That's a wrap: recapping the Yukon legislative assembly's spring session

The three political parties were campaigning on the floor of the assembly for the past seven weeks. Now they take their fight to the streets.

Let the electioneering begin

The last sitting of the Yukon legislative assembly before the territorial election wrapped up last week. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

The spring sitting of the Yukon legislature wrapped up on Thursday, the last sitting with this mix of MLAs.

The next session will likely convene in the spring of 2017, with a newly elected government at the helm. Just who that will be is, of course, the million dollar question.

The sitting started with a fiery tone.

On April 7, the Yukon Party government tabled its last, and largest, budget.

The next day, federal Indigenous Affairs minister Carolyn Bennett was in Whitehorse to announce that the federal Liberals would indeed repeal the proposed changes to Bill S-6 that had provoked a lawsuit from three Yukon First Nations. 

Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett: Liberals will repeal contentious Bill S-6 changes. (CBC)

The Yukon government had been an enthusiastic supporter of the amendments, back when the Harper government commanded a majority. Bennett's pledge prompted a storm of questions from the opposition about "reconciliation" with First Nations. The Oxford definition of reconciliation? "The restoration of friendly relations" and "the action of making one's views or beliefs compatible with another."

Depending on who you ask, the Yukon Party government is either performing splendidly in that sphere or is hopelessly incompetent. It's an election year. Let the voters decide.

Whistle Bend groundbreaking provokes protest 

The opposition continued to challenge the government on the Whistle Bend extended care facility. We already know it doesn't like the location or the size, but this sitting the NDP and Liberals probed for specific figures on the operational and maintenance costs of running the 150-bed, $146-million facility.

An artist's rendering of the planned Whistle Bend continuing care facility in Whitehorse, which continues to fuel debate within the legislature. (Government of Yukon)

The government supplied several different answers and figures, which raises legitimate questions as to whether the bean counters have actually done their homework. 

The NDP tabled a petition from over 300 disgruntled Yukoners who are unhappy with the Whistle Bend model. A handful of protesters were on hand at the ground-breaking ceremony at the building site earlier this month.

But here's a reality check: the facility will very likely be constructed as planned, regardless of who forms the next government. Canceling the project would cost taxpayers millions of dollars in penalties. The Liberals have said incurring that cost would be irresponsible and they would therefore proceed with the project as it's planned. The NDP's course of action (assessing the stage of construction, examining the "nature of the government's contractual obligation" and consulting with Yukoners) could conceivably leave the door open to cancellation. They won't say specifically.

Social housing, mental health  

Affordable housing has been on the radar over the last few years. The Yukon Party debacle, two years ago, has largely faded from memory, when then community services minister, Brad Cathers, put the kibosh on plans to fund community proposals.

But otherwise the Yukon Party has delivered several new projects: Yukon Housing units in communities such as Carmacks, seniors' apartment units on Alexander Street, Spook Creek, and a brand new one near Shipyards Park in Whitehorse. It has also completed a building for people with mental disabilities, who require assisted living, and has partnered with the Salvation Army to build a new emergency shelter. 

The Yukon Party government promised a territory-wide mental health strategy several years ago. Now, finally, just in time for this year's election, it has delivered. Or has it? The euphemistically titled "Mental Wellness Strategy" acknowledges that there are gaps in services and a pressing need for mental health care. It also contains a $1-million fund that NGOs, First Nations and communities can access via written proposals. But there's no actual commitment to hire more psychiatric nurses, something that would provide direct care for mentally ill Yukoners, particularly those in rural Yukon, who right now are receiving scandalously inadequate medical care.

Watch the election platforms of each party to see how they promise to address mental health care. 

Time heals all wounds, says David Laxton

On May 10, House Speaker Dave Laxton astounded everyone by saying there had been allegations of sexual harassment made against him; he then resigned his position as Speaker and from the Yukon Party caucus. Laxton said the incident involved a woman he's known for years who he had hugged and kissed, both in his office and in the public foyer.

Yukon MLA David Laxton resigned as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in May 2016. (CBC)

Laxton said he resigned because of "the perception" the complaint created.

Turns out there hasn't been a formal complaint. The matter was brought to Laxton's attention by a senior Yukon Party staffer.

Laxton wouldn't say if the Yukon Party wanted him to resign, or if it was his idea. He would only say "I resigned." If an official complaint hasn't surfaced, it leads to questions. Was this allegation a handy excuse for the Yukon Party to oust Laxton? Was there any other reason the party might be eager to show him the door? He told the CBC he doesn't even know who complained. Nor does he know who the complaint was made to.

Bizarrely, this has not prevented Laxton from speculating that he may, in fact, be the Yukon Party candidate for Porter Creek Centre come the territorial election. He said "it's possible", adding he must talk with the party president and the leader as well as his constituents. He offered that "we're waiting for time." Time, presumably, to let the taint of scandal blow away.

Laxton said of the allegation, "I'm not going to let a little thing like that" stop him from carrying on with his political career. When it was pointed out to him that an allegation of sexual harassment hardly constitutes "a little thing", he retorted that there hasn't been an official complaint. That is true.

So, questions for Yukon Party president Linda Hillier and leader Darrell Pasloski. Where was the complaint lodged? Will there be an investigation? If not, why not? Why hasn't there been an official complaint? What possible reason might the party have to jettison Laxton? Anyone?

See you on the hustings.

About the Author

Nancy Thomson

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