Federal Liberal members of parliament provide the backdrop for a press conference in Whitehorse about money for Indigenous-led tourism on Aug. 9. Yukon Tourism and Culture Minister John Streicker, seen at the podium, said it’s important to celebrate things like Indigenous-led tourism, even while wildfires in parts of the territory burn. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Federal Liberal members of parliament provide the backdrop for a press conference in Whitehorse about money for Indigenous-led tourism on Aug. 9. Yukon Tourism and Culture Minister John Streicker, seen at the podium, said it’s important to celebrate things like Indigenous-led tourism, even while wildfires in parts of the territory burn. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Federal ministers, MPs retreat to Whitehorse

Mine tour, climate emergency and Indigenous tourism juggled amid travel advisories and evacuations

Three federal ministers and 16 members of parliament are retreating to Whitehorse this week, according to a federal press secretary.

While some of Canada’s elected representatives are in the Yukon, federal and territorial offices are busy issuing press releases and arranging press conferences to announce and re-announce spending initiatives.

Yukon MP Brendan Hanley also hosted a local fundraiser with Liberal supporters in Whitehorse on Aug. 9, according to Parker Lund, the Liberal Party of Canada’s director of communications.

Meanwhile, wildfire-related travel advisories are in place, the northern community of Old Crow is being evacuated under order due to wildfires, winds and weather, and a local state of emergency has been declared around Mayo, which is also under mandatory evacuation due to threatening fires. This week, the Yukon government has put out some wildfire-related press releases, held two fire briefings and issued updates along with its partners on Facebook and Twitter.

READ MORE: 61 Old Crow evacuees arrive in Whitehorse, more on the way

During an Aug. 9 press conference on Indigenous-led tourism held along the Yukon River outside the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse, federal Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal said Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan is “seized” with the wildfire issue. Vandal said the federal government is working through the minister’s office to provide the Yukon with “everything they need to make it through this.”

“Our hearts go out to all the citizens and the families and the communities that are negatively affected,” he said, noting wildfires are ablaze throughout the country.

Territorial Tourism and Culture Minister John Streicker, who is also the mines minister, said he has been in contact with chiefs and mines in areas impacted by wildfires.

The press conference was used to formally announce investments of $975,000 from the feds and $1.1 million from the Yukon government in the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association over three years, starting in 2022.

“We need ways in which to move forward in a positive light,” Streicker said.

“We took this moment to acknowledge this because we had an opportunity while the rural and northern caucus was here to celebrate this, but it should never take away from all of the work that we’re doing to try and keep our community safe.”

Vandal added it’s important to offer hope, ensure jobs are being created and celebrate Yukon First Nations’ art and culture.

Marilyn Jensen, president of the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association, said Indigenous-led tourism had been growing before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and related travel restrictions were put into place. In 2022, Indigenous-led tourism resurged, she said.

An Aug. 8 press release and conference highlight a total of up to $44.8 million in spending from the budget released this spring. That includes $8.4 million to help the Yukon government build renewable heating systems in government buildings with the goal of reducing reliance on fossil fuels by reducing the use of propane and light fuel oil.

Another $36.4 million is being given to the Yukon government, with up to $5.9 million to help low-income homeowners transition from home heating oil to low-emitting heating technologies, per the release. Up to $30.5 million will go towards territorial initiatives that “support both governments’ mutual targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.” The federal government’s release indicates the federal and territorial governments are still determining how this money will be spent.

“Upgrading the Yukon’s current building stock to modern energy-efficient standards not only helps ensure sustainable, cost-effective and comfortable homes and buildings for Yukoners, but also boosts the local economy by creating job opportunities in the building trades and construction industry,” Streicker said in a Yukon government release.

“Moreover, it plays a crucial role in meeting our collective objectives in response to the climate emergency.”

Another Aug. 8 announcement draws attention to more than $2.4 million going towards Les Essentielles. Per the release, the money will allow the non-profit organization to buy commercial property in Whitehorse and set up permanent offices to carry out its work.

“This funding for the acquisition of our office building not only gives us stability, but also allows us to generate rental income to support our projects and develop the adjacent vacant lot to meet the growing needs of Yukon’s Francophone community,” Maryne Dumaine, chair of Les Essentielles, said in the federal government’s release.

“This crucial step reinforces our mission to build a feminist, equitable and inclusive society, where Franco-Yukoner women can reach their full potential in a safe and healthy environment.”

According to an Aug. 9 release from the Yukon government, François-Philippe Champagne, federal minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, went on a tour of Yukon mines, including Western Copper and Gold Corporation’s Casino project, Newmont Corporation’s Coffee Gold project and other projects in the Dawson range.

Premier Ranj Pillai and other territorial elected leaders also participated in the tour.

“The Yukon is a world-class mining jurisdiction with strong environmental, social and governance standards, and we collaborate closely with our partners in Yukon First Nations governments. Strategic investments are essential to ensuring sustainable mineral development in the North. To do this, we are working closely with industry, Ottawa and on a government-to-government basis with Yukon First Nations,” Pillai said in the release.

“Gold mining continues to be an important economic driver for the territory. The Yukon is also well-positioned to support the ongoing clean energy transition through the responsible extraction of critical minerals. We are committed to responsible mining practices that will contribute positively to the territory’s development and long-term prosperity. We look forward to continued work with our federal partners to develop the infrastructure necessary to unlock these opportunities.”

On Aug. 10, announcements were made about Canada’s “clean electricity regulations” from Toronto, as well as an accord concerning oil and gas development in the Arctic from Inuvik, Northwest Territories. In a release from the federal government, the accord is being called the “first of its kind with an Indigenous government as a full party.”

Per the release, the deal will allow the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to participate in and benefit from oil and gas development in the offshore Inuvialuit Settlement Region of the Arctic. It is intended to establish an oil and gas co-management and revenue-sharing agreement with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and the governments of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon for the accord area.

“The Government of Yukon supports a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and the protection of the Arctic’s ecosystem,” Pillai said in the release.

“I am pleased that with our partners today, we have finalized shared responsibilities in managing resource development and environmental protection matters in waters off our northern coast. Northerners must be involved in decision-making matters about the North.”

The federal government’s 2022 budget provided $2.5 million over five years for the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to implement and administer the accord, per the release.

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com