The territory’s newest representative in Ottawa hopes to assume her role in the Red Chamber as an independent senator, after having headed the Yukon’s first-ever Liberal government in 2000.
That’s Pat Duncan, who enjoyed a short-lived term as premier until 2002, a role that she assumed as the territory’s first female premier after dislodging an NDP government.
Sworn in Tuesday as the territory’s new senator, along with three others, Duncan said she hopes to hit the ground running.
“It’s really already started in terms of the work,” she laughed Tuesday afternoon, speaking to the Star hours after her swearing-in.
“People underestimate, I think, perhaps the emotions involved,” the 59-year-old senator said. “It’s very – it’s a key ceremony, and it’s an honour to be in this chamber, it’s reflected.”
She succeeds Conservative Dan Lang, whose resignation took effect in August 2017.
The Senate is commonly referred to as the chamber of sober second thought as it serves as another set of eyes after its cousin, the House of Commons, before bills are passed into legislation.
The Commons is where elected MPs (like the Yukon’s Larry Bagnell) reside, whereas the senators are appointed to their seats.
Duncan joins the chamber against the backdrop of the federal government being under the magnifying glass, amid allegations that former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured by officials in the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case.
That, according to the Globe and Mail, was seen to encourage a deal in the prosecution of corruption charges the mammoth Quebec engineering firm faced.
Earlier this month, Patrick Brazeau, the Tory-turned-independent senator, said he was considering introducing a motion. It would call on the body to investigate and use all its powers for looking into the allegations of political interference, along with Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet.
Asked if she would support such a motion, Duncan cautioned from picking a side.
“Our focus as the chamber of sober second thought is on legislation, and its impact on Canadians,” she said, noting she’d have to read such a motion before commenting further.
“I would not speculate on how I’d vote on that.
“I would emphasize again, though, that our job is to look at the legislation and, as it’s tasked, does it meet the needs of Canadians?”
She also hopes to draw on her experience throughout her years as premier on various files.
Those include one that received second reading and was referred to committee last December (that committee has since met three times this year).
That is Bill C-69, which calls for an overhaul of the country’s regulatory review process: as projects like pipelines, nuclear facilities and mines undergo federal reviews, they are governed by the National Energy Board Act (NEBA) and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency Act (CEEA).
Bill C-69 calls for the modernization of these two, including changes to replace the NEB with a new Canadian energy regulator.
The government has said the changes are to provide clarity and increase stakeholder and Indigenous engagement on projects that impact groups, while opponents in the industry fear it could make an already-complicated system more complex.
It’s brought forth by the minister of environment, who under the bill, can have discretionary power on giving a project the green light – something industry fears will lead to investors seeing it as a dragged-out process that could be open to political motivation.
“All Canadians have heard about the protest today,” Duncan said.
She recalled her Liberal government days and concern she heard that the development assessment process would limit mine permitting.
That process, also referenced in the Umbrella Final Agreement, lays out the process for evaluating the cultural, economic, social and environmental impacts of development projects in the territory. The process falls under the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB).
“I as a Yukoner, and having been a member of the opposition and government in the legislature, am well aware of all the debates around Yukon,” Duncan said.
“I was reminded that people said we won’t get mines permitted – in fact, Yukon has made that work and I think that’s something that we Yukoners should be commended for.”
Now, almost two decades after her short-lived reign, the territory has the mining sector to thank for things like record-high sales in wholesale trade numbers as recently as last year.
It also ranked fourth across Canada for projected spending on mineral exploration and deposit evaluation for 2018, at $142 million in exploration and
$106 million for evaluations (Star, Jan. 31).
“I’m proud of how Yukon has made that legislation work,” Duncan reflected: “I think this is the Yukon experience.”
She did acknowledge that it didn’t come without its dissent over the years.
“I’m not saying at all we got it right; we have learned and we learned to work together as citizens.”
Among the other causes she added are near and dear to her are the preservation of language and culture paired with working with Alaskan neighbours. She hopes to help Canadians better understand the Senate’s role, too.
“I do have temporary staff,” she added.
The human resources department is tasked with helping staff her office as she begins to set it up now.
“I have emphasized that I’m not proficient at social media,” Duncan joked, so she hopes to have somebody on her team soon who is, so she can better connect with youth.
“It’s really important to me that people are aware and know the Yukon.”
Duncan expects to finalize in the coming days that she will sit as an independent senator, and be fully-staffed by around mid-March.
Lang had succeeded Liberal Ione Christensen, who had been appointed to the Red Chamber after the death of Liberal senator Paul Lucier.
Before becoming a Liberal, Duncan worked for Erik Nielsen, the territory’s late Conservative MP for almost 30 years until the mid-1980s.
She managed the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce before becoming a Liberal MLA, and was employed by the territorial public service after completing her time in the Yukon legislature.