Ombudsman job made permanent

Something bizarre happened in the Yukon legislature on Wednesday: MLAs from all three political parties actually agreed on something.

Something bizarre happened in the Yukon legislature on Wednesday: MLAs from all three political parties actually agreed on something.

An NDP-sponsored bill to make the Yukon’s ombudsman a permanent position received unanimous support.

Since the Yukon’s Ombudsman Act became law in 1996, it’s been limited by a sunset clause that calls on the law to be repealed within five years, unless MLAs decide to grant it an extension. The NDP’s amendment, which is expected to receive final reading in the coming weeks, will remove this sunset clause.

“This is another example of this government’s willingness to co-operate,” said Premier Darrell Pasloski. “We’ve said that we don’t have a monopoly on all the good ideas and we certainly will consider ideas from wherever they come from on either side of this house.”

The ombudsman’s job is to ferret out unfairness within government.

There’s no need for too much celebration, though. The change only enacts half of a recommendation by Tracy-Anne McPhee, the outgoing ombudsman.

In her last annual report, McPhee called for the sunset clause to be removed and replaced “with a requirement to review the act on a regular basis to consider if any amendments are needed.”

The NDP didn’t pursue this, however, perhaps in order to ensure government support.

“If the government wants to bring about an amendment to mandate a legislative review, we would be in support,” said the NDP’s Jan Stick. Government members didn’t take up the offer.

McPhee had also called on the government to make changes to the Ombudsman Act that she recommended in the autumn of 2010. So far, that hasn’t happened.

And McPhee had long called for the job to be better funded. Currently, the ombudsman also serves as the access to information commissioner. The combined role is a half-time job.

McPhee recommended making it a full-time job, but government MLAs have so far refused.

McPhee’s term recently expired. The Yukon’s new ombudsman is Tim Koepke, a veteran land-claims negotiator.

Fox Lake planning begins

Work has started to create a local area plan for the Fox Lake area, which stretches from north of Deep Creek on the Klondike Highway to Little Fox Lake.

The area’s faced development pressure in recent years, as the number of spot land applications has grown. Since 2005, the area has seen the approval of two agricultural parcels and eight residential lots. Another eight residential applications are under consideration.

The plan “provides local residents with the opportunity to influence the decisions that are made about the use of land within their community while ensuring that other public interests, such as protection of trails and green-space, are addressed,” said Energy, Mines and Resources Minister Brad Cathers.

A local steering committee will be struck over the next few months. The planning process will involve “extensive consultation with all members of the community.”

Local area plans help guide development in unincorporated communities. Unlike Whitehorse’s official community plan, local use plans are merely guidelines, rather than firm rules to be followed.

Five local area plans have been completed in the greater Whitehorse area – Deep Creek, Hotsprings Road, Ibex Valley, Mount Lorne and Golden Horn. Plans for West Dawson, Carcross and Marsh Lake are underway.

Leef and Lang celebrate

end to gun registry

As the federal gun registry met its demise earlier this month, cheering could be heard from the Yukon’s representatives in both chambers of Parliament.

“A promise made is now a promise kept. We will no longer punish the law-abiding for the acts of the lawless,” said MP Ryan Leef in an April 4 release, after the bill to kill the registry became law.

Two days earlier, Yukon Senator Dan Lang kicked off final reading of the bill. As he did so, he told senators the bill had special significance for his home territory.

“For those of us who live in remote northern settings, we felt the registry was discriminatory to all our residents, aboriginal and nonaboriginal. We view our long guns as a necessary, day-to-day tool, not unlike the tractor that a farmer uses to plow his field.

“In this context, the debate on the long-gun registry has never been absent from the political discourse in Yukon for the past 17 years.”

Lang described the registry as a costly waste of money. “It has not made Canadians safer,” he said.

Long-gun owners will still need to obtain a gun licence and handguns will still need to be registered.

“We need to continue to take measures to keep guns out of the wrong hands,” said Lang. “That is what our licensing procedure does. However, it has been proven that the registry simply does not achieve this goal.”

The federal government has promised to destroy the gun registry’s data. But this plan has been held up by Quebec’s Supreme Court, as the province fights to obtain the data for its own use.

Lang is opposed to the data surviving. It’s too incomplete and inaccurate to be of good use, and only fosters a false sense of security among police who use it, he said.

“It is clear that the long-gun registry is the database and it all must be eliminated if we are to do away with the long-gun registry. I want to be clear that the private, personal information in that registry that was sent by individual Canadians should not be kept or transferred to another level of government.”

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