Question re: Affordable housing - October 30, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Premier.

Many Yukoners no longer trust the government when it comes to affordable housing, and with good reason. They have been burned by this government too often and now they have no confidence in the minister. Over the last three years, we have seen this government’s lack of action result in criticism from housing advocates, the Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Yukon Communities, and several businesses as well.

We also saw the City of Whitehorse take the extraordinary step of asking for the removal of the current minister because of his unwillingness to work with them on affordable housing. In a statement yesterday, the Premier carefully avoided directly backing the minister, so I will ask him this question: Does the Premier have confidence in the housing minister?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     We know agreement on challenging issues is not always possible, but it is our job as elected officials to solve problems and not to create new ones. Now the approach that was taken by the City this week was disappointing, because really what it does is it polarizes and it personalizes issues that are important to this territory.

Yukoners expect their leaders to work together to find solutions. Ultimately, I’m confident we will find ways to move ahead together, because all of us are working on behalf of Yukoners.

Mr. Silver:   This is nothing personal. The business sector removes CEOs all the time. It’s about effectiveness and it’s about the best fit. Clearly the Premier believes that this minister is the best fit, so I will move on.

The minister now has yet another new plan for this money that was hatched on the eve of this Fall Sitting. At a meeting this week, the government presented his plan which is focused almost exclusively on social and not affordable housing. This summer, the Association of Yukon Communities passed a resolution urging the government to meet — and I quote: “ a matter of urgency with the intention of resurrecting the recently abandoned northern housing trust affordable rental housing initiative, bringing much-needed housing to Whitehorse.”

Why is the government abandoning the idea of using this funding for creating more affordable housing and at the same time ignoring Association of Yukon Communities’ request?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      First of all, I would like to begin by noting that we have continued to work with partners in this area, including the significant work that has been done on the housing action plan that has involved multiple stakeholders, including municipal governments, First Nation governments and representatives, and representatives at Yukon segments of business communities as well as representatives of NGOs. We have established through that process a community advisory committee and a significantly larger number of people have participated in working groups and given us their ideas.

The specific consultation to which the Liberal leader refers to on Monday was in fact consultation on potential options being considered by government. The very reason that we were having that consultation is in fact to hear feedback from the community advisory committee to the housing action plan, who were all invited to that meeting, as well as from key stakeholders in the business community, as well as NGOs who had been invited to the meeting. We will consider all of the input received from those stakeholders and from governments through their designated representatives on the community advisory committee to the housing action plan.

Mr. Silver:   This spring the government tried to make a big deal out of the fact that the Yukon Housing Corporation was in charge of the northern housing trust money. It was supposed to be the Yukon Housing Corporation Board that made the decision on the money and how it was going to be spent, but instead, at the last minute, the minister jumped in, made a political decision and pulled the plug.

The new plan hatched this week also puts the minister in charge of how the money will be spent — once again, cutting the arm’s-length board out of the picture and marginalizing the Association of Yukon Communities as well, in one fell swoop.

Why is the government so unwilling to let the experts at the Housing Corporation make decisions on this funding?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      What the Liberal leader is not aware of or is choosing not to reflect is in fact that the options that were shared with the members of the community advisory committee to the housing action plan and stakeholders from the business sector and NGOs were options that were developed through the board of the Housing Corporation and were presented to us and were then taken out for consultation. In fact, the Chair of the Housing Corporation Board and the president were also at the meeting with me. The board of the Housing Corporation is discussing what was heard on Monday today at a meeting that I believe may still be ongoing. It was, if memory serves, scheduled for this morning.

Contrary to what the member is asserting, the board of the Housing Corporation is very much involved in this process. The Yukon government, my colleagues and I will continue to work cooperatively with all involved, and that includes if there are areas where we can improve how we are doing things. We will certainly listen to that input and we will make decisions on that basis after listening to that feedback.