As far legislative sittings go, this one was fairly routine.
Questions were asked. Bills were passed. Hecklers heckled. Speaker David Laxton scolded.
The biggest conflicts in the territory – the court case over the fate of the Peel watershed and Bill S-6, federal legislation that will amend Yukon’s environmental assessment laws – are now playing out largely outside of the purview of the legislative assembly.
In an interview towards the end of the last sitting day on Thursday, Premier Darrell Pasloski said his biggest successes of the sitting were passing a record capital budget and lowering taxes for Yukoners.
The focus of the budget was on putting Yukoners to work through construction projects today, and building infrastructure that will support the territory into the future, he said.
Income Tax Act amendments will see an estimated $5.5 million in annual tax savings for Yukoners, according to the government.
Opposition parties, however, say that the recent downturn in the territory’s economy is of the Yukon Party’s own making, for failing to co-operate with First Nations, municipalities, organizations and the community at large.
“A government that’s basically trying to skate across the top as though there’s nothing going on, and the reality is that we’ve got a challenged economy and we’ve got more challenges coming down the road with the confrontational approach that this government is taking,” said Opposition NDP Leader Liz Hanson.
“They make decisions in silos, and then they’re gobsmacked that this isn’t moving forward,” said Liberal Leader Sandy Silver.
“Here is a government that says they’re pro-industry, says they’re pro-mining, but yet they keep making these solutions on their own – this father-knows-best or my-way-or-the-highway – and they’re just not learning from these mistakes, so I think it’s time for new leadership.”
The opposition leaders pointed out examples including the ongoing fight over the Peel, threats from First Nations to sue over Bill S-6, and the City of Whitehorse’s thwarting of a new soccer complex because it says it was not sufficiently consulted by Yukon government on the plans.
“How do you mess up giving a soccer field to a municipality?” asked Silver. “By making all these decisions on your own and then expecting everybody else to stand around, change bylaws, do all these things. And it’s like, you can’t do that. You gotta work more with the communities.”
Pasloski, for his part, says the criticism from the NDP and the Liberals amount to a “tactic to promote uncertainty and discord” for their own political gain.
“We can call them the Liberal and the NDP, or we can call them the Liberal/NDP coalition – I’ve even called them the NDP and the NDP Lite – because essentially, we continue to hear the same thing from the opposition benches.”
He said there are many examples of areas where the Yukon government is working co-operatively with other governments, which have filled hours of speeches in the legislature.
There is “a lot of great work that occurs every day with First Nations, with municipal governments, that goes unreported and really without a lot of interest by the media,” he said.
It’s true that the Yukon government funds and supports First Nation and municipal initiatives through various departments and avenues.
But in the meantime, decisions made by this staunchly pro-industry government have led to a situation where nearly a quarter of the territory is off-limits to new mineral staking because of conflict with three First Nations over the Peel to the north and with the Ross River Dena Council to the east.
Next down the pipe is likely to be a lawsuit from nearly every Yukon First Nation over changes to environmental legislation that were in large part recommended to the federal government by the Yukon government.
Bill S-6 is all-but-certain to pass unamended, and First Nations have insisted they have their legal artillery armed and at the ready.
This conflict would inject uncertainty to every development project in the Yukon, possibly for years to come.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at