Legislature wraps up for Christmas

The Yukon Legislative Assembly has closed another sitting. Thursday was the final day until proceedings resume in the spring.

The Yukon Legislative Assembly has closed another sitting.

Thursday was the final day until proceedings resume in the spring.

The NDP Opposition spent much of the sitting questioning the government about two people who died after being treated at the Watson Lake Hospital.

The coroner found that Teresa Ann Scheunert, 47, died of a mixed drug toxicity resulting from medications prescribed to her at the hospital for back pain.

An independent patient safety review ordered by the Yukon Hospital Corporation contradicts that finding, arguing instead that she died of an irregular heartbeat associated with sleep apnea.

Mary Johnny, 60, died from a small bowel obstruction after her condition was misdiagnosed as “alcoholism,” according to the coroner’s report.

The coroner found that the doctor ignored signs pointing to the bowel obstruction and failed to document decision-making.

In the legislature, Health Minister Doug Graham ignored pleas from the Opposition NDP to call a public inquiry in the deaths.

Under public and media pressure, the coroner called an inquest into the two deaths, set for March 2014.

Jurors for the inquest will determine the facts of the deaths and may make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future. The inquest does not have the same broad mandate of a public inquiry.

Another hot topic this sitting was the changes to the mining acts related to the Ross River Dena Council court decision.

The Yukon Court of Appeal ordered the government a year ago to ensure that First Nation’s rights are properly accommodated when it comes to staking and Class 1 exploration on its traditional territory.

The Yukon government says it can meet the requirements by the December 27 deadline through amendments to the mining legislation and the associated regulations. It may also withdraw some areas of Ross River territory from staking.

The amendments to the Quartz Mining Act and the Placer Mining Act were passed Thursday, after opposition members complained that the government was avoiding debate on the subject.

Regulations have yet to be finalized, although the government insists the deadline will be met. There’s no word on how consultations with Ross River Dena Council are progressing.

Interim Liberal Leader Sandy Silver asked why amendments go beyond what was required to meet the court declaration to give the government more active management tools.

Silver also brought forward a motion on co-operation that got so heated that it had Speaker David Laxton calling actions of the members “at an all-time low.”

The motion, which called for the government to work with First Nations to set a date for a Yukon Forum, an official meeting on intergovernmental co-operation, eventually passed unanimously.

The government also passed a bill that will allow for the protection of sensitive environments by off-road vehicles, although the mechanisms for this to actually happen have yet to be determined.

And a health information privacy act was passed that will lay the groundwork for an electronic health system across the territory.

That piece of legislation is long and complex, and opposition members complained that they had only been given a one-hour briefing on the 105-page act on the morning that it was debated.

With work yet to be done on mining regulations, and the Peel watershed land use plan, Mines Minister Scott Kent confirmed that both he and Environment Minister Currie Dixon will be working over the holidays.

The government must release a plan for the Peel watershed by the end of the year or extend the interim staking ban. The ministers could not confirm if a plan will be ready before the new year.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at