Yukon Party accuses Liberals of dismantling Yukon Housing board

A former member of the Yukon Housing Corporation’s board of directors says he is “very disappointed” that the new Liberal government didn’t renew his appointment.

A former member of the Yukon Housing Corporation’s board of directors says he is “very disappointed” that the new Liberal government didn’t renew his appointment.

Reg Steers’s board appointment was set to expire on Feb. 16. He applied for renewal last December, but in early January, he received a dismissal letter from the government. He said he was given no explanation for the decision.

“I was very disappointed,” he said. “I did not know at that time that they had done the same thing to every member of the board.”

On Jan. 23, the Liberal government revoked the appointments of all six Yukon Housing board members and the chair, Janet Moodie. All of their terms were up for renewal at the end of January or in mid-February. The board consisted of Moodie, deputy chair Wayne Huffman, Ron McFadyen, Rebecca Edzerza, Emile Stehelin, Cheryl O’Brien and Steers.

Moodie is now the principal secretary to Premier Sandy Silver. McFadyen told the News that he had resigned from the board before his appointment was revoked, as he is leaving the territory.

But others, including Steers, were dismissed despite hoping to have their appointments renewed.

Steers said his first thought was that the Liberals wanted to fill out the board with their own supporters. He wondered if they thought he was a Yukon Party member. He’s not — he voted Liberal.

But he doesn’t believe the government owes him an explanation.

“They don’t really owe me anything. I’ve been there for 13 years,” he said. “I have no reason to be angry about it.”

The Liberals have appointed Fiona Charbonneau as the new deputy chair of the Yukon Housing board, and Carl Rumsheidt as a new board member.

But Steers worries that the new board will have trouble picking up where the outgoing members left off.

“I really wonder how a whole new board is going to come together and know what they’re doing without any background,” he said. “I’ve never heard of them dismantling a board entirely before.”

Yukon Party housing critic Wade Istchenko said the board “basically can’t govern” with no chair and only two members.

“We’ve never fired a complete board,” he said. “The Yukon Party never fired a complete board of directors in one sweep.”

He said the Yukon Party spoke with some board members who didn’t even know they’d been dismissed until the party told them.

Istchenko called on the government to explain its decision, and questioned whether the housing corporation would be able to address urgent issues like the housing crisis in Ross River without a fully functioning board.

“Boards make recommendations to the minister,” he said. “When you’ve got urgent housing needs like you have in Ross River … the government needs that guidance.”

In November, Ross River Dena Council Chief Jack Caesar sent letters to the three major political parties, claiming that nearly half of the houses in Ross River are unsafe to live in due to mould and other contaminants.

Speaking to the News Feb. 8, Housing Minister Pauline Frost said changes to the board do not affect day-to-day operations of the housing corporation.

“The Yukon Housing board of directors provides strategic advice. They don’t get involved in the operational activities of the department,” she said.

Frost said many of the previous members had been on the board for multiple terms, and it was time for a “new perspective.”

The Liberals are now aiming for a three- to five-member board, down from seven. A smaller board is sufficient, Frost said, now that there is also a housing action plan implementation committee that fills a similar role. The committee was formed after the territory’s housing action plan was released in June 2015.

“The Yukon Housing board provides strategic direction and advice, and we have the … committee that really looks at doing very similar things.”

Frost said there are enough experienced staff at Yukon Housing that there won’t be a loss of “corporate knowledge” from the turnover on the board.

She said the Liberals plan to fill the remaining board vacancies in the next two weeks.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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