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The upside to ignoring Yukon First Nations

YUKON - Why Brendan Hanley will win and nothing will change

The Yukon's underhanded brand of colonial politics is harder to see and harder to topple (Photo: WN)


On July 21, the Yukon's Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn made two major announcements during a public briefing broadcast live on Facebook.


Mostyn's first announcement was that the Yukon was dropping most of its Covid-19 public health measures on August 4 including the requirement for people to self-isolate upon entry to the territory, the requirement to wear masks in indoor public spaces and the requirement for physical distancing at bars and restaurants.


The second announcement was that the Government of Yukon, under an early days NDP/Liberal coalition, had decided to break from its election promises to consult with First Nations (FNs) on issues affecting their communities.


Mostyn said that the government's decision was based on a recommendation from the Yukon's Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr. Brendan Hanley and implied that Hanley had not consulted with FNs before making the recommendation.


Snub to First Nations


The minister did his best to gloss over his Cabinet's decision to not consult with FNs by claiming that there was no time to consult between the point Cabinet made the decision to lift public health measures and the announcement of that decision less than twenty-four hours later. This reasoning came across as baloney.


Mostyn and his Cabinet colleagues decided to lift measures and had full control over the timing of when to announce that decision. There was nothing preventing the Cabinet from taking even a few days to consult with FNs and there was nothing preventing Hanley from consulting with FNs before making his recommendation to Cabinet in the first place.


In the course of the briefing, Mostyn said that he had called the FNs' Chiefs "about an hour before the announcement to inform them of the coming changes." That is not consultation with FNs. That is the territorial government telling FNs what it is going to do, regardless of what the FNs think.

Yukon Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn announced on July 21 that his government was breaking its promise to consult with First Nations on issues affecting their communities (Video: Government of Yukon)


Better to not ask


The only logical explanation for the government's snub to FNs is that the government knew if it asked FNs what they thought about removing public health measures, those same FNs, some of whose communities are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19, would have made clear they were dead against it.


That would have put the NDP/Liberal government in a position where if it decided to move ahead with its decision to lift restrictions, it would be doing so in direct defiance of what Yukon's FNs said they needed to keep their communities safe.


Multiple FNs did in fact protest the government's decision immediately after it was made, starting with the Kwanlin Dün's push back on July 23 and followed by the Selkirk First Nation's road blocks a few days later.


The government's maneuvering was taken straight from the 'Covert Colonizing for Dummies' tactical book and represented a clear example of the type of underhanded politicking that Yukon FNs have been dealing with for almost thirty years since the signing of the first Self-Governing Agreements.


Hanley's election bid


Forgoing consultation with FNs was a big risk for the NDP and Liberals because both parties had just months earlier campaigned on a platform of consultation with FNs.


One potential reason for the Liberals' risk-taking would start to come into focus fifteen days later on August 5 when the Yukon's MP Bagnell announced he was not running for re-election. Bagnell had, prior to August 5, been nominated by the local Liberal association to run in the federal election but something changed in the interim.


On August 10, less than five days after Bagnell's announcement, Hanley announced that he had won the Liberal Party's nomination for MP.


In response to suggestions that his decision to run for public office exposed partisanship in his role as CMO, Hanley insisted that he wasn't thinking of politics in all his time as CMO until he heard of Bagnell's decision a few days earlier.


Hanley also said during his announcement that reconciliation with FNs was a pillar of his campaign. The sincere manner in which he delivered this statement suggested that he was unaware of the hypocrisy underlying it as it was made just six days after he recommended to Cabinet - without consulting with FNs - that the government should remove Covid-19 public health restrictions.


Privileges afforded to Yukon elite


Hanley explained that he was stepping down temporarily and without pay from his CMO role and would simply return to that role if his election bid proved unsuccessful. This statement shone a big bright light on the staggering privilege afforded exclusively to members of the Yukon's elite.


Imagine a scenario where a mechanic in a Whitehorse shop tells her boss that she wants time off to try to get a job she would like more than the one she has and also that her boss should keep her job open for her in case she can't get that other job. The words "you're fired" (and worse) come to mind.


Hanley's lucrative CMO contract ends on September 30 of this year. This means that right now, the Deputy Minister of Health and social Services Stephen Samis (whom Hanley reports to) should be well into the search for a new CMO; one who could be more qualified than Hanley and who would perhaps charge a lot less money.


Instead, there is no consideration being given to fiscal responsibility, there is no search for a new CMO, and there is no public tender for the position because the government agreed with Hanley that he can slink back into the CMO position if he loses in the September 20 election.

A summary of Yukon CMO Dr. Brendan Hanley's extraordinary contract details disclosed on the Yukon's Public Contract Registry Search


Detached from reality


The fact that Hanley talks with such ease about his plans to return to the CMO office shows just how detached long-serving senior public servants (Hanley has been CMO for twelve years) can become from the reality of life for the Yukon's less privileged classes that include people who can barely afford renting a place to live, not to mind having the luxury of taking unpaid time off work to find work they would prefer.


Not only does Hanley want to slip back into the CMO seat if he loses the election but he wants us to also detach ourselves from reality by asking us to simultaneously believe two different versions of who he says he is.


In one reality, he is asking us to believe that in his election bid he is both a doctor and a highly capable Liberal Party politician worthy of being our MP. The title "Dr." is emblazoned across all of Hanley's promotional materials and he is relying on his experience as CMO to get elected.


In another reality, he is asking us to believe that if he loses his election bid and returns to his CMO seat, he will be a non-partisan public health officer only and we should forget he ever ran for the Liberal Party.


