Sandy Silver’s government has now delivered two speeches from the throne and zero budgets.
The latest Liberal throne speech, delivered Thursday, sounded much like the party’s election platform: promises of better relations with First Nations, better schools and health care, more renewable energy, a more diverse economy, a second fibre optic line, a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
Nothing wrong with any of that, as far as it goes.
But the speech was also chock full of off-the-rack bon mots apparently culled from the catalogue of Talking Points R Us.
“Your new government has set a course for the future.”
“Your new government is committed to a people-centred approach to wellness.” (The Harperesque phrase “your new government” came up no fewer than 32 times.)
“Government is about more than bricks and mortar.”
“Communities are the lifeblood of our territory.”
And the ultimate hedge: “Fiscal challenges lie ahead.”
“For a speech that took six months to write, we were certainly hoping for a lot more,” said interim Opposition leader Stacey Hassard.
NDP Leader Liz Hanson was a touch more diplomatic, but said the speech contained “a lot of predictable language.”
But Yukoners can be forgiven for wondering why the government is waiting to table a budget — one that Silver has promised will be superlative in its fine-grain detail — until April 27, the last possible day under house rules without unanimous consent.
Addressing reporters after the speech, Silver was cheerfully vague about the whole thing and basically said it’s mostly the previous government’s fault. “It’s not all on us,” he said. “The election was called pretty late.”
And working with the bureaucracy, used to a certain way of doing business after 14 years of Yukon Party rule, takes time. That might sound reasonable, except that the government is full of well-educated adults, and April 1, the start of the new fiscal year, is a pretty well-established milepost. Silver is going to find that blaming the previous government for everything is not going to have legs for very long.
Meanwhile the government has spent some $500 million via special warrants, a practice Silver decried in the low-pressure role of third-party leader, while still missing the window to issue summer tenders by spring.
On Thursday, Silver said “That’s what special warrants are for,” while acknowledging that the whole point of a proper budget is that MLAs can debate and vote on the government’s fiscal priorities. This is a fairly dramatic reversal.
Meanwhile, the speech made no mention of two key campaign promises: the establishment of a lobbyist registry and fixed election dates. “My goodness … we can’t give all the promises away today,” Silver said. He was joking and said that fixed election dates are still in the offing.
It’s great that the new premier wants to cultivate a less adversarial relationship with the press, especially considering his predecessor, Darrell Pasloski was, towards the end stubbornly clinging to delusional talking points and flatly refusing to grant interviews.
Silver has found great political success positioning himself as an affable warrior-moderate. But leading a caucus of one is a long way from running a majority government and overseeing a $1.4-billion budget.
The tone of Thursday’s throne speech suggests Silver’s government still wants to be everyone’s friend, and it’s fair to say that intent is genuine. But Silver got his mandate because voters were looking for change after 14 years of Yukon Party rule.
There’s still time, of course. Much depends on the contents of next week’s budget, where we will finally get a close look at your new government’s “course for the future.”
But if you were expecting dramatic changes to the way the government conducts its affairs, prepare to be underwhelmed. Indeed, the same goes for the opposition parties.
Following the Yukon Party’s first throne speech after the 2011 election, Hanson called the government’s speech “pretty thin gruel.” Darius Elias, then the interim Liberal leader, who would later cross the floor to join the government, said the speech was “as exciting as an open-net goal.”
So if this whole throne speech routine feels familiar, that’s because it is.
Contact Chris Windeyer at firstname.lastname@example.org