Legislative assembly gets off to a heated start

Yukon's MLAs kicked off the fall sitting of the legislative assembly this week with debate over Bill S-6 and the controversial Whistle Bend continuing care centre, and with a stern reprimand from House speaker David Laxton.

Yukon’s MLAs kicked off the fall sitting of the legislative assembly this week with debate over Bill S-6 and the controversial Whistle Bend continuing care centre, and with a stern reprimand from House speaker David Laxton.

Early Thursday afternoon, Premier Darrell Pasloski introduced a motion calling for a meeting between First Nation leaders and cabinet ministers to discuss Yukon’s response to the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The territory’s deputy ministers have already drafted a report outlining the work that has been done and that still needs to be done.

The government says the territory’s 11 self-government agreements and the new residential school curriculum help to address some of the recommendations from the commission’s report.

The newly elected federal Liberal Party has said it will implement all 94 recommendations.

But during question period, NDP Opposition Leader Liz Hanson cast doubt on the Yukon government’s commitment to building stronger relationships with First Nations.

“This premier’s continued support for Bill S-6 is a rejection of reconciliation,” she said. Bill S-6, which was passed by the government in June, makes controversial changes to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act. Three Yukon First Nations have filed a lawsuit over the bill.

Pasloski appears not to have given up on the legislation, despite the fact that the federal Liberal Party has said it will repeal the four controversial amendments in the bill. He told the assembly that Yukon First Nations have agreed to sit down with the territorial and federal governments to discuss the legislation.

“For me, an environmental assessment process that’s consistent with other jurisdictions is important for us to not have another reason for people to invest somewhere else, either in exploration or for mining,” he later told the News.

The assembly heated up when NDP MLA Jan Stick brought up the contentious Whistle Bend continuing care centre. Last month, the opposition party organized a town-hall meeting where several Yukoners voiced their fears about sending loved ones to a large institution in a sparsely occupied neighbourhood.

“Meaningful consultation relies on listening. When will this government listen to Yukoners about what they need to age in place?” Stick asked.

Education Minister Doug Graham responded, saying that Stick “did not tell the truth” in a letter she sent out to MLAs regarding the facility. NDP MLAs fired back, accusing Graham of using unparliamentary language by calling Stick a “liar.” Laxton eventually took charge of the situation, and had stern words for the NDP.

“He did not use the word (“liar”); you did when you were heckling,” he said. “I caution you right now not to use that word at all, even when you’re heckling.”

Pasloski later told the News that the NDP “lack an understanding” of how desperate the situation is for people needing long-term care.

“On any given day, we can have up to 20 people in the hospital who are waiting for a long-term care bed,” he said. “Simply investing more money in home care doesn’t change anything.”

Climate change and natural resources were also a subject of debate on Thursday. NDP MLA Kate White asked whether the government was planning to send representatives to the international climate talks in Paris in November.

Though the Yukon Party MLAs did not respond to her question directly, Pasloski later told the News that he will attend the talks.

“I was on a conference call this morning with all of Canada’s premiers discussing this very issue,” he said on Thursday. “I have decided that I will be attending and leading the Yukon delegation.”

All premiers not facing election campaigns will attend the summit with prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau.

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver also came out swinging in the assembly, questioning why the government chose to make its upcoming community meetings “invite-only.”

“Entering the 14th year of office, at least the Yukon Party has finally admitted that they are only listening to a select group of Yukoners behind closed doors,” he said.

Pasloski maintains that the government has invited a broad range of people to attend the meetings, which will take place in Whitehorse, Haines Junction, Dawson City and Watson Lake this fall. He said people may feel more comfortable voicing their opinions in a smaller, private forum.

This is the last fall sitting of the legislative assembly before the territorial government must call an election. The government is expected to introduce amendments to Yukon’s Municipal Act and Land Titles Act during this session.

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com