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Yukon Liberal MLA Don Hutton leaves caucus, sits as independent

Mayo-Tatchun MLA and Deputy Speaker of Yukon’s Legislative Assembly Don Hutton is leaving the Yukon Liberal Party to sit as an independent.

Hutton says he has lost confidence in the party and premier, encourages constituents to vote NDP

Mayo-Tatchun MLA Don Hutton says he does not intend to run in the next territorial election. (Yukon Liberal Party)

Mayo-Tatchun MLA and Deputy Speaker of Yukon's Legislative Assembly Don Hutton has left the Yukon Liberal caucus to sit as an independent.

In an open letter to his constituents Monday, Hutton wrote the "Liberal government that I was elected to be part of has been a deep disappointment to me with their inaction on issues that our communities struggle with, in particular, alcohol abuse and addictions."

"I am deeply saddened that I have been pushed to the point that I have lost confidence in the Yukon Liberals and Premier Sandy Silver. Our communities deserve better than what they've been given by this Liberal government.

"It's for this reason that I have resigned from the Liberal caucus and as Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly."

On Monday, Hutton submitted a letter of resignation from his role as Deputy Speaker, along with his resignation from the Yukon Liberal caucus, to Speaker Nils Clarke and Dan Cable, the clerk of the Legislative Assembly.

Hutton does not plan on running again in the upcoming territorial election.

He encouraged his constituents to vote NDP.

"When the time comes for you to consider who you might vote for, I encourage a vote for Kate White's NDP. Kate is an honest, genuine representative who cares about people ahead of everything else. This is why I hope to see her elected as the Yukon's next premier," he wrote.

When asked in an interview with CBC why he is not joining the NDP, Hutton said White has made it clear she "is not a fan of floor crossers."

"I didn't want to put her in that position," he said. 

Hutton worked in wildland fire management for 34 years, and also as a resource management officer with the federal and Yukon governments.

He wrote "it has been the honour of my life to serve" as the MLA for Mayo-Tatchun.

'There's not much time left to fix this problem'

Hutton told CBC the biggest issue today in his riding is the same one it had when he was elected in 2016: the abuse of drugs and alcohol.

He said the issue is "wreaking absolute havoc on our communities."

"For four years, I begged and pleaded with my caucus and cabinet and the premier to sit down and have one government approach to solving this problem.

"Time is getting short. There's not much time left to fix this problem."

Hutton said the government of Canada has "failed Canadians" when it comes to how they've dealt with drugs and alcohol.

"We need to look after our children. We need to educate them better. We need to teach them that alcohol is a dangerous drug," he said.

Hutton has previously spoken out against alcohol in the legislature.

Last November, the Yukon Party criticized comments he made about an opposition motion to call on the federal government to repeal or freeze an automatic annual federal excise tax increase on beer, wine, and spirits in an effort to help bars and restaurants. The Yukon Liberals voted against the motion.

"The members opposite want us to cut this industry more slack, while Canadians and Yukoners are literally dying daily from the very substance that the Yukon conservative party is advocating for," Hutton said in the legislature.

Since 2016, Hutton told CBC he has been to 30 funerals across his constituency.

"These are tiny communities. Five hundred people on average in each. The murders that have happened, the suicides, the attempted suicides, the violence, the drug-laced violence — a man was shot over drugs," he said.

"People are dying every day from alcohol-attributable causes." 

Premier disappointed but not surprised

Premier Silver said he was disappointed but not surprised about Hutton's decision.

"Our team has heard his concerns and have made many efforts to involve him in policy conversations on these issues. He has chosen not to join in on those conversations," Silver said Monday afternoon in a prepared statement to reporters.

"Our Liberal team has made strides to improve mental health and addictions services across the territory, and specifically in the Mayo-Tatchun riding, including creating nurse practitioner positions in Mayo and Carmacks and opening up a mental wellness hub in Carmacks, offices in Mayo and in Pelly Crossing to serve the Mayo-Tatchun riding."

The premier indicated he's had little communication with Hutton since late December.

"At Christmas, I got a message from Don saying that he appreciated my friendship and my leadership. Haven't seen him since. He put a letter on my desk this morning," Silver said.

"So it is a little bit of a shock to get that message today from the member, but we respect his decision."

With files from Chris Windeyer and Midday Cafe

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