Here are some of our hopes and fears for 2013.
* We hope Humane Society Yukon’s new board receives support over the holidays to ensure the Mae Bachur Animal Shelter remains open. We also hope that the appalling behaviour of the society’s last board – including a flagrant disregard for territorial law as they purged members who disagreed with their views – serves as a lasting example of how not to run a non-profit.
Shelter volunteers obviously all care a lot about the animals they’re trying to protect, and it’s a shame that personality conflicts have distracted many members from this admirable goal. As much as we love reporting on a good canine controversy, we’d be happy to see the coming year pass without one.
* We hope that Whitehorse City Council puts the interest of the broader public ahead of groups of residents who inevitably oppose any new development, under a variety of pretenses.
Every plan to build a new house near someone’s existing walking trail is met with fierce opposition. Dumpy old buildings in Hillcrest that a developer wants to knock down suddenly acquire heritage value. And Porter Creek D, a swath of bush that’s already bisected with power cuts, is hailed as if it’s the next Great Bear Rainforest.
We need to remember that today’s housing shortage is the result of past councils taking the path of least resistance and nixing developments in the face of opposition. By the time the housing shortage became a crisis, it was too late to provide a quick fix.
With the big, new neighbourhood of Whistle Bend on its way, there’s no immediate demand to plan Porter Creek D. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. At some point we’ll need to build elsewhere, and it’s only prudent to develop those plans now. (We suspect one reason why Whistle Bend resembles a moonscape now is because it was built in a hurry.)
It should be possible to expand Porter Creek while protecting nearby McIntyre Creek. The alternative is to build in less disturbed, further-flung areas, such as across the river, and in doing so, further encouraging sprawl. Is that what true conservationists would support?
* We hope Health Minister Doug Graham does more to help residents struggling with addictions. His government has promised to build a new detox centre at some point. But it has only supported bits and pieces of a big plan to support hardcore alcoholics, proposed by Dr. Bruce Beaton and Chief James Allen.
Let’s not think of this plan as a benevolent gesture towards addicts. Instead, see it as doing a big favour to police officers, nurses, doctors and paramedics, who all struggle to manage a small group of self-destructive residents. And, if the experiences of other jurisdictions are any indication, the plan could actually save the government money by curbing demand for emergency services.
We sometimes worry this government enacts half-measures to address social issues, in part, to distinguish itself from the policies proposed by the Opposition. We hope that isn’t the case here.
* We hope that Ryan Leef’s partisan cheerleading in the House of Commons has earned him enough credit with the prime minister that he’s able to do something about the shuttered Revenue Canada office and the cancelled tours of the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4.
The fact that Leef’s constituency office is now scrambling to help residents with their tax needs – without necessarily possessing the expertise to do so – should be ample evidence that the CRA closure was a bad idea. If this can’t be reversed, maybe Leef could give up mixed-martial arts for accounting classes. It could serve as a nice backup if this whole MP thing doesn’t work out.
As for the Parks Canada cuts, there’s no reason why providing summer historic tours needs to be a federal responsibility, but we hope some amenable solution is found before the RVs come crawling up the highway this summer.
* We hope more is done to ensure that Yukoners are able to cash in on the next generation of hardrock mines. We now have three open, and in 2013, construction looks set to begin at two more: Victoria Gold’s Eagle project north of Mayo, and Golden Predator’s Brewery Creek project near Dawson City. Both companies expect to begin mining by late 2014.
With the prospect of hundreds of other well-paying new jobs on the way, more needs to be done to ensure residents receive ample opportunities to become skilled tradespeople. Yukon College has scrambled to provide additional training, and mining companies are keen to partner with anyone willing to help.
One choke-point in the creation of skilled workers is the Yukon’s dismal graduation rate from high school. This is a big, complicated problem that can’t be entirely laid at the feet of government. But we hope Education Minister Scott Kent shows leadership on the file. He could start by holding a public discussion about our schools’ high absentee rates. It’s hard to pass your classes if you don’t show up.
* We fear that 2013 will be a bad year for relations between the Yukon government and First Nations. The Kaska have threatened to blockade the North Canol road, among other measures, to protest the territory’s decision to remove their veto over oil and gas work in the southeast. The northern First Nations, meanwhile, intend to take the territory to court over its, shall-we-say, creative interpretation of the Umbrella Final Agreement and its rewriting of the plan to protect the Peel watershed.
We don’t want the government to simply roll over on every First Nation demand. But no oil and gas executive in his right mind is going to invest in the southeast with the threat of First Nation obstruction. Nor would any mining company sink a meaningful amount of money into proving up claims in the Peel as the region’s status is contested all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Both cases are diplomatic failures on the part of the territory. It seems as if the Yukon Party thinks that working with First Nations is optional. Given the number of legal roadblocks at their disposal to hinder development, it’s not, regardless of how you feel about First Nation rights and the particular demands made by aboriginal governments.
We’re at a loss as to how the Yukon government will extricate itself from these two messes. But governing with a bit more humility couldn’t hurt.