Public accounts committee revived

The Public Accounts Committee is expected to meet for the first time in more than six months on November 14.

The Public Accounts Committee is expected to meet for the first time in more than six months on November 14.

The committee has not met since March, when its chair, Arthur Mitchell, quit in protest.

The committee’s government members used their majority to block a review of a report by Canada’s auditor general on the Yukon government’s $35.2 million investment in asset-backed commercial paper, said Mitchell, who is also leader of the Liberal opposition.

Fellow Liberal Don Inverarity also resigned in protest.

With no chair, the committee couldn’t meet.

But Mitchell’s resignation was never official.

To be so, a motion would have needed to pass in the House to accept his resignation. That never happened.

Pressure mounted this week for the committee to resume work.

Todd Hardy, leader of the NDP, put forward a motion on Monday that would require the committee to meet four times a year. It would also financially penalize members who don’t appear at meetings.

The committee’s work is important during this time of global financial uncertainty, he said. He described the deadlock between government and Liberals as “silly games.”

Meanwhile, Premier Dennis Fentie called on Mitchell to either formally resign, and allow new members to be appointed, or do his job as chair.

Fentie also told the House that “there never has been political interference” in the committee. But his words were, at one point, drowned out by the jeers of opposition members.

On Tuesday, Mitchell announced the committee would meet again, in effect rescinding his resignation.

Mitchell said he would try once again to work with government members.

He expects Fentie to stand by his word, he said. He quoted Fentie on Monday, when he said, “we will do our level best to ensure the committee does its good work.”

 “I remain a little skeptical, but after the comments from the premier yesterday I sense that he may in fact be willing to allow his members to participate in a less partisan manner,” Mitchell said in a news release.

The Public Accounts Committee is to meet November 14 at 10 a.m.

Municipal act falls flat: mayors

The new Municipal Act falls short in several important ways, says Bev Buckway, president of the Association of Yukon Communities.

The association wants the terms served by councillors and mayors extended to four years from three. The new act, tabled this week, includes no such changes.

Extended terms are important because these days municipal politicians spend more money on increasingly complex projects than ever before, said Buckway.

“There’s definitely a learning curve. When you have an extra year in there, it’s an extra year of learning and continuity, that I believe leads to better governance.”

For example, Whitehorse’s new compost cart system has been in the works since Buckway was elected in 2003, she said.

An additional year would let councillors follow more projects through to completion.

By comparison, territorial politicians recently extended their terms to five years from four, she said.

And municipal politicians in at least six provinces now serve four-year terms, said Buckway.

The association also wants new limits on how referendums are conducted. This, is not dealt with in the new act.

Referendums have created headaches for councillors in recent years, in situations where voters have tried to overrule council decisions.

In Dawson City, residents ceased the construction of a sewage treatment plant, which was ordered by the courts, by referendum.

In Whitehorse, residents of McLean Lake have tried to challenge a council decision to allow the construction of a cement plant in their neighbourhood.

These challenges are inappropriate, argues Buckway, because they attempt to override council’s own decision-making processes.

And making tough decisions is the job of municipal councillors.

“If you hold referendums to make the decisions that council is supposed to make, why do you have a council?” she asks.

Well, the woodcutters  are happy…

The Yukon government hopes to mollycoddle the territory’s timber industry through its Forest Resources Act, tabled Monday in the legislature.

But critics have labelled the legislation “little more than a tree-cutting act.”

So says Sue Kemmett, a member of the Yukon Forest Values Focus Group.

Her group is made up of conservationists, former forestry workers, tourism operators and trappers.

They want to see special protection offered to riparian, or stream-side, forests in the bill.

These areas typically hold the biggest trees.

They are also important habitat areas for fish and animals.

Details of the law are to be specified later, in its regulations. But other jurisdictions, such as Alaska and Quebec, include riparian forest protection measures in the laws themselves, because of the importance of such areas, said Kemmett.

“What is needed is a statement of value of riparian forests,” she said. “Then it will all come out in the regulations.”

They’d also like to see mention in the bill’s preamble of the many people who use forests, other than forestry workers.

That would include wilderness tourism operators, trappers, skiiers and hikers.

Such a mention is important, said Kemmett. Otherwise, when regulations are drafted, “their values may not be protected,” she said.

Trappers and wilderness operators want assurance that a buffer of forest will separate them from any logging operations.

Trappers are currently protected by a buffer of 100 metres. They’d like the buffer to be increased to 500 metres, or one kilometre, said Kemmett.

Such protection is currently offered under Yukon’s guidelines for forest harvesting. But the new law will be the first of its kind in the territory.

The territory is expected to begin public consultation on the act’s regulations in the New Year.

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