Yukon Party calls on federal Liberal candidate to resign as chief medical officer

Dixon said Hanley used the Yukon government's weekly COVID-19 media updates to boost his own personal profile. Hanley said he was never a member of a political party until he accepted the Liberal nomination.

Hanley says non-partisanship is a 'sacrosanct' principle of public health

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon says Brendan Hanley should step down as chief medical officer of health if he's going to run for partisan office. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon says Brendan Hanley needs to pick a lane.

Dixon said Hanley's impartiality is in doubt now that he's running for the Liberals in the federal election and as a result, he should step down as the territory's chief medical officer of health. Hanley is on leave from the job while he's on the campaign trail.

"Unfortunately, Dr. Hanley's recent decision to reveal his own partisanship and his own personal political ambitions casts a shadow on the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health and calls into question the motivations behind his actions and behaviour over the past year and a half," Dixon, the leader of the official opposition, wrote in an open letter published Thursday.

Speaking from Old Crow, Yukon, Friday, Hanley said he would not step down as chief medical officer during the election campaign.

"We are autonomous, professional public health physicians," Hanley said of the job of chief medical officer of health, adding that he also worked in public health under the Yukon Party government of Darrell Pasloski. "Our goal is to answer to the needs and priorities of the public whatever the government is."

Dr. Brendan Hanley said he's taking leave as Yukon's chief medical officer to run as the territory's Liberal candidate in the next federal election. (Julien Gignac/CBC)

Dixon accused Hanley of stepping beyond the bounds of his role, including in March 2020, when Hanley called on the opposition parties to cooperate with the territorial Liberals to pass that year's budget. 

"No other chief medical officer of health in the country advised the ... legislature to pass their budget without debate," Dixon said in an interview. "That would have been certainly a bridge too far in a lot of the provinces." 

Dixon went on to say that Hanley used the Yukon government's weekly COVID-19 media updates to boost his own personal profile.

'No room for partisanship' in public health, Hanley says

Hanley said the first time he joined a political party was just before he accepted the Liberal nomination.

"The Hippocratic oath of a public health physician is there is no room for partisanship," he said. 

"There are always political considerations, of course, in public health, because no matter what the topic is, there's always a need to understand how the issue or the response affects people.... But there's a difference between political and partisan." 

Dixon also claimed current Liberal MP Larry Bagnell was "dispassionately shoved aside by the back rooms of the Liberal Party" in favour of Hanley, although a similar dynamic was at play when independent candidate Jonas Smith was dropped by the Conservatives over his comments regarding vaccine mandates.

Dixon admitted he's "not a huge fan of Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau" but said the Yukon Party has no official stance on the federal election.

However, there is frequent overlap between the Yukon Party and the federal Conservative Party. Pasloski ran for the Tories federally before becoming premier, while Yukon Party staffers and volunteers frequently work for the Conservatives. Some Yukon Party members are backing Smith in his run in this campaign as an independent.

With files from Jane Sponagle and Dave White


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