From left: Deputy Premier Ranj Pillai, NDP leader Liz Hanson and Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard at the first day of the new legislature sitting on Tuesday. (Jesse Winter/Yukon News)

Tax talk tops first day of Yukon Legislative Assembly sitting

Liberals, Yukon Party spar over federal government’s proposed changes to small business tax

Much of the first day of this sitting of the territorial legislature was spent discussing federal tax policy.

The Yukon’s MLAs returned to the house Oct. 3.

On day one the opposition Yukon Party tried to pass a motion calling on the federal government to extend its public consultation period on controversial changes to tax law.

The proposed federal changes, which include more restrictions on income-splitting and changes to passive investments, are opposed by many business organizations that say they will hurt local small businesses.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver is among those who has called for more time for public consultation. The consultation period ended Oct. 2. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has since gone on the record saying it won’t be extended.

The territorial motion would have required unanimous consent to proceed to debate.

After the motion was defeated, Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard accused Premier Sandy Silver, who was in Ottawa for the First Ministers Meeting, of flip-flopping.

Hassard said he got a call from Silver saying he would no longer be asking for an extension to the consultation period.

“He told me they would not be granting us unanimous support for the motion and he also told me that they would not be asking minister Morneau for an extension on the consultation period,” Hassard repeated after question period.

That would be a change for Silver who wrote a letter to Morneau in late September requesting more time.

If Silver has suddenly changed his mind it doesn’t appear he told anyone else.

Deputy premier Ranj Pillai said his government hasn’t changed its position.

“We stick with our position which was (to) request, like many premiers and jurisdictions, for a longer consultation period. We’ve stuck to that,” he said. “I think what you’re getting today is spin upon spin on a number of items.”

Pillai said the government did not support the Yukon Party’s motion because it would be redundant.

He accused the Yukon Party of “grasping” after “watching how strongly we supported business.”

“We understand how important this is,” Pillai said.

“That’s why the premier is there (in Ottawa) today having that discussion, standing by premiers from across the country on the fact that small business feels that they have more to say.”

NDP Leader Liz Hanson, who also spoke to Silver the same day as Hassard, said the premier made no mention of backtracking on his call for a longer consultation period.

“I got the impression that, as much as he and his letter, would like to see an extension just like we would all like to see that extension, there’s not going to be one. The federal minister has made that pretty clear.”

Hanson’s impression appears to be correct.

Yesterday Morneau told reporters in Ottawa changes are coming, but that there would be no extension to the consultation period.

“For those pieces of legislation that we’ve already drafted, we’ll take into account what people have told us to determine how we go forward from here,” Morneau said.

“So, there will be next steps — the consultation, though, is closed.”

The federal Tories introduced an opposition motion Oct. 3 that called on the government to extend the consultation until Jan. 31, 2018, but it was defeated in the House of Commons.

Along with sparring over taxes MLAs did discuss other issues that have been going on in the territory.

The Yukon Party questioned whether the government intends to provide more funding for the RCMP after a spike in the number of murders in the territory.

The Yukon’s police service has said publicly that it is asking the government for more resources in the next budget but hasn’t said exactly how much it’s looking for.

“The RCMP was very clear when they said they needed more resources. These are people who are in a very dangerous line of work and we need to ensure that they have proper resources to do their jobs,” said Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod.

Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said an analysis of the RCMP’s request is underway.

“The government supports the RCMP having the resources that it needs in order to protect our community and to serve Yukoners in the very best possible way. I fully intend to analyze it properly to make a fiscal decision that is appropriate.”

With files from the Canadian Press

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com