Signs prompt Speaker to clear legislature
By Ainslie Cruickshank on May 10, 2012 at 2:50 pm
Photo by AinslIe Cruickshank
The legislative assembly was shut down briefly Wednesday afternoon as a group of youth raised signs in the public gallery protesting the possible development of the Peel watershed.
Speaker David Laxton asked the members of the Peel Youth Alliance to remove their signs three times before asking MLAs to leave the legislature.
The protesters then left the gallery, and question period resumed soon after.
This was the group’s second protest action against potential development in the Peel watershed. Last week, they unveiled Yukon Party “uniforms” – suits covered in mining companies’ logos.
On Wednesday, protester Graeme Poile, 20, said, “The government is missing the view of young people and putting the interests of mining companies ahead of the interests of Yukoners.”
Poile said the group has attempted to contact government leaders through a number of “conventional” methods, but has met with little success.
“Therefore, we’ve had to find new, creative ways to try to contact them,” he said after the protest.
“We hope to be getting our point across; we wish we didn’t even have to be here today. We hope in the near future we can have a more positive dialogue with the government.”
Cassy Andrew, 20, another member of the alliance, said she was surprised the young people’s protest shut down the legislature.
“Obviously, we would rather not have been there today to do such a direct and imposing action, but the Yukon government is systematically avoiding public will and the voices of Yukoners, and we’re not about to just sit back and let them do this,” she said.
“This is our future,” she said.
Andrew said the government has a “moral obligation” to accept the final Peel Watershed Planning Commission’s final plan, noting it has had overwhelming support by First Nations and the general public.
The group has a number of demands, including that the government accept the final plan and that it respect democracy.
They also want the staking moratorium extended until the Peel region is protected, and for mining companies to operate in a fair manner in the territory.
“Rather than being able to take our resources away at fire sale prices, we feel that there should be a good balance in how (mining companies are) treated in direct comparison to regular citizens,” said Poile.
Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers said in an interview the government does listen to the public and “is interested in the input of all citizens.”
“I have to again emphasize that the most effective way for anyone to engage in public discussions is to be thoughtful, constructive and reasonable,” said Cathers, who was interrupted by the Speaker’s address to the protesters.
“Issuing a list of demands is one of the least effective ways of engaging with the government,” he added.
The real concern stemming from
Wednesday’s protest, he said “is not the manner in which kids choose to engage; the real question is to what extent is her majesty’s official Opposition encouraging people to demonstrate lack of respect for the legislative assembly.”
“The NDP were certainly not surprised by (the demonstration),” said Cathers.
In an interview this morning, Liz Hanson, the leader of the NDP, strongly refuted Cathers’ insinuation that her party had something to do with planning the gallery demonstration.
“Brad is not telling the truth,” she said. “My party was not involved.”
“We do support, though, people expressing their views and doing so in a respectful and a peaceful way.”
Regarding the choice to use the public gallery of the legislature as the venue for the protest, Hanson said she understands that the group felt it might be the only way to get the government’s attention.
However, “I respect the ruling of the Speaker that it’s not in keeping with the rules of order in the house,” she said.
Andrew said the youth alliance is sitting at approximately 30 members, but is growing steadily.
Another gathering began at noon today on the lawn of the legislature in support of protecting the Peel and implementing the planning commission’s recommended plan as written. It was scheduled to go on until 2 p.m
Hanson said she was looking forward to joining those Yukoners there today, as they express support for protection of the Peel.