NDP pushes its demands

Liz Hanson isn't in much of a position to make demands. The NDP leader may have seen her party's ranks in the legislature swell threefold after Tuesday's territorial election.

Liz Hanson isn’t in much of a position to make demands.

The NDP leader may have seen her party’s ranks in the legislature swell threefold after Tuesday’s territorial election. And she may have a new title, as leader of the Official Opposition.

But she still faces a majority Yukon Party government, and so is not obliged to win opposition support.

It can rule as it pleases.

But making demands is often what the Official Opposition does. So, following the NDP’s first caucus meeting on Thursday, Hanson called a news conference to do exactly that.

Fixing Whitehorse’s acute housing shortage should be the government’s first priority, said Hanson. On this, Premier Darrell Pasloski agrees.

But their solutions differ. Pasloski plans to let the private sector build a new neighbourhood in Mountainview. And he wants to put incentives in place to ensure that affordable apartments, rather than pricey condos, are built.

Hanson is more concerned about homelessness. The tent city that sits adjacent to the legislature is symbolic of the broader housing crisis, she said.

“And if you can’t deal with the symbol, what can you do about the broader problem?”

The territory should house homeless residents in a recently-abandoned building that once served as a medical residence, said Hanson.

“It may not be posh. But it has windows, toilets and running water.”

The NDP will continue to call for the territory to revamp its mining royalty rates. Don’t expect this to get any traction with the pro-mining Yukon Party.

Pasloski’s warned that meddling with royalties would spook industry and cause miners to flee.

During the election campaign, the NDP erroneously suggested that the $5.9 million cheque recently cut by Capstone for the Selkirk First Nation is more handsome than what mines on public land would pay.

That wasn’t true. The cheque was paid using the same royalty formula that will be applied to the Bellekeno and Wolverine mines, once they’ve paid off their capital costs.

Hanson’s dropped references to the Minto cheque. But she insists that mining companies are getting a free ride, thanks to a variety of generous tax breaks.

Hanson wants these loopholes shut. “The whole regime is stacked against paying a profit,” she said. “That’s a public conversation that needs to be held.”

Placer miners should pay more, too, said Hanson. Currently, they pay just pennies for digging up an ounce of gold.

“I don’t think there’s any cogent argument against that,” said Hanson.

Don’t expect Hanson to push her party’s proposal to have the Yukon Housing Corporation sell subprime mortgages to Yukoners who can’t get bank financing. It appears this has been put on the backburner.

Instead, Hanson says the Yukon needs to partner with Ottawa to offer more help to residents struggling to buy a home.

Regarding the Peel Watershed, Hanson called on Pasloski to “back off the polarizing threats” and support a “balanced” plan.

Pasloski says the exact same thing, although he has very different ideas of what balanced means and who’s doing the polarizing.

It’s become clear that the Yukon Party won’t support the plan to protect four-fifths of the vast swath of northeast Yukon. And there isn’t much Hanson can do about it.

The Yukon Party warns that protecting the Peel would cost the territory a fortune, because of compensation lawsuits launched by miners. But, if that were such a big concern, the Yukon Party should have banned staking in the area when land-use planning talks started, said Hanson.

And the NDP will continue to push for electoral reform – another issue that the Yukon Party has taken a cool attitude towards.

Fifty nine per cent of Yukoners didn’t support the governing party, said Hanson.

“I think people are looking for change. I just can’t stand the same old way of doing stuff.”

Under Todd Hardy, the NDP collaborated with Dennis Fentie’s Yukon Party to pass laws to evict accused drug dealers and ban smoking in the workplace.

But Hardy and Fentie were on friendly terms, dating back to Fentie’s stint as a member of the NDP.

No such relationship exists between Hanson and Pasloski. She’s asked him to meet since he became premier, to no avail.

“There seems to be a problem with the Yukon Party’s functioning telephone,” said Hanson.

“I’ve yet to have a sit-down conversation with him. And that’s not because I haven’t tried.”

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