Thursday’s Question Period left Justice Minister Marian Horne befuddled.
It all started with a question about same-sex couples.
“Do same-sex partners in the Yukon have the same rights as other married people, particularly when the relationship is dissolved?” asked NDP MLA Steve Cardiff.
Horne was still for a moment.
It was quiet.
The silence became awkward.
Finally, Horne stood up.
“We will leave this up to the courts to decide, at the moment,” she said, sitting down quickly.
Trouble is, the courts did decide.
And the territory’s current legislation, under the Family Property and Support Act, is out of date, said Cardiff.
There was a flurry of activity around Horne’s desk.
Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers was passing her notes and Energy, Mines and Resources minister Archie Lang was whispering in her ear.
When NDP leader Todd Hardy stood up and fired another question at Horne, things got worse.
Turns out common-law spouses aren’t protected under the Family Property and Support Act.
Will Horne change this? asked Hardy.
“If this is a case that is before the courts at this time, it would be inappropriate for me to respond to this question,” said Horne.
It’s not before the courts.
More notes and more whispering.
Finally Horne gave up.
“I am not that familiar with it,” she admitted.
“I will check into it, and I will get back to you with the appropriate information.”
It was embarrassing, said Hardy, sitting in his office after the debate.
“She didn’t know what she was talking about.
“And she wasn’t comfortable enough to say, ‘I’ll look into it and get back to you.’
“I expected after six to eight months she’d be more comfortable dealing with questions she didn’t have answers to.”
It’s just water over the dam
The Yukon Party is cutting the Rate Stabilization Fund in half.
And the Utilities Consumers’ Group isn’t happy.
On Monday, it delivered a petition with more than 2,500 signatures urging the government to continue the fund.
Abolishing the Rate Stabilization Fund will cost each Yukoner about $400 a year, said Liberal energy critic Gary McRobb.
“The most affected are seniors, low-income earners and the demographic known as the working poor.”
The Rate Stabilization Fund will be continued for another year at 50 per cent, Energy, Mines and Resources minister Archie Lang told the legislature on Monday.
“We’re looking at conservation,” said Lang.
Balderdash, said McRobb.
Raising electricity rates, to encourage consumers to conserve results in “just more spilled water over the dam,” he said.
“It’s got nothing to do with using less diesel.”
On the Whitehorse-Aishihik-Faro grid, diesel use is almost zilch; Whitehorse only fires up the diesels when there’s a power outage, he said.
It’s not about conservation, said McRobb.
Money garnered by the rate hike is going to be used for something else — “maybe buying more diesels for the Minto mine,” he said.
The NDP brought in the Rate Stabilization Fund in 1998 to help balance electricity rates that were going up following the closure of the Faro mine.
And conservation was part of it, said NDP leader Todd Hardy.
The fund offered rebates to consumers who used less electricity.
Those who used less than 1,000 kilowatt-hours got $40 off their bill.
Use more than 1,500 kilowatt-hours and a customer paid full rates.
In 2003, the Yukon Party nixed the conservation initiative.
This increased the cost of the stabilization fund, said Hardy.
Now, everybody was getting rebates, regardless of how much power they conserved or squandered.
Four years after doing away with the conservation initiative, the Yukon Party is doing away with the whole fund in the name of conservation.
It doesn’t make sense, said Hardy.
“If it’s for conservation, (the Yukon Party) should keep the Rate Stabilization Fund and put the conservation initiative back in.”
disadvantaged First Nations
A big, two-day conference, called Advantage North, wrapped up Wednesday at the Yukon Convention Centre.
The focus was resource development and northern transportation.
The keynote address was titled Approach to Northern Issues.
There were 42 speakers discussing everything from pipeline projects to climate change.
None of them were aboriginal.
The conference agenda was set a long time ago outside the territory, said Premier Dennis Fentie, when asked about the lack of First Nations representation.
“What you’re suggesting here is that the Yukon government is not capable of representing all Yukon citizens.
“And in the matter of transportation and economic development in the North, that happens to be public government jurisdiction and we’re very confident that our representation is all inclusive regardless of who might be speaking or who isn’t speaking.”
During the conference’s keynote address, Elizabeth Hanson, interim regional director for Indian and Northern Affairs Canada spoke at length on “partnerships” with First Nations.
“Effective consultation with Aboriginal governments and groups who may be affected by (the Mackenzie gas) project is an integral part of the review and approval process,” she said.
During the conference, Economic Development deputy minister Eugene Lysy, made a similar point.
“Developing our resources must be done in co-operation with First Nations people while respecting their traditional needs,” he said.
But at the conference, First Nations were treated as if they were invisible, said NDP MLA John Edzerza.
“The final session dealt with the role of governments in delivering transportation solutions allowing for resources development,” he said.
“Interestingly enough, that session was called Partnerships.”
Watson Lake’s hot potato
The cost of Watson Lake’s multi-care facility has ballooned.
The Yukon Party originally budgeted $5.2 million, said Liberal MLA Gary McRobb on Thursday.
Now, roughly three years later, the cost has doubled.
“It’s up to nearly $10 million,” said McRobb.
In the spring, federal auditor general Sheila Fraser reviewed the project during her Highways and Public Works audit.
“We did not find any documented project plans that clearly set out a strategy and course of action for completing a project,” she wrote.
It was “so out of control,” Highways and Public Works Minister Glenn Hart gave it the “hot-potato treatment” in 2005, throwing it to then-Health and Social Services Minister Peter Jenkins, said McRobb.
Cathers is still holding the potato.
Pressed about the project’s final costs, Cathers skirted the topic.
“(McRobb) is trying to suggest that the initial allocation for this project was the total budget for it, and that was never the case and is not the case,” he told the legislature on Wednesday.
“The opposition are confusing estimates with budgets,” said Fentie.
“All these projects are going over estimate.”
And there are reasons for that, added Fentie, citing the supply of materials and the issue of trades and skilled labour.
“There’s many determinates here that are driving the cost of building and other construction over estimate.”