With the start of the new sitting in the House of Commons underway and him in his new role as the chairperson for the Prairies and North Caucus, Yukon MP Brendan Hanley spoke to the Star last week to lay out his priorities for the upcoming term.
There are currently eight members in the Prairies and North Caucus, and Hanley takes over the chair from Alberta MP George Chahal.
“The neat thing about the Prairies and North Caucus is we still have our voice within the general caucus,” Hanley said, adding that other areas, such as Ontario, have more than 70 MPs in their caucuses.
“We have a voice at the microphone as well,” he said.
Hanley highlighted housing affordability, infrastructure, health care access, the opioid epidemic and Yukon River salmon stocks as issues he expects to focus on during the sitting.
Hanley also struck back at criticism from Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who came to the Yukon earlier this month with a focus on gun rights and the carbon tax.
Poilievre said in his Whitehorse speech on Sept. 15 that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is trying to ban hunting rifles.
Hanley said the firearms bill Poilievre referenced did not in its final form ban hunting rifles, and that in the end, he still didn’t vote for it.
The bill titled C-21 did initially include banning some types of firearms used for hunting, but Hanley and others were vocal about having those removed.
“Those proposed amendments that did include some hunting firearms, including some semi-automatics, and even some bolt action rifles in in that category,” Hanley said. “That just didn’t make sense.”
Even after working to get these amendments removed, Hanley decided not to support the bill, saying some elements of it were still unresolved.
“I spoke quite publicly about my concerns,” Hanley noted. “I’ve been in the Yukon a long time. I know how firearms owners feel.”
On housing and affordability in general, Hanley said the Yukon’s difficulties are compounded by materials costs and the limits of infrastructure in the territory.
Calling this a “difficult economic period,” Hanley said his goal is “making sure that the northern lens of affordability is appreciated that we know that fuel costs are higher here, transportation costs at higher, building costs are higher.”
There are many different funds being used to provide federal money for housing projects in the Yukon – Hanley highlighted triplexes being built in Whitehorse, Mayo and Watson Lake, along with other Whitehorse projects – but he said infrastructure also needs to be a priority.
“Housing and infrastructure go together,” he said. “We can’t build houses if we don’t have the sewer lines and supply lines to go with it.”
The Liberals also announced a plan just before the sitting to cut out the GST paid in the construction of rental housing units.
Hanley reckons this will help promote the building of more rentals, and fewer condos.
“I was really happy to see this,” he said. “I have heard feedback from experts that this will make a difference and it will lead to some shifting from condominium-focused housing to purpose-built rental construction housing.”
Another major issue Hanley said will continue to get his attention is the substance use emergency in the Yukon and elsewhere.
“It’s always a top of mind for me, is the mental health and the opioid crisis and ensuring that we continue to play our part in addressing this really complex, but really distressing and troubling epidemic,” he said.
Hanley is also part of two committees working on relevant topics for Yukoners.
As a member of the health committee, he said they have just finished a report on what he called the “health care worker crisis.
“Access to primary care in health remains an issue, of course, that we need to continue to work to address and ensure that we’re getting the health outcomes that we that Canadians need,” he said.
He is also on the Fisheries and Oceans committee, which he said will soon be working on a report about the state of Yukon River salmon stocks.
The yearly salmon runs in the river for chum and chinook salmon have been at about 25 per cent of conservation thresholds over the past several years, leading to fishing bans and no harvest opportunities for First Nations.
Hanley said he will be back in the Yukon this week to participate in some activities related to national Truth and Reconciliation Day, including tentatively attending a Liard First Nation potlatch later in the week.