Premier and Finance Minister Sandy Silver will have to issue a new special spending warrant ahead of his government’s first full legislative sitting, set for April 20.
The April start date means the sitting will start after the beginning of the 2017-18 fiscal year, when the previous year’s budget will have already expired.
This time last year, when the Yukon Party government issued a $235-million warrant to cover spending for the month of April when the sitting started April 7, Silver said it showed “a lack of respect” for the legislative assembly.
Items in warrants are discussed after the sitting begins.
But Silver questioned the point of debating taxpayer money that’s already been spent.
“That’s not democracy, in my opinion,” he said at the time.
Speaking to the News after this year’s legislative session was announced, Silver said he still doesn’t like special warrants, but believes one was necessary in this case.
“We’re trying to be as open and accountable as possible when it comes to budgeting and it takes time to do that.”
The 2017-18 budget will be “a more complete picture of government spending than has ever been tabled in the past,” Silver promised. “It’s a more full picture of what it costs to run government, including forecasts.
“In previous years we’ve seen the most major capital builds being put on the books without any future consideration of what it costs to actually run those facilities, like Whistle Bend, for example.”
Silver said it’s too soon to say how much the special warrant will be for or how much time it will cover.
He’s also providing no details about the budget itself. Silver declined to say whether the territory will be running a deficit. Those numbers are generally embargoed until the budget is tabled.
Since taking office, Silver has accused the former Yukon Party government of leaving the territory with an $8-million deficit for this fiscal year. For its part, the Yukon Party denies that.
The Liberals are promising this sitting will also include amendments to the Vital Statistics Act and the Human Rights Act, and legislation to establish National Aboriginal Day as a statutory holiday beginning in 2017.
Silver said more details about those pieces of legislation will be coming.
“Out of respect for process, I don’t want to speak off the cuff on things. We have made some specific commitments and you will be seeing those changes in the legislative assembly.”
The Liberals promised a legislative, policy and practice review to ensure the Yukon government meets standards to prevent discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community.
Advocates have said both the the Human Rights Act and the Vital Statistics Act could be improved to help transgendered people.
Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers is accusing the premier of holding off on starting the sitting because he’s not ready to answer questions about the budget and of going against his word by relying on a special warrant.
“It means they will be five and a half months into their mandate, nearly half a year, before they face their first question period,” Cathers said.
Special warrants are not a new concept. Along with last year’s special warrant the Yukon Party government issued similar warrants, generally for more than $200 million, in every fiscal year from 2004 to 2010.
Previous Liberal and NDP governments issued special warrants of their own, too.
“While certainly the three governments I’ve been a part of did use special warrants I think that it’s fair to say that we were criticized for using them and in some cases rightly so,” Cathers said.
He said “government should avoid using special warrants unless it’s necessary to do so.”
Silver wouldn’t promise to never use special warrants again. He said his government will follow through on its promise to establish set dates for sittings of the legislative assembly.
“If you put set legislative times into the schedule, well then you really, really limit the reasons why you’re going to have to do special warrants,” he said.
The standing committee on rules, elections and privileges will be meeting soon to start discussing those set times, Silver said.
NDP Leader Liz Hanson said she doesn’t mind waiting until April for the sitting to start. It’s better that the budget be comprehensive, she said.
“To me what we’re trying to do is have good government. So if this is going to help, that’s great.”
Hanson said she also doesn’t have a problem with Silver using a special warrant.
“I’m prepared to give the benefit of the doubt that this is being done with the best of intentions and time will prove it out.”
She said she appreciates the Liberals giving the other parties extra notice of when the sitting is going to start.
The Yukon Party, she said, would often only give two weeks warning.
Silver maintains it’s worth taking the extra time for his new government to work with each department to get the budget right.
“So we don’t want to rush things just for the political sense of rushing things. I told that to my deputy ministers, take as long as you need to make sure we get this right. That’s the story today.”
With files from Maura Forrest and Pierre Chauvin
Contact Ashley Joannou at email@example.com