Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for December 20, 2013

Leaders pinpoint session’s successes, questions

Yukoners were left with several unanswered questions as the fall legislative sitting came to a close Thursday afternoon.

By Ainslie Cruickshank on December 20, 2013 at 4:24 pm

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

WAR OF WORDS WINDS DOWN – Members of the governing Yukon Party are seen Thursday on the left, while the New Democrats and Liberal MLA Sandy Silver (far right) are seen on the other side of the floor of the legislature.

Yukoners were left with several unanswered questions as the fall legislative sitting came to a close Thursday afternoon.

Neither the Yukon Hospital Corp. nor Health Minister Doug Graham provided satisfactory explanations to quell concerns regarding the different responses taken to the summer 2012 deaths of Teresa Scheunert and Mary Johnny of Watson Lake.

It is still unclear when the government will release the Peel watershed land use plan, although hints have been dropped that it could be before year’s end.

But it won’t be the final recommended plan put forward by the Peel Planning Commission, that much is almost certain.

And with only a week left before the Yukon Court of Appeal-imposed deadline, the government still hasn’t released the regulations that give power to Bill 66, the amendments to the Quartz and Placer Mining Acts passed into law Thursday.

Of course, the government and the opposition parties offered different assessments of the sitting.

Premier Darrell Pasloski highlighted a variety of positive initiatives. Those include Thursday’s announcement that the government will provide the local food bank with $750,000 to help buy its downtown building (see story, p. 7).

Pasloski was also excited to highlight the opening of Betty’s Haven, the new hospitals in Dawson City and Watson Lake, the memorandum of understanding signed with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, and growth in the tourism industry.

Looking forward to the new year, he sought to remind Yukoners of a few more feel-good projects.

Those include the completion of the new seniors’ housing complex on Alexander Street, the expansion of the Sarah Steele Building, and the opening of the Options for Independence housing units.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson, on the other hand, summed up the series of questions and concerns brought forward by the official Opposition under one theme: good governance.

Interim Liberal Leader Sandy Silver’s assessment fell along the same line. “This government is letting Yukoners down,” he said.

Both leaders raised Bill 66 as an example of poor leadership and an illustration of deteriorating relationships between the government and First Nations governments.

Hanson said she was surprised at how badly the government has managed the legislation, noting that it’s not only “ticked-off” First Nations governments, but has also confused the mining industry.

“Keep in mind what we have worked for years in this territory to do was to develop certainty and that was to be achieved through the conclusion of land claims agreements and land use planning. They’ve turned their back on land use planning,” she said.

Silver noted the significance of the amendments included in Bill 66.

“The government started by saying it was minor amendments completely based upon Ross River Dena Council court decision and during committee as a whole, the minister admitted they did throw in there, from their discussion papers, the special operating areas. When you read that document, this has to do more with land use planning than it does with court decision,” he said.

Both leaders argued the amendments are significant enough that the government should undertake the process outlined in the Devolution Transfer Agreement to co-operatively develop new resource legislation with the First Nations governments.

But Pasloski disagrees.

His government does not believe the amendments trigger that process.

And, he noted, officials are under a court-imposed deadline of Dec. 27 to meet the orders made a year ago – developing new legislation would take years.

Throughout the session, the NDP pushed the government about Scheunert’s and Johnny’s deaths, calling for a public inquiry.

Hanson called it a “glass-half-full” situation.

“The reality is, yes an inquest will be held, but there’s still so much that’s missing here,” she said.

“There’s the fact that the family has got no support to work their way through this, that we don’t have an independent judge sitting on this, we’ve got a coroner who’s going to be asking herself questions about a number of discrepancies with respect to two different reports that she penned on the Scheunert case.

“We still have some real concerns about the independence of the process,” Hanson said.

“We are happy that the family’s voice was heard, because it was not being heard, we are saddened that the family of Mary Johnny is still not being heard and that’s inexplicable to me and to the official Opposition,” she said.

Pasloski said a public inquiry is not being considered at this time, adding that “it’s very important that the processes in place get to progress to completion.”

He did say though that once those processes have been completed, the minister could consider calling an inquiry if it was thought necessary.

On the Peel, Pasloski said he couldn’t confirm whether the plan will be released by Dec. 31.

Energy, Mines, and Resources Minister Scott Kent said Thursday his intention is to have the plan completed before the staking withdrawal expires at the end of the year.

There is an option to extend the ban again if the government is unable to complete the plan in time.

“We have taken the time to try and really get this right,” Pasloski said about the Peel plan. He confirmed the government will be modifying the final recommended plan by the Peel Planning Commission.

“We have said right back to the (2011) election that we believed that the plan didn’t have the balance that people as Yukoners would be looking for where we want to have the ability to protect some beautiful, spectacular pristine area, but we also want to respect all sectors of the economy,” he said.

Hanson said a legal battle between First Nations and the government on the issue is all but certain, but Pasloski believes it’s still hypothetical.

He said the government is continuing to work with First Nations, adding that the four affected First Nations hold less than three per cent of the area within their land claims.

The mismanagement of capital projects from the two new hospitals to the reconstruction of F.H. Collins Secondary School continued to be raised throughout this session as well.

Once again, Silver noted, the core of those issues is good governance.

One positive he could offer was the release of the needs assessments for both new hospitals.

Although the assessments were conducted after the facilities were already built, the government announced Thursday it will implement the prime recommendation – to operate a collaborative care model.

Silver said he was “thrilled” to see the minister moving forward with the recommendation.

“It’s a huge win for Watson Lake and Dawson, for rural health care in the Yukon and for educated reform to the system,” he said.

See the three leaders’ commentaries in today’s Opinion pages.

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