Yukon premier stands by minister, despite motion calling for resignation

·3 min read
'I have full confidence in Minister Tracy McPhee. She will remain in cabinet,' said Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, seen here with McPhee in 2017. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada - image credit)
'I have full confidence in Minister Tracy McPhee. She will remain in cabinet,' said Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, seen here with McPhee in 2017. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Yukon's opposition MLAs were unanimous in calling for the resignation of cabinet minister Tracy-Anne McPhee on Wednesday, over her handling of a sexual assault case at a Whitehorse school.

But Premier Sandy Silver said he alone gets to decide who sits in his cabinet — and that McPhee isn't going anywhere.

"I have full confidence in Minister Tracy McPhee. She will remain in cabinet to do the important work that Yukoners have entrusted her to do," Silver said in the legislature on Wednesday afternoon.

McPhee was the minister of education in 2019 when William Auclair-Bellemare, an education assistant at the Hidden Valley elementary school, was arrested and charged with sexual interference.

Documents obtained by CBC News show that Yukon's Department of Education wrote communications about Auclair-Bellemare's arrest as far back as December 2019, but none were sent to parents.

McPhee is now health minister and deputy premier.

The opposition Yukon Party tabled a motion on Wednesday calling for McPhee to resign from cabinet. The motion was non-binding.

Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada
Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada

A majority of the territory's 19 MLAs — eight from the Yukon Party and three from the NDP — voted to support the motion. Liberal MLAs all voted it down.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon says he hasn't ruled out calling for a confidence vote if McPhee remains in cabinet despite the motion. That could potentially topple Silver's minority government.

"If the premier wants to ignore [the motion], the clearly expressed will of the Legislature, he will find himself in contempt of the Legislature," Dixon said.

Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers — who represents the riding that includes Hidden Valley school — said his party has never before pushed for a minister's resignation.

"We did not come to this place lightly. It was after weeks of asking questions on behalf of parents that the deputy premier refused to answer — reasonable questions about her role, what she knew, when she knew it and what she did about it," Cathers said.

"Refusing to be accountable is not acceptable. Refusing to answer reasonable questions about your actions as a minister is not acceptable."

Cathers accused the government of being more interested in protecting McPhee than in being accountable.

NDP Leader describes traumatic experience

NDP Leader Kate White, said the minister's failure to inform parents in 2019 about what happened at Hidden Valley is "the crux of the problem." She said students didn't have access to the support they needed.

White, who said earlier that she would not tell her caucus how to vote on the motion, grew emotional as she told the legislature about an experience she had in elementary school that haunted her for years afterward.

Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada
Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada

White described a frightening encounter with a strange man who startled and grabbed her in a school washroom. She described how she had managed to run away, but said she dealt with trauma for many years after.

"I had nightmares for years. But I had access to the help that I needed," she said.

"In 2019 there was the acknowledgement that there was a problem, that trust had been broken, and at least one child had been harmed. And this is where the issue is," White said.

"Parents weren't informed. They weren't informed. Parents are dealing with guilt, and they're dealing with anger, and they're dealing with sadness."

Help is available for those who have experienced abuse. Call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868. Reach Yukon's Sexualized Assault Response Team at 1-844-967-7275.

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