The recent 12-day sitting of the Yukon legislature was never going to produce much.
Fittingly, most of the Yukon Party government’s work is promised in the future, in thrall to endless consultation, planning and reviews.
Only three pieces of legislation were passed this sitting — one income tax bill mirroring federal changes, a second cutting taxes for small businesses and a supplementary budget in anticipation of the new government’s first budget next spring.
But real change is happening.
It reveals itself through little details.
The machinery of the legislature is running better than it has in ages, as important committees and boards once blocked by political acrimony have been resurrected.
And the government provided interim funding for the struggling Yukon Literacy Coalition, committed to counting the endangered Porcupine caribou herd, announced the creation of a task force on drugs and related crime, and held a successful round of the Yukon Forum.
So, as gifts get wrapped for Christmas, here’s a package of some background stories from the legislature.
Studied to death
The government’s pace isn’t fast enough for Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.
During question periods this fall, Mitchell said the government always answers questions by saying, “We’re studying that,” or “That’s under review.”
“These are the standard answers for the new jail, education reform, the climate change action plan, Hamilton Boulevard (extensions), a new school in Copper Ridge, new residential lots, land use planning, the future of the electrical rates stabilization fund, and legislative reform,” he said during the final day of the legislature on Wednesday.
“Well, merry Christmas to the leader of the official Opposition also,” replied Fentie to a chorus of laughs.
Voters asked for continuity and not radical change during the last election, said Fentie.
And there have been new commitments in cracking down on drug abuse, money for affordable housing and two tax breaks.
“I think that the stumbling horse is the official Opposition,” he said.
Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias is pushing the government to fund trap exchanges to bring Yukon trappers into compliance with humane trapping standards set to become law in October 2007.
“In order for a Yukon trapper to be in compliance with the forthcoming regulation change it’s going to cost them a substantial amount of money,” said Elias in an interview last week.
“We’re sitting very pretty here in the Yukon with an $898-million dollar budget; this is an easy victory for our industry,” he said.
Fentie committed to addressing the issue, and said the fur industry has been identified as a “strategic industry” by the government.
The Yukon Forum roundtable of Yukon government officials and First Nation chiefs met recently and approved 17 projects worth $9.34 million from the Northern Strategy fund.
The $40-million fund was created by the former Liberal government and is aimed at addressing northern issues, like gaps in living standards for aboriginal citizens and climate change.
The forum approved several projects, including a $1.9-million heavy-equipment training program for Yukon communities, but nothing targeted at climate change.
“This is just the first round,” said Fentie when questioned about the lack of climate change programs.
“I’m not going to diminish research and development in the Yukon as it pertains to climate change by simply relegating it to the Northern Strategy; we’re going to do much more.”
The Yukon Forum also created agreement between Fentie and chiefs on dividing $50 million in federal cash for affordable housing, and the creation of a working group to address problems with the controversial outfitter policy.
The feeling’s mutual
John Edzerza and the Yukon Party aren’t pals.
Edzerza left his former cabinet post and joined the NDP before the recent territorial election.
He has drawn the ire of his former colleagues ever since.
Last week, a ticked-off Edzerza threatened to break his former cabinet oath after being continually picked on by Fentie.
“I won’t do that . . . even though there are many things I learned in the premier’s company that Yukoners may be interested in,” said Edzerza.
The shot came a day after Fentie chastized Edzerza for reading a “scripted dissertation” while asking a question.
Edzerza felt that was offside.
“The member opposite may have a real chip on their shoulder,” said Edzerza.
“I don’t believe I deserved such a dressing-down for asking such a legitimate question. I notice all members of this legislature read from script, even the premier himself, so to point that out is rather childish, in my opinion. I mean, what was it intended to do? Make me feel less of a person?”
Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers has said several times he finds it hard not to sound “condescending” when answering Edzerza’s questions.
Fentie answers any and all questions both during question period and afterwards, while his ministers hide in the shadows.
Only Education Minister Patrick Rouble and Cathers answered reporters’ questions during this sitting, each appearing once.
The lack of comment from people in power is disturbing.
Recently, the News reported that Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Archie Lang co-owns a bar with a documented connection to drugs.
This while his government touts its “zero-tolerance” policy on drugs.
Welcome to empty words, Yukon-Party-style, said Mitchell.
“I think the ‘zero-tolerance’ statement made during the election was meaningless rhetoric,” he said on Wednesday.
“What did that mean for the previous four years? Did they have 20 per cent tolerance, 30 per cent? There’s always zero tolerance on the part of government and the RCMP.”
Because Lang has not answered reporters’ questions on his stake in the Capital — and the opposition hasn’t asked a question about the issue during question period — it isn’t known how much Lang actually owns.
“I would say, at the least, it has to be an embarrassment,” said Mitchell.