New Democrat MLAs backed the Liberal government on a confidence vote in the legislature on Nov. 24, confirming that the balance of power in the House will remain the status quo.
While Silver rose in the house to declare that his “team will not be deterred by political games,” it was NDP leader Kate White who had the strongest words for both parties vying for power.
“Let’s be clear, both the Liberals and the Yukon Party are responsible for the hurt that was caused to children. Both the Liberals and the Yukon Party were in power when children did not receive the support that they needed. Both of you.
“Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party are using the tragedy of a sex abuse scandal at a school as leverage for their own political gain. This is shameful,” she said.
“What we need is everyone in this house to work together to solve the crises that Yukon is facing. So let me finish with this message to the government: this is not a free pass. If anything, the rules have been redrawn today. And I expect more and I expect better.”
Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon introduced the no-confidence motion in the House earlier this week.
White’s speech was followed by a vote. Yukon Party MLAs voted to bring down the government, and the Liberals and the NDP voted to support it.
The motion failed by a vote of 10 to 8.
Dixon said he was introducing the motion because he doesn’t believe the government can get answers to what happened at Hidden Valley school when parents were not informed of an incident of sexual abuse.
Four independent investigations are ongoing.
“There needs to be some kind of political accountability for what’s happened here. That’s what I proposed, that’s why I brought the confidence motion forward, and that’s why we brought forward the motion for the minister to resign,” he said.
If he was able to secure votes from his eight MLAs and the three NDP members, the Liberals would have lost the confidence of the house and faced either an election or the possibility of a Yukon Party-NDP agreement that would make Dixon premier.
Yukon Party fails to obtain NDP confidence
Dixon failed to secure the support of White, who said she feels strongly about the Hidden Valley file but couldn’t support either a Yukon Party government or a winter election.
As she stood to defend her decision in the House, White was clearly emotional as she spoke directly to Hidden Valley parents in the gallery.
“I’ve read your letters. I’ve had phone calls. And I know where you stand. This is an issue of confidence. It’s a tough one,” she said. “I absolutely believe that the Liberal government has mishandled the Hidden Valley issue.”
She said she was not able to back the Yukon Party for a number of reasons — including the importance of the promises in the CASA agreement, the previous actions of the party when in power and an incident earlier this year when Yukon Party MLAs exchanged crude messages in private referring to her.
Her speech called out both parties for their role in the sexual abuse scandal at Hidden Valley Elementary School. While the initially reported incident took place when Liberal minister Tracy-Anne McPhee was education minister, a timeline released by the RCMP found an earlier complaint was “handled internally” during the Yukon Party’s tenure in the 2015-16 school year.
White said her office has received correspondence from parents upset about her decision, and she intends to have those difficult conversations.
One parent at Hidden Valley, Clea Roberts, told the News she supported the confidence motion and said if an election needed to be called — then so be it.
“Yukoners may need another election. We went into the last election without the information we needed to make an informed decision. How would the public have voted in the last territorial election if they’d known about the cover-up of the sexual assault at Hidden Valley?” she said.
Two parties support inquiry into Hidden Valley
Right now there are four separate investigations examining the handling of a sexual assault at Hidden Valley school. The RCMP, Child and Youth Advocate and the Yukon’s ombudsman are all investigating.
A fourth investigation was launched by the government and is being headed by British Columbia-based lawyer Amanda Rogers. The government has promised to make it public.
Silver has repeatedly asked for opposition parties to wait for answers from these investigations before making accusations, such as asking former education minister Tracy Anne McPhee to step down.
Dixon has said he doesn’t believe the investigation launched by the government will be complete or independent.
“I continue to call on the government to call a truly independent public inquiry into what happened that would look at the full breadth of when this individual worked for the Yukon government, including those years when I was in cabinet,” he said.
An additional option would be the launch of a public inquiry – something both Dixon and White said they would support, although neither ended up putting forward a vote in this session asking for one.
The Public Inquiry Act allows a board to be appointed to carry out a public investigation and has legal power, including the ability to summon witnesses to testify under oath and compel evidence.
White said the NDP tabled a motion to bring forward an inquiry but it ran out of time to be brought forward. She chose to wait to bring it forward again after a fourth investigation was launched. She is interested in the possibility of bringing forward an inquiry in the Spring 2022 sitting of the legislature.
“I think what we need to do now is we need to wait for those reviews to come forward. Then I intend to call the public inquiry motion in the spring,” she said.
Dixon said his party chose to bring forward the confidence motion, rather than a motion for an inquiry, because “if we were successful in the confidence motion and we were able to become government, we could just simply name a public inquiry.”
Asked if he would support an inquiry, Silver said he is not opposed to the idea, but wants to wait until the current investigations are concluded.
“We’ve been very clear that we want to see the results of these reports,” he said. “I’m not against anything particularly. But again, I just really want people to focus on the four reviews.”
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: This article has been updated to indicate that the NDP originally brought forward a motion to hold an inquiry, but it did not make it a vote this sitting.