From the archive: Liz Hanson's maiden Yukon Legislative Assembly speech
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand in my place as a Member of the Legislative Assembly representing Whitehorse Centre, to reply to the Speech from the Throne for the 33rd Legislative Assembly.
I congratulate Premier Pasloski and his colleagues for their success in the 2011 election campaign. He and many of his fellow Yukon Party caucus members are new to the Legislative Assembly and new to government. As Leader of the Official Opposition, I look forward to getting to know each of them and to working with each on issues that matter to Yukoners.
The Premier and I have not yet had many occasions to meet, but when we have, we have agreed that one thing we share in common is an understanding that Yukoners expect us to represent them honestly, fairly and collegially.
It is no secret that, as Leader of the Yukon New Democratic Party, my views on many issues will diverge from those of the Premier.
My job and his job is to find bridges between our views so that the interest of all Yukoners is served. The key distinction in our positions is my obligation to all Yukoners to hold the governing party to account on their behalf. I, along with my caucus in the Official Opposition, take this charge seriously.
Under our system of democracy, it is the key role of the opposition to hold those in power to account, to scrutinize legislation, to question their spending priorities and practices, to challenge them to do a better job for Yukoners. A government is wise to listen to the opposition, for we are here to improve a government’s performance. The Yukon NDP has been on both sides of this Legislative Assembly. In opposition, the NDP caucus has a proud history of getting results for the public. In the last nine years, the NDP in opposition has been able to push the government in the right direction on a number of matters — for example, civil forfeiture. Along with the public, the NDP helped convince the previous government not to rush ahead with this controversial plan. The social inclusion strategy — it was really the NDP under Todd Hardy who got this initiative off the ground by pushing for an anti-poverty social inclusion summit. I remind the members opposite of the Smoke-Free Places Act. It is very rare that a private member’s bill becomes law, but the NDP in opposition did just that.
The Yukon public can expect the Official Opposition to take strong stands to be an ethical and positive voice in the Legislative Assembly, to work with the government while holding them accountable to the public. I’m also pleased to welcome back to the Legislative Assembly the Member for Vuntut Gwitchin and to welcome the newly elected Member for Klondike.
I am very proud to be joined in this House by my colleagues in the NDP Official Opposition. To a person, they are dedicated, committed and so very prepared to serve their constituents and all Yukoners as members of a loyal opposition.
Mr. Speaker, when after a 30-year career in public service, I decided three years ago to put my name forward for the leadership of the Yukon New Democratic Party, I anticipated that there would be challenges, but Mr. Speaker, I expected those challenges to be the rough and tumble of politics. The challenges of the last 18 months have been unexpectedly personal as well as political. Less than a year ago, Mr. Speaker, I was a candidate in a by-election for the riding of Whitehorse Centre; a by-election necessitated by the passing of my predecessor, friend and respected colleague, Todd Hardy. Almost five months ago to this day, July 6 to be exact, Mr. Speaker, my trusted friend, colleague and Legislative mentor, Steve Cardiff, was killed in a horrific car crash. On August 22, Yukoners joined Canadians across the country to mourn the death of the national leader of the New Democratic Party, Jack Layton. And yesterday, I joined with friends and family of John Edzerza, a former colleague in this House, to mark his passing. The celebration of his life was that of a man whose life mirrored the challenges often faced by First Nations members of our society.
It has been a challenging time for all New Democrats. I believe Yukon New Democrats have risen to the challenge set by Jack Layton in his letter to Canadians when he asked us all to recommit with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and make sure no one is left behind and continue to move forward to demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve. Like the legendary phoenix, we rise again, renewed and ready to begin again, stronger in our resolve to serve.
Mr. Speaker, I did not face the challenges of the emotional roller coaster of the past 18 months alone. I want to acknowledge the love and support of my husband, Douglas Mowat, who has steadfastly supported my decision to radically change our retirement plans, although I am sure there are days he wishes we were off on some other type of adventure, especially on dark winter days like today. His commitment to social justice is deep and he knows that what I do, I do out of our shared conviction for change that benefits all Yukoners. My daughters, Paula and Sarah, have provided inspiration, love and support and I thank them both. In fact, it was Sarah’s decision to run for election in the 2008 Alberta election as a New Democrat in a rural Alberta riding that led me to reconsider my pursuit of happiness as a retiree.
Doug and I drove down to Camrose to help out in the campaign, something we had never done before. I was born and raised in Alberta. Over the years, I have been aware of the changes occurring in my home province, but I was unprepared for the stark reality of the impact of those changes. Albertans have a reputation for being outspoken risk-takers. The truth is that after many years of domination by one party, the province has become a place of haves and have-nots and a place where the outgoing premier admitted there was no plan and that maybe the frenzied pace of development in the tar sands was a mistake — where the province, 60 years after the beginning of the oil boom, finally completed a framework for land use planning — not a plan, but a framework to guide how to mitigate the damage done in the intervening years of unrestricted development. A province famed for its wide open spaces has become a place where landowners’ rights are trampled daily by industry backed by the government. The atmosphere was one of fear — speaking out might be to risk what little one had. I had the eerie realization that Yukon was on the cusp of falling into the same trap as my home province. I felt, and feel obliged, to stand up and say no — no to bullying Yukoners. That is essentially what I have witnessed the Yukon Party do in the past as government and has done to us as citizens.
So I felt compelled to speak out and to engage with my fellow Yukoners because, as a New Democrat, I know that Yukoners have a collective wisdom that can guide this territory to achieve great things for all Yukoners, not just a select few.
