Mayo-Tatchun MLA Don Hutton announced March 8 that he is resigning from the Liberal caucus and will sit as an independent for the remainder of his term.
Hutton said he was pushed to make the decision after his pleas to deal with alcohol abuse and addiction were ignored by the party leadership.
“I’m sorry to say that the concerns I’ve raised have been repeatedly ignored, dismissed or have gone unanswered. This Liberal government that I was elected to be part of has been a deep disappointment to me with their inaction on issues that our communities struggle with, in particular, alcohol abuse and addictions,” Hutton wrote in a letter to his constituents.
He continued to say that he was “saddened” and has “lost confidence” in the Yukon Liberals and Premier Sandy Silver. Hutton will also resign from his role as Deputy Speaker.
“It’s not an easy decision. But you know, the people of Mayo-Tatchun put their trust in me to send me down here to try and get help for these issues. I’ve worked really hard at it. I don’t know what else they can do. I shed tears on more than one occasion, talking about how hurtful the situation has been for my communities,” he said.
Hutton said many people are reeling from trauma and abuse, and turn to drugs to cope. He said the response cannot be just putting them in jail and forgetting about them.
“No, we need to do better for our people,” Hutton said.
Hutton was elected in the 2016 territorial election, after a career in forestry and wildland fire.
He said in the past four years he has attended four funerals in his riding related to substance abuse, and the problems extend to many rural communities.
“For four years, I pleaded and cajoled my colleagues to help my community. Let’s take this one government approach. Let’s have a meeting. Let’s sit down. Let’s talk about how we can deal with this issue. For years. I’m still going to funerals,” he said. “These horrible things are happening every day in my community. I cannot, in all good conscience, not speak out about my government’s failure. So when I lost my confidence in the premier, I decided I’m going to sit as an independent.”
Premier Sandy Silver said he was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the decision.
“Our team has heard his concerns and have made many efforts to involve him in policy conversations on these issues. He has chosen not to join in our conversations,” he said.
Silver said the Liberals have created new nurse practitioner positions in Mayo and Carmacks and opened a mental wellness hub in Carmacks with offices in neighbouring communities. Silver referenced the Putting People First report and said “there is much work still to be done.”
In his letter, Hutton endorsed the NDP and leader Kate White ahead of an election this year. Hutton said he considered crossing the floor but was aware that White does not support that type of action.
“When the time comes for you to consider who you might vote for, I encourage a vote for Kate White’s NDP. Kate is an honest, genuine representative who cares about people ahead of everything else. This is why I hope to see her elected as the Yukon’s next Premier,” he said to constituents in his letter.
Hutton had previously announced he will not run again in the upcoming territorial election. Instead, he said he plans to work in the riding to elect NDP candidate Patty Wallingham.
“I’m incredibly honored that he would endorse me that way,” said White. “What I recognize right now is the courage it took him to do that, because I don’t think that that’s an easy decision to take.”
Hutton’s resignation from the Liberal party changes the numbers in the legislature, but it doesn’t quite shift the balance of power. House speaker and Liberal MLA Nils Clarke will now be required to break a tie vote.
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