Whitehorse Daily Star

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ON A LEARNING CURVE – Dan Vandal, seen Monday in Whitehorse, was sworn in as Canada’s first stand-alone minister of Northern Affairs in November 2019.

New minister getting acquainted with Yukoners

Dan Vandal, Canada’s minister of Northern Affairs, spent a day in Whitehorse this week as part of his grassroots approach to becoming acquainted with the constituency.

By Gabrielle Plonka on January 14, 2020

Dan Vandal, Canada’s minister of Northern Affairs, spent a day in Whitehorse this week as part of his grassroots approach to becoming acquainted with the constituency.

“(The learning curve) is fairly steep, in the sense of visiting the territory and understanding first-hand what the issues are,” Vandal told the Star Monday.

“There’s lots of reading material but, of course, you have to go a step further: you’ve got to meet people and you’ve got to dialogue with people that live here.”

Vandal was sworn in as the country’s first stand-alone minister of Northern Affairs in November 2019.

The position was previously blended with Carolyn Bennett’s Crown-Indigenous Affairs portfolio, a position she still holds in the new government.

Vandal told the Star that shaping the brand-new position will rely heavily on the Arctic and Northern Policy Framework launched by Bennett last September.

“That’s something that is really wide-ranging, it’s aspirational, and we do have some money plugged into different projects, but we need to work off that as a base because it was co-developed,” Vandal said of the framework.

“It gives a certain legitimacy to what we’re going to do, moving ahead.”

Alongside the framework, Vandal will rely on the input of governments and organizations in the North. He said open communication with northern leaders is of high importance to his mandate.

While in the Yukon, Vandal met with Premier Sandy Silver and some territorial ministers, Peter Johnston, the Council of Yukon First Nations’ grand chief, and the First Nations Education Commission.

Vandal said the Yukon’s leadership took the opportunity to outline their priorities.

“The underlying context to everything is climate change,” Vandal said.

The leaders discussed green energy solutions as well as how melting permafrost in the North will affect buildings, roads and other infrastructure.

Vandal said there is an opportunity for the federal government to work with Yukon governments on infrastructure improvement projects.

Vandal noted that his mandate letter has a focus on education, prompting his meeting with the First Nation Education Commission as well as a visit to Yukon College.

“We talked a lot about early childhood education, and how important that is, and the need to do a better job here in the Yukon for Indigenous kids,” Vandal said.

“I certainly support that laudable goal. We know the key to a better life, no matter where you live, is education.”

Now that initial discussions have taken place, Vandal said it’s incumbent on his administration in Ottawa to follow up and ensure there is movement on education and infrastructure improvements.

He said the current federal government has done away with the “Ottawa knows best” attitude of the past, instead hoping to work collaboratively with lower- level governments.

“It’s all about partnership … to make sure common objectives are reached, and so we want to move forward together,” he said.

Vandal spoke briefly about the challenge of meeting the diverging needs of communities versus urban centres in the North.

“It’s not an easy thing to do: there’s always conflict,” he said.

“I’ve been an elected official federally now for five years, 15 years as a (Winnipeg) city councillor, and perfection is never attainable.

“There’s always going to be some tension, as long as it’s healthy tension, then that’s good. As long as we’re making progress.”

The key, he said, is ensuring governments are united in objectives that benefit both community and city.

Vandal has been the Liberal MP for Saint Boniface-Saint Vital in Winnipeg since the 2015 election. Vandal is Métis and is the lone Indigenous voice in the cabinet.

In the previous government, he was Bennett’s parliamentary secretary.

Preceding his time in the House of Commons, he chaired the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network.

Vandal visited Churchill, Man., before arriving in the Yukon, then flew to Yellowknife.

Comments (5)

Up 8 Down 10

Alan on Jan 16, 2020 at 8:44 pm

I would like to advise the Minister and all who have ears to hear the true definition of a Yukoner, Yu Kon them before they kon Yu.

Up 21 Down 3

Groucho d'North on Jan 15, 2020 at 2:50 pm

I would hope that besides the pomp and glory attention the minister gets during his educational visit, you know the dinners and events to highlight Yukon's economic opportunities and similar showcase items all deserving of the minister's awareness and attention. I would hope that he also gets some time on Alexander St. to talk with the business people and residents there and also some of the tenants on the corner too. This situation is not unique to the Yukon and I'm sure the same concerns are echoed in all communiities North of Sixty. If there was ever a situation that could benefit from a coordinated and focused federal program to deal with substance abuse, any politcian worth their paycheque would be making this a priority.

Up 13 Down 10

Matthew on Jan 15, 2020 at 7:03 am

LOL! Melting permafrost... does anyone believe that still?

Up 22 Down 10

JC on Jan 14, 2020 at 4:51 pm

"The underlying context to everything is climate change". My goodness shut everything down and go veggie. The government can print dummy headed bills and everybody live on social assistance. Once again - read my lips - it is not "climate change", its "climate adjustment". Let nature take its course. Suck it up and learn to adjust. And enjoy your beef steak.

Up 17 Down 7

JC on Jan 14, 2020 at 4:00 pm

Now, just what does the "stand alone" thingy stand for? Never heard that one before.

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