I know this because history has shown that when asked for their views, they respond with enthusiasm and careful thought. Proof of this is the legacy of previous New Democratic governments, which set the foundation for much that we as Yukoners take for granted. Yukoners were asked to share their vision for the Yukon. Not only were they listened to, but their ideas were transformed into real and lasting action, from significant legislation still in place today — such as the Health Act, the Education Act, the Environment Act and human rights legislation — to programs such as the mining incentive program, small business incentive programs, the community development fund, institutions such as Yukon College, the Yukon Arts Centre, the Yukon native teacher education program, and many, many more foundations for good government in Yukon — and all done without once having a government deficit.
I fundamentally believe that Yukoners have much to offer in developing a new vision for the Yukon in the 21st century. It is time to engage in real conversations within and across the Yukon community to create a Yukon that reflects and acknowledges that the very foundations of Yukon have changed with the settlement of most land claims and with the devolution of provincial-like responsibility to the Yukon.
As Leader of the Official Opposition, I have begun that dialogue and will continue to do so over the coming months and years.
Mr. Speaker, I am both humbled and proud to stand here as a New Democrat, as the Leader of the Official Opposition and as MLA for Whitehorse Centre. The legacy of dedicated New Democrat representation for Whitehorse Centre is long. In addition to Todd Hardy, Roger Kimmerly, Joyce Hayden, Margaret Commodore — who you will remember as the first aboriginal woman Minister of Justice in Canada — also served Whitehorse Centre and all demonstrated a strong commitment to the New Democratic principles of equality, democracy, sustainability, community and cooperation — principles that are more than just words. They are the measure of every initiative we undertake and support on behalf of Yukoners. They are the principles that have guided New Democrats, whether we are in government or when we are in opposition. They are the principles that have guided us when we worked across party lines or supported government initiatives because they were the right thing to do for Yukoners.
Mr. Speaker, over the course of the past months, I have had the opportunity to talk with many Yukoners. In particular, I have spoken with many of the residents of Whitehorse Centre. Going through two elections in less than a year has given me a unique opportunity to spend a lot of time in contact with the people of this dynamic riding. Having received the support of 63 percent of the voters, I am determined to work to maintain the trust of those who voted for me and to earn the trust of those who did not.
Whitehorse Centre stretches from the banks of the Yukon River to the clay cliffs and along Robert Service Way to the Marwell Industrial Area. Whitehorse Centre is an extremely diverse riding. It’s home to light industrial and service industries, arts and cultural organizations, the only full immersion elementary school in the Yukon, bookstores, box stores and independent businesses, art galleries, carving studios, coffee shops, bicycle shops, a Harley shop, feed stores, medical practitioners of every sort, fine restaurants and the Weenie Wagon, high-tech industries and those that are decidedly low-tech. Whitehorse Centre has it all.
Whitehorse Centre is also home to several levels of government: the Ta’an Kwäch’än First Nation, the City of Whitehorse and, of course, this Legislative Assembly are all situated within the boundaries of Whitehorse Centre. Many, if not most, non-government and service organizations are also headquartered in Whitehorse Centre. All that being said, it is the people who make Whitehorse Centre a unique amalgam of all that is Yukon. I am honoured to represent First Nation people, francophones, long-time residents and recent immigrants.
One of the uniting factors of Whitehorse Centre is pride of place. As you wander about the riding, you realize that over the years, Whitehorse Centre, whether it is downtown or in Marwell, has developed a number of communities within the community. I look forward to serving them.
As I was reminded by one of my constituents, Audrey McLaughlin — who knows a thing or two about politics — citizens need to remind us regularly as politicians that they are the boss, and so it should be.
Today, we are reflecting on the Speech from the Throne for the First Session of the 33rd Yukon Legislative Assembly. We look forward to hearing the throne speech — the newly elected government’s vision for this territory — and their plan to translate that vision into reality over the term of their office.
So as I listened to the Commissioner set out the Yukon Party government’s vision last week, and despite the government’s use of that word, there really was no vision and it saddened me. I expected more from a new Premier of a new government. Or, maybe there is a vision, but it’s not to be found in a document or throne speech.
I am concerned, as I said earlier, that it’s a vision similar to Alberta, of unfettered development; that it’s a vision of prosperity for some, but not all; that it’s top-down; that it’s a status-quo vision. In truth, Mr. Speaker, the speech bore an uncanny resemblance to the two previous Yukon Party Speeches from the Throne. The repetition of campaign promises from 2002 and 2006 were striking.
Prior to the calling of this 33rd Session of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, I met with the Premier for a general conversation on our approach to the session.
In that meeting, I told him that he can expect me to be hard on the issues and principled in my dealings with him and his colleagues. That does not mean that I or any of the NDP caucus will back down from vigorous debate or questioning the decisions made by this government that are not in the best interest of Yukoners. In the spirit of cooperative engagement that Yukoners expect of their elected representatives, the New Democratic Official Opposition will be offering the government suggestions and proposals that, if pursued, will allow them to exercise their responsibility to govern on behalf of all Yukoners and to realize a vision for an equitable and prosperous Yukon where no one is left behind.
