Premier Sandy Silver speaks during Question Period at the last day of the legislature’s spring sitting on April 24. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News)

Yukon legislative assembly wraps up until fall

Group home claims, carbon pricing squabble dominate spring sitting

The spring sitting of the Yukon legislative assembly wrapped up April 24.

In the 30 sitting days Premier Sandy Silver and his Liberal government passed the territory’s 2018-19 budget along with legislation dealing with the legalization of cannabis, making some existing legislation gender-neutral and creating the Order of Yukon.

Group homes

Much of the sitting focused on the treatment of children in government care after multiple government whistleblowers and children themselves came forward alleging mistreatment.

The territorial government is doing an internal review. The Yukon’s Child and Youth Advocate has also promised a review of her own. During the sitting the Liberals used their majority to vote down a motion by the NDP calling for an independent review outside of the advocate.

Health Minister Pauline Frost has fielded many of the questions and sometimes struggled to provide clear answers.

“One thing I will say is we got a lot of responses. However we didn’t seem to ever get two responses that aligned with one another and that’s really disheartening,” said Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard.

Silver acknowledged that his minister has been “taking it on the chin” during what he called the “in-between period of allegations and work being done in the department.”

“The minister, the department and the government, we have to work on the facts and we have to work on what we know internally and what we can do with the reviews with the agencies with the child and youth advocate,” he said.

“But I believe that our minister have been very clear about all of the alleged incidents and the reviews that are happening internally based upon those.”

High-level health department staff held a press conference earlier this month and denied much of what has been alleged by the whistleblowers to the CBC.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson said she believes Frost “may have been misled by public servants, senior public servants, who have clearly been covering up some very serious situations that have been ongoing for some time.”

Instead of fixing the problem Hanson said Yukoners have been given “a series of denials, and that’s not helpful.”

The office of the Child and Youth Advocate announced April 25 it will release the terms of reference for the systemic review of group homes by the end of the week.

While his government is putting its trust in the child and youth advocate’s report Silver refused to say whether the advocate will get any additional funding to do the job.

The advocate’s budget is set by the member service’s board which has representatives from all three political parties.

Silver said he “can’t comment on the committee work, that’s unparliamentary.”

For her part Hanson said the NDP supports giving the advocate funding to bring in outside resources if that’s what she asks for.

“We would fully support that. I hope the Yukon Liberals will,” she said.

Carbon tax

The Yukon Party also used the sitting to try and get more information on plans for the incoming federal carbon tax.

The territorial government has promised to return all of the money it gets to Yukoners and Yukon businesses but the official Opposition has accused the government of misleading Yukoners in terms of how much money they will actually get back.

“We see the tune changing on a daily basis,” Hassard said.

“One day the carbon tax is everybody is getting everything back and the next day they’re not.”

Silver has denied that his promise has changed. The territorial government still hasn’t released any details of what the Yukon’s rebate will actually look like.

Silver said he still needs to wait for more information from Ottawa.

The premier meanwhile took a swing at the opposition for repeatedly asking the same questions about the carbon tax.

“What we hear from the opposition isn’t necessarily a critical and thought out opposition of an alternative. It’s more of a just ‘we don’t believe in this and we don’t think you’re giving the money back.’”

Hassard accused the government of being “thin-skinned.”

“They aren’t willing to accept responsibility for their actions. (There is) this continuance of blaming the previous government.”

Cannabis

One of the bills passed this sitting prepares for the federal legalization of cannabis. When cannabis is legalized the government will run the only shop in the territory. They’ve promised that shop will only be temporary until regulations can be written for private businesses.

It’s still not clear where that government shop will be. The only location offered after a public tender was issued was deemed too expensive. There’s been no announcement yet as to where the new location will be.

Hassard said the government’s plan for cannabis goes against Silver’s promise to “get out of the business of doing business.”

“The first thing they did after making that statement … was come forward with legislation on cannabis where they in fact intend to grow government. So that really shows just how much they understand about business.”

Fibre line

Other announcements which were expected this sitting did not come. As recently as March Silver told the legislative assembly that the government had picked a route for the redundant fibre optic line in the territory. Two paths were being considered, one Dempster route and the other connecting through Alaska.

“We are waiting for just a little bit more info from Ottawa before we can make any announcements, but you can be guaranteed that the route has been picked and the work will be done this summer,” Silver said March 5.

This year’s territorial budget earmarks $11 million for work on the line.

Since then no announcement has come.

“It takes more than one decision. I guess that’s the moral of that story,” Silver said at the press conference following the sitting.

“Again, we’d love to have an announcement right now but this isn’t just one government and it’s also not just one community and it’s dealing with private sector as well. So lots of different things to consider.”

Silver said Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai “is doing a fantastic job of making sure that every box is checked to make sure that when we do make this announcement we will have done the right consultation and we will have done the right procedures and that Yukoners can then reap the benefits of the service.”

There is also no word on the “comprehensive” review of the health department that was promised when Silver announced his budget. He said details on that are coming “very soon.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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