Housing, energy, education and justice were points of discussion at the all-leaders forum on Yukon First Nations issues on April 1.
Sandy Silver, Currie Dixon and Kate White represented the Liberal Party, Yukon Party and New Democratic Party, respectively. The debate was hosted by the Council of Yukon First Nations and streamed live.
Silver said the Liberal Party’s three greatest priorities are mental wellness and addictions, reconciliation and housing.
Silver pledged $70 million for mental wellness and addiction support services. He also promised a wet shelter program, on-the-land treatment centre and safe drug supply.
“This is very innovative, and these programs are going to significantly reduce the deaths that are related to the opioid crisis,” Silver said.
Regarding energy, Silver said his party has doubled the Yukon’s renewable energy generation in the last five years. The Liberals’ 10-year renewable energy plan will explore hydraulic energy and upgrades to the transmission system. He slammed the Yukon Party’s promise to freeze power rates, saying that “if you freeze rates now, someone’s going to have to pay for it later.”
Addressing housing, Silver said his party is committed to releasing 1,000 lots and 800 units across the Yukon in partnership with private business.
When asked to address the overrepresentation of First Nations people in the criminal justice system, Silver said aftercare is essential to stop the cycle of reincarceration. He promised funding toward treatment centres, but said partnerships with First Nations are more important than government funding.
When asked to list his priorities, Dixon also highlighted partnerships with First Nation governments, as well as education and affordability for young families.
Success rates among Indigenous youth in the education system is a particular point of concern within education, Dixon said. The leader suggested that an Indigenous academy and more First Nations self-determination in the education system could boost learning outcomes. Different solutions will be required for each community, he added.
Regarding energy, Dixon promised to freeze power rates for two years and limit dramatic spikes in cost. He also promised the construction of a new energy generation facility, rather than renting diesel generators, and retrofitting programs for homeowners to advance renewable electricity use.
Dixon said his party will combat the housing crisis by working with First Nations governments to develop settlement land and encourage private sector development. He also promised a reintroduction of the first-time home buyer program, and a new first-time land-buyer program.
Addressing the overrepresentation of First Nations in the justice system, Dixon linked the issue to addictions and mental wellness.
“I think we need to view those issues as health issues and not just justice issues, and really take a holistic approach to them,” Dixon said.
White highlighted housing, health, climate and the environment as her party’s three priorities.
The leader pledged a cap on rent increases as well as partnerships with First Nations and development corporations to build additional housing.
She said her party is committed to eradicating homelessness. She also suggested that a housing authority would help homes recirculate the market at modest prices.
White said her party is committed to protecting at least 25 per cent of Yukon’s land and water by 2025, with an increase of 30 per cent by 2030.
Regarding energy, White said the Yukon government should look at energy infrastructure as an investment similar to highways, buildings and programming, with funding that would lighten costs for Yukoners.
When asked about overrepresentation of First Nations people in the criminal justice system, White said larger issues of poverty and addiction need to be addressed. Without support, people who are released on conditions often wind up incarcerated again, she said.
“When we ask someone with an alcohol addiction not to drink, but without giving them any supports or safe housing to go to after, the challenge is you fall back into the same patterns,” White said.
The debate is available in its entirety on the event’s Facebook page.
Contact Gabrielle Plonka at firstname.lastname@example.org