In the Speech from the Throne, this government acknowledged that both housing and land availability have been identified as pressing challenges. Today, too many Yukoners are grappling with major housing problems, from having difficulty paying the rent or making the next mortgage payment or being homeless. The lack of available, affordable housing is one of the most serious failures over the nine years of Yukon Party government. During their two terms in office, vacancy rates remained low and the supply of land for any type of residential development continues to be in short supply. As a result, housing prices have skyrocketed, and this is not just a Whitehorse problem. It is a Yukon-wide problem.
This is hurting our economy, as employers can’t recruit and retain the staff necessary to run their businesses. The Yukon Party is fond of saying that when it came to power in 2002, 3,000 Yukoners — our young people; our prime labour force — left Yukon to find work Outside. Well, today young people and families are leaving the territory to work in places where housing is available and affordable.
The current government has studied the housing issue endlessly but has failed to act on most of the excellent recommendations from various organizations and studies. We can do better. We can increase the housing options by implementing recommendations in A Home for Everyone: A Housing Action Plan for Whitehorse — this report is one of the 13 studies in housing done over the last five years, I might add — and by adapting them to apply to the whole Yukon.
One of the benefits of the work done over the last five years by Yukon non-government agencies and volunteers committed to addressing the serious social issues is that a significant body of evidence-based research and best practices and experience gleaned from initiatives elsewhere has been gathered. So it was a surprise to hear in the Speech from the Throne that the government decided to increase capacity of the Salvation Army shelter as well as support for options for independent living. New Democrats do not doubt the sincerity of the dedicated staff and volunteers of these organizations, but we do think that there are valid questions to be raised as to the basis for the decision taken as it appears to have been done in a social policy vacuum.
I raise it today, Mr. Speaker, because we’ve seen in the past how the Yukon Party seeks the views of the not-for-profit sector and the public and then ignores the input. And we have seen the criticism levied by the Auditor General toward the Yukon Party governments in the past for taking decisions without sound policy rationale or a business case in place.
Mr. Speaker, today this House paid tribute to Steve Cardiff for his long-standing and passionate advocacy for the most vulnerable members of Yukon’s community. Steve could not understand how the Yukon Party could promise time and time again to provide a youth shelter in Whitehorse, as well as to create and increase the number of emergency transitional second-stage and supported housing spaces for persons at risk, and never deliver. Today, I’m putting the government on notice that we expect them to deliver on these promises this time, unlike the failure to deliver over the last nine years.
Mr. Speaker, what was most noticeable about the Speech from the Throne was what was not in it. Nowhere to be found was any reference to the long-awaited social inclusion strategy. This was an initiative the NDP championed and were pleased to support because we know that all the studies and evidence-based research shows that when we begin to address the inequality in a real way, we begin to build a socially and economically inclusive society. Also missing was any reference to the 40-year-old Landlord and Tenant Act.
The report of the select committee of the Legislature said the act should be revised to incorporate best practices in residential tenancy legislation from across Canada. The Yukon Party platform acknowledged the need to act on this, and the Official Opposition encourages the new government to enact a new residential tenancy act in its first year following the recommendations of the select committee of the Legislature to provide a legal framework for rental homes distinct from the rules for commercial or agricultural properties. The new act must clearly outline the rights and responsibilities of both landlords and tenants, and it will require basic health and safety standards to be met in all rental units.
The Speech from the Throne is also threadbare in reference to education. Yukon New Democrats are committed to having an education system that is creative and flexible, and that provides the relevant tools for Yukoners to succeed in their working lives and in their communities. We believe that excellence in education for Yukoners should be guided by the Education Act, which was passed by a New Democratic government and reads: Yukoners expect their government to work to close the gap in educational outcomes, to eliminate barriers to education and support innovative programs that prepare the citizens of the future to build a prosperous, compassionate Yukon. The Yukon Party has failed to provide Yukoners and their families with the kind of public education system they want and need.
The Auditor General reported that high school graduation rates are lower in the Yukon than most of Canada. She also noted that the Department of Education was unable to demonstrate that the public school system is adequately preparing students for the shift from high school to post-secondary education or training in trades. The Official Opposition will encourage the government to commit to improving classroom education and outcomes by implementing the recommendations of the Auditor General by setting specific targets for graduation rates and grade achievement levels for all students, and closing the gap for First Nation students by preparing students for the shift from high school to post-secondary education or training in trades by implementing a long-term facilities management plan that takes into account the condition and capacity of each school and by restoring the partnerships in education which featured respectful relationships with educators and the Yukon Teachers Association, parents and students, First Nations, the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon, school councils and Yukon College.
This morning, the government broke its first promise of its new mandate. Just over three months ago, on the eve of an election, the Premier and then Education minister unveiled a self-congratulatory sign at the site of the new F.H. Collins Secondary School. The government told Yukoners that the new school would be completed in September 2013.
According to a government news release issued today, the completion date has been pushed back to the fall of 2015 to ensure that the building design meets long-term space and educational needs and to allow, again, for the potential inclusion of geothermal heating. Geothermal heating was an original design element that was eliminated in the Yukon Party government’s rush to erect a new sign and host another sod-turning ceremony less than two weeks before the territorial election.
Ensuring the new F.H. Collins Secondary School meets the long-term space needs and student learning requirements is an admirable goal and including geothermal heating in the building design is the right thing to do, but today’s enhancement begs an obvious question: why did the government not consider these things in August when it rushed to make a pre-campaign announcement?
While the Yukon Party has made vague promises to turn Yukon College into a northern university, we will continue to encourage the government to support circumpolar and the university of northern initiatives. In addition, the Yukon New Democratic Party will continue to focus on the importance of expanding and improving early childhood education programs, which will improve school readiness, student experience and outcomes.
