Taxes dominate debate in week 1 of Yukon legislature's fall sitting
Opposition Yukon Party introduced motion to extend consultation period over federal tax changes
The first week of the fall sitting of the Yukon legislature was a scant three days, but what it lacked in length, it made up for in vigour.
The opposition Yukon Party wasted no time in calling on Premier Sandy Silver to intervene over highly controversial federal proposals which change the tax regime of small businesses.
The party sought unanimous support Tuesday for a motion calling on federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau to extend the consultation period, as the Yukon and Whitehorse Chambers of Commerce had asked.
The motion was defeated, with both government and NDP MLAs voting it down.
That led Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard to take Silver to task the next day, when the premier had returned from the first ministers meetings in Ottawa.
"The Liberals refused to support this motion and stand up for small businesses in the territory. Can the premier tell us why his government did not join us and the [NDP] in supporting small businesses, farmers, placer miners and doctors yesterday?"
The premier also spoke that day, and explained what had transpired in Ottawa. He said Morneau assured the premiers that small businesses would not be affected.
"We are confident, the premiers are confident, that the small businesses have been heard ... All of the premiers agreed that we don't need to extend the 75-day [consultation] period. The devil will be in the details."
Morneau has not yet released those details.
Incidentally, the federal Conservatives also introduced a motion on Tuesday in the House of Commons, also requesting that Morneau extend the consultation period. Yukon MP Larry Bagnell voted against that motion, with much the same explanation that Silver gave.
While the tone between the premier and the official opposition has been combative, there have also been some solid questions this week.
Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod asked if the government was going to provide more funding to the RCMP, as the police force has requested. The question seemed particularly relevant, in light of the number of homicides in the territory this year.
The NDP's Liz Hanson, meanwhile, had a good question too, referring to a pointed memorandum from Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale in connection with the Michael Nehass case.
Veale noted that the Whitehorse Correctional Centre should not be designated as a hospital, and Hanson asked Justice Minister Tracey Anne McPhee if she was addressing that issue. McPhee replied that she's ordered an investigation by experts, and that's one area that will be examined.
Correcting Bill S-6
Another issue that's likely to attract attention in the coming weeks is that of Bill C-17.
It's the federal Liberals' "corrective" legislation to Bill S-6, which the previous Conservative government put into place to amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act.
Last March, when the Liberals were a fresh, young government, they were proud midwives of an agreement that marked a sea change in relations between Yukon First Nations and the territorial government.
A letter, signed by the Yukon government, the Council of Yukon First Nations, and the Yukon Chamber of Mines expressed "united support to have federal Bill C-17 passed without change."
The statement also noted that industry concerns would be addressed through a "colloborative framework... critical to re-establishing confidence in the development assessment process in Yukon."
Cracks are appearing, however, because three mining industry representatives appeared before the parliamentary committee studying C-17 and registered dissatisfaction with the bill as it now stands.
Mike Burke of the Yukon Chamber of Mines told the committee that the bill should pass "in order to reconcile with Yukon First Nations," but he also noted that industry concerns haven't been addressed.
"The future of the Yukon mining and exploration community is threatened by a process that is clearly flawed... We urge the federal government to engage immediately with First Nations government and Yukon government to find short-term administrative or long-term legislative solutions," Burke said.
This matter will no doubt occupy some time in the Yukon legislature.