Contentious child’s act to become law

Yukon politicians passed two important pieces of legislation yesterday, but their paths to assent could hardly have been more different.

Yukon politicians passed two important pieces of legislation yesterday, but their paths to assent could hardly have been more different.

The Smoke-free Places Act and the Child and Family Services Act were passed Tuesday afternoon and are set to become law.

The smoking ban passed with near unanimous consent following an atypical move by the government to assist the opposition New Democrats in tweaking the legislation.

The new children’s act had a more difficult birth.

After weeks of raucous debate in the legislature, Bill 50, the Child and Family Services Act, was passed solely by government MLAs.

The executive council and the commissioner will decide when the bill actually becomes law.

All opposition members opposed the act.

The government has yet to satisfy the legitimate concerns of First Nations and Tracy McPhee, the Yukon’s privacy commissioner and ombudsman, they said.

The government blocked opposition efforts to call aboriginal leaders and McPhee as witnesses.

Responding to public criticism, the government bought full-page ads in two newspapers, including this one, to explain its position.

Bill 50 passed in an undemocratic way, say opposition politicians.

“I find the way this carried forward to have been truly a sad example of the loss of an opportunity to have a positive demonstration of the democratic process in that we silenced the voices of First Nations who wanted to be heard on the floor of this Assembly,” said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

The government failed to convince First Nation chiefs and their legal counsel that the bill is in their best interest, said Mitchell.

CYFN grand chief Andy Carvill was unavailable for comment.

Carvill has laid out his concerns and will not speak further, said a CYFN spokesman.

The act expands the role of First Nations in children’s services and makes room for a children’s advocate.

Critics say it gives the department too much power over First Nations children and could severely compromise individual privacy.

Five years of consultation have made a strong bill and it’s time to make it law, said Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers.

“The government followed the process every step of the way,” he said.

“We embarked upon a process that no previous government would do to involve First Nations to work in co-operation, to jointly do public consultation, jointly develop a policy and jointly inform the legal drafting.”

All attempts to amend Bill 50 were blocked by the government.

“The NDP brought forward a substantial amount of them,” said NDP Leader Todd Hardy.

“None of them have been accepted. So be it — that’s all right.

“We will move forward from that and, hopefully at some time in the very near future, we will be reviewing this bill again to fix areas that have been identified — not just by us, but also by the privacy commissioner, First Nations, grandparents, organizations and individuals.”