As Yukon embraces the challenges and opportunities of economic development, this Yukon government must increase and support community-based literacy and numeracy initiatives, to ensure that Yukoners are ready to take on new job opportunities.
In an ever-changing economic environment, we will be calling upon the Yukon government to develop new flexible training programs targeting those who are already employed so that they can upgrade their skills, improve wages and be more productive.
It should go without argument that there is a need for this government to build upon various school-based initiatives, such as the anti-bullying campaign. We will encourage the government to develop and implement a diversity policy in public and post-secondary learning centres to promote understanding, reduce discrimination, combat violence and provide safe schools where all students feel safe and welcome.
Members of the Official Opposition were pleased to have an opportunity to tour the new Whitehorse corrections facility last week. I thank the ministers of Justice and Highways and Public Works for arranging that visit. But, as Leader of the Official Opposition, I would be remiss if I did not point out the importance of the Yukon Party government taking a clear stance against the Harper government’s omnibus crime legislation, commonly referred to as Bill C-10. Yukon New Democrats applaud the advances that have been made in the Yukon to bring a positive approach to community safety and restorative justice. All that we as Yukoners have worked so hard to achieve in terms of restorative justice is put in peril by the Harper ideologically-driven, fact-bereft, hard-on-crime legislation.
New Democrats believe that everyone must play a part in the solution if the root causes of crime are to be addressed. We stand behind our belief of personal responsibility and accountability. However, we also recognize the validity of the concerns raised by the Canadian Bar Association and many other organizations with respect to Bill C-10. We will again urge the Yukon Minister of Justice to work with his federal, provincial and territorial counterparts to support the Canadian Bar Association in its call for amendments to the proposed federal criminal sentencing laws contained in C-10, and especially those that would address and accommodate the disability known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. It should not be treated as criminal, but should be recognized as a disability.
Another important matter not referenced in the throne speech was the review of the Yukon’s police force that was set up in response to the death in custody of Raymond Silverfox. The policing review and the accompanying Task Force on Acutely Intoxicated Persons at Risk set out some important principles that could and should guide policies and programs in this area. Yukoners again invested much time and energy and good faith in the process leading to these reports. As the Official Opposition, we will hold the government to account to develop an implementation strategy, in consultation with First Nations and women’s groups, to respond to the recommendations contained in the report, Sharing Common Ground — Review of Yukon’s Police Force — Final Report.
Community policing and greater visibility are two important elements to strengthen relationships at the community level between police and the communities and people they serve. This is particularly important in my riding of Whitehorse Centre, where I have had many conversations with people about their perceptions that they are not safe at night, that seniors are afraid to walk alone and, as we saw this summer, that sexual assaults continue to occur. The NDP believe that the policing contract should ensure that the RCMP meets the expectations of Yukon people and communities. There needs to be increased accountability and performance measures with outcomes built into the contract services and this needs to be matched with strong roles with a new police council and public complaints body.
Mr. Speaker, Yukon health care is the fastest growing aspect of the Yukon budget. The previous Yukon Party government received a scathing rebuke from the Office of the Auditor General this year on all aspects of its management of health care. So it was disappointing to see scant acknowledgement of the challenges of delivering effective health care to and for Yukoners.
Restating the decision to build hospitals, adding in a new element of a new emergency ward for Whitehorse General Hospital, begs the question: has this new Yukon Party government actually paid any attention to the studies, the reports, the public consultations? And has it any intention to act based on solid, research-based evidence? Or, are we embarking on more politically-motivated and costly spending? Where there are challenges, there are also opportunities.
At the risk of being overly optimistic, I will assume, at least for the time being, that the Premier and his colleagues do want to make the system work for patients, clients, workers and health care professionals. I will assume that the Premier understands that with more emphasis on wellness and prevention, on client-centred approaches like collaborative care through an increased role of nurse practitioners and community-based clinics, and action — not avoidance — on the recommendations of reports and studies, that we will find that we are better able to provide more cost-effective health care. And I will go out on a limb and assume that the new Minister of Finance will direct that any public building project will be built based on the evidence and needs, not on political calculation.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information has stated as recently as this past week that the three major cost-drivers for health care are doctors, drugs and diagnostics.
The throne speech makes reference to two of these. Absent was an area that I would have expected the Premier to take on as a priority, and that is the escalating cost of prescription drugs and the antiquated legislation governing pharmacy in the Yukon. Another glaring omission from the government’s stated priorities is any mention of how or if mental health will be addressed. New Democrats believe mental health must be included as part of a collaborative health care model. Government must act to address the fragmented way different departments and agencies seem to deal with this issue and we will be pressing this government to demonstrate how it is providing service for children and youth as a priority as well as ensuring services are provided in communities outside of Whitehorse.
New Democrats understand that intoxication and/or addiction must be dealt with as a health and social issue and not a justice issue. We will be carefully encouraging the Minister of Health and Social Services to make sure that the initiatives suggested in the throne speech are the result of evidence-based analysis to determine the appropriate service necessary, including prevention, harm reduction, medical detoxification services, counselling, residential treatment and after-care.
Guided by the belief that all persons are to be treated with compassion and dignity in a non-judgmental manner and by the recommendations of the Task Force on Acutely Intoxicated Persons at Risk, New Democrats will support initiatives that: (1) adopt a harm-reduction approach; (2) result in the creation of a 24-hour accessible shelter near a sobering centre detox facility; and (3) result in the creation of a sobering centre in downtown Whitehorse where acutely intoxicated persons at risk are taken when they are detained.
