The final Yukon candidates’ forum for the territory’s MP position took place at the Coast High Country Inn in Whitehorse on Oct. 16. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Drug crisis, electoral reform addressed at Yukon candidates’ forum

CBC North hosted the event on Oct. 16

The final Yukon candidates’ forum saw potential MPs wade into hot-button issues like electoral reform and drug use, two topics presenting a chasm between some.

Conservative candidate Jonas Smith said he doesn’t support safe injection sites — that quelling the drug crisis means getting tough on crime.

He said the police and courts should have “the tools they need to keep criminals off the streets.”

There were murmurs from some in the audience at the Coast High Country Inn on Oct. 16 following comments like these, with CBC’s Dave White, who moderated, asking the crowd to let the candidate finish.

“Disagree all you want, but that’s my position,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, I think it’s the public government’s duty to spend tax payer dollars to help people get better. I do not support public money going to buy drugs.”

The Liberal Party’s Larry Bagnell said drug addiction is a health matter, not a crime.

“If you don’t have a place where you can go to safely inject drugs, then they do it somewhere, they overdose and they die, they go somewhere unsafe,” he said.

Bagnell went over Liberal initiatives spurred to mitigate the problem, including $11 billion for mental health and addiction services across the country and a $500,000 agreement signed with the Yukon government for opioid treatment programs.

Justin Lemphers, candidate for the NDP, said people grappling with addiction should be better supported.

This takes the form of “safe and adequate supports in communities.”

“Addiction is also a mental health issue,” he said. “Dealing with those two together is what we believe in and we have a plan to do that. And I think it’s time we take the stigma out of drug addiction.”

The Green Party’s Lenore Morris said the war on drugs hasn’t worked for decades, that a better approach is required.

She said drug possession should be decriminalized. Morris supports more safe injection sites.

“It’s treated as a health care issue, not as a crime and we think that’s the only way to solve the problem.”

Smith circled back to the question later on when immigration issues were being addressed, saying he also “appreciates the health side of things. I think it’s important to appreciate why people become addicted in the first place.”

Candidates were also asked their stances on electoral reform, particularly Bagnell, since the Federal Liberal Party didn’t follow through with its election promise in 2015 to implement changes.

“We should have never made any promise that we’re not gonna keep,” Bagnell said, noting that the decision to not move ahead on the issue came as a “total surprise” to him.

He didn’t answer whether electoral reform would be pursued again.

Lemphers said electoral reform would be revisited under an NDP government.

He said a mixed member proportional representation system “is the best answer,” adding that the changeover would make parliament more diverse and equitable.

“It increases (participation) of populations that have been traditionally marginalized and the voices of those populations,” he said. “It addresses inequality in our political system. I believe that’s necessary for us to do. We should vote for the people that you trust to truly represent what you care about.”

“So our proposal to you, to Canada, is let’s try it … and then we’ll talk to you and say, ‘How did that work for us?’”

Morris said her party would push for electoral reform, adding that the Greens were the first in the country to advocate for proportional representation.

“It’s clear to just about everyone that parties that get whether it’s 10 or 20 per cent of the vote should get 10 or 20 per cent of the seats,” she said. “It makes no sense at all to be in the situation we’re in now.”

Smith said he would keep the status quo of first-past-the-post.

“I think if there was a better system out there, we would have figured it out already,” he said. “I think it is no coincidence that the parties that most actively and vocally advocate changing the system are the parties that continuously are unable to attract a plurality of Canadians to support their platform(s).”

Joseph Zelezny, candidate for the People’s Party of Canada, said he’d push for direct democracy, “where there’s just more engagement, because there’s so much distrust, and that’s the whole point of the People’s Party of Canada existing is that people have given up on the Liberals. …”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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