These realities cannot co-exist and no amount of communications spin will ever make them co-exist.


Show me the money


On March 30, following a tip from a reader, the Whitewash News published information that outlined how Hanley and the Yukon's Deputy CMO Dr. Catherine Elliott are the highest paid CMO and Deputy CMO in Canada.


The details for the contracts of Hanley and Elliott were disclosed on the Yukon's Public Contract Registry Search and showed that they are currently being paid $485,010.29 and $590,961.56 a year, respectively. (These figure go up to $727,515.44 and $886,442.34 respectively when looking at the entire 18-month term of the contracts).


It's not clear why Elliott, who is junior to Hanley, is being paid $105,000 more per year but the discrepancy has fuelled speculation that Hanley was intending to take time off.


Two Whitewash News readers say that they asked the Department of Health and Social Services directly for clarity on the contract details but their requests were ignored despite that information being deemed 'public knowledge.'


Even Hanley's own supporters literally cannot believe that he gets paid so much. A number of those supporters attempted to point out to the Whitewash News that some of the money contracted to Hanley goes towards his office and staff expenses. This does not appear to be accurate.


Hanley's office, called the Yukon Communicable Disease Control government branch, is housed in a Government of Yukon (GY) building in Whitehorse.


Based on a cross-referencing of the GY employee directory and the collective agreements of the Yukon Employees' Union, all of Hanley's team members, with the obvious exception of Elliott, are regular GY employees serving in unionized positions and paid directly by the government.


Wage increase


A closer examination of the publicly-available details of Hanley's contract shows that he negotiated an annual wage increase of $119,698.77 or 32.76% sometime around March 2020.


Whether or not Elliott negotiated an increase around the same time is difficult to figure out because after the Whitewash News published information about her contract, that same contract was removed from what is supposed to be the Yukon's publicly-accessible Contract Registry.


At the same time Hanley was negotiating his wage increase, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she, along with her cabinet, would be taking a temporary 20 per cent salary reduction as a show of “leadership and solidarity with people who don't have the luxury of protected public service pay.”


A few months later, the Toronto Sun published the results of research that found government employees across Canada hadn't taken pay cuts in decades and were not feeling the same pinch as private sector employees taking pay cuts or private businesses going under.


And yet in the Yukon, Hanley had no problem asking for a wage increase and the government had no problem giving it to him. Why would they? Hanley has never intentionally contradicted the ruling politicians in public and he has marched in lockstep with them at public announcements from the very beginning of the pandemic.


That isn't at all to say that Hanley is a bad person. Hanley is by all accounts a gentleman, well-liked, kind and friendly. But good and honest people can and do become absorbed into bad systems, especially if they are part of those systems for long enough.


Partisan v non-partisan public health


There is a vast difference in the Yukon between the public health approach by government health officials and that of independent medical professionals.


When Hanley and Elliot make a public announcement regarding changes to public health measures, the words that they read out or say are absolutely coloured by the choices made by the ruling party. That is just how it works.


By contrast, the president of the Canadian Medical Association Dr. Katharine Smart, representing 75,000 doctors, is able to give opinions that are independent of politics.


Smart, a pediatrician who also happens to be a Yukoner, has openly criticized Hanley and Elliot's approach to the soft public health measures implemented in schools, particularly schools with children under the age of 12 that are all unvaccinated and all at high risk of catching and transmitting the more contagious and more dangerous Delta variant.


Hanley and Elliott's soft approach includes the removal of physical distancing requirements in schools and the recommendation that masks are optional but not mandatory in classrooms. Their general approach is that more measures can be introduced if things start to go bad.


Smart has advised a very different approach. She said in reference to schools that “it’s probably better to start out the year doing more and if things are going well, we can start backing down, but what we’re seeing is the opposite approach.”


She also said that the danger for unvaccinated children is far from over and that we are "clearly in a fourth wave.”


Since Covid-19 cases started to spike in the Yukon's schools, the government seems to be protecting poor decision making by no longer specifying in its news releases whether or not the cases are of the Delta variant, which is government code for the cases are of the Delta variant.


If people knew that the Delta variant was infecting schoolchildren whilst Hanley was off buying votes by claiming schoolchildren were safe, it would severely damage Hanley's chances of winning his election race.

Hanley in his role as CMO has tried desperately hard to convince Yukoners that he isn't political but his decision to run in an election strongly suggests otherwise (Photo: WN)


Win-win


The Liberals have so far done a pretty good job of navigating the Yukon through incredibly challenging times brought about by the global pandemic.


Unfortunately, the extreme and unnecessary communications spin employed by government officials and adopted by MLAs has taken the focus away from that success.


Hanley and government communications people didn't need to try so hard to convince us over the past 18 months that government public health guidance is independent of politics but try they did. Now it will be forever hard to separate that spin from Hanley's role as either our CMO or MP.


Regardless, and no matter the outcome of the federal election on September 20, Hanley will win.


If he loses in his bid to become the Yukon's MP, he will still win because he has the luxury of returning to his CMO job and carrying on as before.


Either outcome will result in public outrage from some quarters, some light criticism, some media coverage, and then the story will fizzle away.


Another brick will be added to the wall between the Yukon's haves and have nots but other than that, nothing will change.


 

Editors' note: This article was published in the 'Opinion' section of our website. Facts referred to in the opinion piece are supported by the links provided within the article. The Whitewash News is looking for tip-offs and story ideas related to anything that may be of interest to the Yukon public. As long as we can verify a tip-off, we can run with it! Please contact us if you have anything to share.

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