Mr. Speaker, I have already commented on the notable absence of any reference to the Yukon Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Strategy launched two years ago by the previous Yukon Party government. I hope that this is not indicative of a lack of political will to tackle complex and interrelated problems. Poverty is consistently linked to poor health, lower literacy, poor school performance for children, more crime, greater public health care costs, increased policing costs, lost productivity and foregone economic activity. It costs us all, Mr. Speaker.
Poverty reduction is much less costly than allowing poverty to continue and paying for the consequences. Research has been done on the cost of poverty reduction in the Yukon and the cost of poverty in the Yukon. We do not need more research; we need action and we will work with the government to expand involvement and engage the public through a more open and transparent process, including the public release of the research already completed such as What We Heard and the cost of poverty reports that were completed months ago and have not been made available publicly.
We will work with the government on initiatives they put forward to provide individuals and families in need with social assistance at rates that reflect real costs in all areas, not just food rates, and specifically ensure that the housing allocation allows clients to live in a safe, modest accommodation. I had the opportunity to do a brief walkabout with the Minister of Health and Social Services last week in one of the hotels commonly used by Yukoners on social assistance. I believe he knows that these accommodations are not adequate.
New Democrats were pleased to hear in the throne speech that this government is committed to protecting, preserving and celebrating Yukon’s pristine environment, sensitive ecosystems and wilderness landscapes. The Official Opposition is also committed to holding this government accountable for all actions or inaction that has the potential to negatively impact on this precious legacy. Yukoners know that our wilderness is unique in the world. We know that abundant wildlife, vast wild lands and clean fish-rich waters have supported us for millennia. They are an important part of our identity, and our deep attachment to the Yukon’s vast, sprawling landscape, from the Southern Lakes to the North Slope, are an important part of our history.
We also know that what we enjoy today should also be a vital part of our legacy for future generations. Today Yukoners throughout the territory are calling for greater respect for the values of conservation and protection and for actions that are based on the sound and responsible management of the Yukon environment. Yukoners support and seek sustainable development — development that knows and respects environmental limits and that will benefit all Yukoners today and in the years to come. Yukon New Democrats understand that. That is why a Yukon New Democratic government passed the Yukon Environment Act 20 years ago.
My experience has shown that for the last nine years, the Yukon Party has managed the Yukon’s economy at the expense of the Yukon environment. The management approach has been simple: remove any and all obstacles to development where possible, including sound environmental controls, and ignore the voices of ordinary Yukoners, First Nations and advisory boards calling for greater environmental responsibility and caution.
The New Democratic Party Official Opposition pledges to work in cooperation with the Yukon government to implement a management approach for the Yukon’s environment that belongs in the 21st century. Anything short of that is unacceptable.
Another major gap in the throne speech was any reference to the Peel Watershed Planning Commission report and its recommendations, or, for that matter, to land use planning at all.
The Peel watershed, including the Wind, Snake and Bonnet Plume rivers and the lands they flow through, are among the world’s great wilderness landscapes. Establishment of a special management regime for this area is long overdue. The NDP supports and respects the land use planning processes that were negotiated in the Umbrella Final Agreement. We believe the Peel Watershed Planning Commission has found the right balance between preservation and development. We will continue to urge the government to accept and act on the recommendations of the final report of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, to set aside 80 percent of the watershed as conservation areas.
Mr. Speaker, earlier I described the sorry situation that Alberta finds itself in with rampant development and the need for land use planning. They have finally come to the realization that the negotiators in Yukon did long ago over the course of many years at the table — namely, that land use plans help avoid or resolve land use conflicts. Land use plans manage uncontrolled development and bring certainty that land is used for the best purpose. The best purpose could be certain types of development or conservation. Land use plans in special management areas are guaranteed instruments in First Nation land claim agreements for managing development and the environment throughout the Yukon. After two terms in government, the Yukon Party has achieved little and alienated many. Land use planning and the establishment of special management areas, agreed to long ago in land claim agreements, are stalled due to a complete absence of political will.
Worse, the Yukon Party has rolled back the clock, I would say, in this area to the pre-land claims colonial past. The result has been enormous public frustration and uncertainty, extensive land-use conflicts and debate and a view by many First Nations that final agreement commitments have been broken. It is past time to make land use planning a government-wide priority by (1) expediting the process at the municipal, local and regional levels with full public involvement in decision-making; and (2) fully and effectively implementing the planning provisions of First Nations final land claim agreements.
The Yukon NDP believes that it is imperative to commit to a timetable for the completion of regional land use plans in accordance with chapter 11 of First Nation final agreements and also identify approaches for land use planning where land claims are not yet settled.
The practice of the predecessor Yukon government has been to foist difficult decisions on to others. I hope this government will take a different course. But tonight, the City of Whitehorse council will be meeting to address a contentious issue. As Leader of the NDP, I do not quibble with the right of the municipal government to work within the framework of the City of Whitehorse’s official community plan.
What I do find offensive is the fact that the Yukon Party has effectively created yet another crisis situation stemming from its failure to effectively work with all partners to address the growing demand for land for residential and commercial purposes. It fueled the fire by providing $500,000 to the City of Whitehorse for planning work associated with Porter Creek D prior to finalizing its own work with respect to the determination of the extent of the endowment lands for Yukon College. The Yukon government owns this land and must work with the City of Whitehorse, Kwanlin Dun, Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and Yukon College to assist them, where appropriate, to protect the McIntyre Creek corridor in Whitehorse for its unique environmental, recreational, and educational qualities. It must do this before decisions are made about whether or not it should be developed for residential purposes.
