Kate White speaks to the non-confidence vote

Below is the transcript of Kate White’s speech in the Legislative Assembly about the non-confidence Vote. You may also listen to the audio from this speech on our YouTube channel.

Mr. Speaker, today I rise to speak about a matter of confidence. At the onset, I want to assure all members of this House that I do not need anyone to speak on my behalf. I am more than capable of expressing myself. I am more than capable of explaining myself.

First, I acknowledge the parents in the gallery. I want you to know that I see you. I thank those who are in the gallery. I thank those who have reached out in other ways. I have read your letters. I have had phone calls, and I know where you stand. This is an issue of confidence, and it’s a tough one. I have made it clear that the Liberals have made some serious mistakes. I absolutely agree that the Liberal government has mishandled the Hidden Valley issue, but I want  you to know that it is because of what you have shared, what you have experienced, and because you have shared the failures that you’re living with that  systemic changes will be made. I can assure you that we won’t stop working toward this end to ensure that your experiences are never shared by another family.

I was struck yesterday by the intentions behind restorative justice, because restorative justice starts with a genuine acknowledgement of the harm that was  caused. You and yours have been hurt, and this is not acceptable. Yukon government owes you a genuine apology. They need to assure you that it will never happen again. They owe you this. That need for this genuine apology is why we supported a motion that asks the previous minister to be removed from Cabinet. It’s why we voted the way we did. It’s why the Yukon NDP did the heavy lifting on that day — that need for a genuine apology. 

So, let me explain why I’ll be voting against this motion.

The Leader of the Official Opposition came to me early Friday evening to give me advance notice that this motion was coming. He told me that he was  prepared to accept the confidence and supply agreement that the NDP had signed with the Liberals. I was surprised. I was surprised because only six months ago, after the spring election when I was approached by both the Yukon Party and Liberals, we spoke a few times, and it was that very same person who is  making this proposition now who was not interested in working with us then.

The Yukon Party has repeatedly slammed this agreement for being too radical. They have continued, until Friday evening, to come out against the principles of that agreement at every opportunity and in very public ways. So, yes, I’m surprised that the Yukon Party is now willing to implement policies that they  dismissed as too radical just six months ago.

But the Leader of the Official Opposition is now saying that he feels so strongly about accountability that he is  ready to take these commitments on. 

So, first, I want to talk about past accountability. When I was in this House with a Yukon Party majority government — a government that regularly chose to disregard and disrespect First Nation governments, a government that forced First Nations to the courts to defend their belief in environmental protections and the sanctity of the land use planning process, a government that continually fought with First Nations in the courts and regularly lost, and a government that  wanted to welcome unconventional gas extraction to the territory — under that government, I learned what a workplace laced with lateral violence meant. I remember how there was absolutely no way to work together because, for five years, there wasn’t ever an acknowledgement that good and important ideas came from all sides of the House and there was never a willingness to work together. The Leader of the Yukon Party was in that government, as were four of his colleagues.

Let me touch on recent accountability. On Thursday last week, one of his MLAs came to me and finally apologized for an event that had happened in the spring. After months of silence, I got an apology. I was touched. Maybe, Mr. Speaker, this is where I’m still naïve, because I’m always optimistic. I was touched; I really was. I thought: Oh finally, after months and months of silence, I finally get an apology. It felt genuine, and I’m still hopeful that it was, but looking back at the timing, it gives me pause. It turns out that I received that apology just 24 hours before I was approached by the Leader of the Yukon Party.

Maybe folks will be surprised to hear that I just got an apology, because as we know, the MLAs were back-benched this spring, and this fall, they got their portfolios back. The leader said that amends had been made, but I don’t know who those amends were made to, because it wasn’t me, at least not until Thursday. I will put it on the record, Mr. Speaker, that I did get an apology in the spring, and for that I am grateful. 

The day after that long-awaited apology, the Leader of the Official Opposition comes to my office and makes me this offer. This is where it is so hard, because of that timing. What felt like a heartfelt apology made me question whether or not I had been manipulated. It pains me to say this, because I don’t think it was done in that way, but it made me feel like there was a bigger game being played that I never agreed to play. I never agreed to this — never.

