Yukon Party wields too much power in financial watchdog body: Mitchell

Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell resigned from an important financial watchdog committee seven months ago, but he hasn’t stopped thinking about…

Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell resigned from an important financial watchdog committee seven months ago, but he hasn’t stopped thinking about it.

Mitchell and Liberal MLA Don Inverarity left their seats at the Standing Committee on Public Accounts in the spring, believing the Yukon Party majority on the committee was blocking an investigation into $36.5 million frozen in an asset-backed commercial paper investment.

The committee holds tri-party hearings into government spending by questioning witnesses from the bureaucracy about public finances.

But the committee isn’t working, and that means it needs to change, said Mitchell.

The Liberals are proposing a reordering of seats on the committee, removing one of four spots from the Yukon Party and adding it to the NDP, which holds one seat.

Combined with a new NDP member, the Liberals’ two seats would give the opposition a majority on the committee.

“The (Yukon Party) has the ability to prevent anything from being discussed,” said Mitchell.

The Yukon Party can simply prevent a meeting by failing to show for one.

Without a government member, the committee can’t meet quorum for a meeting, said Mitchell.

“I can call a meeting but if nobody from the Yukon Party shows up, there’s no meeting,” he said.

An opposition majority wouldn’t gang up on the government, said Mitchell.

“The public would hold us accountable for that partisanship,” he said.

The committee serves as a financial watchdog.

MLAs established the committee to study how money has been spent, not to make policy, said Mitchell.

Mitchell and Inverarity resigned from the committee in March.

While the two MLAs aren’t actually removed from the committee — that would take a motion in the legislature, which hasn’t happened — Mitchell is the chair and he hasn’t called a meeting.

The Yukon Party was covering up the $36.5-million investment that went sour, said Mitchell.

Intended to be a short-term investment that would mature after several months, the territory is supposed to get its money back over the next eight and a half years under a new restructuring agreement.

Finance Minister Dennis Fentie changed regulations to prevent similar investments.

“But the point is existing regulations should have prevented it,” added Mitchell.

“The public still doesn’t know if (Fentie) was regularly reviewing the investments.”

Cabinet solidarity rules over decisions and that means the Yukon Party can dominate the committee, bending its mandate to their will, said Mitchell

The poor investment is too sensitive a subject for the government to want to face an investigation, he said.

Changes to the committee would have to be made by the legislature.

If the opposition parties are in agreement, then it only takes one Yukon Party MLA to pass changes, said Mitchell.

“They have a majority, and a proposal would fail without their support,” he said.

“Over the course of time, other parties will take government and have their turn.” 

Despite his resignation, Mitchell believes he speaks with authority on the issue of the debilitated committee.

“I speak with experience,” said Mitchell.

 “I’m trying to break a logjam.”

Calls to the cabinet communications office were not returned by press time.