I was pleased to see mention of a water strategy in the throne speech. I will suspend my cynicism as to whether the 33rd Legislative Assembly will actually see it, as neither the 31st nor 32nd saw fruits of previous promises to develop a comprehensive water strategy.
Controlled development helps ensure responsible development that respects environmental limits and protects environmental conditions. Over the last nine years, the Yukon Party has paid only lip service to environmental monitoring and enforcement of controls on development. Under-resourced government monitoring of land and water use and inadequate enforcement of permit conditions has created the potential for long-term, adverse environmental impacts.
Yukon New Democrats are committed to environmental monitoring enforcement that meets 21st century standards and practices. The Official Opposition calls upon the Yukon Party government to establish effective and efficient environmental monitoring and enforcement standards and practices that anticipate and keep pace with development so that Yukon people can be confident that regulations are followed and that significant environmental problems are avoided or effectively managed. We call upon the government to work cooperatively with industry to enhance government’s capacity to monitor and inspect industrial, commercial or recreational uses of land and water to ensure better compliance with the regulatory regime and to implement best practices.
Mr. Speaker, we have heard time and time again that due to the high commodity prices the Yukon economy is experiencing rapid growth in all industrial sectors. The challenge for any government with an eye on the future is to take advantage of the current growth and plan for that future. Our current growth is spurred on by increased activity in the mining sector. We must prepare for the inevitable downturn in world metal prices.
Sadly, the throne speech was largely silent on what this government plans to do to diversify our small economy.
The risk with being too dependent on one industry, such as mining, is all too well-known to the Yukon. The inevitable bust is destructive and harmful to people in every community. We need to ensure that more people actually benefit from our current economic upturn. Unfortunately, too many people are being left behind. They are on the sidelines looking for affordable housing or have jobs that pay little more than minimum wage. As the Official Opposition, the New Democratic Party renews our call for an aggressive economic strategy, linked to a strong community and social strategy that strengthens our local economies, creates opportunities for Yukon-based businesses during the current boom and seeks out opportunities for diversification and that recognizes First Nations and their development corporations as an integral part of the Yukon economy.
We renew our call to recognize that small businesses are the heart of our economy. They supply the necessary goods and services for our daily lives. They provide services to industry and government. They are integral to the tourism, retail and arts and culture sectors. They are important to a strong and vital economy. Most small businesses just want government to get out of the way and make their lives easier, with less bureaucracy. Some want a helping hand to get started and sometimes some assistance with the inevitable ups and downs of our economy.
New Democrats encourage this government to strengthen and support small businesses and micro-economic initiatives by helping chambers of commerce and small enterprises in developing business and marketing plans; to reduce insurance rates; to develop distributed training models for small business owners who do not have the time to travel or take time from work for professional development; to target new training programs for those already working to increase their skills and productivity; to work together with other agencies and partners that offer programs that assist small businesses so that such support can be accessed smoothly with less red tape.
We encourage the government to implement the positive suggestions from the government procurement review with a view to increasing the purchasing of Yukon goods and services and improving the contracting processes, so that they are transparent and fair. We encourage the government to collaborate with all levels of government to establish public transportation infrastructure and business opportunities, so that Yukoners can access job opportunities and businesses, both small and large, can get their products to market.
Yukon New Democrats know mining inside and out. Many New Democrat MLAs, past and present, have worked in the industry and have proudly represented miners, their families and their communities. We know the importance of working with industry and communities to create sustainable, responsible mining where environmental and safety standards are paramount, where jobs and business opportunities are created locally, and where Yukoners are not left holding an environmental liability when the mine closes.
Yukoners expect to get their fair share of mining revenues. It is time for the Yukon government to take action to bring in a royalty regime for the 21st century.
Mr. Speaker, the throne speech set out a number of proposed major projects intended to address Yukon’s energy needs. As Leader of the Official Opposition, I give notice now that we will expect thorough and open consultation on all aspects of these proposed projects. Massive capital expenditures that have the potential to saddle future generations with heavy debt is unconscionable and unacceptable.
I note that the throne speech sets out a renewed interest in the development of the natural gas industry in Yukon. Mr. Speaker, I was at the Vuntut Gwitchin General Assembly this summer when Northern Cross made a presentation to the citizens of Old Crow about a new Chinese investor and their plans to utilize both conventional and unconventional — which essentially translates into hydraulic fracturing or more commonly known as “fracking” — means of extraction.
In the interest of full and transparent communication, let me be clear. The New Democratic Official Opposition will oppose any use of unconventional means to extract oil and gas in the Yukon.
We expect the Yukon government to set a moratorium on fracking in this industry until and unless environmental concerns can be addressed.
Another area where the throne speech was scant on detail was with respect to tourism. Yukon’s tourism industry has emerged over the last two decades as a vital sector and an important foundation of the Yukon economy. It has proven to be a good investment of public funds with a strong economic return to Yukon communities and businesses. This sector has much untapped potential that will allow it to expand. A New Democratic Official Opposition will support initiatives by the government that demonstrate a close partnership with the tourism industry to support its continued and growing contribution of economic benefits to the territory by assisting it to diversify the market and increase the profile of the Yukon as a year-round destination.
