MLA Brad Cathers will seek re-election, making him the first Yukon Party minister to formally throw his hat in the ring.
Getting his constituents access to undeveloped land would be the No. 1 priority of his second term in office, said Cathers, who was flanked by prominent members of the Yukon Agricultural Association, including president Al Falle, David (Smiley) Ford and Bill Drury.
“It is my firm belief that every Yukoner should be able to acquire their own piece of land, and that this can be done without unduly impacting the interests of existing land holders, land users and wildlife habitat,” Cathers, the Yukon’s Health and Social Services minister, said Tuesday during a news conference at Whitehorse’s High Country Inn.
“Dozens of my constituents have sought my help in dealing with problems with individual land applications and attempts to apply for land.
“Many of these issues were over 10 years old. A few were over 20 years old, and one even dated back to 1972.”
Before the Yukon Party took office in 2002 and assumed the responsibilities of devolution, a 19-year “land freeze” instituted by the federal department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was applied unevenly, he said.
Ottawa’s policy was supposed to prevent any rural residential land dispositions within a 32-kilometre radius of Whitehorse, but 62 applications were still allowed to proceed, said Cathers.
“While there is work left to be done, I am pleased to say I have resolved most of these issues,” he said.
“I believe the fundamental duty of an MLA is to represent his or her constituents.
“I’ve done my best to be accessible and to work hard on their behalf.”
Despite obvious support from the agricultural community, not all Cathers’ constituents think he has done a good job.
Stella Gregory, for one, said Cathers offered the worst political representation she has ever had.
Gregory and her husband, Tim, saw the Northern Splendour reindeer herd they owned for 18 years killed off at the hands of the government in May 2005.
Yukon officials insist the animals were suffering from a wasting illness. Test results showed three of the herd’s 56 animals had Johne’s disease.
Changes to the Yukon Wildlife Act under the previous Liberal administration made it impossible for the Gregorys to slaughter or sell their animals, and they insisted the government purchase the herd.
The government refused.
When the Gregorys threatened to release the animals to the wild, Environment department officials assumed possession of the herd and ordered several tests.
The test results prompted the government to slay all the reindeer, some of which were pregnant.
The Gregorys have yet to receive restitution. In April, they filed a lawsuit in Yukon Supreme Court.
“If you’re elected by somebody, you have to work for them,” Stella Gregory said Wednesday.
“If you fail to do that, you fail at being a leader.”
Cathers has “no integrity, no accountability— nothing,” she said.
Cathers and the government did not offer reasonable compensation, she added.
“His hands were tied.”
But Cathers said several attempts were made to provide restitution.
“I made every reasonable effort to determine if financial impact had indeed occurred (to the Gregorys) and to provide an opportunity to have a mutually agreed upon third party look into a fact-finding of what had occurred.
“As MLA, I got them the very closest thing to a blank cheque that any government can give without knowing the facts.”
The Gregorys are not the only constituents in Cathers’ riding to file a court claim against the government.
In February, the Ta’an Kwach’an Council filed for a court injunction to prevent the Energy, Mines and Resources department from allowing an agricultural land disposition within the Ta’an’s traditional territory from proceeding.
Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale granted a temporary injunction in March.
“Another matter before the courts,” said Cathers, declining comment on the matter.
“I would love to get into the details of these, but there are proprieties that we do have to respect.”
The agricultural proponents, Lake Laberge constituents Len Walchuk and Karla DesRosiers, followed all the disposition rules, he added.
If Cathers and the Yukon Party are re-elected to government, he hopes Premier Dennis Fentie will see fit to name him to cabinet a second time.
Cathers won his Lake Laberge riding in 2002, defeating Liberal incumbent Pam Buckway.
After deputy premier Peter Jenkins was expelled from cabinet in November 2005, Fentie promoted the 28-yead-old Cathers to cabinet, assigning him Jenkins’ Health portfolio.
The details of the Yukon Party’s plans for Health will be released at a later date, as part of the party’s election platform, said Cathers.
Other Yukon Party ministers will be announcing their candidacies soon, he added.
“I do happen to be the first one announcing, but I’ve very certain that I won’t be the last one.”
The Yukon Liberal Party has already nominated Jon Breen, former chair of the Yukon Council on Disability, to run against Cathers in Lake Laberge.
The Yukon New Democratic Party has yet to nominate a candidate for the riding.
Veteran musher Frank Turner was considering it, but changed his mind.
Incumbent NDP MLAs Lorraine Peter and Steve Cardiff have already won their party’s nominations, in Old Crow and Mount Lorne, respectively.
The Liberals do not hold nomination meetings for incumbent MLAs, unless an incumbent wants one.