North·Analysis

Peel land use case, Bill S-6 dominate Yukon's fall legislature sitting

CBC Yukon's Nancy Thomson takes a look at the issues that dominated debates this fall in the territorial legislature.

Cabinet shuffle likely to happen in the new year

Anti-fracking protesters greet the opening of the fall sitting of the Yukon legislative assembly. Some fairly controversial issues dominated debate at the Yukon legislative assembly this fall, including the Peel land use court case and Bill S-6, which would amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act. (CBC)

After eight eventful weeks, the Yukon legislature wrapped up its fall sitting Thursday. Some long-awaited legislation was passed, and some fairly controversial issues dominated debate. The fall supplementary budget was passed, with $21.4 million dollars for capital and operations and maintenance.

Affordable housing

The government experienced a rough ride on the issue of affordable housing. Yukon Housing Corporation minister Brad Cathers fended off criticism from Liberal Sandy Silver and the NDP for his cancellation of a program to build affordable housing units.

That cancellation was announced in the summer, but the effects have lingered, not just for the opposition, but for the municipal government as well. Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis took the unprecedented step of wading into the fray, calling for Cathers to be re-assigned from the housing portfolio.

The Yukon government attracted more criticism when it announced a $1.4 million program from the Northern Housing Trust for energy efficiency rebates for homeowners.

Government suffers huge setback with loss of Peel legal challenge

But affordable housing was really the least of the government's worries. On Dec. 2, the Yukon Supreme Court delivered its ruling on the Peel Watershed land use plan. First Nations and conservation groups had challenged the government's final plan for the region.

The big question is whether the government will appeal. It has until Jan. 2 to do that, although it could also seek an extension on that deadline.

While Yukoners wait to see what develops there, the Dawson land use planning process has been suspended, as a direct outcome of the Peel decision.

'Certainty' is elusive

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt angered many when he told Yukon chiefs that they are not "governments" under Chapter 2 of the Umbrella Final Agreement. (Chris Wattie/Pool/The Canadian Press)

While the Peel case has thrown the quest for regulatory certainty into confusion, it pales in comparison to Bill S-6. The federal bill, which is in second reading, would amend the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act. 

First Nations are adamantly opposed to the bill, saying it would undermine the foundation of the Umbrella Final Agreement, which provides for the subsequent self-government agreements.

Federal minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development Bernard Valcourt inflamed the situation when he told Yukon chiefs that they are not "governments" under Chapter 2 of the UFA. Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski then called on Valcourt to "correct the record" because Yukon First Nations are governments.

It has made for a messy political situation, with Pasloski coming down on the opposite side of Yukon MP Ryan Leef, who has defended Valcourt's remarks.

'Government of Yukon is breaking apart:' opposition

The cumulative effects of all these issues has left the government in damage control mode, say the opposition. Liberal Sandy Silver says Bill S-6 dwarfs the Peel and affordable housing.

Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson says "there is no solidarity" in the Yukon Party's cabinet. (CBC)

"All of this is in shadow of an even bigger issue and this is ... Bill S-6, amendments that came under the rug after seven years of consultation," says Silver. "This could be a huge legacy issue for the premier and we know that there's a lot of trouble in the government right now."

Liz Hanson, Yukon NDP leader and head of the official opposition, says "what we're seeing is the Government of Yukon is breaking, they're breaking apart. There is no solidarity in that cabinet. They need to make some decisions here — either they're working with Yukoners and the common interests of Yukon citizens or they're working against us. That seems to be a real dilemma this government is facing."

Shuffle to reset?

When governments find themselves mired in trouble, they sometimes try a "reset:" a cabinet shuffle. Premier Darrell Pasloski sounds bullish on the idea.

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski may shuffle his cabinet in the new year.

"It's something we have done in the past and I think it's important to allow people to try different portfolios to be able to ensure that we put different lenses on departments as we go forward," he says.

"It's a routine responsibility that premiers use across the country. In fact, the prime minister uses it as well."

Whistleblower legislation most significant bill passed

The long-awaited whistleblower legislation — the Public Interest Disclosure of Wrongdoing Act — received unanimous consent, finally bringing Yukon up to the standards of the rest of the country.

Looking forward, the select committee on hydraulic fracturing has been given an extension to file its report, to Jan.19 from Dec. 18. There will be considerable interest in that report.

The government also has until Jan. 2 to file an appeal on the Peel case, so that's something that will be closely watched for in the midst of the holiday season.

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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