Small Yukon communities call for communications ‘overhaul’ – Yukon News
The Yukon Ombudsman has responded to two complaints from residents of three Yukon communities who say they are not being heard by the Yukon government at the decision-making table.
Amber Smith of Keno City and Suzanne Tremblay of Destruction Bay say communication between the Yukon government and unincorporated communities is broken.
“The whole system needs an overhaul,” Smith said.
Both complaints were filed by residents of Keno City, Silver City and Destruction Bay.
The Yukon, with its complex governance reality, with the Yukon Bureau of Statistics estimating that 43,000 people are grouped into overlapping governmental jurisdictions – federal, territorial, 11 self-governing First Nations, eight municipalities, three non-self-governing First Nations, five local councils, and 15+ unincorporated communities (which include some First Nations communities and local councils) – seems incomprehensible to those living in more populated Canadian jurisdictions.
Ken Coates, historian and Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan, calls Yukon’s governance structure “jurisdictional chaos”.
Chris Alcantara of Western University says it’s complicated, complex and difficult.
Flooding, fire protection and resource development are all testing the limits of the ability of small Yukon communities to communicate, coordinate and collaborate with the Yukon government.
Tremblay and Smith both spent hours, days and weeks in total trying to communicate with the Yukon government on topics like waste management and rural fire protection. Ross River resident Dorothy Smith says Ross River also feels left out and alone with community issues.
Other Yukon reports have also identified a lack of communication and a lack of administrative accountability and responsiveness on the part of the Yukon government. The Association of Yukon Communities (AYC) COVID-19 Crisis Management Report and the Options Governance Report for Carcross in 2020 both speak to a lack of communication, collaboration and response to the problems of rural communities.
The AYC report acknowledged that “communication, engagement and collaboration with municipalities and First Nations are key tenants of practice during crisis management,” but that the Yukon government appeared to make decisions without collaboration, inclusion and community engagement. .
Another example is that Tremblay and other residents of Destruction Bay, Silver City and Burwash only found out they had a community counselor assigned to their area after the complaints process was completed through the Office of the Yukon Ombudsman.
No one in any of these communities was aware of “their adviser” despite the communities sending three petitions to the government with over 100 signatures, numerous phone calls and a community meeting with the Minister in September.
Investigations by the ombudsman’s office resulted in an observation that the process did not include representation from the communities that were ultimately affected by the decisions that were made. In a letter to Tremblay and Smith on March 4, the process was described as “an injustice.”
Although the Ombudsman’s observations related to a specific complaint from residents of Keno City, Destruction Bay and Silver City regarding the process (not the decision) that led to the recommendation to close four solid waste facilities, they highlight the challenges faced by residents of unincorporated communities to have their voices heard and participate in decisions that affect them.
In a March 11 interview, Mostyn dismissed the ombudsman’s observation.
“I really reject the premise that people in these communities have not been heard because I have heard them. That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to them, we don’t agree with their approach.
Unincorporated communities do not have contingency plans for earthquakes, wildfires or floods. Some have solid waste facilities closing, fire systems on standby, and the people of Ross River wondering why the garbage is coming in from Carmacks. Keno residents are alone deciphering and evaluating a 20-year plan to clean up the mines in their backyards.
They are not represented by the Association of Yukon Communities, an association of municipalities, contrary to Mostyn’s assertions in News. Smith and Tremblay consider the creation of an “Association of Unincorporated Communities” as one possible option as part of their search to find a voice for small communities.
A spokesperson for the community services department wrote in an email that, “Although this is not the primary focus of the branch’s work, [community] councilors strive to provide a point of connection for Yukoners in unincorporated communities who may have concerns or questions about their local affairs related to the Yukon government… Contact information for councilors and the communities they serve is available on Yukon.ca here: https://yukon.ca/en/your-government/government-government-relations/find-your-community-advisor.
Smith and Tremblay can’t understand the government’s emphasis on the number of permanent residents rather than appreciating and supporting the rich contribution of small towns with museums, heritage sites and highway stops that actually make the character and quality of life of the territory.
Their experience and persistent “workarounds” should demonstrate to government the value of local contributions in finding new and creative solutions. Local knowledge, shared understandings and conversations that explore options must become a “way of doing things” for the Yukon government in rural Yukon, they said.
This would help align recommendations from international reports, national reports, and Yukon-specific reports in decision-making processes.
In June, Canada in a Changing Climate: National Issues Reportthe dangers of top-down and often inflexible “top government structures” have been flagged as a real risk to emergency response in rural and remote Canada.
The same message was reframed again in the recently released report “Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability by the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report.
The February 2022 ICCP report repeatedly stated that “greater inclusion of stakeholders and communities…including indigenous and local knowledge, can benefit sound planning and decision-making, and [the] adoption of adaptations” to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Although high-level international and national reports, both reports provide a guiding framework of what Yukon needs to be resilient and nimble enough to meet future challenges. The CPPI report was clear, stating with “very high confidence” that “colonialism can inhibit the development of robust climate adaptation strategies and exacerbate climate risks.”
These reports lead the way with recommendations that call for inclusive practices for local participation, collaboration and problem solving. These processes, however, require serious intention, resources and practice: it proves difficult in the territory.
An emergency is not the best time to find new ways of doing things. The shared ways of learning, knowing and doing take practice.
READ MORE: Yukon’s complexity requires a new approach to climate change and disaster response: Expert
Contact Lawrie Crawford at [email protected]