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5 things to watch as Yukon's Legislative Assembly returns

Yukon's 19 elected representatives resume their legislative duties Thursday. CBC North's Nancy Thomson lists some things that are expected to come up this sitting.

First Nations disputes, affordable housing and fracking on the political landscape

Yukon's 19 elected representatives resume their legislative duties Thursday.

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski has said he'll introduce a supplementary budget and introduce some new bills. But in addition to the more administrative side of things, we can expect some thick political drama.

Here are five things to watch during the fall sitting:

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski spoke in favour of changes to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act in the Senate in September. First Nations say they'll sue if the bill passes in the House of Commons. (CBC)

1. Follow the money

During the 2014-15 fiscal year, the Yukon government will spend an estimated $1.42 billion on both operations and maintenance, and capital projects. Of that, 76 per cent comes from the federal government in the form of transfer payments.

The budget includes the largest amount of money allocated for transportation, with $85 million going to highways, bridges, airports and other roads. Yukon's 2014-15 capital budget of $293 million is the largest in the territory's history.

The government has also promised to tender some "major capital projects" in the fall to give contractors certainty about upcoming work. The supplementary budget may hold further clues on that. Meanwhile, the Yukon government is posting a surplus of $72 million. 

2. It's a busy legal landscape — and it could get busier 

Yukon government lawyers have a lot on their plates as lawsuits from First Nations pile up.

The Na-Cho Nyak Dun and the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, along with the Yukon Conservation Society and the Yukon Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society are already in court with the government over the Peel watershed plan. Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale had asked all parties to clarify the remedies they were seeking. They will appear before court on Oct. 24.

First Nations have launched several lawsuits against the Yukon government. Pictured here are Jimmy Johnny, Council of Yukon First Nations Chief Ruth Massie, and Na-Cho Nyak Dun Chief Ed Champion protesting development in the Peel River watershed. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)
 Then there's the Ross River Dena Council's suit over consultation and accommodation when it comes to big-game hunting licenses and tags, which is expected to go to court. 

The Yukon government is also trying to reach an agreement with Ross River on what consultation will look like when it comes to granting mineral rights on Crown lands.

There's also Bill S-6, a federal bill which has just passed the Senate, that would amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act — essentially giving Ottawa final say over YESAB decisions.

The bill is now headed to House of Commons for three readings. Yukon First Nations have threatened a lawsuit should the bill pass.

The Taku River Tlingit are also suing the Yukon government.

The First Nation says the government failed to properly consult with affected parties before planning a campground at Little Atlin Lake.

The Liard First Nation and the town of Watson Lake have also launched a lawsuit over water contamination in Wye Lake, pollution they say comes from Yukon government road works and garages. 

3. Where's the affordable housing?

Last February, the government said nine proponents in four Yukon communities had advanced to the "request for proposals" stage on affordable housing.

Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson wants to see more affordable housing in the territory. She wants to know why the government backed away from plans to invest $13 million. (CBC)
The plan was for the government to match private and NGO investments in affordable housing, thereby boosting the $13 million from the federal Northern Housing Trust to about $26 million in housing.

But the government pulled back from that plan this summer.

It's since announced it will spend $1.5 million in Carmacks and Carcross for a total of eight units. That's a big drop from its initial planned investment.

4. The fracking question 

The topic of hydraulic fracturing has touched a raw nerve in Yukon. There have been repeated protests over the last few years. 

The construction of a LNG processing plant to replace two aging diesel generators is also cause for alarm for some.

Throughout Yukon, there have been protests and some pretty strong language. One protester's sign went so far as to call LNG "a crime against humanity." 

Any talk of fracking has been met with colourful protest. A select committee of MLAs has been hearing Yukoners' thoughts on the technique.
The legislature's select committee on hydraulic fracturing has toured Yukon communities.

MLAs have also looked at fracking projects in Alberta. They've received hundreds of submissions and their job will be to synthesize the reams of information into a coherent report for the legislature. 

The overwhelming majority of people who came out to the public hearings were adamantly opposed to any fracking

5. Taking the temperature of the Yukon Hospital Corporation

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has come under scrutiny following two inquests into deaths at the Watson Lake hospital.

Last week, a coroner's jury ruled the death of Mary Johnny  was a homicide. 

In the language of the coroner's act, the classification of "homicide" doesn't imply criminal actions, but does leave some questions about procedures, notably how and when patients are medevaced to Whitehorse.

The Yukon Hospital Corporation will appear before the Yukon legislature during this fall sitting.
The corporation also came under fire in the death of Carmacks woman Cynthia Blackjack who died during a medevac flight. In that case, it was determined that the proper equipment was not on board the plane.

Representatives from the hospital corporation will appear before the legislature during the fall sitting.

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