Liam Dougherty spent years under the spotlight’s glare, and after returning home to Prince Albert he’s ready to return to the world of public scrutiny.
Dougherty, a Prince Albert born Canadian Junior Figure Skating champion who competed nationally and internationally as an ice dancer, left the sport in 2007 citing mental health concerns. He said the experience left him traumatized and suicidal, but after seeking treatment he’s now looking to get into municipal politics.
Dougherty formally announced his plans to run for Prince Albert’s vacant Ward 7 seat on Sept. 8. He said the rigid and inflexible world of figure skating helped prepare him for the challenges of being an elected official, while his experience with mental illness helped him identify with those who are less fortunate.
“I’ve undergone a lot of scrutiny,” said Dougherty, who moved away from Prince Albert at age seven, but returned as an adult to live in his old neighbourhood. “I’ve spent the past decade recovering from the worst of PTSD, and now I feel like I’m able to wade out into public again.”
“I do believe that this city needs to focus on the losers, as opposed to the winners, and I strongly identify now as more of a loser than a winner,” he added.
For Dougherty, that starts with addressing homelessness and mental health in Prince Albert. He wants the City to spend more money on public housing and homeless shelters, instead of paying for large infrastructure projects like the $60-million aquatics and arenas recreation centre council approved earlier this year.
Housing concerns are his number one priority. He said he’d even support turning City Hall into an emergency winter homeless shelter if that’s what it takes to solve the problem.
“We throw (the word) crisis around a lot in this country,” he said. “’We’ve got a homelessness crisis. We’ve got an opioid crisis.’ We abuse that word. It’s effectively meaningless, but I know for sure that we do not have a hockey crisis in this country. There are enough ice rinks. There are more than enough.”
Dougherty said there’s no doubt the provincial and federal governments need to do more to help cities like Prince Albert address housing and mental health concerns. However, he rejected the idea that the City didn’t have the funds or the ability to act on their own.
“$60-million in public housing (would be) a lot of houses,” he added. “I’m not sure if it would satisfy all of our needs, but I would certainly get behind using the money that this City can acquire … to directly address homelessness, or something equivalent—a big, big project that would make an actual difference for people living either close to the (poverty) line or already living on the street…. City resources should be used immediately to help out with the homelessness crisis, which is actually a crisis.”
In addition to spending more money on housing and less on big infrastructure projects, Dougherty also wants to see the possession of cocaine, crystal meth and opioids decriminalized. He pointed to a statement from the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs (CAPC) in July as a sign that the idea is gaining traction, and the City needs to be ahead of the curve.
“We must adopt new and innovative approaches if we are going to disrupt the current trend of drug overdoses impacting communities across Canada,” the CAPC statement reads. “Merely arresting individuals for simple possession of illicit drugs has proven to be ineffective. Research from other countries who have boldly chosen to take a health rather than an enforcement-based approach to problematic drug use have demonstrated positive results.”
That’s an approach Dougherty wants the City of Prince Albert to take.
“I think this is a question of morality and decency. There is a push and we need to get ahead of it,” he said. “Municipalities need to lead a bit more.”
Dougherty said he also opposes Prince Albert’s new back alley curfew bylaw. He said he understands crime is a problem in Prince Albert, as well as a gang problem, and points to the multiple thefts and break-ins he experienced after moving back as evidence. However, he still thinks the bylaw will only make things worse, not better. If elected, he pledged to focus on addressing poverty and mental health issues as a way to cut down on crime.
“I think it’s worse than useless,” he said of the back alley bylaw. “It gives us a false sense of accomplishment.”
Dougherty left Prince Albert at age seven when his family moved to the Yukon, then moved to Montreal at age 13 to pursue his figure skating career. He earned a creative writing degree from Concordia University while skating professionally.
He has fond memories of Prince Albert, but said things have deteriorated from when he was a child. That’s the biggest reason he’s getting involved in municipal politics.
“The level of poverty and homelessness, youth malaise, the discontent and suicide, … that’s a clear signal that the youngest among us, who are supposed to be the most filled with hope, are despairing, and that’s because we have a dysfunctional town,” he said. “That goes beyond race. It’s everybody. It’s the entity that is known as Prince Albert. It’s highly dysfunctional, and it doesn’t have to be.”
Dougherty is the second person to announce his candidacy for Ward 7. Former Carlton Comprehensive High School principal Dawn Kilmer announced her candidacy in August.
The 2020 municipal election is scheduled for Nov. 9. The nomination deadline is Oct. 7 at 4 p.m.