The Yukon Party has accused the government of attempting to force a “gag order” on the Yukon Fish and Game Association after planning to cut its annual contribution to the organization’s budget by 25 per cent.
The government has previously funded the association at a rate of approximately $80,000 per year. In the current fiscal year the funding allotment was cut back to $70,000. The second year of the current two-year contract sees funding reduced again down to $60,000, representing around a 25 per cent cut from 2019.
“We’re a bit puzzled by the cuts, honestly, because we do have a really good working relationship with the Department of Environment, and we work well with them,” said Eric Schroff, executive director of the Yukon Fish and Game Association.
Schroff said he was told the department wanted to generally reduce funding to non-profits, but he hasn’t heard that echoed from other groups.
“Those funds help us do many, many things. So when we get a reduction in our funding, we’ve got two choices: we reduce our activities, or we work hard to raise money elsewhere to fill the gap,” he said.
“This year with COVID, just like many other non-profits, we’re in a position where we can’t do our traditional fundraising activities. So it really, really hits this year.”
Schroff said last year the funds contributed to funding five student positions at the fish ladder and in salmon conservation efforts. He pointed out that the association works closely with the department when it holds workshops on outdoor education and family recreation programs.
In the legislature on Nov. 24 Environment Minister Pauline Frost said the department must balance many organizations that are funded.
“We have given them sufficient resources within the budget,” Frost said. “If, through this exercise, it’s deemed insufficient, we will continue to work with them, and we would like to work with the department and work with the association as we go through this fiscal year to determine the efforts that are put forward and whether or not we can increase the resources.”
In the House, MLA Wade Istchenko also raised concern that the original contribution agreement provided to the Fish and Game Association included a new clause that would require communications from the association be approved by the department.
“The clause basically would have required us to contact the department, specifically the director of communications, if we were going to make any public comments about the actions or activities of the Department of Environment,” Schroff said. “It would have been virtually impossible for us to conduct our advocacy and conservation work.”
Schroff said the clause was eventually negotiated out of the contract, and replaced with an agreement to notify the fish and wildlife director prior to the association actively engaging on an issue that involves the department.
“To me, that’s a collegial and professional way of doing things,” he said. “We ended up at a good place but we had to do some good negotiation, and ultimately collaborate with the environment department on this. So we got a good spot, but it started out a little rocky.”
Istchenko wasn’t so forgiving in his criticism.
He called the clause in the agreement a “gag order” and suggested it, along with the budget cuts, were a reaction to the association’s decision to challenge and criticize government decisions.
On Dec. 6, 2019 the Yukon Fish and Game Association addressed a letter to the deputy Environment Minister opposing suggested changes to the moose and caribou hunting regulation.
In August the non-profit also released a letter directed at Frost and Premier Sandy Silver asking for the government to clarify its position on hunting bans implemented by First Nations in the 2020 hunting season.
“This gag order was aimed at preventing the Yukon Fish and Game Association from speaking up on behalf of its members – which is their right – and criticizing decisions that it felt weren’t in the best interests of its members,” Istchenko said.
Frost responded by saying the government has a “collaborative approach” with partners.
“Certainly, the objective of this government is not to put a gag order on any organization or any individual,” Frost said.
“Members – my friends – are part of the Yukon Fish and Game Association and they also provide advice to this government. I continue to look forward to their input and their collaboration,” she said.
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