Photo by Whitehorse Star
Premier Sandy Silver
Photo by Whitehorse Star
Premier Sandy Silver
Premier Sandy Silver’s leadership is under attack by the opposition parties over the Hidden Valley School scandal.
Education Minister Jeanie McLean has been under heavy fire for the last week in the legislature over the debacle involving sexual abuse at the school by a former educational assistant in 2019.
McLean only assumed the portfolio last spring from now deputy premier Tracy-Anne McPhee.
McLean has been single-handedly stonewalling the opposition parties’ requests for more information on the situation. She’s been facing as many as 15 questions a day on the subject – while Silver and McPhee sat nearby in sphinx-like silence until late this week.
McPhee, meanwhile, has readily admitted to reporters she was familiar with the file, which happened under her watch as Education minister.
Repeatedly, the NDP and Yukon Party have expressed their perplexity at McPhee’s and Silver’s silence and what they see as their lack of support for McLean.
On Wednesday, NDP leader Kate White openly said she was surprised at how McLean has been left unsupported by her cabinet colleagues.
On Thursday afternoon, Silver seemed to be ill-tempered when asked what his reaction was to the suggestion he has left his minister to fend for herself.
“I think that’s a sexist remark,” he snapped to reporters during a media scrum.
He was asked to explain that position further.
“She’s the minister of the department and she’s answering the questions extremely well,” Silver said. “I don’t have to defend any of my ministers. They’re doing a fine job, an excellent job.
“We have a very strong minister who has taken the lead on this,” he said of McLean.
“With all the questions, with the opposition trying to move on from the minister, she is the minister responsible and she will answer the questions.
“I don’t have to speak on her behalf; she’s the minister, she knows more about this than I do, and I think she’s doing a remarkable job on a serious and very, very difficult file.”
When informed of what Silver had said, White openly laughed at his suggestion that his reluctance to intercede on McLean’s behalf is sexist.
“I disagree. I would say that’s a leadership approach. If I was in his position and I had a minister that was under that kind of flack, mark my words: I wouldn’t have them standing up there alone,” White said.
“For me, leadership would have been for the premier to stand up and deflect some of that.”
White pointedly asked Silver during question period to tell the legislature when he first became aware of the school situation – but he did not answer directly.
“Mr. Speaker, the minister of Education has launched an independent review of the government’s response to the incident as well as the internal policies and protocols to respond to incidents of this kind,” Silver said.
“This review will involve the parents and the guardians, as well as partner agencies and organizations, with the goal of understanding what occurred and making improvements that ensure that our education system is protected — and students — and supporting the school communities. This is a commitment that the Minister of Education has made directly to the parents of Hidden Valley Elementary School.”
He cited the two reviews.
“We are very careful to make sure that we don’t impede that work or what is going forward in the courts, and we are making sure that we get to the bottom of this,” Silver said.
“All questions asked by those independent offices, by the independent reviews, will be answered in due time — absolutely.”
That is almost verbatim the same answer McLean has been providing to the legislature for four days.
“He used a lot of words, but didn’t provide us with an answer,” White said.
She said she wasn’t happy to have the issue dominate the legislature for four days as it has, but said the lack of government action on the situation at the school has forced the opposition’s hands.
“I’d rather be talking about a million other things. One minister said there’s been a shadow cast over Hidden Valley Elementary, but that shadow was cast by the Department of Education.”
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon was also critical of Silver and his government.
A day previously, Dixon had said that he “almost feels sorry for McLean” as she has been under tremendous scrutiny for several days without any assistance. He said that’s particularly the case when both McPhee and Silver have been asked several questions on Hidden Valley since the legislature reconvened Oct. 7 – mostly without success.
“For the premier to suggest we shouldn’t be asking these questions I think is disingenuous and insulting to the families who have asked us to ask these questions,” Dixon said.
“I think everybody wants to hear answers from these ministers. I think these independent reviews are a smokescreen to keep from answering the questions now, and I think that’s unacceptable. The legislature is here to hold the government to account.”
Ultimately, Dixon said, “the minister is accountable for the actions of her department.
“My view is that the former minister (McPhee) should be accountable for her actions. Her refusal to answer questions in the legislature makes it difficult to find out what happened.”
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