OPINION | Frosty reception to proposed rent freeze shows Yukon politicians' priorities are with upper class

·3 min read

Earlier this month, a motion to put a moratorium on rent increases in Yukon until July 1, 2021 was voted down, unanimously rejected by both the Liberal government and the Official Opposition.

The proposed freeze, which was tabled by Kate White of the NDP and was touted as a form of protection for renters facing potential financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, would have been in keeping with those in British Columbia and Ontario.

Given that, unlike those jurisdictions, there's no cap on how much a Yukon landlord can raise rents, that sort of protection seems prudent, but the failed motion is an example of the ideology common to both parties: neither the Yukon Liberals nor the Yukon Party seems to understand – or care about – working class people in the territory.

You see this partisan disregard in policies both past and recent, in the decades-long failure to incentivize affordable housing, and in rent-relief packages that go directly to landlords, not tenants.

You see it in the boondoggling of government oversights around our mental health services, the underfunding of organizations to protect vulnerable women, in the lack of essential policies around the safety of clients and staff at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter.

As far as both parties are concerned, the people who matter in the Yukon are the home-owning upper middle and upper classes, who are employed in resource extraction or with the government itself, and the businesses and business owners whose operations both rely on and fuel the territory's much-beloved tourism industry.

And, in this case, you see it in the unabashedly callous remarks of Minister Ranj Pillai during the rent freeze debate.

Waxing poetic about increasing costs for landlords (cue the tiny violin), Pillai dismissed the motion out of hand because no examples of people impacted by rental increases were immediately provided — a roundabout way of implying the unfettered rights of landlords to profit is more important than protecting tenants from potential abuses.

He said he had not heard from landlords that many of their tenants' were arrears on their rent, implying this made a freeze unnecessary. This is like asking a grocer if their prices are affordable and concluding they are because people buy food.

Pillai also took a straight shot at the territory's unemployed, noting there are more available jobs than unemployed people, and that people should just take them whether they want them or not.

"I know that there were lots of places where I have worked but where I did not want to work, but I did that because, at the time, I had to pay my rent ... or my bills."

Chris Windeyer/CBC
Chris Windeyer/CBC

Evidently, Pillai believes poor or unemployed people should just take any job, in the middle of a pandemic, so they can keep paying their landlords.

Apparently incensed by even the idea of a rent freeze, Pilai posited that the motion was actually not about protecting tenants at all, but a move by the NDP, who tabled it, to make the Liberals and Yukon Party look "mean."

"That's what this is about," he said, "[The NDP claiming] 'we're the ones who care, you don't care.'"

Perhaps Pillai is right, but as the universal dismissal of the motion by the Liberals and Yukon Party shows, even if they do care, they most certainly do not understand.

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