From the halls of McGill to Mayor of Yellowknife

McGill grad, Mark Heyck is the Mayor of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. Prior to his appearance at the upcoming MISC conference, The Cities We Need, Heyck spoke to the Reporter about his journey from from the halls of McGill to the Mayor’s office; and about life in the Northwest Territories.
Mark Heyck  McGill alumnus and Mayor of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories.
Mark Heyck, McGill alumnus and Mayor of Yellowknife, NWT.

By Elisabeth Faure

Since 1995, the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC) has hosted a major bilingual conference in Montreal on topics that matter to Canadians and are relevant to current public policy concerns. MISC’s next annual conference, The Cities We Need (Les villes qu’il nous faut) will take place in Montreal on Feb. 19 and 20, 2015, at the Phi Centre (407 St Pierre St). The Reporter is running a series of interviews with guests who will be appearing at the conference in advance of the event.

Mark Heyck is the Mayor of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. Formerly a city councillor and deputy Mayor, Heyck’s resumé also includes time as Vice-President of the non-profit Folk on the Rocks music festival, and as a multimedia coordinator at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre Museum.

But it all started at McGill, where Heyck earned his BA as a student of History and Canadian Studies. The Reporter caught up with Mayor Heyck in advance of his appearance at the MISC conference.

 It’s a long way from the halls of McGill to the Mayor’s office in Yellowknife, NWT. Tell us about the journey that led you to your present job?

I developed a keen interest in politics during my time at McGill, perhaps in part because the 1995 referendum took place during my second year there. Shortly after I returned home to Yellowknife in 1999, a territorial election was called, and I was encouraged by friends to take a run at elected office. I was trounced in that election, but I truly enjoyed the campaign experience and talking to voters. Having been born and raised in Yellowknife, I became concerned by how our city was growing and developing in the early 2000s – with some highly valued green spaces under threat of development and very little emphasis from our local government on community sustainability – so in 2003 I decided to get involved by running for a seat on City Council. I was elected to three consecutive terms on Council, the last two of which I also served as the Deputy Mayor. My predecessor as Mayor – with whom I had a great working relationship – announced in early 2012 that he would not be seeking re-election, so I decided to run for the position later that year. I was honoured and humbled to get elected Mayor of my hometown on October 15th, 2012.

What’s a typical day like when you’re the Mayor of Yellowknife?

I don’t know that there is a typical day. It’s an incredibly varied job. Most weeks can include chairing City Council and committee meetings, meetings with constituents, visits to schools or community events, and plenty of social functions. There was one day last summer (when much of the southern part of the Northwest Territories was engulfed in forest fires) where I had a helicopter tour in the morning around the perimeter of a 20,000 hectare fire burning about 30 km away from Yellowknife and was back at City Hall by noon to officiate the wedding of an elderly couple from Quebec. Every day is completely different and you never know what to expect when you arrive at work each morning.

What is the best thing about your job? What’s the biggest challenge?

The best thing about my job is being able to help guide the future of the community I love. Local government is the one order of government where an individual can bring an idea to his or her Council, and if you can persuade enough Councillors that the idea has merit, it can be acted upon and implemented in a relatively short time frame. For example, I had a group of Grade 2 students visit City Hall last summer and they made a pitch that Yellowknife needed a splash park. They had created a display, polled their fellow students and came up with options for the type of equipment they’d like to see. It was one of the best submissions I’ve seen during my time at City Hall, so I asked our staff to see if a project such as this would fit into our three year capital plan. We were able to get it into our 2017 capital projects and the kids who came to City Hall were thrilled to see that their civic engagement actually produced results.

The Mayor’s job is extremely busy, so one of the biggest challenges is balancing work and family life. I have twin eight year old sons, and it’s tough being away from them when my schedule gets busy, as it often does with various meetings, community events and travel.

You are going to be participating in a panel with other Mayors from diverse cities across Canada – Halifax, Mississauga, Chateauguay, and Stratford. What are some of the things you hope to discuss?

I’m very excited about participating in the panel at the MISC conference. The opportunity to discuss whether or not municipalities have the powers they need to lead their citizens into the 21st century is an extremely important conversation to have. Having this conversation amongst a group of Mayors from a diverse mix of communities should be fascinating and I look forward to learning about their efforts and challenges in advancing the interests of their cities. From a legislative perspective, Canadian municipal governments are quite limited in their ability to meet the numerable challenges we face, especially in comparison to the abilities of local governments in many other countries around the world. It will be interesting to hear everyone’s perspectives on if and/or how we should evolve our antiquated relationship with other orders of government.

You can learn more about the MISC conference and register here. Registration for the two-day conference, including the opening night reception, is $100 for the general public, and $25 for students.

The Reporter has been publishing interviews with various speakers from The Cities We Need conference up until the conference starts on Feb. 19.

Read the interview with, Dan Mathieson, Mayor of Stratford.

Read the interview with Nathalie Simon, Mayor of Châteauguay.

Read the interview with Andreina Seijas, an urban night researcher looking at what cities in Latin America and the Caribbean can do to promote their night-time economies and to create quality spaces for work and leisure after hours.

Read the interview with Bonnie Crombie, Mayor of Mississauga.

Read the interview with Will Straw, Director of MISC, on the impetus behind the  The Cities We Need (Les villes qu’il nous faut) conference.