Commentary raises many questions

A bit of a tizzy has been produced over the past week by an opinion piece in the National Post that offers a jaundiced view of Yukon's land-claim agreements. The controversy has as much to do with who wrote the piece as its contents.

A bit of a tizzy has been produced over the past week by an opinion piece in the National Post that offers a jaundiced view of Yukon’s land-claim agreements. The controversy has as much to do with who wrote the piece as its contents.

The controversy has as much to do with who wrote the piece as its contents. The author, Yule Schmidt, spends her days working as a special advisor to the premier.

Both Schmidt and cabinet’s head spin doctor maintain that the article was written on her own time, and that it never received her employer’s blessing.

Skeptics wonder otherwise. After all, as a cabinet employee, Schmidt serves at the premier’s pleasure, and could be fired at the drop of a hat. From her standpoint, it would be brash to submit such a piece, which has the potential to make the relationship between the Yukon government and First Nations all the more rocky, without somehow clearing it first.

Yet it wouldn’t serve the interests of Yukon’s cabinet to admit the piece had been approved by them. They would want to maintain the plausible deniability that the premier knew nothing of the article’s production, otherwise the piece would be seen as receiving his tacit agreement.

However, maybe this scenario gives cabinet’s managers more credit than they deserve. After all, why craft such a plan, when the end result probably harms the government? The piece’s timing, published during the big national mining convention in Toronto, couldn’t have helped officials trying to persuade the crowds that the Yukon is a legally stable place to do business.

Then again, you could say the piece’s publication fits into the government’s pattern of behavior of unnecessarily antagonizing First Nations.

In any case, we think the piece is revealing. After all, if Schmidt’s political masters didn’t broadly agree with her views, odds are they wouldn’t pay her to provide them. And it’s hard to not see a certain alignment in how our government claims to respect land claim agreements, but it tends to behave as if they are a nuisance – a view that fits with Schmidt’s arguments.

It’s also refreshing to see such views expressed in a clear, forceful manner, when our government often behaves as if it were allergic to candor.

Given all this, we think our readers deserve a chance to see what the fuss is about and draw their own conclusions. Schmidt initially didn’t want us to reprint it whole, but she’s since come around.

At the risk of overkill, we’ve also published her response to Liberal MLA Sandy Silver’s criticisms. And, for a more complete picture that includes the pieces of the puzzle that Schmidt leaves out, you’ll also want to see our interview with historian Ken Coates.

Schmidt is particularly uncharitable to suggest, however humorously, that Liberal MLA Sandy Silver was motivated by sexism in his attack on her article’s publication. It’s perfectly legitimate for him to ask whether it was ill-advised political strategy for cabinet to allow Schmidt to publish her piece. Similarly, nobody should be shocked that Silver hopes to seek political gain. What business did she think he was in?

There’s also something odd with Schmidt’s reframing of the issue around freedom of speech. The reality is that it’s not unusual for territorial public servants to fear reprisal for publicly expressing views at odds with the Yukon Party.

Heck, this newspaper has enough trouble getting bureaucrats to explain the officially held views of the government on many touchy matters, beyond a few carefully scripted non-answers, particularly when cabinet communications gets involved. So it’s a bit rich to hear a cabinet operative celebrate how she’s free to speak her mind.

Schmidt accurately observes that Yukon’s land claim agreements were supposed to bring legal certainty to the territory, yet the Yukon government now finds itself deluged with lawsuits launched by irate First Nations. She further notes that judges continue to redefine what counts as adequate consultation with First Nations, and concludes that these agreements have become a recipe for never-ending litigation.

What Schmidt ignores is how the Yukon government has often failed to live up to its side of the bargain struck when land claim agreements are signed. Chiefs frequently complain that the territory treats consultation with them as an item to be ticked off after a decision has already been made, rather than engaging in genuine negotiations as equals.

As Coates explains, land claim agreements only work when all parties involved are committed to sitting down at the table and treating one another as adults. Too often, our territorial leaders have failed at this task. That’s why we’ve seen the government hit with three lawsuits by aggrieved First Nations over the course of three weeks.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley gives a COVID-19 update during a press conference in Whitehorse on May 26. The Yukon government announced two new cases of COVID-19 in the territory with a press release on Oct. 19. (Alistair Maitland Photography)
Two new cases of COVID-19 announced in Yukon

Contact tracing is complete and YG says there is no increased risk to the public

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on April 8. Yukon Energy faced a potential “critical” fuel shortage in January due to an avalanche blocking a shipping route from Skagway to the Yukon, according to an email obtained by the Yukon Party and questioned in the legislature on Oct. 14. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Energy faced ‘critical’ fuel shortage last January due to avalanche

An email obtained by the Yukon Party showed energy officials were concerned

Jeanie McLean (formerly Dendys), the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate speaks during legislative assembly in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. “Our government is proud to be supporting Yukon’s grassroots organizations and First Nation governments in this critical work,” said McLean of the $175,000 from the Yukon government awarded to four community-based projects aimed at preventing violence against Indigenous women. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government gives $175k to projects aimed at preventing violence against Indigenous women

Four projects were supported via the Prevention of Violence against Aboriginal Women Fund

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone

When I was a kid, CP Air had a monopoly on flights… Continue reading

EDITORIAL: Don’t let the City of Whitehorse distract you

A little over two weeks after Whitehorse city council voted to give… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Northwestel has released the proposed prices for its unlimited plans. Unlimited internet in Whitehorse and Carcross could cost users between $160.95 and $249.95 per month depending on their choice of package. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet options outlined

Will require CRTC approval before Northwestel makes them available

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse. Yukon’s territorial government will sit for 45 days this sitting instead of 30 days to make up for lost time caused by COVID-19 in the spring. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Legislative assembly sitting extended

Yukon’s territorial government will sit for 45 days this sitting. The extension… Continue reading

Today’s mailbox: Mad about MAD

Letters to the editor published Oct. 16, 2020

Alkan Air hangar in Whitehorse. Alkan Air has filed its response to a lawsuit over a 2019 plane crash that killed a Vancouver geologist on board, denying that there was any negligence on its part or the pilot’s. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Alkan Air responds to lawsuit over 2019 crash denying negligence, liability

Airline filed statement of defence Oct. 7 to lawsuit by spouse of geologist killed in crash

Whitehorse city council members voted Oct. 13 to decline an increase to their base salaries that was set to be made on Jan. 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Council declines increased wages for 2021

Members will not have wages adjusted for CPI

A vehicle is seen along Mount Sima Road in Whitehorse on May 12. At its Oct. 13 meeting, Whitehorse city council approved the third reading for two separate bylaws that will allow the land sale and transfer agreements of city-owned land — a 127-square-metre piece next to 75 Ortona Ave. and 1.02 hectares of property behind three lots on Mount Sima Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse properties could soon expand

Land sale agreements approved by council

Most Read