New minister, old news

Leona Aglukkaq, the federal health minister, is touring Canada's three territories to make what's old sound new again.

Leona Aglukkaq, the federal health minister, is touring Canada’s three territories to make what’s old sound new again.

She visited Whitehorse on Monday to help the Conservative government try to squeeze goodwill from northerners by repackaging two previously made announcements.

One, that the feds will spend $10 million to clean up drinking water in some of Yukon’s smallest communities, was first made during the federal budget speech in late January.

Another tidbit, that Ottawa will slosh $60 million in gas-tax money across the territory from 2010 to 2014, was announced more than a year ago, in March of 2008.

It’s all old news. But that didn’t stop Aglukkaq, Nunavut’s new member of Parliament, from staging a tour of Canada’s territorial capitals, beginning with Whitehorse before proceeding to Yellowknife on Tuesday and Iqaluit on Wednesday.

Inside Yukon’s legislative lobby, she was joined by Archie Lang, Yukon’s Public Works minister. They proceeded to sign important-looking pieces of paper while photographers snapped shots.

It remains unclear exactly what they signed, because the deal to extend the gas-tax transfer was supposed to have been signed in March of 2008.

There’s even a picture of Premier Dennis Fentie signing the deal up on the federal government’s website.

But the feds clearly feel $60 million is worth more than one photo-op. So members of Aglukkaq’s entourage handed out news releases that lauded a new, “landmark agreement” to extend the gas-tax transfer.

Gas-tax money is doled out to municipalities to help fix crumbling infrastructure. It usually helps pay for projects that involve water treatment. From 2005 to 2010, Yukon received $37.5 million from the fund, said Lang.

The amount Yukon receives from the fund is to double to $15 million annually from $7.5 million, beginning in 2010.

The other old news involves the treatment of drinking water with high levels of arsenic to comply with new federal rules that come into effect in 2011.

Arsenic treatment will be provided for the water supplies of the Village of Haines Junction, the Village of Teslin, the Carcross/Tagish First Nations and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.

A pilot project to remove arsenic from water in Ross River will also be converted into a full-scale treatment system.

As well, Carcross will receive additional treatment for its drinking water, which is drawn from surface water. And Marsh Lake will get a new water treatment system at Army Beach.

Andy Carvill, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, gave the water treatment announcements a lukewarm greeting, saying it had been “a long time coming.”

Government help has been so slow that last year, volunteers from the Canadian Auto Workers helped repair water wells for the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, which had faced a water-boil advisory for two years.

Most chiefs want to see federal money flow directly to First Nation governments, and to cut out the Yukon government as a middleman, Carvill added.

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