The Official Opposition was encouraged by the mention in the Speech from the Throne with respect to food security and we will encourage the Yukon Party government to place increased emphasis on food security and local food production, community-based agricultural initiatives and community greenhouses. It is important that we develop a long-term strategy for increased incentives for food production and the NDP will be looking for evidence that the Yukon government is making sure that existing agricultural land is used for agricultural purposes and not other purposes.
The Yukon is a special place where we can enjoy diverse cultures, a rich heritage and a vibrant arts community. We are able to enjoy the art of a tremendous variety of performers, artists working a range of media forms, musicians and sound producers, theatre actors, film and television workers, visual artists, artisans, storytellers, writers, photographers and sculptors. This sector is supported by great administrators and has a number of excellent venues created over the years to help profile our historical and modern art and culture. This sector is important to both our social and economic well-being, so it was surprising to see only vague mention of it in the throne speech. Given the growth in the arts and cultural sector, the New Democratic Party believes it is time to develop a 10-year cultural initiative that fosters collaboration among music, theatre, dance, visual arts and other participants in Yukon’s cultural life to share regionally, nationally and internationally.
The throne speech heavily promotes the booming economy but makes no reference to the importance of ensuring that the workforce that makes that boom happen is respected. The NDP will press and continue to press the Yukon government to ensure the independence of the workers’ advocate. We believe it is time to review the mandate and organization of this position through consultation with affected workers, labour, business and other affected groups, and we call upon the government to finally act to bring in legislation within the first year of its new tenure as Government of Yukon to protect young workers from injury and death on the job through minimum age requirements in certain occupations and through mandatory training in oversight of young workers, as well as foreign workers, who, by the nature of language and other barriers, may require more oversight and safeguards.
We note the mention of a school of mining at Yukon College in the throne speech. The NDP supports using education and training so that there are more jobs for Yukoners. A school of northern mining makes sense. It can be argued that it should have happened years ago. We don’t want to see a fly-in, fly-out economy, where its non-resident labourers are doing the bulk of work, not paying taxes in Yukon and not buying from local stores. We know that under the Yukon Party the public receives scant payment in the form of royalties for our mineral wealth. We will scrutinize this government’s approach to ensure more benefits of mining stay in the territory.
Earlier this year, the Yukon Party negotiated more authority to permit more short-term, temporary foreign workers to work in mining and the service sector. We understand that sometimes our small population cannot fulfill businesses’ labour needs. We have persistent unemployment in Yukon communities.
The challenge now is to have more Yukoners working in mining and we will be watching that the temporary foreign workers program is not the long-term strategy for mining sector jobs. We will be watching to make sure that temporary foreign workers and
Yukon nominees have full rights and protections.
The throne speech focused on the demand for new energy sources. Earlier, I touched on the controversial process of fracking in order to exploit natural gas. Securing new sources of energy is an environmental and an economic issue. We need to limit and minimize energy generation from dirty sources and increase energy from renewables.
It goes without saying that one of the biggest scandals of the Yukon Party was the attempted secret sale at a discounted, fire-sale price of Yukon Energy Corporation’s assets to ATCO, a large multinational private corporation based in Alberta. The Yukon New Democratic Party will push for the continued public ownership of Yukon Energy Corporation and its assets. It is a public resource owned by Yukoners and is simply not for sale. As the Yukon government moves to increase expenditures on energy, we will urge the Yukon government to pass legislation to prevent any Yukon government from selling, leasing or disposing of electrical generation and transmission assets of the Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Development Corporation.
We will support investments through our Crown corporations in projects that generate electricity that is affordable, reliable and renewable. While we talk about that, we have to recognize that system and infrastructure problems have not been addressed sufficiently. There are simply too many power interruptions and outages, and measures to encourage conservation have gone by the wayside. It’s time for change. We can and we must do better. At the same time, we expect the Yukon government to develop a conservation strategy that will achieve results in the short term and the long term by promoting and rewarding conservation through a range of programs and incentives, including new building standards and incentives, district heating and other measures for new construction.
Mr. Speaker, the throne speech makes reference to continuing to implement cooperative governance and partnerships. Partnership means working with people to set common goals, not dividing to conquer. Integrity means dealing honestly and openly. Trust is built upon mutual respect and can only be earned over time.
New Democrats recognize that much must be done to restore faith in the Yukon government. We believe good government means elected members listen to people and work responsibly with other governments, the public service and public advisory boards for the good of all Yukon people.
Yukon New Democrats welcome the commitment in the throne speech, and I quote: “…practising open, accountable, fiscally responsible government and to working constructively with all members of this House to improve the operation of its committees and the proceedings of the Legislature.”
Yukon New Democrat governments are no strangers to responsible fiscal management. Yukon New Democrats will encourage this government to engage in a participatory approach to budget making, from the bottom up, to involve Yukon people, First Nations, NGOs and community organizations in identifying community priorities for capital and program expenditures. We will encourage this government to provide more information in a timely way about budgets and spending and we will be making careful and progressive suggestions to the government, designed to facilitate a truly open approach to financial accountability, both during budget debate and throughout the year.
Mr. Speaker, New Democrats recognize that the Auditor General applies high standards of fiscal accountability in the public interest when it reviews Yukon government operations and reports to the Legislature through the Public Accounts Committee. Yukon New Democrats also believe that the agencies and individuals charged with watching over the operations of government that warn all of us of the abuses of power are allies of good government, not enemies. Government should listen to and heed their input. There are some improvements that we will be pushing for over the next while surrounding Yukon’s advocates — our watchdogs. They include the Human Rights Commission, the child and youth advocate office and the Ombudsman.
