The federal election’s first all-candidates forum for Yukon candidates took place Sept. 8, organized by the Council of Yukon First Nations and moderated by Christine Genier.
Major topics included COVID-19 recovery, housing, climate change and reconciliation.
Questions came from the public, as well as CYFN chiefs and youth councils. With one minute to answer, followed by a second minute for a follow-up, the questions gave the five candidates a chance to demonstrate how much they knew about policy issues and First Nations.
COVID-19 dominated early questions. Moderator Christine Genier opened by asking each candidate how they planned to tackle post-pandemic recovery.
All five candidates included the need for increased mental health support in their initial answers and acknowledged that federal money has kept many people afloat during a difficult 18 months.
“We’re looking at a significant infrastructure expenditure in the north to undertake broadband and transportation,” said Conservative candidate Barbara Dunlop, adding that vaccination campaigns need to continue to get to recovery.
The second question of the night focused on a topic that has already been controversial on the campaign– mandatory vaccinations and vaccine passports.
Liberal candidate Brendan Hanley was the first to answer.
“I know this is troublesome for many, but in order to protect everyone, we need to do everything we can to protect citizens with high rates of vaccine uptake, and we’re not quite there,” he said.
Jonas Smith, who is running as an independent after being removed from his post as Conservative candidate over the issue, said he sees vaccine passports and mandatory vaccination policies as discriminatory, comparing the issue to segregation in the United States.
“I just can’t see that what’s being proposed right now is legal and under the charter. It’s certainly not ethical in my mind,” he said.
The three other candidates all confirmed that they support vaccination, although Green Party candidate Lenore Morris noted her party has a policy against mandatory vaccines but supports limited passports. Dunlop said mandates need to be “thought through very carefully.”
NDP candidate Lisa Vollans-Leduc said she is opposed to restrictions that prevent people from moving throughout the country.
Following COVID-19 questions, Genier brought up the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites and what the federal government can do to support survivors and families.
Conservative candidate Dunlop was first to answer — promising that the Conservative Party of Canada would follow the Truth and Reconciliation commission’s recommendations and support community-driven next steps.
But her word choice that “we were all shocked” at the discovery left an opening for other candidates.
“It’s not shocking,” said Vollans-Leduc, referring to a small booklet that details the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. “Indigenous people and families have been talking about this for years — for the duration of residential schools in this country. This document came out in 2015.”
“I was not shocked. Only horrified,” added Morris.
Smith’s answer acknowledged the horror of sexual assault at residential schools, but also described “evidence of an international sex trade ring among children that has implications to members of the royal family and past presidents.”
Hanley said the government needs to work with communities to undertake burial searches and support survivors and families.
All five candidates were also asked how they have personally participated in reconciliation.
Multiple questions over the course of the evening focused on climate change – including salmon harvests and renewable energy. While the candidates spent most of the debate speaking of their own policies, climate change brought out some jabs.
“The Liberals say they’re committed to addressing the climate crisis, and turn around and build pipelines,” said Vollans-Leduc.
Liberal candidate Hanley, most well-known for his role as chief medical officer of public health, called global warming the “single most important public health issue that we face” and defended his party’s climate targets.
Dunlop was the first candidate to acknowledge the leadership of Yukon First Nations on renewable energy — noting that the Old Crow solar project recently became fully operational.
“If we innovate together we can make cost savings, we can provide skilled jobs and we can reduce our emissions,” she said.
Morris pointed out that southern provinces contribute the most to greenhouse gas — particularly in the oil sands — and emphasized renewables are a good way forward for the territory.
As the only independent candidate, Smith differentiated himself during the debate by noting he is not constrained by any party’s official policy.
“We don’t need people from Ottawa or Paris lecturing Yukoners on the realities of climate change, we just need to look out our window,” he said, offering hydroelectricity as a solution to energy needs.
Watch debate online
Other questions covered in the forum included housing, salmon harvest, electoral reform, First Nations education and outstanding land claim agreements. The entire broadcast can be rewatched by visiting cyfn.ca.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org