Yukoners must respect democracy, even if MLAs don't
WHITEHORSE - Government of Yukon reinforces commitment to two-tier society
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says the public must respect the legislative assembly process even though his own party does not (Image: Government of Yukon/Whitewash News)
On Monday afternoon, dozens of people gathered in the public gallery of the Yukon's legislative assembly in Whitehorse as MLAs were about to begin the day's proceedings.
Shortly after proceedings began, it became clear that most people in the gallery were there to support a petition against a Government of Yukon decision to introduce a vaccine mandate in the territory.
The petition was organized by former federal Conservative candidate Jonas Smith and tabled in the legislative assembly by Watson Lake MLA Patti McLeod.
It was signed by more than 2,300 people which - even accounting for the possibility of duplicate signatures - is a significant number and one that represents over 10% of the total number of voters that participated in the territory's general election in April.
The wording of the petition asks GY to "immediately rescind any and all requirements for a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination."
The vaccine mandate was announced out of the blue by Yukon Premier Sandy Silver on October 15 without any consultation with employees or unions.
It will effectively force all government employees and front-line health workers to be fully vaccinated by a certain date or face as-of-yet unspecified consequences.
The mandate was originally set to come into effect on November 30 but the government has since backed down and set a new date of January 30, 2022.
Protest was inevitable
The public gallery in the legislative assembly allows members of the public to observe but not participate in proceedings.
There are rules in place for the gallery including the need for visitors to remain quiet and "refrain from actions that might disturb the proceedings."
Despite the rules, many of the people in the gallery on Monday tried to address the MLAs below, applauded when the anti-mandate petition was tabled and one person was reported to have shouted expletives.
After multiple interruptions, a recess was called and MLAs left the legislature for fifteen minutes before returning to finish the business of the day.
The public gallery protest was a long time coming and represented a last ditch effort by a minority group of Yukoners desperate to have their voices acknowledged by an increasingly hypocritical and anti-democratic government.
Since the start of the pandemic, Yukoners have been asking questions of government officials and those same officials have been dodging questions as well as ignoring emails and phone calls that they are obliged to respond to.
After legislative proceedings ended on Monday, Yukon Premier Silver told reporters that the public gallery is a space for people to sit and "is not for participation."
Given the extraordinary abuse of legislative proceedings he and some of his cabinet colleagues have carried out in the past few weeks, Silver's statements conveyed a clear message of double standards.
Since the government cover up of the sexual abuse of children at Hidden Valley elementary school scandal erupted in July, Liberal MLA and current education minister Jeanie McLean has been consistently disrespecting the legislative assembly process by refusing to answer questions about her role in the cover up.
She has also been brazenly stonewalling requests for information made by opposition parties on behalf of parents with children at the school.
On October 7, Silver publicly insulted those same parents by suggesting to reporters that the parents were using the opposition parties to play politics with the Hidden Valley scandal.
On October 13, another Liberal MLA Tracy McPhee doubled down on Silver's insults by falsely claiming that the parents wanted her government to move on from the scandal. Parents later told the media that McPhee was not telling the truth and that they did not want the government to stop focusing on the issue.
Two weeks later, on October 28, Silver disregarded the will of the legislative assembly when it voted 11-7 to force McPhee to resign from her current positions over the pivotal role she played in covering up the sexual abuse at Hidden Valley.
After the vote, Silver refused to demote McPhee who is currently Deputy Minister, Minister of Justice and Minister of Health and Social Services.
Silver also reiterated his commitment to stand with the disgraced MLA instead of the child victims of sexual assault and their devastated parents. He defiantly told reporters “I’m the premier and I decide who is in my cabinet.”
On November 2, McPhee again demonstrated her party's disrespect for the democratic process when she refused to stand in the legislative assembly to address a petition organized by the parents asking her to publicly disclose when she learned of a sexual abuse case at the school in 2019 and what directions she gave education officials.
Assault on democracy
It isn't just within the confines of the legislative assembly that the government is maintaining its assault on democracy.
On August 4, 2021, a government communications official Pat Living went so far as to shut down reporters' questions and abruptly end a public briefing that was being streamed on Facebook because she didn't like the questions that were being asked of McLean regarding Hidden Valley.
Soon after the date of the press conference, Silver announced that his government would no longer be doing the regularly scheduled weekly public briefings that have been in place since early 2020.
Not a single one of his MLAs have been available for questions at a public briefing in the thirteen weeks since.
Silver's decision to shield his MLAs from public questioning represents an affront to the democratic right of every voter to ask questions of elected officials.
The decision has allowed Silver, McLean and McPhee to continue avoiding accountability in relation to Hidden Valley while the victimized children and parents continue to suffer in the dark.
Public health and politics
A major part of the public's growing distrust of government public health advice stems from the fact that the role of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) in the Yukon is political, extremely well compensated, and provides a stepping stone to a full-time career in politics.
Aside from the fact that the Yukon's former CMO Brendan Hanley actually ran for an MP seat in September's federal election, the most blatant example of the politicization of the Yukon's public health guidance came early on in the pandemic when on May 29, 2020 Hanley was asked by a reporter if it was safe from a public health perspective to reconvene the legislative assembly.
Hanley responded to the reporter's question with "that's for the Premier and the government to decide" which was a clear admission that the Liberals were making public health decisions instead of public health officials.
By keeping the legislative assembly closed, the Liberals were able to make decisions in the shadows for a significant period of time without any scrutiny from the public or opposition parties.
According to Yukon NDP leader Kate White at the time, even opposition MLAs whose job it is to scrutinize the ruling party were being told by the government to "go to Yukon.ca" with their questions.
A May 29, 2020 public briefing shows former Yukon CMO and current MP Brendan Hanley admitting that some public health decisions were made by the politicians (Video: Government of Yukon)
No accountability for elected officials
The double standards employed by the Government of Yukon have now become the standard.
The message being communicated is that it's acceptable for elected officials to cover up the sexual abuse of children and avoid any responsibility for the fallout of that cover up but it's not OK for the public to hold those same elected officials to account.
Yukoners are being expected to forego their right to ask questions of their government while Liberal MLAs and the deputy ministers who head up their departments are flagrantly violating their obligations to the public under the principles of a free and democratic society.
These double standards are contributing in a significant way to the hardening of divisions in the Yukon's population where an increasing number of people feel alienated and believe that a two-tier society is enforcing different rules for different people.
Editors' note: Everyone on the team of volunteers at Whitewash News is fully vaccinated and grateful for the immense privilege of having access to a Covid-19 vaccine. This story was published in the 'Real News' section of our website. Facts are supported by the links provided within the story. If you have information or a tip regarding misconduct by any of the Yukon's political parties, or if you have been treated poorly by a government employee, please consider sharing your story with us. We fully appreciate the risk of repercussions involved in speaking out and take very seriously your requests to remain anonymous.