North·YUKON VOTES 2021

Party leaders meet for CBC Yukon's territorial election debate

Not only were there no real heated exchanges at Wednesday's CBC Yukon election debate — the mood was downright chummy at times as the three party leaders parried questions about the pandemic, affordable housing, mining royalty rates and more.

Kate White, Currie Dixon and Sandy Silver squared off on Wednesday afternoon

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon, NDP Leader Kate White, and Liberal Leader Sandy Silver in the CBC Yukon studio for an election debate on Wednesday. (Chris WIndeyer/CBC)

There were no real heated exchanges at Wednesday's CBC Yukon election debate — in fact, the mood was downright chummy at times as the three party leaders parried questions about the pandemic, affordable housing, mining royalty rates and more.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon, Liberal Leader Sandy Silver and NDP Leader Kate White all participated in the 90-minute exchange that was moderated by CBC Airplay host Dave White. Some of the questions for the leaders were submitted by members of the public.

The three leaders met face-to-face in CBC Yukon's Whitehorse studio, one of the last times they will do so before Monday's vote. The three were safely distanced around one table, surrounded by the studio clocks that may have helped remind them to keep their answers succinct and on-point. Nobody rambled, and nobody talked over anybody else.

Still, the three leaders made clear that they don't agree on every issue, and each touted their own party's platform as the one most in tune with Yukon's needs.

Pandemic response

The debate — or rather, discussion — began with several questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, including how Silver's government responded over the past year, and whether it was time to ease some public health restrictions.

Both White and Dixon gave some credit to Silver's Liberals for their pandemic response — though Dixon said it's now time for some new approaches, particularly when it comes to supporting local businesses who have suffered.

"We've heard from the business community that some of the programs have become bogged down in some red tape and that a number of businesses find themselves being bounced from department to department. And that needs to be streamlined," Dixon said.

All three leaders agreed that if elected, they would continue to work with the chief medical officer of health in developing public policy around the pandemic. 

"I said early on that I wasn't a doctor, and I'm certainly not the chief medical officer of health," White said. "I'm committed to working with him, and the office."

Watch Wednesday's debate here:

Silver pointed to his government's track record, saying he always followed the guidance of health officials.

"It's a fluid conversation and we are being guided by science," Silver said.

Asked about those Yukoners who object to wearing masks or are pushing for relaxed restrictions, all three leaders said they are encouraging people to get vaccinated.      

"For folks who don't agree with vaccinations, I obviously encourage folks to reach out to trusted sources of information ... That's our path forward here, and that's how we're going to get out of it," Dixon said.

Affordable housing

When the discussion turned to affordable housing, or the lack of it, Kate White took aim at the other two parties.

"Housing is the one thing I heard about in 2011 when I was knocking on doors and then the Yukon Party formed the government. In 2016, I heard about housing when I knocked on doors and the Liberals formed the government. And here we are in 2021 and I'm knocking on doors and guess what I'm hearing about?" White asked. 

"The way out of this is to build more housing."

White also touted her party's promise to put a cap on rent increases. 

NDP Leader Kate White, Liberal Leader Sandy Silver and Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon in the CBC Yukon studio for an election debate. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Dixon said the issue is the lack of available land, driving up prices.

"The Yukon government needs to work better with the City of Whitehorse and the other communities with municipal government to plan for the next available lots ... we also need to work very closely with First Nations governments to bring First Nation-owned land into the market," he said.

Silver, meanwhile, acknowledged that more needed to be done but he said his party made good progress over the last few years with land lotteries and hundreds of new affordable housing units built since 2018.

"That's momentum that we want to continue to carry forward," he said.

Mining royalties and UNDRIP

White was asked about the NDP's plan to increase mining royalty rates.

"Right now in Yukon, we collect more ... royalties from things like campground fees than we do actually in royalties and that doesn't make sense," she said.

Silver agreed that changes are in order.

"I do agree, that we have to take a look at successor mining, and the royalty rates in placer [mining] as well. And so we start with the memorandum of understanding, the mining industry were very understanding as we went though that process, it developed into the mineral development strategy ... this is getting us to a process where we will have successful legislation for quartz and placer mining," he said.

"We want to do that right away."

Dixon said that quartz mining royalty rates don't necessarily need to go up, but that more of those royalties should flow directly to local communities.

"Rather than worrying about trying to increase things, or put more on the shoulders of industry, I think we need to find a better way to ensure those royalties truly flow to those areas that are most impacted," Dixon said.

Read more about the parties' platforms:

There was a minor dust-up toward the end of the debate when the leaders were also asked about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, also referred to as UNDRIP. The NDP has said it would adopt UNDRIP, with White saying she's consulted local First Nation leaders and it's about "the principle of consent." 

Silver meanwhile suggested that the NDP did not seem to be on the same page as many First Nations. He said he's heard "several mixed reactions" from First Nations chiefs about UNDRIP, and there are questions about how it will affect modern treaties and self-government.

When asked which Yukon First Nations chiefs they'd spoken to about UNDRIP, neither White nor Silver would say.

Written by Paul Tukker

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