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Opposition parties wondering if women’s groups will see core funding topped up to desired levels

Reactions and details are rolling in following the release of the Yukon government’s 2023-24 budget
Les Essentielles, a non-profit organization for Francophone women in the Yukon, gathers on International Women’s Day. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News) Les Essentielles, a non-profit organization for Francophone women in the Yukon, gathers on International Women’s Day on March 8. Les Essentielles is one of eight women’s groups asking for more core funding. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

Women’s groups are calling for an increase to their core funding that they say reflects the core pillar of the national action plan on gender-based violence — sustainability of the sector — so they can roll out the plan on the ground.

Eight groups signed onto a letter, dated Feb. 28, to Jeanie McLean, the minister responsible for the Women and Gender Equity Directorate. In the letter, each of those groups is asking for between $51,000 and $250,000 in addition to what they currently get in core funding, for a total of an extra $1.3 million to “support the sector to thrive.”

These groups make up the Yukon Women’s Coalition. They get their funding from the Women and Gender Equity Directorate and Health and Social Services.

The territorial opposition parties are wondering if these groups will see their core funding go up.

Yukon Party MLA for Porter Creek Centre Yvonne Clarke brought up the letter during question period on International Women’s Day on March 8. Clarke pressed McLean on the matter of funding, as well as a request for a memorandum of understanding that would show the women’s groups inclusion on rolling out the plan.

McLean responded that these dollars are not reflected in this main budget but could be reflected in a supplementary budget.

Yukon NDP Leader Kate White wants to know if the core funding will go up to the levels the groups are asking for.

“They have turned, you know, pennies into dollars for far too long, and imagine what they can do with dollars,” she said.

The federal government announced March 9 up to just over $400,000 for the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council, which did not sign onto the joint letter, to prevent and address gender-based violence in the Yukon and northern British Columbia.

READ MORE: Yukon is getting $16M to carry out national plan to end gender-based violence

Policing priorities

Some other reactions and additional details on spending are coming in following the Yukon government’s unveiling of its $1.94-billion budget for 2023-24.

Signatories of a March 6 press release — the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon First Nation Chamber of Commerce, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Chamber of Mines and the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon — said they remain concerned about increasing costs to businesses as well as around the continued growth in the net debt as it may become a challenge for future generations to repay, among other concerns.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice Tracy-Anne McPhee told the legislative assembly March 6 about a $3.5-million boost in the budget for RCMP.

“Specifically, this increase includes $874,000 in one-time costs, including the replacement of Yukon RCMP’s aircraft engine, the payout of excess leave liabilities, and some one-time costs related to RCMP’s force-wide arms, armour and equipment modernization initiative,” she said, noting the latter refers to firearms and ammunition.

Portions of the budget will go towards replacing gear and lab fees, plus 7.5 new full-time positions.

“We look forward to the RCMP increasing their staff at the historical cases unit, at the crime reduction unit, and other ways through the programming and the staff that they determine will be most effective in providing a safe place for Yukoners,” McPhee told reporters in the cabinet office on March 8.

McPhee said the Yukon government is focused on addressing the substance use health emergency, which includes $217,000 to the RCMP for substance use emergency response, according to the budget highlights document.

The Yukon government covers 70 per cent of the RCMP budget, with the remaining 30 per cent coming from the federal government.

READ MORE: At least 5 organized crime networks running Yukon’s illicit drug market: report

New secure medical unit

The budget includes a line item for a $12.2-million short-stay psychiatric unit, also known as a secure medical unit or a mental wellness unit.

In a March 7 email, Yukon Hospital Corporation spokesperson James Low said the 12-bed unit will be built in the shelled space above the Whitehorse General Hospital’s emergency department. It will replace the existing secure medical unit, which Low said will eventually be redeveloped into inpatient beds.

On the hospital corporation’s website, the secure medical unit is described as “a controlled environment within our inpatient unit that offers a safe place for patients with a mental health diagnosis (often in an acute phase of illness) to receive medical care.”

The website indicates the unit currently has five beds and two seclusion rooms with a team that provides 24-hour assessment, observation, care and support. The team is made up of physicians, mental health social workers, registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, and a First Nations liaison worker and social worker.

The new unit will contain three seclusion rooms.

“Our objective would be to reduce the use of seclusion rooms,” Low said.

“For example, the new unit is being designed to give us the ability to securely cohort patients as appropriate for their condition and care. There will also be programming in place to engage patients in social and therapeutic activities.”

The new unit will provide the same type of services as the current unit, but through “improved programming and space” that will increase the hospital’s capacity to provide more appropriate care, according to Low. It will contain patient rooms and spaces for family meetings and other activities to support acute mental health needs.

“It has also been developed with a focus on trauma-informed practice and ensuring Yukon First Nations ways of knowing, doing and being are reflected in the programming and space,” Low said.

Low said it is not a forensic psychiatry unit.

The hospital corporation has moved on from the needs assessment, planning and design to the procurement phase of the unit, he said.

Construction is planned to begin this spring. As part of construction, the outside of the building will change, thus there will be some temporary changes to how people flow in and out of the hospital, Low said.

Eight of the 12 units are expected to open in July 2024.

Low said the total cost of the unit is pegged at $25 million to $30 million, with the bulk of it coming from the Yukon government and about $2 million coming from the hospital corporation’s fundraising efforts.

Developing land

In a March 6 news release, the Association of Yukon Communities decried a budget cut to rural residential land development by more than half from last fiscal year’s estimate. The amount of money allotted is down to $6.1 million from $13.6 million in 2022-23, whereas the budget for Whitehorse residential land development went up.

“We are disappointed and concerned that at a time when Yukon communities are facing shortages of land and housing that the Government of Yukon would cut the budget for rural residential land by more than half,” said Ted Laking, president of the Association of Yukon Communities.

Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said the budget reflects lots that have been identified by the Yukon government for building this year.

“We have looked at the numbers and believe that this is an accurate portrayal for the amount of lot development we can do in rural Yukon in the coming fiscal year,” Mostyn said.

“We had an absolute high watermark as far as capital spending […] last year. So, this year, we’ve decided to take it back a notch for a number of reasons.”

The reasons Mostyn listed include the Canadian government signalling federal budget restraints, high interest rates, a “vibrant private sector” moving into the “capital sphere” and limited capacity in the territory.

“We want to make sure that we let everybody have a chance to build some stuff in territory,” he said.

While Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon shares the association’s concerns, he noted that while it’s fair to invest in urban land development, “it’s difficult for the government to say this is a priority to get land out in rural Yukon, and then turn around and cut the budget.”

“We’re certainly not saying we shouldn’t be investing in Whitehorse, but what we’re hearing from our rural communities is that they need to see investment as well.”

White said the real question is why can’t projects get completed, and the answer is capacity on the building side.

“What we really need is we need trained operators,” she said.

“You’ve got companies working everywhere, so like, almost beyond their capacity in some cases, and even if you have money, it doesn’t mean that the work can get done, which means then you have projects that lapse.”

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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