NDP Leader Kate White in Whitehorse on Oct. 3, 2019. The Yukon government declared a climate emergency on Oct. 10, following a successful Liberal motion amendment by White, who urged the Yukon government to make the declaration. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon government declares climate emergency

The call was made after a successful amendment by the NDP

The Yukon government has declared a climate emergency.

MLAs voted 16-0 in favour of the motion, which had been amended by the NDP, in the legislative assembly on Oct. 10.

The amendment, the work of NDP Leader Kate White, urged the Yukon government to declare a climate emergency. In theory, Premier Sandy Silver would need to take a stand and call one himself in order to make it official.

Silver voted in favour of the amended motion, and cabinet communications director Sunny Patch confirmed to the News that a declaration had, in fact, been made shortly afterwards.

White called it the “biggest thing that’s happened” in her political career.

While largely symbolic, she said it will affect how decisions are made going forward.

“Everything now should include the lens of climate change. This is huge. This means that Yukon, by making the declaration to declare a climate emergency, it won’t be business as usual. It means that government will making decisions based on climate and climate change and crisis that we’re in.”

Following the vote, Liberal MLAs, including Richard Mostyn and Pauline Frost, claimed on social media that a declaration was made in the throne speech on Oct. 3.

“This government recognizes that there is a climate emergency,” is how Yukon Commissioner Angélique Bernard phrased it then.

“That is not declaring a climate emergency,” White said. “That is a way different thing. The declaration is a statement. It is a big deal.”

The original Liberal motion didn’t include declaring a climate emergency until White added in the line calling for such.

John Streicker, minister of community services, suggested the Yukon government had already declared a climate emergency during the throne speech, too.

“We had felt that was making the same statement,” he said in the legislative assembly.

However, he said he’s happy to have the amendment, with the caveat that this is a springboard to do more work.

“This is a moment to mark, but it’s also true that it’s not a good occasion in the sense that we’re facing this challenge and that we really do need to respond. There is this bittersweet notion,” he said, noting that action needs to happen across all departments.

“I am just so very happy to see every member of this legislature at this point — and accepting the criticisms that are coming from across the way that it is time for us to do more to act and move forward as a territory.”

The Yukon Party’s interim leader Stacey Hassard and Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee didn’t vote on the motion. McPhee has been absent from the legislative assembly for personal reasons. Hassard was present for question period, but didn’t vote because McPhee wasn’t able to, a process called pairing.

White said the Yukon is the first provincial or territorial government to declare a climate emergency.

The House of Commons in Ottawa recently passed a motion to declare one.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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