Question re: Yukon College university accreditation - May 6, 2014

Mr. Silver:   Mr. Speaker, I have a question about a Yukon Party campaign commitment made by the Premier. He said in a September 28, 2011 press release — and I quote: “By taking a leading role, we will work toward developing Yukon College into a northern university. We will work to explore university models, identify which model is best suited for Yukoners and northerners alike, and commit to achieving that goal.”

Since this bold promise was made, this government has been completely silent on this issue, perhaps thinking that if we don’t talk about it, no one will remember the commitment that we made in the first place.

Mr. Speaker, why has no progress been made on this promise during the entire first half of this government’s mandate?

Hon. Mr. Kent:    When it comes to investments in Yukon College, we have certainly made significant investments that have been announced over the past number of years — of course, the commitment to the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining. The member opposite made a tribute, I believe, last week to the graduates from that important program with the mobile trades trailer that we funded and provided to Yukon College. There have been significant investments made in the Northern Institute of Social Justice, as well as dual-credit training at Yukon College.

This is something that we see as important — investments in the training and ensuring that Yukoners can take advantage of the many opportunities that are available to them.

When it comes to the commitment to explore models to look toward turning Yukon College into a Yukon university, I can speak from my personal experience as previous Minister of Education where those discussions were initiated and we are looking at different models that could lead to Yukon College becoming a Yukon university. Those discussions are ongoing and we look forward to them coming to a conclusion.

Mr. Silver:   No progress has been made. The Yukon Party platform was clear. It said — and I quote: “Create a Yukon University by developing Yukon College into a northern university…” I believe all three parties did campaign on this during the 2011 campaign.

The lack of progress since the last election campaign, however, is also clear. People whom I’ve spoken to at Yukon College are saying that they have largely given up on this government and its commitments and that no discussions are in fact taking place. We are halfway through this government’s mandate and we are no closer to the promise being fulfilled.

When will there be a Yukon university in place and will it be in place before the term of this government expires? Yes or no.

Hon. Mr. Kent:    Just to build on some of the commitments that we’ve made to the Yukon College — there have been significant investments in the Yukon Research Centre through the Cold Climate Innovation as well as work on climate change adaptation. I believe it was a previous Yukon Party government that changed the legislation so that Yukon College has degree-granting authority. It is able to offer bachelor degrees. We have seen a number of master’s degrees offered through the college.

As I’ve mentioned, when exploring models to turn Yukon College into a northern university, it’s something that we certainly don’t take lightly. It’s a commitment that we made to Yukoners, but it’s important, I believe, that we get it right.

As mentioned, there are a number of opportunities available at the college right now, plus there are significant investments that we’ve made in mine training as well as the Northern Institute of Social Justice — even providing the college with an enhanced land package so that they can begin planning and moving into the future. There are a number of initiatives that we continue to work on with the college, including the opportunities to explore different models that may lead to Yukon College becoming a university.

Mr. Silver:   It’s great to hear the acting minister rattle off initiatives that are going on, but it’s also obvious that the Yukon Party commitment to create a Yukon university is off the table. A Yukon university will not be open to students when this government’s term ends. This is another example of the Premier making a promise and not following through with it.

So, the question to the Premier is: Can he outline a plan for making a Yukon university a reality over the next two years, or will he admit that this campaign promise will not be met?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     I think we see where the Leader of the Liberal Party is coming from. We heard in his first question that he was in fact campaigning for a university during the last election. We know that neither the NDP nor the Liberals were talking about the vision of perhaps seeing Yukon College — which has a 50-year history — evolving toward the status of a university. Of course we know that that was not true. This was again another visionary piece that this government has put forward as we have with the hydro project as well.

As we have also seen from the Leader of the Liberal Party, he would always be quick to criticize us if we don’t consult and offer to criticize us if something takes too long.

This is a process that will take very good diligence. We have to look at options that are available. I know that that is what we talked about during the last election, but you do not go from zero to 100 miles an hour in a very short period of time. We are going to take our time. We are going to make sure that what we do is right for Yukon.

We need to ensure that when we go forward, we continue to have a focus on such things as the trades, as that is of vital importance to ensuring that we have tradespeople within this territory to do the work that is required to continue to build our economy. We are focused on moving forward with the college, but we are not going to race to make decisions too far in advance that could be the wrong decisions.