Ottawa shooting casts shadow on Yukon legislative opening

This Wednesday's shooting in Ottawa and Monday's targeted hit-and-run in Quebec weighed heavily on the opening Yukon legislative sitting yesterday.

This Wednesday’s shooting in Ottawa and Monday’s targeted hit-and-run in Quebec weighed heavily on the opening Yukon legislative sitting yesterday.

The day began with a moment of silence for the two Canadians soldiers killed in the separate attacks.

The public noticed beefed-up security measures to enter the gallery, with more guards at the entrance.

Reporters were told they will have to show identification to enter the press gallery in the future.

Leaders from the three parties rose to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers.

“As we have seen, there are those whose hatred and fear of freedom and democracy compels them to seek to destroy us,” said Premier Darrell Pasloski. “This is not an abstraction either. The threats are real and we must be vigilant. We will not be intimidated or silenced. We will not flinch in the face of evil.”

Pasloski also tabled a motion urging the Yukon government to show unity in supporting the federal government’s commitment to help fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and to recognize the personal contributions of soldiers and veterans.

Opposition parties presented their own motions calling on the federal government to reverse recent cuts to Veterans Affairs office and do more to support the well being of soldiers after they come home.

“As we prepare for another military action, I wonder and I hope: Are we prepared to support our veterans as they return from active duty?” asked Liberal Leader Sandy Silver in his tribute.

 

Affordable housing money to fund Salvation Army

The minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation, Brad Cathers, got a little ahead of himself during question period, spilling the beans that some of the unspent Northern Housing Trust money will go towards a planned expansion of the Salvation Army shelter, ahead of an official announcement.

“The remaining amount in the northern housing trust account of $11.5 million, which has not been announced for allocation, will include a contribution to the Salvation Army project,” he said.

A cabinet spokesperson confirmed this to be true, but declined to provide any further details.

The government has been sitting on the money since 2006. It was intended “to meet short-term pressures with regard to the supply of affordable housing in the North,” according to federal government documents.

A much-publicized plan to build new affordable rentals in Whitehorse with the money was quashed at the last minute earlier this year, after developers had spent tens of thousands of dollars on proposals, because of a backlash from the real estate and landlord associations.

“Does the minister understand the difference between affordable rental housing and social housing?” asked NDP MLA Kate White in her follow-up question.

“Does the member understand that, in fact, the majority of Whitehorse area landlords are little landlords who own one or two rental units?” responded Cathers. “These are people who, in many cases, depend upon the income from a rental unit to help pay the mortgage on their home.”

In an interview yesterday, White said that while vacancy rates may be slightly up, affordability of units has not changed.

Indeed, according to the most recent statistics Whitehorse rental rates remain at record high levels.

Cathers’ assertion that small-time landlords can’t afford cheaper rates does not give them enough credit, said White.

“His essential insinuation is that they are inept at their own money management.”

White has talked to many people who rent out one or two units, and “they’ll tell you that they took a risk when they got into the market,” she said.

“I just wonder if they, collectively as a group, have ever sat down and talked to someone who makes $12-15 an hour,” said White.

“Do they understand what that reality is? How precariously people are housed?”

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver has called on the premier to remove Cathers from the housing file over the ongoing affordable housing bungle.

“Plenty of time has passed for the minister responsible to find a way to spend this money and to address the obvious need in our territory and he has failed to do so,” he said during question period.

“My question is to the premier: How long does he intend to allow the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation to fumble around on this file before replacing him?”

Unsurprisingly, the premier showed no interest in the proposal. He did not address the competency of the minister in either of his replies, and instead spoke generally to the government’s accomplishments.

 

Government feels heat on environmental assessments

NDP Leader Liz Hanson took the premier to task for supporting planned amendments to Yukon’s environmental assessment regime that would give a federal minister new powers to dictate the process.

“Eleven years ago, devolution gave the Yukon government province-like powers for land and resource management. This was an important step in Yukon’s history and crucial in Yukon’s ability to determine our own future, a future grounded in respectful relationships among Yukon First Nation governments and the Yukon government,” said Hanson during question period.

“With these proposed amendments to what is a made-in-Yukon environmental assessment process, YESAA, it’s no longer ours. The Yukon Party has said it is satisfied to go backward, back to a time before the new relationship between First Nations and the Yukon government was forged in land claim agreements.

“Can the premier explain why 21 years after the Umbrella Final Agreement was signed, he now thinks we should return to the past and why he supports legislation that would again allow a federal minister in Ottawa to dictate how environmental assessments will or will not be carried out in Yukon?”

In his responses, Pasloski said that policy direction from the federal minister will reduce uncertainty and delays.

“Policy direction provided has to be consistent with YESAA,” he said. “It has to be consistent with the Umbrella Final Agreement and, in fact, all of the individual land claims and other pieces of Yukon legislation.”

First Nation participation in the process is guaranteed, and final agreements take precedence over other pieces of legislation, he said.

“This legislation is good for Yukon. These amendments are good for Yukon. This creates certainty for industry. It creates opportunities for jobs and that’s good for Yukon families.”

 

NDP calls for action on recycling

With Raven Recycling shuttering its free public drop off last week, more recyclables will inevitably end up in the landfill until a solution can be reached.

“Why is the government dragging its feet to the point where many recyclables are now heading straight to the landfill?” asked NDP MLA Kevin Barr during question period.

The government tabled two motions related to recycling, both promising action that it has already committed to.

One related to planned changes to the beverage container regulations and new recycling fees for some tires and electronics. The other promised that more money will go to recycling processors as a result of these changes.

Raven has said that these changes have not come soon enough, and that recycling fees on some products to subsidize the processing of others is not an ideal solution.

Community Services Minister Brad Cathers said the government continues to work towards a permanent solution.

“Our focus is working with the City of Whitehorse in particular to identify sustainable, long-term, cost-effective solutions for processing recyclables in the Yukon. I would encourage the member to actually look to the fact and recognize that the Yukon government has contributed significantly to Raven Recycling and other recycling agencies, including the recycling depots in communities, in promotion of recycling throughout the years and we will continue to do so.”

 

Senior’s fuel rebate to be restricted by income

The Yukon government tabled a bill that will restrict a subsidy for seniors to help with home heating costs to those whose income falls under a certain benchmark.

Currently any Yukon senior age 65 or older can apply to the Pioneer Utility Grant if they are responsible for paying heating costs at a residence they own or pay market rates to rent.

The income benchmark is not set in the new act, and would be set by subsequent regulations.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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