Yukon’s three major political leaders have rolled out commitments to Yukon First Nations during a luncheon series that has been heavy in rhetoric and light on substance.
The series was hosted by the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce, and was attended by First Nation chiefs and representatives from several development corporations. Liberal Leader Sandy Silver spoke last Wednesday, followed by NDP Leader Liz Hanson on Monday and Premier Darrell Pasloski on Thursday.
Silver was the only leader to announce specific new commitments to First Nations, though they were few and fairly vague.
“A Liberal government will, within the first 30 days of forming government, ensure that premier and cabinet meet with all First Nations chiefs to establish initial priorities,” he said.
He also committed to holding the Yukon Forum “up to four times annually.” The forum is a meeting between the Yukon government and First Nation governments, which took place most recently in April. The previous meeting was held in May, 2014.
“We will use the Yukon Forum as a venue for dealing with federal funding program delivery,” he said.
He said a Liberal government will accept the original Peel watershed land-use plan and will help First Nations to develop land registries.
He also committed to making the Yukon Legislative Assembly “more inclusive” of First Nation culture. He didn’t give much detail, but said that might include a “new look” in the assembly.
“When you walk in the doors, you want to feel welcome, right?” he told the News. “And you want to see … your culture represented.”
On Monday, Hanson promised that an NDP government would partner with First Nation development corporations, though she was also light on specifics.
“During our campaign, we will be announcing a number of significant investment opportunities to drive that growth,” she said.
She suggested the NDP would expand the small business investment tax credit, and said Yukon’s mining legislation needs to be updated. “Together, we can ensure that the new mining regime is fair and protects existing investments under current laws,” Hanson said.
She accused the Yukon government of allowing too many large contracts to leave the territory, referring specifically to the latest Faro mine remediation contract, which went to Parsons Corporation, a company headquartered in California.
“The contract was let to a multinational corporation that’s 15,000-person strong,” she said. “At what point do we allow a massive multinational to come in and underbid by a few million dollars to give them what is effectively a loss leader?”
Paul Gruner, general manager of the Dakwakada Development Corporation, the business arm of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, said Hanson’s reference to the Faro contract resonated with him. He is also the CEO of Castle Rock Enterprises, one of the local contractors that bid on the project.
“I think that was a big loss, so I align to what Liz is saying for sure,” he said after the NDP luncheon on Monday.
He said both the Liberals and the NDP seem to want to work more closely with First Nations businesses.
“I think there’s been sort of a lack of emphasis on that, and it’s refreshing to hear that that’s becoming much more at the forefront,” he said.
On Thursday, Pasloski began by focusing on a few existing partnerships between the Yukon government and First Nation development corporations. He mentioned the Da Daghay affordable housing project in Whistle Bend, the Carcross Tagish Management Corporation’s work on the Carcross Commons, and a new housing development in Carmacks.
“We let the corporation lead the project and find ways to support their remarkable initiatives with investment and support,” he said.
“At this stage, your corporations are so integrated into the Yukon economy that there is rarely a project that gets built in this territory without some participation or ownership by First Nations.”
He then ran through a number of the Yukon Party’s main talking points, with little direct focus on First Nations.
He spoke about the party’s plan to build a redundant fibre-optic line up the Dempster Highway, to bring high-speed internet to community schools and health centres, to work on roads and bridges and to improve procurement. He talked about wanting to develop Yukon’s technology sector. He mentioned his government’s record of cutting small business taxes and railed once more against a carbon tax.
He made no mention of the Peel watershed dispute or the federal changes to Yukon’s environmental assessment legislation, which have landed him in hot water with Yukon First Nations over the years.
Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston had strong words for Pasloski after his speech on Thursday, though he’d previously said he won’t be endorsing any party for this election.
“Unfortunately, there was not a lot of focus on Yukon First Nations,” he said. “It was unfortunate not to hear how the vision is going to be going forward for First Nations, but … hopefully our citizens determine that over the next month in regards to their participation in the election.”
Without actually mentioning the Liberals, he said there was a “very strong focus on building that relationship with First Nations” at the beginning of the luncheon series.
Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Chief Eric Fairclough was similarly underwhelmed by Pasloski’s presentation.
“I haven’t heard too many words from him about any environmental protection,” he said. “It’s great that there’s projects out there that involve our corporations and some of our First Nations, but … in my view, they need to do a lot more to involve First Nations into a lot of the decision-making that governments do.”
Fairclough didn’t attend the Liberal or NDP luncheons. He has previously served as an MLA for both parties.
Pasloski must call the election by Oct. 14.
Contact Maura Forrest at email@example.com