Q.P. Yukon Forum May 9, 2013

Question re:    First Nations/government relations 

Mr. Silver:    Mr. Speaker, last fall the Premier cancelled a scheduled meeting of the Yukon Forum on very short notice. Chiefs from around the territory had already travelled into Whitehorse for the meeting, only to be informed that the Premier would not be meeting with them. This is an example of the government’s frayed relationship with Yukon First Nations.

This week, the government announced plans to meet more often with Yukon First Nation leaders. The Premier deemed this revelation worthy enough to issue a press release confirming that more meetings would be planned. The Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations does not, however, share the Premier’s excitement. She told local media, and I quote: “…it’s the government’s feeling that we shouldn’t have to sit down and rehash issues, but we should be able to celebrate at the Yukon Forum. If we’re going to celebrate anything, the legwork has to be done…”

Why is this government dictating when it will meet and what will be on the forum agenda?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:    The real question here is whether or not the Member for Klondike actually read the press release to see exactly what was being articulated. What the press release did say is that the Yukon government, led by me and, depending on the area of discussion, the appropriate minister would meet regularly with the leadership of Yukon’s First Nations to talk about issues to ensure there is an understanding and continue to build on those relationships. These meetings are over and above the Yukon Forum, which will continue to occur, as necessitated and agreed upon by both Yukon First Nation leadership and the Yukon government.

I think it’s just a matter of having an opportunity to read the press release carefully and articulate the fact that these are two different meetings.

Mr. Silver:    Last fall, the Yukon Forum was cancelled outright. Since this Premier was elected, I believe there has been only one meeting of the Yukon Forum.

It’s supposed to meet four times a year. That did not happen under the previous Yukon Party government, and nothing has changed since the last election. I am very pleased that another forum has been finally scheduled for the spring. That will be two forums in 20 months. Council of Yukon First Nations has a long list of topics to discuss with the Premier, including land use planning, health, and resource revenue-sharing. Yukon First Nation chiefs are obviously frustrated with this government’s command-and-control approach to the Yukon Forum. It is clear that the Grand Chief is interested in using these meetings to discuss issues. The government does not want to talk about contentious problems and prefers to use these meetings to celebrate.

Will the Premier drop the command-and-control approach and allow Yukon First Nation leaders to jointly set the agenda?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:    I think we can do a tally here as to how many such meetings occurred under the Liberal government — it was zero — and how many of these meetings occurred under the NDP government — it was zero. In fact, it was a Yukon Party government that created the Yukon Forum, along with the Yukon First Nations. I have to say, I just met with the leadership very recently — in the last couple of weeks — also on the heels of recent discussions that the Minister of Health and Social Services had with leadership, and the Minister of Education met with the leadership to look at opportunities in terms of success stories for education in the rural communities.

This work goes on, on a daily basis, between this government and all First Nations. We collaborate extensively in myriad areas and will continue to use the Yukon Forum, when it’s agreed upon, to ensure that we can highlight some of those accomplishments that are going on. We’ll use this new venue to be able to ensure that there is a way to move forward, to have an understanding of opportunities where we can work together. A lot of times those discussions will lead to opportunities to advance things that are important to all Yukoners through an intergovernmental forum with the Government of Canada.

Mr. Silver:    I love the comments about the Liberal Party in the past. Are we moving forward together, or are we stuck in the past?

The government’s relationship with First Nations today is probably the most important relationship it has, yet it has been badly neglected. The forum could be a valuable tool to discuss common interests, agree on priorities and resolve disputes. Instead, this government seems to prefer meeting First Nations in court or in front of a judge. The Chief of Liard First Nation says relations with the territorial government are still strained at best. He said, and I quote: “I’d say unfortunately because of the government’s ongoing conduct of divide and conquer it’s not a positive relationship at all.”

This government has been in office for more than a year and a half. It is long enough for the public to see that its confrontational approach to First Nation governments is not working. When is the Premier going to adopt a more cooperative approach to working with First Nation leaders?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:    As I have already articulated, we have agreed on a way forward in an entirely new set of meetings, where we have that opportunity to sit down as leaders to work on things. Certainly, the forum itself has resulted in many success stories, such as the implementation framework for the northern strategy. There was an incredible amount of work and success through the northern strategy: investments that were done; supporting financial transfer agreements through a nine-year implementation review that was supported through the Yukon Forum. There are many different things that have gone on that have been a success. We’re currently working on land-based treatment. We’re looking forward to moving forward with results of that work. We’ll continue to work with First Nations — both settled First Nations and unsettled First Nations — as we do on a daily basis.

I want to congratulate and thank the officials of all the departments because not only does this work exist at the political level among leadership, but it’s the day-to-day work that occurs at the department level, where our officials are working with officials of Yukon First Nations to ensure the success of all Yukon citizens in all our communities.