‘Experienced’ cabinet includes novice MLA

For the first time in 17 years, the Yukon cabinet is not packed with rookies. At the outset of its second mandate, the Yukon Party cabinet includes…

For the first time in 17 years, the Yukon cabinet is not packed with rookies.

At the outset of its second mandate, the Yukon Party cabinet includes only one tyro: Pelly-Nisutlin MLA Marian Horne.

“As a woman, especially as a First Nations woman, I take this as a major step forward today for us and for the government of the Yukon,” Horne, the new Justice minister, said Saturday after eight of the Yukon Party’s 10 MLAs were sworn into cabinet.

More than 200 Yukoners attended the ceremony at the Yukon legislature, where Yukon commissioner Geraldine Van Bibber heard the oaths of Premier Dennis Fentie’s ministerial picks.

The most noteworthy was Horne, a Tlingit woman elected October 10 during her first foray into territorial politics.

The Justice portfolio saw two dramatic developments before the dissolution of the 31st legislative assembly.

The Yukon Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act passed the house last spring.

And the Justice department recently established a “community court” model for petty criminals who suffer from addictions and repeat their offenses.

Horne’s experience with Yukon First Nations sentencing circles and as a justice of the peace will be assets, she said.

“I have worked with the First Nations government in Teslin and have training as a peacemaker working with the community.

“I have taken special interest in our young people, to encourage them to get an education, to get ahead, to stay out of the courts.

“With the help of my colleagues who are experienced I know I can succeed in this arena.”

Southern Lakes MLA Patrick Rouble, who spent four years on the government backbenches between 2002 and 2006, was the only other MLA without cabinet experience to be handed a portfolio.

“I look forward to the next four years, or five years, where I get to be more involved on the front line of things,” said Rouble, the Education minister.

Plans to build a new Whitehorse school in Granger are high on Education’s list of initiatives, he said with a chuckle.

“Monday morning, the list of projects and the to-do list will certainly start coming forward.”

Under the previous Yukon Party government, Justice and Education were the responsibilities of one minister: John Edzerza, who resigned from government in August and was re-elected as an opposition member with the Yukon New Democratic Party.

“The individual who had the experience for Justice and Education quit,” said Fentie after the ceremony.

“He quit on the government, he quit on his colleagues, he quit on Yukoners and he quit on those in need.

“Our choice here was to ensure that those two departments receive a specific focus.

“One minister, one focus was the approach we took.”

Every other minister announced Saturday held a portfolio during the Yukon Party’s first mandate.

Most of them were returned to their posts.

“A lot of our incumbent ministers have gone back into essentially the same portfolios that they held, for the most part, over the course of the last mandate,” said Fentie.

“I would have been lynched if I had not placed Elaine Taylor back in Tourism, believe me.”

Taylor also retained the women’s directorate portfolio.

“I’m thrilled to have the only other woman in the legislative assembly, Marian Horne, by my side,” she said.

Among the veteran ministers, the only significant change was shifting responsibility for Highways and Public Works to Archie Lang from Glenn Hart.

In addition to his old responsibilities with the Energy, Mines and Resources department, the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation, Lang will now control Highways and Public Works – traditionally the most capital-heavy department that contracted much of its $72.4 million capital budget in 2006-2007.

Lang is now in charge of the government’s contract registry and administration of the Yukon Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

“Mr. Lang has demonstrated, over the last four years, a tremendous capacity to take on work,” said Fentie.

“We have loaded up Mr. Lang a little bit.”

Hart, who suffered some absences from the legislative assembly over the past two years due to health concerns, is again responsible for Community Services.

Hart was also given the Public Service Commission portfolio.

“I’m pleased the premier has allowed me to stay in Community Services, since I know how to look after garbage dumps and sewers,” said Hart.

Jim Kenyon was returned to the three portfolios he held before the October 10 election: Economic Development, the Yukon Housing Corporation and the Yukon Liquor Corporation.

And Brad Cathers retained Health and Social Services, the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board and the title of government house leader.

Fentie kept his three cabinet portfolios: Finance, the Executive Council office and Environment.

“I will remain (in Environment) at least for some time at the start of the mandate,” he said.

“We need the department of Environment to be heavily involved in many facets of growing this territory.

“That’s why we’re going to undertake a major initiative in updating our database.

“The department of Environment, when it comes to development, with the department of Energy, Mines and Resources and our integrated resource management approach, needs the best information possible so that their contribution can be one of mitigation.

“If you don’t have that information, delays take place, obstruction happens.

“We don’t want that. We want development, responsible development, and the department of Environment will play a major role.”

Fentie did not name a deputy premier.

All ministers will assume that post on a rotating basis, he said.

Ted Staffen is expected to be returned as Speaker of the legislative assembly, although his appointment is not entirely up to the Yukon Party.

“We have to go through due process, but by process of elimination we know where we’re at,” said Fentie.

“Mr. Staffen carried out the duties of Speaker during the last mandate in an exemplary manner.”

Klondike MLA Steve Nordick, one of four newcomers to the house, will sit as the government’s only backbencher.

Nordick will serve as Yukon Party caucus chair, caucus whip, deputy Speaker and chair of the Committee of the Whole.

A date has not yet been set for a fall sitting of the legislative assembly and the release of a supplementary budget.

“We will be discussing with the opposition timelines for a fall sitting,” said Fentie.

The five Yukon Liberal Party MLAs who constitute the Official Opposition were sworn into office 10 days ago and assigned critic responsibilities.

The NDP will be sworn in on Tuesday.