Yukon history was made last night, although nothing new was said.
And it was awkward.
While the territory’s first French-language forum started smoothly at Ecole Emilie Tremblay, things got rough with the first question from the public audience of about 60 people.
No matter what language you speak, the use of words “le Peel” were unmistakable in the woman’s question to incumbent Yukon Party MLA Elaine Taylor, who lives in the French school’s riding and has represented it since 2002.
Why has the Yukon Party refused to take a stand on the recommended land-use plan for the northeastern corner of the territory? the woman asked in French.
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After the question, Taylor shuffled her papers.
Then, in English, she said: “We recognize our responsibilities as a public government and to provide French education as mandated by the various, respected statutes,” she said. “The issue currently before the courts is a complex matter, one which the government is seeking clarity, given the very importance of education to Francophones and all citizens across the country. But rest assured, we do take our obligations and our commitments very seriously in Yukon.”
The forum moderator, Radio-Canada host for the BC/Yukon region Julie Carpentier, suggested the question be repeated in English.
In response, Taylor referenced Chapter 11 of the Umbrella Final Agreement and the memorandum of understanding between the Yukon and the four First Nations with a stake in the Peel. (Taylor’s canned response has been debunked by the First Nations in a letter on page 7.)
Eventually, the dispute between the current Yukon Party government and the Commission scholaire francophone du Yukon was raised, allowing Taylor to read her response again.
The question, given to each party prior to the debate, did not ask if the parties will build the court-ordered French high school.
Instead, it asked, “Would a government of your party commit to implement, in good faith, the provisions of the actual Education Act of the Yukon, thus making groundless the motion to appeal?”
“Toute simplement, oui,” said Louis Gagnon, the riding’s NDP candidate.
A Liberal government will reopen talks with the French school board and give it the court-ordered $1.95 million that was wrongly allocated to French immersion programs in the territory.
After Taylor repeated her response, in French, the issue was open to debate.
And things got lively.
“It is not clear whether they support the Francophone school or not,” said Robinson of the NDP position. “The leader says it is not necessary and, in conversations with the community, the candidate here has said, ‘Well, that was a mistake.’
“It’s inconsistent. It seems to be speaking out of both sides of the mouth and I’m puzzled by it.”
“Well, actually it’s not inconsistent, if you want me to answer in English,” Gagnon said, turning to look at Cully down the panel table. “What was said in French was ‘malentendu,’ which means ‘misunderstood.’ We believe that where we are now should have never occurred and we need to go back to the table and discuss this as adults, as partners, and come out with a solution. However, to that end, if a school has to be built, a school will be built. We will not break the law. I think that’s very clear.”
“Well, it hasn’t been clear, in that your remarks have conflicted with those of your leader,” Robinson said, now staring back at Gagnon.
“Vous-etes malentendu,” Gagnon said, turning his head away.
“An election campaign is an election campaign,” commission president Andre Bourcier said after the forum, about the NDP’s alleged playing of both sides. “What we try, as citizens, to do is to kind of pin down candidates. Hold them responsible for what they say. If we have candidates that presented today, that are elected, we will hold them accountable for what they have said. If the leaders decide to say nothing, it’s their right. If they decide to work on both sides of the fence, it’s their right. But the population is not stupid. It will see the difference between these two cases and this is why this kind of forum is so important, so that people can sit down and see that some people can give them answers, and some cannot.”
The Yukon NDP is the only party to have Francophone candidates – Gagnon and Jean-Francois Des Lauriers, the candidate for Porter Creek Centre, who also attended the event as a panelist.
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