The fall sitting of the legislative assembly ended in typical fashion this week: growing tensions in question period and debate were mercifully put to death by the so-called “guillotine clause,” which allows the assembly to vote on bills that haven’t seen full debate when the clock strikes five on the final sitting day.
It wasn’t an easy eight weeks for the reigning Yukon Party government, who were hit with a major legal loss in the Peel case, blowback for supporting proposed federal amendments to environmental assessment legislation, and a scandal involving a secretive $750,000 bail-out to a Whitehorse golf course.
Tensions flared over the course of the sitting, with speaker David Laxton increasingly stepping in to scold the hecklers and remind members to watch their parliamentary language.
On the last day, Laxton even shushed the public audience.
“Order please. I remind the gallery that you are here to watch and listen and not participate in any fashion. That includes applauding or jeering. Please keep that in mind. I don’t want to have to ask you to leave.”
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The sitting began and ended with Community Services Minister Brad Cathers, also responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, taking the heat for failing to support new affordable rental housing in Whitehorse.
In June, Cathers cancelled at the last minute an affordable housing project that would have seen 75 units built in the city, after developers had spent tens of thousands on the plans.
Whitehorse city council voted unanimously in October to ask Premier Darrell Pasloski to remove Cathers from housing and community files.
Liberal Leader Sandy Silver also called for Cathers’s resignation over the affordable housing mess.
This past week the government announced that some of the unspent affordable housing money, which it has been sitting on since 2006, would go to homeowners who want to renovate their homes for increased energy efficiency.
So instead of supporting Yukoners who can’t make the rent, that money will go to those who can afford to own a home and save up for pricey renovations.
But when Silver asked if the government would consider using some of the remaining funds to support a Dawson City project to build a child care centre with attached affordable rental units, Cathers dismissed the idea immediately.
“Investments in daycares would not meet the criteria of the program,” he said Thursday.
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The Yukon Party’s uncompromising approach to First Nation land and resource battles didn’t seem to win many friends this fall.
A Yukon Supreme Court judge struck down the government’s plan for the Peel watershed, ruling it had no right to overturn the planning commission’s final recommended plan and introduce its own version at such a late stage in the process.
Resources Minister Scott Kent avoided debate on the subject Wednesday by calling adjournment, a move that he said was prompted by heckling from NDP Leader Liz Hanson.
“As individuals who are able to attend these proceedings know, she often gets animated and very frustrated when she doesn’t get her way in here. With that, I am going to move that we adjourn debate.”
First Nations are threatening to sue again if controversial amendments to the federal Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act pass as proposed.
Yukoners found out this month that most of the amendments that First Nations oppose came from the Yukon premier’s suggestions.
Pasloski did not consult First Nations or the public on those ideas before putting them forward for consideration. He maintains that’s the federal government’s job.
Two major Yukon mining companies have come forward to urge the feds to compromise with First Nations. They say the potential benefits to the efficiency of environmental assessments aren’t worth the cost to their relationships with First Nations.
And this week, long-time Yukon businessman Rich Thompson added his name to the list of people urging more collaboration with First Nations.
“We do not want investors thinking this is the last place to do business in, but we are headed there,” he wrote in a commentary published in today’s Yukon News.
This week the Yukon government announced an agreement with the White River First Nation to start talking about reconciliation.
The First Nation, which has expressed no intention of signing a land claims agreement, has been caught up in court cases and legal threats against the territory for years.
It may be small comfort to potential investors that White River and the territory have agreed to talk about getting along.
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Pasloski kept his mouth shut but not his nose clean during revelations that in 2011 the Yukon government bailed out the Mountain View Golf Club to the tune of $750,000 and hid the evidence from the public.
While the deal took place under the leadership of Dennis Fentie, at the urging of then-Community Services minister Archie Lang, it turns out that Pasloski was on the golf club’s board at the time, just months before his successful run for party leadership.
During his candidacy he told the Yukon News that one of his biggest selling points is, “I wasn’t a part of the things that happened in the past.”
Pasloski has removed himself from influencing the current government’s response to the scandal, to avoid a perceived conflict of interest.
But ministers Cathers and Kent, who have known about the deal for more than a year, continue to peddle misleading information and change their stories.
And Minister Elaine Taylor, who was on cabinet then and now, has refused all requests for comment.
This week Cathers said that the government would have no objection to having the auditor general investigate the deal, although it does not agree that such an investigation is warranted.
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From a legislative perspective, the sitting was anti-climactic.
Much-anticipated whistleblower protection legislation passed, although national advocates have criticized the territory for copying failed laws from other provinces.
New rules for snowmobilers and ATV riders passed, although regulation advocates say the changes are insufficient.
A change to the territory’s home heating subsidy for seniors that will redistribute the fund to those most in need passed without controversy.
But the relative calm of the legislative changes didn’t stop MLAs from pushing each other’s buttons.
On Wednesday NDP MLA Kate White asked about reported delays to repairs on Closeleigh Manor’s ventilation system.
“I took the minister at his word that action would be taken to ensure that repairs were made before another long winter season,” she said. “It appears my confidence in the minister was severely misplaced.”
Cathers said that if there have been delays, there’s probably a good explanation. Then he deflected the criticism by invoking the holiday season.
“It’s truly unfortunate that the member is choosing in the Christmas season to throw unnecessary barbs in her question.”
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at