Yukon women in politics

Pat Duncan struggled to control her emotions Thursday as she spoke about the role of women in politics.

Pat Duncan struggled to control her emotions Thursday as she spoke about the role of women in politics.

“As difficult as the choice might be at times for women, we run to make a difference,” the former premier and MLA for Porter Creek South said in the house, in a voice choked with emotion.

All MLAs seek to make a difference and improve society, she said.

But women face “unique challenges.”

“Combining motherhood and politics is just one of them.

“We also have something in common. There are too few of us in legislatures throughout Canada and in the House of Commons.”

So Duncan and her two female colleagues, Tourism minister Elaine Taylor and Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Lorraine Peter, are taking a new approach to collaborative governance by creating a caucus free of masculine influences.

They founded a “non-partisan women’s caucus” in recent weeks, after Speaker Ted Staffen asked them to attend a women’s parliament at a national conference in Ottawa in July.

Within an hour of their first meeting with Staffen, the women decided they needed to get together more often — just the three of them.

“The one regret is that we haven’t met sooner,” said Peter, a New Democrat.

“We recognized immediately that there was a common ground among us,” she said Tuesday.

“The first piece of common ground was our roles as caregivers as mothers, and I am a grandmother, and our shared frustration with the sitting hours, specifically with a 6 p.m. adjournment.”

Taylor, the Yukon Party MLA for Whitehorse West, made the first motion on behalf of the women’s caucus Tuesday afternoon.

The women want the daily sittings of the legislative assembly to end at 5:30 p.m., rather than 6 p.m.

“This is really about family and the recognition of the importance of family and making accommodation for family while serving the people of the Yukon,” said Taylor.

“If passed, this change would be effective the next sitting day after the motion is adopted, which would be Monday, May 15 — ironically, the day after Mother’s Day.”

Nova Scotia is the only other Canadian jurisdiction that has a women’s caucus, she added.

There are lots of situations where families are not well served by the hours demanded of a parent or spouse who holds a public office, said Duncan.

“Six o’clock is a time, for many of us, when activities start,” she said.

“In the wintertime, we’re looking at things like power skating or soccer, and later on in the evening it’s about homework as well.

“It’s not about a mother’s or grandmother’s perspective. Really, it’s about family.”

The three MLAs hinted at other possible reforms to the house standing orders.

They wouldn’t give specifics, but the women’s caucus will likely try to keep MLAs on their best behaviour, to mind their manners and play nice.

After all, if the motion passes the assembly will lose two hours of debate each week, so there’s no time for squabbling.

“It’s not about getting off of work a half-hour early,” said Duncan.

“It’s about instilling discipline in our debate to ensure the public’s business is accomplished within a period of time that recognizes the work-life balance we encourage all citizens to seek.”

Only Economic Development minister Jim Kenyon voted against the motion, saying an unusual number of his constituents — mostly women — urged him not to support it.

“I have a problem with the half-hour of debate we’ll lose each day,” said Kenyon.

However, “I support the idea,” he said.

“I don’t think (the motion) goes far enough.”

One expensive paperweight

The Economic Development department paid $440,000 in 2004 to buy the “Red Line” train, also known as the rail bus, from White Pass and Yukon Route.

The deal gave White Pass the option to lease the train back from the government for $20,000 a year, for two years.

White Pass exercised the option and paid the money in 2005, but not in 2006, focusing instead on upgrading service between Carcross and the south end of Bennett Lake.

“We don’t need it, that’s why we sold it in the first place,” said Michael Brandt, vice-president of marketing for White Pass.

“We restored engine 96, the last diesel locomotive that we had, and that’s what we’re running in to Bennett to pick up the hikers.

“As we can, we’re going to run charters into Carcross for sure for this year, and we’re working on scheduled service for 2007.”

White Pass has spent $6.5 million on upgrades to the on the Canadian side of its track since 1999, he added.

But the 22-passenger rail bus the government bought continues to sit in a shed in Carcross, like a “$440,000 paperweight,” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

The Liberals support economic development, but “what we don’t support is paying over $400,000 for a train that has sat in a shed for the past two years,” said Mitchell.

“I wonder how many nights the community outreach van could have run on the $440,000 that this government has spent on a train that has not left the station.”

Kenyon insists the investment is worthwhile.

The government spent $420,000 on an asset valued between $1 million and $2 million, according to valuations from his department, he said Thursday.

Eventually, the vintage rail bus will run, perhaps on an extended Whitehorse waterfront or between Carcross and Bennett, he said.

Furthermore, the initial $440,000 payment helped bring jobs to 37 people in Carcross, who worked on upgrades to the Carcross-Bennett track, said Kenyon.

“I think we get a good picture of where (Mitchell) is coming from, what his vision of economic development is,” Kenyon said last week.

“We shouldn’t have done it; we should have left the 37 people on social assistance.”

Kenyon later backpedaled from that comment.

“I certainly did not imply that anyone or all or any percentage (of the 37 Carcross workers) was on social assistance,” he said Monday.

“But the reality is that that train, worth many times the price that we paid for it — virtually all of the money went into 37 seasonally employed workers and promoted Carcross.”

Lang responds

Opposition members can clamour all they like — Archie Lang feels he has cleared himself of any potential conflict regarding his outfitting business.

Lang, the Resources minister, declared his ownership of Devilhole Outfitters the first day the Yukon Party took office in 2002, he said.

“I’ve never been involved in any decision making on anything about outfitting,” Lang said Friday.

Outfitting is part of the Environment portfolio, he said.

But Lang’s department is responsible for land dispositions.

And his department released a new policy last year that gives big game outfitters tenure on small parcels of Crown land.

“But it’s handled by Environment,” said Lang.

“I couldn’t be minister of Environment for that reason.

“They have responsibility for outfitters.”

When the issue comes up in cabinet, “I always leave the room,” he said.

“That’s just common sense.”

Opposition members have asked Lang to table his advice from the Yukon’s conflicts commissioner, as minister Glenn Hart did after he excused himself from any land development decisions, since his ownership of shares in the Meadow Lakes Golf Course raises a potential conflict of interest.

“I don’t have a letter from the conflicts commissioner,” said Lang.

“My situation has not changed.

“I have a conflict where it involves the outfitting business, and it’s all part and parcel of my yearly declaration.”