Newly Independent Yukon MLA takes aim at former leader over addictions policy

·3 min read
MLA for Mayo-Tatchun Don Hutton rises from his new seat in the Legislative Assembly. Hutton left the Liberal caucus Monday after voicing 'deep disappointment' in the Liberal government's handling of addictions. (Chris Windeyer/CBC - image credit)
MLA for Mayo-Tatchun Don Hutton rises from his new seat in the Legislative Assembly. Hutton left the Liberal caucus Monday after voicing 'deep disappointment' in the Liberal government's handling of addictions. (Chris Windeyer/CBC - image credit)

The newly Independent MLA for Mayo-Tatchun, Don Hutton, wasted no time in training his fire on the leader of his former party in Yukon's Legislative Assembly Wednesday.

"In the communities that I represent, we all live the struggles of illness, violence and death, caused by alcohol addiction," he said in his first question to the Liberal premier as an Independent MLA.

"Inaction has cost the health and the lives of many people in my communities."

Hutton left the Liberal caucus Monday after voicing "deep disappointment" with the Yukon Liberals' response to increasing rates of drug and alcohol dependence in the communities he represents.

In response, Liberal Premier Sandy Silver charged that Hutton had "chosen not to join in" on "policy conversations on these issues."

In question period on Wednesday, Hutton pointed to two reports, one in 2015 and another in 2019, that had previously voiced concern about the territory's alcohol policies.

"Does the premier of the Yukon understand the real and devastating impact of alcohol-related harm?" he asked.

The sign for Carmacks, Yukon. Local councillor George Skookum says the community has seen a spike in drug and alcohol use during the pandemic.
The sign for Carmacks, Yukon. Local councillor George Skookum says the community has seen a spike in drug and alcohol use during the pandemic. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Silver responded that the Liberal government had been "having lots of conversations over the years, and even over the last few weeks" on alcohol addictions.

Health Minister Pauline Frost, responding to Hutton's follow-up questions, pointed to new "mental wellness hubs" and more than a dozen community councillors as signs that the government is responding.

"This Liberal government, over the course of the last four years, have built up mental wellness and substance use supports in rural Yukon from almost nothing," she said.

Easy to buy alcohol, hard to find treatment

But local leaders say the barriers to getting treatment are still too high.

In an interview with CBC, Carmacks Councillor George Skookum said when his constituents need treatment, the community is often left searching for spots at out-of-territory treatment facilities after learning that Yukon's options have a long waitlist.

"It's easy to buy alcohol, but it's harder to get into treatment," he said. "There's always going to be a lineup, [and] the lineup is easier at the liquor store or the local bar."

Skookum said the pandemic, and the emergency benefits that accompanied it, have driven a spike in drug and alcohol use in Carmacks.

"People gravitated to use of alcohol and drugs to make time go by," he said.

"You see more of it, you smell more of it, and it's tough to see people struggle through it and thrive on it, as we go through these times."

He said he hopes to see the territory take an intergovernmental approach, and work with First Nations on a policy that will improve access across the territory.

"Hopefully, we can make that turn around to some degree," he said.

In the Legislative Assembly, Hutton pushed the Liberal government to identify a response sooner, rather than later.

"I do not have the luxury of looking the other way while people in my community struggle," he said to Frost.

Hutton won't have to sit as an Independent for long. An election must take place before mid-November, and Hutton said he does not plan to run again.