Throne speech lacking: opposition

The government’s focus has changed. In term two, climate change, therapeutic courts, and disabled children are among the stated priorities of…

The government’s focus has changed.

In term two, climate change, therapeutic courts, and disabled children are among the stated priorities of Premier Dennis Fentie’s government.

The government is getting “serious about climate change,” he said in a throne speech opening the 32nd Yukon legislature. The speech was read by commissioner Geraldine Van Bibber.

The government will introduce a therapeutic court to the justice system, increase support to children with disabilities, streamline the process for doling out Crown land for development, increase “capacity” among Yukon First Nations and even deliver a tax break in the 12-day sitting before Christmas.

“Essentially it is building on the groundwork we laid through the course of our last mandate,” Fentie told a news conference following the throne speech.

“This is going to be a very aggressive type of mandate for us, in getting our work done,” he said.

“In 2002, the election was much about economic leadership. The territory was in a total mess when it came to our economy.

“That’s been turned around. Now we want to focus on what other priorities are for Yukoners.”

Fentie said Yukoners voted for continuity in the recent election, and that the Yukon Party was the first to win a second mandate since 1989.

But aside from some muted optimism about the throne speech, opposition critics noted several issues the speech neglected.

“In advance, I thought I had to try to find a balance between disappointment and being positive, but there was so little there,” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

“It was seven pages. It was more noticeable by what wasn’t there than by what was.”

Fentie didn’t make commitments to address the Yukon’s “woefully outdated” social assistance rates, a new correctional facility, a new school in Copper Ridge, changes to access to information and outdated landlord and tenant legislation, and several other issues, said Mitchell.

And his speech didn’t mention outstanding legislative items, including long-awaited revisions to workers’ compensation legislation, and the ongoing Children’s Act review, he added.

“They’ve had four years; they could have at least highlighted them,” he said.

“We don’t know whether we’ll see them in the spring — so we’ll have major legislation competing with the budget debate — or are we waiting another year?”

But Fentie’s plan for a therapeutic “problem-solving” court, one that would allow offenders with special challenges to receive treatment, is a positive first step, he said.

“I look forward to see how that’s meant to operate and if it can be beneficial fighting the recidivism rates,” said Mitchell.

Fentie’s rhetoric about the environment and the need to address climate change is a welcome change from his first throne speech in 2003, said acting NDP leader Steve Cardiff.

“I think they’ve finally come around to realizing that Yukoners really care about the environment and the place they live,” he said.

“But the true test is going to be on the actions that they take.”

However, other than Yukon Party awareness of environmental problems, Cardiff was not impressed with Fentie’s speech. It rehashed several commitments made during the last government, he said.

Cardiff was the sole NDP member in the legislature on Thursday.

Leader Todd Hardy is in Vancouver receiving a stem-cell transplant from his sister to treat his leukemia.

And McIntyre-Takhini MLA John Edzerza was attending the Knowing Our Spirits conference in Alberta.

That previous commitment prevented him from attending, said NDP spokesperson Ken Bolton.

Fentie stressed the links between the economy and the environment as the best approach for the Yukon to start addressing climate change, noting again the commitment to build a cold climate research facility at Yukon College.

The research-and-development sector is profitable as well as being key to helping the territory adapt to climate change, he said.

The Yukon Party’s action strategy on climate change is near completion and will go out for public consultation shortly, he added.

 “We’re going to get very serious about climate change,” said Fentie.

All three parties have agreed to limit government business to three bills before the Christmas break — two supplementary budgets and an amendment to the Yukon Tax Act.

 The tax amendments will ensure we are in synch with Canada’s regime, said Fentie.

“But it will certainly provide benefits for Yukon taxpayers,” he said. “It will be in the order of tax reduction.

“These amendments are to ensure that tax reductions that other Canadians will be benefiting from, so will Yukoners.”

Ted Staffen, Yukon Party MLA for Riverdale South, was returned as the Speaker of the legislature.

New legislation and the Yukon Party’s first budget from its second mandate are expected in the spring, said Fentie.