Yukon Forum debate sours

Yukon's legislative assembly has little to show for a 3.5-hour debate on co-operation with First Nations.

Yukon’s legislative assembly has little to show for a 3.5-hour debate on co-operation with First Nations.

Wednesday’s motion was brought forward by interim Liberal Leader Sandy Silver, and it urged the government to set a date for the next Yukon Forum.

The forum was established in 2006 by the Cooperation in Governance Act.

Its purpose is for Yukon and First Nation governments to “discuss issues of common concern and identify opportunities and common priorities for co-operative action,” according to the act.

The act also specifies that four meetings of the forum will be held each year, unless more or fewer are agreed upon.

But only one forum has been held since Premier Darrell Pasloski’s Yukon Party government came to power in the fall of 2011.

The government announced it had reached a new resource royalty deal in October 2012, and said the details would come out at the next Yukon Forum.

The deal has still not been finalized.

Chiefs gathered in Whitehorse in December of 2012 under the expectation that a Yukon Forum would take place. None did.

The premier later said that no formal notification of a forum had been given, and the chiefs had gathered independently for a separate meeting.

In the legislature Wednesday, Pasloski said that the forum was intended to be a place to celebrate co-operation, not work towards it.

“The forum was not intended to be a hall of debate. Certainly constructive debate is a component of forum discussions, as it is a component of most government-to-government discussions. But the forum was never intended to be a venue for parties to air their grievances against one another. It was intended to be a venue in which to celebrate our mutual successes, move forward our shared opportunities and agree on shared priorities. That is what the Yukon Forum is.”

He listed, at length, work that continues in other areas of government in co-operation with First Nations.

Pasloski also criticized the motion for failing to acknowledge that it is not up to the government to unilaterally set a date for the forum.

Accordingly, he proposed an amendment to the motion so that it would instead urge the government to work with First Nations to plan for the next forum.

Despite the fact that no member of the assembly took strong issue with the amendment, debate grew increasingly heated.

Speaker David Laxton called the heckling in the room “minor” when Yukon Party MLA Mike Nixon became distracted by it.

“If it draws your attention, that’s unfortunate, but I would ask you to speak to me and ignore the heckling,” said Laxton. “Imagine the difficulty you would have if you were in the House of Commons with 308 people constantly talking and heckling.”

But only minutes later, Laxton felt the heckling became disruptive enough to intervene.

“There is quite an amount of heckling going on, on both sides. The heckling is not part of the discussion or the debate at hand. It doesn’t help. It doesn’t lead to anything positive on both sides of the House.”

When a member threw a pen and gestured in Laxton’s direction, he had quite enough.

“Throwing your pen and gesturing like that when I’m in the middle of making a statement … I take offence to that. That’s directed at me personally. Please have your seat. … I’m going to caution everybody right now. My foot is sore. I’m irritated. The actions of the members in this assembly are at an all-time low right now with this debate and there is no need for it. Choose your words carefully. Think before you speak.”

Debate adjourned at 5:30 p.m., before a vote could be called on the motion.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at