A Yukon New Democrat government introduced the Yukon Human Rights Act more than 20 years ago, and we believe the work of the Human Rights Commission is a fundamental force for fairness in Yukon society. The Official Opposition believes it is time to support the independence of the commission so it can do its work in an effective and timely manner. It’s time to effect the necessary changes so that the commission reports directly to this Legislature. It’s time to address the recommendations of the Select Committee on Human Rights and the law reform consultation, and it’s time to adopt amendments to existing legislation to eliminate all legal barriers for same-sex spouses.
Mr. Speaker, New Democrats firmly believe that children and youth are vulnerable members of society. How they are treated affects whether they will contribute to society as adults or become continuing clients of social and corrections services.
The office of the child and youth advocate is relatively new; however, in its short tenure, it has become clear that it is essential that the advocate report to the Yukon Legislature, and not through a minister, to ensure that our collective efforts to meet the needs of youth and children are subject to independent oversight.
A Yukon New Democratic government established the offices of the Ombudsman and Information and Privacy Commissioner. We believe that oversight of bureaucratic procedure, access to information, and protection of privacy are essential elements for a working democracy. There was reference in the throne speech to the Ombudsman and Information and Privacy Commissioner, and we support the notion that it be made a full-time position, to ensure adequate responses to public demands for service, sufficient time to find solutions to problems, to ensure that public access to records is provided in a more timely manner, and to ensure the prevention of unauthorized collection, use and disclosure of personal information.
We also support the amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act to bring it up to current Canadian standards and to increase access to information while protecting privacy.
Yukon New Democrats believe that openness and transparency make for better government. New Democrats recognize that lobbyists are part of the political system. However, we also know that the public has a legitimate fear that lobbyists are being paid by private interests to influence government decisions that may have an excessive or unfair impact. We will continue pushing in a renewed way to ensure that the Yukon government introduce new legislation to govern lobbying activities that will require the registration of lobbyists, set out a code of conduct, and impose penalties for violations.
Our conflicts commissioner called for this modernization, among others, and we in the Official Opposition are in support. It is no surprise that across the country lobbying legislation is in place and the Yukon needs to join with the rest of the country in ensuring this aspect of transparency.
I mentioned that I came to political life after a long career as a public servant for provincial, municipal and federal governments, as well as an aboriginal organization in Australia. I raise it today because as Leader of the New Democrats, I recognize that public servants are not in the public sphere and they should not be dragged into this Assembly as a means of deflecting attention from the fact that the political direction comes from the Premier and Cabinet. The public service must not only be seen to be separate from the political, but it must be allowed to operate at arm’s length if it is to be expected to offer quality, objective policy advice, even at times telling the Premier or a minister that an idea may be good politics, but poor public policy — that is, they must have the freedom to speak truth to power.
New Democrats value the work of government employees. We respect their contributions to the development of public policy and their participation in the operations of government.
We also recognize that government employees are entitled to a life outside of work, where they may have opinions that differ from those of the government of the day. The Official Opposition will continue to raise issues in this House to address the culture of fear that has developed in recent years within the Yukon public service, which has smothered employees’ ability to express their views to the political level within government and also limited their involvement in public issues outside of government.
New Democrats understand that wrongdoing may at times occur in government, despite the measures in place to safeguard democracy. If public servants become aware of wrongdoing in the public service, we believe they should be able to report it without fear. Previous Yukon Party governments have refused to act on this important legislation. We will urge the government to enact, as a priority, effective whistle-blower legislation to protect employees who report wrongdoing from retaliation from superiors, co-workers and others.
New Democrats believe that open and respectful debate in the Yukon Legislature can contribute to better government. Our goal is a more open, respectful and business-like Legislature and a more fiscally accountable government. I have shared, by a letter to the Premier, some ideas on how we can make this more than just a good idea, by opening discussion with both Members of the Legislative Assembly and the public.
Yukon New Democrats believe that the commissions, board, committees and advisory councils set up under Yukon law can provide vital advice to responsive and responsible government. They were set up by law for valid reasons and their input must be given fair and due consideration. We want to see an open process for making appointments to boards and committees and that public advisory bodies are representatives of the full range of Yukon people — women and men, First Nations, young and old, urban and rural.
Yukon New Democrats believe in a cooperative and collaborative working relationship with all Yukon communities. It was a Yukon New Democratic government that passed the Municipal Act that established greater autonomy and fiscal responsibility for local governments. Although there are references to the “Our Towns, Our Future” process in the throne speech, we believe that its scope is limited to financial aspects, and as a result the Municipal Act review process is not formalized and leads to confusion and misunderstanding. Municipal officials and citizens would benefit from a clear understanding of the process and a timeline for future Municipal Act reviews. Yukon New Democrats believe further changes are required in the Municipal Act to better guarantee public participation in decision-making and accountability for decisions by elected officials. Recent court decisions require amendments to the Municipal Act in consultation with local governments and local people to enhance accountability and participation.
In closing, I restate my commitment as Leader of the Official Opposition to work along with my caucus colleagues to serve Yukoners. We look forward to working with the Third Party and the members opposite. May we approach the challenge and the opportunities placed before us as servants of the people with open minds, candour and tenacity. May we do so guided with the simple, but profound words of Dom Helder Camara: “Beware the death of ideals.”
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.