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Visitors' passes returned
Mayor returns them to tourism centre after city seizure earlier this year

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Tuesday, November 13, 2012

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE
Workers at the Northern Frontier Visitors Centre are thrilled the new mayor and council have already followed up on one of their campaign promises returning visitors' parking passes for tourists.

NNSL photo/graphic

Ken Hudson, president of the NWT Metis Association, displays a parking ticket he received after being denied a visitors' parking pass last week because he lives within the NWT. Hudson took his complaint to city hall, where his parking ticket was forgiven. - Laura Busch/NNSL photo

The three-day visitors' parking passes were taken away from the centre this past spring by a city municipal enforcement official who did not give workers any reasons for the seizure, said Elijah Forget, senior tourism counsellor at the visitors centre. The municipal enforcement division at city hall was then put in charge of handing out the passes.

Forget was so frustrated by the city's arbitrary decision to remove the passes he decided to make it an election issue, asking council candidates at an Oct. 11 election forum where they stood on the issue. Adrian Bell, Dan Wong, Phil Moon Son, Bob Brooks, Rebecca Alty all now elected to council pledged to return the passes, while Cory Vanthuyne said maybe.

"I'm going to be watching them very closely," Forget told Yellowknifer on Nov. 5, the day the new mayor and council were sworn in.

"It is a campaign promise, or an election promise, that many of them made so now I'm just kind of waiting with bated breath to see if that promise pans out."

Forget did not need to wait long. The next day newly-elected Mayor Mark Heyck returned the passes while making the opening address at the NWT Tourism annual general meeting at the Explorer Hotel.

"In my mind, it makes more sense to have them at the visitors centre where visitors are more likely to go, and they're open on the weekends and later in the evenings."

Passes were once again being issued by the visitors centre by that afternoon, said Forget.

"To me, it's great that you get a new mayor and council in and it seems that immediately things that specifically came up during the election are being addressed," he told Yellowknifer on Monday.

The problem started earlier this year when the visitors centre received an "irate" call from municipal enforcement official saying staff should not be giving out more than one pass to the same visitor and that passes should not be given to NWT residents.

"Very shortly after that, they got fed up with us again for reasons that were never really made clear and they just came and took the passes away," he said.

This happened in March, said Forget. At the time, he said the three-day passes help make the city more driver-friendly for visitors, who often complain about a lack of parking especially downtown.

The return of the passes came a little too late for Ken Hudson, who received a parking ticket after unsuccessfully trying to procure a visitor's pass on the same day Heyck returned the passes.

"Regardless of whether (the ticket is for) $25 or what, the principle is not right," said Hudson, president of the NWT Metis Association, who said he was denied a pass at city hall because he is a Fort Smith resident.

"A visitor is a visitor," he said about the idea that only non-NWT residents should be given a free parking pass. "A visitor is bringing money into the town, that's why they get free passes. We bring as much, or more, as anybody because we're here on a regular basis."

When Hudson took his complaint over to city hall, an official there paid his ticket for him and sent him back to the visitors centre, where he did receive his pass after all. He told Yellowknifer on Friday that he was happy with the way things worked out.

For now, the visitors' passes will be given out by workers at the visitors centre as well as their gift shop at the Yellowknife Airport to any non-Yellowknife visitor. This is an interim measure that will stay in effect until the new council has the chance to discuss who should be given the passes, said Heyck.

"Traditionally, the passes were meant for tourists coming to Yellowknife," he said. "There was probably a breakdown in communication between the city and the visitors centre, and they were being provided to people who were coming here for work and things of that nature. So, the policy itself is in transition at the moment."

The issue of visitors' parking passes, as well as issues surrounding seniors' parking passes, which were also restricted this year, will be dealt with early in the new year, said Heyck.

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