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ANALYSIS | 5 things to watch in the fall sitting of the Yukon legislature

The 19 members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly gather today for the opening of the fall sitting. CBC has prepared a list of five things to watch during this sitting.

Bill S-6, the Whistlebend care facility, and First Nations relations are among the list

The 19 members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly gather today for the opening of the fall sitting.

The 19 members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly gather today for the final fall sitting before next year's territorial election.

On the government side, attention will likely be directed towards several bills, including the Land Titles Act, the Elections Act, the Municipal Act, and the Oil and Gas Act.

Darrell Pasloski's Yukon Party government is still busy dispersing its sizeable capital budget: $312 million.

That's covering off some 15 major projects, including a new Salvation Army emergency shelter, a new alcohol treatment centre, and a smattering of projects in the communities.

Those projects include a new RCMP building in Faro, a new fire hall in Carcross, and money for planning a paleontology centre in Dawson City.

All these goodies will either just be finished or will be well underway when the next territorial election is held by next October.

Here are five things to watch during the fall sitting.

1. A Liberal landslide leaves the Yukon Party 'outside looking in' on Bill S-6    

The 'red tide' that swept Canada on Oct. 19 will have reverberations inside Yukon's legislative chamber.

That's because the Yukon Party government adamantly supported outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper's amendments to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act.

Those changes were contained in the now infamous Bill S-6, a bill Yukon First Nations resisted strenuously every inch of the way.

Three First Nations have filed a lawsuit challenging the changes to Bill S-6. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)
Three First Nations have filed a lawsuit challenging the changes.

Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau has been clear: the problematic amendments will be dropped.

That leaves Pasloski in a rather awkward spot: What stance will he now take on the amendments? Will he continue to vehemently support them, even though the new federal government has committed to chucking them?

Expect the opposition, particularly the sole Liberal MLA, to pose pointed questions in that vein.

2. First Nations relations: will the Yukon Party join in on 'the big thaw'?

The Yukon Party's relations with First Nations has been marked by acrimony and indifference.

While Pasloksi can claim to have midwived a handful of benefit agreements with First Nations and held 'reconciliation talks' with some, the balance sheet is still largely in the red when it comes to fruitful working relationships (see above).

Then there's the Kaska, who have successfully challenged the Yukon government on free entry staking. The staking moratorium within the Ross River Dena territory has been extended to 2017, because the Yukon government and the Kaska remain at loggerheads over what consultation will actually look like.

The appeal court, meanwhile, has not yet ruled on the Peel lawsuit.

Yukon chiefs are over the moon with the Liberal majority government, saying they hope this signifies a return to trust and dignity when it comes to their dealings with Ottawa.

Will the Pasloski government follow suit? Possibly, bearing in mind that election season will be upon the Yukon soon.

But the Yukon Party's star chamber will have to weigh the urge to woo First Nations voters against the need to reassure its core.

Holding a Yukon Forum would be a good first step to start a thaw.

3. It's not a warehouse, it's a village. And it's pretty.

The Whistle Bend extended care facility will continue to be a hot topic this sitting.

The capital budget has committed $26 million to the first stage of construction, but there are still objections to the facility.

The Whistle Bend subdivision is the location for the new 300-bed extended care facility. The facility will continue to be a hot topic this sitting. (Philippe Morin)

Internal documents show that the senior bureaucrat in charge of extended care argued strongly against the location, saying "placing a care facility in an empty field with no community is really a nightmare and will haunt the government."

Seniors groups, the Yukon Medical Association, and the Yukon Nursing Association all said they were not consulted beforehand about the location or size. Those meetings are happening now — after the fact.

The government has stopped calling it a "300-bed" facility — now it will only talk of 150 beds.

Critics have called the facility a "warehouse," so now the government is calling it a "village."

It's backpedalled too on when the second phase would be started. The health minister says it could be 20 years down the line.

An extra touch of theatrics? The government recently issued a news release, touting the Whistle Bend landscaping and saying it's "becoming a beautiful place to live."

4. It always comes down to jobs...preferably private ones.

We heard a lot about investing in jobs during the ultra-marathon that was the 2015 federal election.

The economy will be a consistent theme during this sitting, as Yukon suffers through a slump in hard rock mining, coupled with leery investors who can't justify the risk of a territory in lock-down from aboriginal lawsuits (see item 1).

The government has invested in trades training and particularly in training Yukoners in the mining industry.

However, the territory lacks a healthy resource sector, and is increasingly dependent on government for jobs.

Forty-three per cent of Yukoners work for government, either federal, territorial, First Nations or municipal.

But it's lean times for the private sector, which traditionally is eager for government capital projects.

A lengthy procurement process means projects allotted in the spring budget don't actually get underway until the early winter or even the next spring. That's a long time to wait for a paycheque.

5. Fall supplementary budget helps government tweak its spending

While the capital budget is typically released in the spring, expect a fall supplementary budget.

This is a chance for the government to adjust its main budget, especially if a capital project has gone under or over budget.

Last fall, the government adjusted down the spending on some community services projects. That happens because either the project isn't completed or timelines have been pushed back.

MLAs will debate the fall budget and that's a chance for the opposition to press the government on its spending habits.

Yukoners can expect another hefty budget in the spring — the last opportunity the Yukon Party will have to build big before the 2016 election.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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