Liberals ramp up for the legislative sitting

Yukon Liberals are mapping out their strategy for the upcoming sitting of the legislative assembly. They plan to introduce two bills attacking the…

Yukon Liberals are mapping out their strategy for the upcoming sitting of the legislative assembly.

They plan to introduce two bills attacking the government’s policies on climate change and its strained relationship with First Nations.

Flanked by his four MLAs in the caucus office, Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell introduced two pieces of legislation the party plans to table in the house, which starts its fall sitting on Thursday.

The proposed legislation encourages renewable energy use to combat climate change and reinforces the government’s obligation to consult with First Nations.

The bill on First Nation consultation will press the government into fulfilling its commitment to the final agreements by improving the Cooperation in Governance Act, said Mitchell.

The government has been criticized by Yukon First Nations for ignoring its duty to consult on hunting rights and the use of government land, including the Little Salmon/Carmacks spat that is bound for the Yukon court of appeal.

“This government would rather litigate instead of negotiate,” said Mitchell.

“It has no problem ignoring the law. The government loves to sign memorandums of understanding and then ignore them. This (legislation) enshrines the duty to consult in law.”

When the act was first debated last year, Mitchell argued it wasn’t necessary because it simply tells the government to do something any competent government should do.

If the act will be the “law of the land,” then strengthen it and make it relevant so it can be used as a yardstick to measure the government’s work, he said.

The proposed amendment would require the government to report annually on the results of consultations so there is a record of who the government talked to and when.

When Dennis Fentie changes regulations and allows hunting of the Porcupine Caribou on the Dempster Highway, people can go back and see who was consulted.

“We can go back at the end of the year and have a look at what consultation was done — not necessarily the details of who said what — but what was done in advance of the decision,” said Mitchell.

“In the case of the decision allowing hunting on the Dempster, that would be a blank page because there was no consultation done.”

How confident are the Liberals their bills will get past the first reading so the pieces of legislation can actually be debated by MLAs?

“We’ll see what happens on the floor of the house,” said Mitchell.

A second bill would permit Yukoners with excess power generated from renewable energy sources to sell it back to power companies.

The Net Metering Act allows homes or businesses to generate power through solar, wind and hydro sources in an attempt to save money while fighting climate change, said Yukon Development Corporation critic Gary McRobb.

Each customer would be outfitted with a device to measure the excess green power produced that could be put back into the electrical grid, giving customers credits on their next power bill.

There is no existing data on how many people would take advantage of the program, or what kind of incentives the government could provide customers hesitant to make the switch to green power, but the proposed legislation gives people a choice, said McRobb.

“There are a lot of people who would appreciate the opportunity to put up even a few solar panels to save money,” said McRobb. “This would help in the fight against climate change and reduce CO2 emissions in the Yukon.

“It’s a system used in other Canadian jurisdictions and more than 30 states. It’s proven to work and the technology is there.”

The act would require electrical companies to provide net metering for eligible projects that produce 500 kilowatts in capacity.

Mitchell mentioned several more policy areas the Liberals want to raise in the legislature.

The Liberals would like improvements made to the Animal Protection Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement the government is now studying will be brought up, too.

The government should be releasing the information it has compiled on the free-trade agreement to temper the debate underway in the Yukon, said Mitchell.

Social assistance rates are too low and the government will be pushed to complete a review that Health Minister Brad Cathers says is taking place, he added.

“While that review is going on, mothers with children, single parent families and single people are struggling to find acceptable housing on the current (social assistant) rates,” said Mitchell.

“I don’t think anyone can argue the current rates afford a livable standard.”