Premier Dennis Fentie has shuffled his cabinet in the wake of the departure of former cabinet minister Peter Jenkins two weeks ago.
Lake Laberge MLA Brad Cathers has been sworn in as Minister of Health and Social Services and the minister responsible for the Workers' Compensation Health and Safety Board. He will also serve as the government house leader.
Cathers was first elected to the legislative assembly in the November 2002 general election. At 28 years old, he was the youngest member of the Yukon Party caucus and now will be the youngest cabinet minister.
Fentie has taken on the role of Environment Minister.
Elaine Taylor, the MLA for Whitehorse West, will now have the title of deputy premier added to her previous responsibilities of serving as Minister of Tourism and Culture Minister, minister responsible for the Public Service Commission and minister responsible for the Women's Directorate.
'I welcome Mr. Cathers to cabinet,' Fentie said in a press release issued late this morning. 'Environment and health are priorities for us and we look forward to working hard on behalf of Yukoners in these areas.'
NDP Leader Todd Hardy, however, said the cabinet shuffle is 'scary.'
Fentie has had a mantra of 'log it, mine it, drill it, pave it and then protect it,' Hardy said in an interview this morning.
Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell agreed.
'It's a little like letting the fox guard the hen house,' Mitchell said in an interview. 'Suddenly he's got this new-found religion and he's an environmentalist.'
The premier taking on the role of Environment minister 'just spells disaster for any sort of long-term vision' for protecting the environment in the Yukon, said Hardy.
He added there needs to be a balanced approach between the environment and the economy, and Hardy doesn't believe Fentie will bring that to the table.
Hardy also expressed concerns about Cathers becoming the newest member in the Yukon Party cabinet.
'(He's) completely unproven,' said Hardy.
Cathers came under fire during the spring sitting of the legislature after he made comments regarding an 'escort service' on the floor of the house.
Hardy said the NDP has been 'concerned about a lot of his comments' in the assembly since he was elected.
'Mr. Fentie says the Yukon Party is now going to roll up their sleeves and look at social issues,' said Hardy, adding he doesn't see Cathers being able to do that.
Jenkins, who previously held the Health and Social Services portfolio, had proved he knew the department better than anyone, said Hardy Cathers hasn't.
Mitchell, however, said he is looking forward to seeing Cathers' approach to the portfolio.
Mitchell said he would like see how Cathers resolves issues such as the use of sole-source contracting for the Watson Lake health care facility and the micromanaging Jenkins was previously accused of for the Dawson City multi-level care facility.
'It will be interesting to see just what changes that he makes,' he said.
But Hardy said he is concerned about Cathers' past alliance with the Reform Party of Canada.
According to Cathers' biography on the legislative assembly's website, he was the Yukon's constituency president for the Reform Party of Canada/Canadian Alliance from 1998 until 2002.
He was also a member of the Reform Party of Canada Leader's Grassroots Advisory Committee on the United Alternative from 1998 until 1999, and was the Yukon's member on the Canadian Alliance national council from 2000 until 2002.
The Reform party demonstrated a clear interest in the privatization of health care. Hardy said he feels Cathers' appointment to the cabinet may indicate the Yukon's health care will also be moving in that direction.
As for Taylor's promotion to deputy premier, Hardy said it has 'no meaning whatsoever.'
'(Fentie's) trying to present a new image of a very hard government,' said Hardy, adding he thinks Taylor's new title will have 'very little impact' over the coming months.
The entire shuffle and any changes made are just a reminder the Yukon is now in an 'election year,' said Mitchell.
The premier must call a general election by November 2006.
Fentie indicated Jenkins' Nov. 28 resignation from the cabinet and caucus was related to his company's more-than $308,000 in delinquent loans from the territory.
Jenkins, however, insisted he felt he would be better able to advance the concerns and issues of Dawson as an independent on the opposition side of the house.
Fentie, Cathers and Taylor were all unavailable for comment this morning, according to Yukon Party spokesman Peter Carr.