This is not what I call accountability. This is not what I call leadership. For someone who apparently feels so strongly about accountability, this just doesn’t add up to me, unfortunately, so that is why I question the proposal itself. It was made on Friday afternoon. It didn’t last long. It was so rushed that the Leader of the Official Opposition forgot to tell me half of his proposal, which was about the public inquiry, but I did learn about that on Monday through media coverage. To be clear, the Yukon NDP has already tabled a motion to call a public inquiry. After the independent reviews all come in, I am prepared to call it for debate, because if answers are still needed, the Liberal government owes it to the Hidden Valley community to get to the bottom of those questions.

I hope that, if I am forced to call that motion, the Liberal government will support it, understanding that they owe it to the Hidden Valley community.

We have someone who is trying to convince me that we can work together, but they target me and my caucus as soon as Question Period starts on Monday morning, and then they go to the media and say that, absolutely, they are hoping we will change our mind, that we can still work together, when only a
few minutes after slamming us in the House repeatedly, there is a difference of opinion there in the media.

To be clear, this isn’t the first time that I have been targeted by the Yukon Party, and I’m not so naïve to think that it will be the last. So, yes, I have trouble believing this offer is genuine.

And top of that, the Leader of the Yukon Party is already making promises on something he has no control over — elections. Voting in favour of this motion would most likely result in the calling of an election this winter. I know that, and I assume the Leader of the Opposition knows that too, because I reached out to an expert on the matter and was told, if he had to put money down on the issue, that he would put his money on an election, because it’s not up to the opposition to decide. Again, he is promising something that can’t be delivered on.

Let’s take a minute to talk about something that deeply troubles me. This Monday afternoon, in a media interview, the Leader of the Official Opposition was asked about the fact that these abuses started under a Yukon Party government. Because of a timeline charted by the RCMP, we now know that the first known abuse happened under a Yukon Party government and was handled internally at the time. To be clear, more children were made vulnerable  because of how this issue was handled internally when the Yukon Party was in power.

Someone asked about it in the media on Monday. The Leader of the Opposition said — and I quote: “… the school made a decision to handle some sort of allegation…” Some sort of allegation — language is incredibly important, and this is a weak and disturbing change of language. “Some sort of allegation”, because when it happened under a Liberal government, it’s a “sex abuse scandal”, but when talking about when it happened under a Yukon Party government, it became “some sort of allegation” — some sort of allegation that allowed children to be harmed in the interim, some sort of allegation that allowed it to continue.

Let us be clear — both the Liberals and the Yukon Party are responsible for hurt that was caused to children. Both the Liberals and the Yukon Party are  responsible for the harm that was caused to children. Both the Liberals and the Yukon Party were in power when children did not receive the support that they  needed — both of you — and they did not receive the support that they deserved. 

Mr. Speaker, the Yukon Party is using the tragedy of a sex abuse scandal at a school as leverage for their own political gain, and this is shameful. So, right now, the Yukon Party loves to quote me, as I said that I felt that the commitments laid out in the confidence and supply agreement are too important to bring down the government, but they are conveniently forgetting the other piece that I said, which was that, even though I was voting in favour of the deputy minister’s resignation, I was not oblivious to the political game that the Yukon Party was playing. I am still not oblivious to the games that are being played. 

I know that not everyone will agree with the position that we are taking today, and I have to answer to that — hundreds of times — just so that the  government understands — hundreds of times. My job is to put Yukoners at the center of my decisions, and even though, for some, it does not feel like that is what I am doing today, that is what I am doing today. I am well aware that my decision will be questioned and it will be criticized, but, Mr. Speaker, what we don’t need right now are political games. We don’t need a party leveraging the abuse of children for their own political gain. 

What we need is for everyone in this House to work together to solve the crises that Yukon is facing. We need to focus on fixing what needs to be fixed. So, let me finish by saying this to the government: This is not a free pass. If anything, the rules have been redrawn today, and I expect more, and I expect better. The government has failed to act on and address many issues, and Hidden Valley is the primary one. I hope that you understand that what is needed right now is an acknowledgement and a genuine apology, because families need to heal, and that has to be the first step.

So, Mr. Speaker, we in the Yukon NDP will continue to ask the hard questions. We will continue to hold the government accountable, because that’s what  Yukoners have asked us to do. We will always put people over politics.