With any new government there is a period of adjustment for everyone associated with the political system.
For the new party in power, the workload is particularly burdensome: ministers need to digest massive amounts of briefing information and simultaneously figure out how to convert their party’s election platform into a concrete government agenda.
The new Liberal government, with its 10 rookie MLAs, faces an even steeper learning curve, including everything from figuring out where the bathrooms are to the remedial basics of parliamentary procedure.
The Yukon Party, newly ensconced as the official Opposition, begins the new legislative assembly with a distinct advantage in this sense. Their caucus boasts four former cabinet ministers, people who not only know where the bathrooms are, but also know a large amount of what’s in those briefing binders that the new Liberal ministers have to lug around.
Still, the Yukon Party, in its first weeks on the other side of the house, has shown that it has yet to fully grasp some of the complexities of playing the role of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
So far, the Yukon Party has rolled out the same anti-carbon pricing talking points that were found in its losing election campaign, and has complained about the Liberals’ one-day legislative session, even though the last time the YP took power it didn’t hold a session at all for three months.
And Jan. 19, Lake Laberge MLA Brad Cathers took to Twitter to accuse the Liberals of flip-flopping on the Peel court case (for more on that, see page 3). That’s not exactly true, and the Liberals are stuck in a situation of the Yukon Party’s own making. But the most important thing, apparently, was to scream “flip-flop!” at the Liberals for not doing the thing you’re opposed to them doing in the first place. The campaigning, it seems, never ends.
The Yukon Party’s complaints that Sandy Silver’s government is kowtowing to a friendly Liberal counterpart in Ottawa likewise ring false, considering the cozy relationship between the Pasloski and Harper governments. For one illustration of this, witness the Pasloski government’s support for Bill S-6, so widely reviled by Yukon First Nations.
As NDP MLA Kate White observed last week, all this is rather akin to “the pot calling the kettle black.”
However, the YP has vacillated between going hard at the government (accusing the Liberals of “failing” to oppose Ottawa’s carbon tax) and sounding a more conciliatory note (saying they were “pleased to hear” the government inked a health-care deal with the feds).
Interim Opposition leader Stacey Hassard has also quickly gone after the Liberals for specifics on its largely vague election platform. While it may be true that it remains too early for the Liberals to have accomplished much, it is not too early for the opposition parties to begin demanding specifics.
All this is a product of the built-in absurdities of our parliamentary system. The official Opposition is expected to do precisely what its name says: oppose the government’s agenda. Once a government has gotten into its legislative agenda, this makes perfect sense: we should want the opposition parties to pore over government bills, criticize them in detail and propose substantive alternatives. This is the essence of parliamentary democracy.
It’s also why the last Yukon Party government under Darrell Pasloski was just absolutely precious when it chastised the opposition NDP and Liberals for not supporting the budget. “They are opposed to all the positive initiatives in this budget,” Pasloski sniffed during his 2015 budget address.
But those parties were simply doing their job. Likewise, the Yukon Party should not be expected to give the Liberals a free pass. The problem is that the Liberals haven’t done much yet, leaving the Yukon Party seeming like it is at times grasping at the slimmest pretences of things to criticize the government about.
Not only that, but as interim leader, Hassard is constrained by the unelected and temporary nature of his position. It’s not his place to radically alter the party’s course: it must first have a leadership convention, and interim leaders are generally expected not to rock the boat.
It’s clear that after 14 years in power, the Yukon Party is still figuring out how to be an effective opposition party. Given its leadership vacuum and the decimated NDP, Sandy Silver’s government faces some fairly smooth sailing during its first months in office.
But an ineffectual Opposition serves nobody. Yukoners should hope that, like the government, the Yukon Party masters its new role quickly.
Contact Chris Windeyer at