Worker says Yukon government breaking own policy by demanding she work in Whitehorse

Elise Pendlebury has been working in Watson Lake on temporary assignment. She wants to stay and says Yukon's economic development department is breaking policy by trying to force her to move to Whitehorse.

Economic development adviser says her family wants to stay in Watson Lake

Elise Pendlebury, an employee with Yukon's Department of Economic Development, says her employer is violating a territorial government policy aimed at decentralizing government jobs outside of Whitehorse. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

A Yukon woman says the territorial government is demanding she work in Whitehorse instead of letting her stay in Watson Lake and is not following its own decentralization policy in the process.

"This doesn't make any sense," said Elise Pendlebury, a regional economic development adviser.

Pendlebury has worked a temporary posting in Watson Lake for the past two years. Her permanent job is in Whitehorse, but she fell in love with Watson Lake and asked her boss for a relocation.

She bought a house, her husband owns a business, and they are raising a child.

But two years later, Pendlebury says the Department of Economic Development is demanding she move back to Whitehorse — even though she'll be doing the same job.

"If [government jobs] can be conducted remotely ... then they should be offered remotely," said Pendlebury.

Decentralization policy dates back to 1994

Pendlebury said the department is violating a government policy designed to ensure jobs are spread across the Yukon. 

The policy dates back to 1994. It aims to spread government jobs across the territory, instead of clustering jobs in Whitehorse.

"They just basically don't really want to [follow the policy]," said Pendlebury. "So they don't."

Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai said he can't discuss individual cases. But Pillai says he supports having economic development workers in rural communities.

Ranj PIllai, Yukon's economic development minister, says he supports decentralization and that his department funds First Nations and municipalities looking to hire economic development staff. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

"I'm still working with the deputy minister of economic development to see more of these positions exist, whether it's back in Watson Lake or in other regions," Pillai told reporters Tuesday.

He says his department also funds First Nations and municipalities that want to hire their own economic development staff.

MLAs support updating policy

Last week the Legislative Assembly unanimously passed an NDP motion calling on the government to modernize its decentralization policy and support employees who want to relocate to a community outside Whitehorse.

Pillai spoke in favour of the motion during debate. On Tuesday he said his speech should have emphasized his department supports economic development jobs in the communities by offering funding to First Nations and municipalities that want to hire their own economic development staff.

"I don't think I've done service to the work the department's doing because the department in many cases has just gone out and funded the local organization and then given them the opportunity to go and do the hire,' he said.

Meanwhile, Pendlebury is on unpaid leave while the matter is being sorted, and says she expects to be fired for refusing to move to Whitehorse.

Beyond her own concerns, she believes the Yukon government is engaging in a form of systemic discrimination against First Nations.

"I want people in the communities to have access to good government jobs," she said.

With files from Chris Windeyer