A new legislative sitting of the new Yukon government in January. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Yukon MLAs give long-winded tributes the hook

From the Yukon Quest to the origin of cheezies, tributes have been a place for politicians to ramble

Yukon’s politicians came not to praise tributes but to bury them.

MLAs unanimously passed a motion Oct. 5 that limits parliamentary tributes to a total of 20 minutes each day.

Since February 1996, any member could stand and speak at any length in tribute to any subject of their choosing.

Tributes can range from a moment to honour a trailblazing Yukoner who died, to recognition for the man who invented Cheezies.

While the first-ever tribute — two MLAs honouring the Yukon Quest on Feb. 26, 1996 — came in at a total of about 260 words, modern tributes can be much more verbose and eat into the amount of time MLAs can debate each other in a day.

“Shakespeare said that brevity is the soul of wit, but I speak not of brevity, but verbosity in this tribute, as I rise of behalf of the tribute writers to pay tribute to the tribute,” NDP MLA Kate White said during a 2015 tongue-in-cheek tribute where she questioned whether the speeches were the best use of legislative time and resources.

While many aspects of a sitting day are carefully timed to keep the government on track, until last week the same could not be said for the tributes.

The change was recommended by the standing committee on rules, elections and privileges, which includes members from all three parties.

Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent said it will be important that the 20 minutes for tributes be split evenly between the three parties.

“Something that I think we are going to have to ensure is recognized in the standing order is that the tributes are up to six minutes per party per day, and that is what we agreed to at (the standing committee). Obviously you don’t necessarily have to take that maximum amount of time.”

The motion does not specifically say how the 20 minutes is to be split.

Floyd McCormick, the clerk of the assembly, said the final decision over how the time is divided up will be determined by the parties’ house leaders at the meeting they hold each morning when the house is in session.

The same motion sets fixed dates for when the legislative assembly will sit each year. The spring sitting will begin in the first week of March. The fall sitting will start the first week of October.

“The idea of having a fixed calendar makes sense on so many levels and eliminates the situation we have seen over the last number of years where political considerations often dictated when the chamber would meet,” said committee chair Paolo Gallina.

The new rule does allow for the start date to be moved if a general election is happening or if the premier decides a change is required because of “extraordinary circumstances.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com