Range with Mt Logan (Canada’s highest mountain) to the west with bigger plains and rivers to the east and north. Here in Whitehorse, the mountains are perfect because you don’t have to be hard-core to enjoy them; there is something for everyone. There’s lots of opportunity: to be outside and active, the arts, for families, for work, and to have a positive impact in the community.
Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?
There was an AHA – after I had “drunk the Kool-Aid” of IAP2. I started working for the City (of Whitehorse) and got a contract in park planning. We did this fairly robust parks plan, and you’d probably laugh: you’d think it’d be easy to do parks in the Yukon because there’s so much space here and only 37,000 people. But there are a lot of people in the urban area, and a lot of different values.
Thanks to what I’d learned in the IAP2 courses, I didn’t just “wing-it” in the consultations. We thought through the questions and planned out why we were doing what we were going to do. We identified the key issues early, and the result was that a project many people thought would go sideways went very well; instead of breaking the community it brought the community together.
So the “AHA!” moment? Seeing how using IAP2 principles and approaches turned what could have been a big problem into something that worked and had a lasting positive impact.
And at the end, there were some, shall we say, “excitable” people who came forward and complimented the city and said they look forward to future processes.
It became a strategic part of the city’s plan – when are parks the priority? That changed a lot of thinking there.
What kind of response are you getting to the notion of establishing an IAP2 Yukon/North Chapter?
I’m a very enthusiastic Chapter of One. I know there are other P2 practitioners in the North, but I don’t know of any public offering. When I registered for the Conference in Winnipeg, someone joked, “Yay! Our only Yukon member is coming!” When I got there, I really felt I’d found my “tribe”.
One of our American colleagues suggested taking “baby steps”, starting with a training course, getting together with others over drinks, and through that, working towards the new Chapter. It’s one thing to take a course, but things like networks help the value become more obvious.
You might say I have selfish motivations for working towards a Northern Chapter. I want to promote P2 and make the IAP2 framework more of the norm here to help the decision-makers and the community’s faith in decision-making. I find it so disappointing to see development processes breaking the community apart because of poor P2, and this is one small way where we can help shift that around. I’m not a big “Kumbaya” guy, but it’s possible to hold the community together even as change happens.
What’s the need in that area?
The thing people in the South need to understand is, you can’t look at the The North as all one area with the same people and the same issues. Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse are all very different, not to mention the smaller communities. So the first step is to build the Whitehorse/Yukon presence … then reach out to the other areas if and when that makes sense.
On the one hand, Yukon — on paper — is “progressive” … there are 14 First Nations and 11 have settled (self-government agreements) and are separate nations.
Culturally, there is a lot of room for improvement. The Territorial government hasn’t quite worked out how to work with First Nations: there’s an attitude that “we’ve settled – now can’t you go away?” and the government is finding it tough to let go. They’re still making decisions that are not done in collaboration with the First Nations: some of those significant decisions are going to the courts and it often comes down to the First Nations saying that the duty to consult was not fulfilled. So the spirit and culture is not meeting what you’d expect on paper. It’s bad for community and frankly a lost opportunity.
The Gold Rush is a big part of that history, and that very brief event has continued to shape the culture, which is very individualistic and pioneer … but the Gold Rush isn’t on anymore.
Yes, there’s a need for P2 awareness, because the Yukon is in a new phase: devolution, where the Federal Government has recently handed off responsibilities like education, highways, social services – things the provinces are already responsible for – onto the Territories. More and more, the public wants to be involved, and the classic attitude in government is the one I heard from a councillor – I was elected to make decisions. Why can’t I make a decision?
Decision-makers don’t understand the benefits of good public consultation. If it’s not done right, it can end up in the courts – which can take years – and the courts mainly just provide guidance to the governments.
That being said, I can often beat up on decision makers for not doing P2 right, but on the other end, the public doesn’t help. There’s a lot of misconceptions on the part of the public as to what P2 is and what it isn’t. People think it’s unjustifiable that a decision-maker can make a decision when in a survey, the public has said X but the decision-maker has done Y. There’s a lot of responsibility for organizations like IAP2 to educate as to what the field is and what it isn’t. People get bummed-out: they don’t understand why decisions are made the way they are; you need to be more clear up-front about the process.
That’s why I like this field: there’s so much opportunity to help decision-makers and the public get to the finish line, and I hope the community embraces not just IAP2 but the Core Values of Public Participation. It makes sense socially, financially, and politically. Yukon is at a crossroads, with some very strong positions when it comes to resource development and the thinking still is, you’re not for us so you’re against us. So Yukon really does have the potential to become a leader in P2 – we just have to alter our thinking.
If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …
I would say, “right on!” It’s a big tent and we want to keep building that tent. And IAP2 is important for building that tent because there are so many ways to do it. These days, people can get excited with online stuff. That’s almost like voodoo – there are those who know it and those who don’t – and you can’t get distracted before you really understand the basic principles (of P2) and know which tools meet your objectives. At the end of the day, the medium can change, but it’s still the same principles.