North·Yukon Votes 2021

Party leaders discuss Yukon First Nations issues at all-candidates forum

All three party leaders running in the April 12 territorial election discussed topics including health and wellness, the pandemic and housing.

Child welfare, health and wellness, addictions and housing were some of the topics

Agnes Mills, who is 85 years old, was the first person in Yukon to receive the COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 4. The Council of Yukon First Nations held an all-candidates debate last week. (Mark Kelly Photography/Government of Yukon)

The leaders of Yukon's political parties are all promising expanded on-the-land mental health services.

It was just about the only area the three leaders agreed on during an all-candidates forum hosted by the Council of Yukon First Nations Thursday night.

Issues ranged from how the parties would continue to protect the territory from COVID-19 to the contentious First Nations Procurement Policy.

Christine Genier moderated the forum and began by asking each candidate what their top three priorities were.

Liberal Party leader Sandy Silver said his government wants to continue to focus on mental wellness and addictions, housing and reconciliation.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon said government-to-government relationship building is key. 

He also wants to focus on improving the education system for First Nation students and to create affordable housing for Yukon families.

New Democratic Party leader Kate White said housing is an area of importance. Her party also wants to focus on the health-care system and the environment.

COVID-19 

Each candidate was asked what their plan was to ensure Yukoners remain safe as new challenges continue to arise from the pandemic.

Dixon said his party's first commitment would be to sit down with Yukon's chief medical officer of health to discuss a path forward for the territory.

"Creating that plan is a top priority of our government," he said.

Leader Sandy Silver and Staci McIntosh, Liberal candidate for Porter Creek North, released the Liberal Party platform March 30 at the party's headquarters in downtown Whitehorse. (Julien Gignac/CBC)

White said the NDP plans to focus on communicating with communities to make sure people understand what's expected of them.

"Yukoners have been experts in keeping each other safe," she said, adding that engaging communities to make sure they feel supported and respected will be her party's priority.

Silver touted his party's efforts through the pandemic, pointing to the $100 million in support the government has handed out.

"We need to continue to do what we've done for the last year which is to work hand in hand with every community in the Yukon to make sure that we can work together to keep Yukoners safe," he said.

Moving forward, that means making sure businesses have the help they need along with working to reopen the border.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon said his party would revise the Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy

The parties were asked what their positions were with respect to the intent of the Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy.

The first phase of the policy went into effect last month, and aims to award 15 per cent of all territorial procurement contracts to Yukon First Nations' businesses.

Some business owners have criticized the Liberal government for failing to adequately consult the wider business community, while claiming the policy may be unconstitutional.

Silver said it's unfortunate the rollout was misconstrued, but the government has had opportunities to talk to the business sector and plans to get back to the table with them and First Nations.

White agreed that it was unfortunate the communication surrounding the policy was not great, and said part of the problem was fear sowed by political parties.

However, White said once businesses understand what the policy means, she was confident they would see it as a way for everyone to participate, calling it a "phenomenal opportunity."

Dixon said while the Yukon Party agrees with the intent of the policy, it needs to be revised. 

"We think that we need to put that policy on hold, we need to go back to the table and we need to find a path forward by working with First Nations and the business community to amend that policy and to make it suitable to actually achieve the objectives set out in the policy itself," Dixon said.

Yukon NDP Leader Kate White speaks to reporters at her campaign launch event in March. White said addictions treatment has to be land-based. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Health and wellness

Genier asked each candidate how their government, if elected, would address the current crisis of substance misuse.

Each leader agreed expanding on-the-land mental health services and creating a substance treatment centre was a priority.

White said she was relieved to know the parties were on the same page, but said the government has waited too long to address the crisis.

"We should have taken action years ago," she said, while acknowledging between January and February this year, five people have died. "This is a health issue, not a justice issue."

She called for a safe supply to remove what she called "poisons that are on the streets."

Dixon said he knows more work needs to be done, and said the Yukon Party would review the territory's mental wellness health hub model and ensure the hubs have the staff and resources they need to succeed, while providing more mental health support in schools.

Silver said if re-elected, the Liberals would look to create a safe drug supply program along with a wet shelter program. He also said the party plans to fund a rural, on-the-land mental wellness substance treatment centre together with First Nations.

Housing 

Each candidate was asked what they would do to increase the housing stock available to Yukoners while ensuring its affordability.

White said housing is a human right and the NDP is committed to working toward zero homelessness.

She also said her party is calling for a cap on rent increases, a motion the NDP brought forward last year that was voted down by both the Liberals and Yukon Party.

"When we look at housing, we really need to make sure people can afford it," White said.

"It's about working with communities to identify the priorities and how to work on that best."

Silver said during its mandate, the Liberals have tripled the territory's investment in housing, investing millions in retrofitting buildings and releasing 500 lots for development in the past three years.

"We do recognise, though, that we still have to do a lot more," Silver said.

"People want to live here. We have a booming economy. We have the lowest unemployment in Canada. People want to move here. Other people need affordable housing. We need social housing. We moved the needle a lot, but we still have to keep on going."

Dixon said one of the key issues when it comes to housing is a lack of affordable land. 

He wants to work with First Nations to develop settlement lands and develop affordable housing with First Nation corporations.

Dixon also wants to reintroduce housing programs, like the first-time homebuyer program, and introduce a first-time landbuyer program.

He also said the Yukon Party would work with municipalities to plan for the next residential neighbourhoods, beyond Whistle Bend in Whitehorse.

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