Until today, politicians had to sit in the house from 1 p.m. until 6 p.m.
And that was a hardship.
We know this because it was the first order of business of the Yukon women’s caucus.
Well, it resembles the Masons’ Daughters of the Nile, the Kinsmen Kinettes or other adjuncts to all-male clubs — in this case a bipartisan committee of women politicians.
Liberal Pat Duncan, a former premier, Lorraine Peter and Tourism and Culture minister Elaine Taylor formed it to fight for women’s issues.
So what was its first order of business?
Well, it was not discussing community poverty.
It didn’t bring the many and varied child-welfare issues before the house.
It didn’t discuss territorial implications of Ottawa’s new tough-on-crime approach to justice.
It didn’t discuss ways to improve tracking of people carrying infectious disease.
It didn’t even discuss how to help low-income Yukoners find rental accommodation.
Nope, instead it fought to roll back the amount of time Yukon politicians sit in the house.
Apparently, the daily six-hour debate, which is held four days a week for 60 days a year, is too tough for women politicians, especially those with families.
“The first piece of common ground was our role as caregiver, parent and grandparent, and our shared frustration with the sitting hours, specifically the 6 p.m. adjournment,” said Taylor.
“From there it was proposed that we put forth a motion to amend the existing standing hours to reflect a change in the normal hour of adjournment from 6 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.”
“We Yukon women came together,” said Duncan about the caucus. “When we met, we expressed some things that I spoke of today that we all share, as members of this house — being part of the family and wanting to make a difference in our community.
“The immediate idea of dealing with the hours of work became our common ground.”
Well, there’s nothing like tackling the important stuff first.
“I hear concerns about the hours we keep,” said Peter. “That they are not family-friendly, and the reality of the atmosphere we work in does not appeal to women.
“No one knows the interests and priorities of women better than women. Women’s voices are essential in all walks of life.
“Nothing will happen if we just think about changes that need to be made. We need to make that change happen, which is what we’re trying to do here today with this motion.”
Of course, there is fallout from a rollback of the legislature’s hours.
For example, the Hansard staff – some of whom are mothers — stand to lose 10 per cent of their wages, noted Klondike MLA Peter Jenkins.
And the loss of the hours — which totals six days of a year — will limit debate of important matters, said Kluane MLA Gary McRobb.
Finance minister Dennis Fentie has tabled the biggest budget in history.
Now, there are only six days of debate left to review that huge document. There are seven departments still to discuss, including Health and Social Services, Justice, Education, Environment and Highways — some of the largest in government with some of the most important and troubling issues attached to them.
Some of them might even be important to women.
But the politicians wouldn’t be able to properly scrutinize them all under the old hours. And, as of Monday, they’ll be losing 30 minutes a day.
Worse, they spent much time and energy debating the merits of rolling back their hours of work — time that could have been used for weightier issues.
And then they executed the motion — amazingly it was introduced and passed in a matter of days — reducing the hours for debate.
Alright, we get it.
Working from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. is tough on families.
It’s difficult for the legislature’s good women to get home and cook dinners, minivan the kids to soccer and help them with homework.
The women’s caucus took immediate action and got something done.
Make no mistake, we’ll remember this the next time the opposition screams about the government’s attempts to stifle debate.
We humbly suggest if the women’s caucus really wants to distinguish itself in the future — to prove that women can co-operate and get something done in the house for the community — it should choose something less self serving.
After all, there are plenty of important issues to choose from. (RM)