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‘Never certain’: Territorial leaders readying for return of Yukon Legislative Assembly

Budget drops and spring sitting starts on March 2

MLAs are returning to the Yukon Legislative Assembly with a new premier at the helm and an extended Liberal-NDP confidence and supply agreement (CASA) in place.

The fall session ended with questions lingering about the future of the premiership and an extension of CASA, which was signed on Jan. 31.

The three territorial party leaders sat down with the News prior to the start of the spring sitting and the release of the budget on March 2.

Yukon Liberal Party Leader Ranj Pillai will be tabling his first budget as premier.

“It does feel a bit more secure going into the spring session now that we know we have that support, at least from one of the parties, when it comes to the budget votes,” Pillai said.

He indicated his minority government is banking on support from the NDP and striving for support from both parties.

“It’s going to be a budget that will strongly invest in areas that are very important to us when it comes to education, when it comes to housing and when it comes to health care, as well as infrastructure,” he said.

“I think that it also was a time for us to get the right resources into some areas and programs that I feel are critical.”

While Pillai said he anticipates this session will be full of “vigorous debate” and “contentious conversations,” he plans to focus on finding common ground with the opposition parties.

“Of course, there’s areas that we’ve identified between the NDP and the Liberals in the confidence and supply agreement that already have areas of common ground identified and our budget will be supporting a number of those initiatives,” he said.

Pillai said the budget involves some “smart decisions when it comes to future proofing our financial position” over the next year.

“I’m concerned in my role, personally, about where we are when it comes to a potential fire season.”

He described some of the issues his government is dealing with as complex problems affecting the nation.

“These aren’t regional issues that are easy to come up with strategies to fix quickly … as premier, you’re thinking about all those things and you also have an obligation to be very forward thinking,” he said.

“When I think about areas like Arctic security [and] long-term energy planning, those are all things that we’re again going to have to really focus on.”

Pillai signalled the government will be rolling out a new immigration strategy.

He outlined his overall vision.

“My vision is to have a strong balance between how we support individuals that live in the Yukon, and that’s done really by ensuring that we have the most progressive and the most innovative and the most supportive structures when it comes to education, health care [and] housing,” he said.

“I think we have to look towards the private sector as our area to grow. I think we have to look at the private sector for solutions when it comes to housing [and] when it comes to land development.”

Pillai hasn’t completely ruled out calling a snap election before the scheduled date in November 2025.

“There’s some things that could play out, but, you know, I’ve made a commitment by putting my signature on [CASA] to work on those things over the next two years,” he said.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon said there’s a more normal pace and a degree of certainty.

“We don’t think the government is going to fall this sitting. That’s pretty clear,” he said.

“I know that the NDP has said that they still retain the ability to change their mind about whether or not they’ll support the Liberals. But, you know, quite frankly, I can’t imagine that happening. The NDP are getting everything that they wanted.”

Dixon said he will be looking for “some sort of vision from the government to justify” the confidence deal.

“We’ve seen very little by way of policy announcements or justification for the agreement, other than them staying in power,” he said.

“It’s essentially, you know, an NDP government with a Liberal figurehead, and that’s something that we’ll have to wrestle with.”

Dixon said he wants to see money in the budget for capital projects such as the Atlin hydro power project and Nisutlin Bay bridge.

Dixon is hoping he will see the new premier’s vision laid out in the budget speech. Meanwhile, he continued to harp on the Liberals for being “out of ideas.”

“They’re out of steam, and they’re getting a little long in the tooth,” he said.

Dixon said his party will keep on holding the government to account as the Official Opposition.

“We’ll certainly be raising the attack on the private sector, the concerns with the lack of movement on housing [and] the challenges facing our health-care system,” he said.

“We’ve seen surgeries canceled, we’ve seen delays in the hospitals [and] we’ve seen rural health facilities closed periodically over the last year.”

Dixon said the December 2022 power outage affecting more than 3,300 customers in Whitehorse for about four hours was “unacceptable” and he hasn’t seen any “positive developments” regarding the reliability of the territory’s power infrastructure.

READ MORE: Yukon set electricity demand record just hours before Whitehorse power outage

“The result of the Liberals energy policies over the last number of years have put us in a very perilous position when it comes to our electricity grid, so that will certainly be something we’ll be talking about,” he said.

“And there’s been an unfortunate trend recently of uncertainty in the resource sector, whether it’s the forestry industry facing the challenges that we saw last year with firewood, whether it’s the challenges facing the placer mining industry or the increasing uncertainty facing our mining industry.”

READ MORE: Minister concerned about firewood shortage this winter

Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said she foresees a “fiery” spring session.

White said she has been hearing about the wetland policy, which Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nation and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun have come out against.

“There’s been some really, really interesting feedback, especially from First Nation governments on that,” she said.

The lack of midwifery services and a walk-in clinic are also big concerns, she said, although there is a commitment from the Yukon government to open a walk-in clinic by January 2024, per CASA.

While Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee was unable to deliver on her promise for a walk-in clinic in 2023, White said she is “pretty confident” the government will pull through this time around as part of the shift towards a new health authority and getting rid of fee for service.

“It was like a complete failure because nothing ever opened,” she said.

“But there needed to be lessons learned. My expectation is that lessons have been learned.”

Housing will be a priority for her party. White said she wants to see the old Macaulay Lodge site at 2 Klondike Rd. turned into rentals, as opposed to the government’s plan to sell it off.

“We don’t think it should be sold off to be parceled up as condos or to be sold for profit. We think that that should be rental housing,” she said.

“There’s lots of good examples, you know, of working with both development corporations and private entities in recent years about the ability to develop rental housing, and so I’m hoping that government goes that way.”

White said her party will have a “strong focus” on education. She said she wants to see money put aside in the budget for wellness counselors in every school and for training for educational assistants and learning assistance teachers, which are laid out in CASA.

She said the values that were important to her when she was first elected in 2011 are the “things that we have fought for” in each iteration of CASA.

“I think that for people who were surprised about my decision to sign the second confidence and supply agreement, the truth of the matter is that I’ve been very consistent and possibly the most consistent,” she said.

“You’ll see us speaking against the budget that we have to vote for, in that same breath.”

White noted the NDP has voted with and against Yukon Liberal Party and Yukon Party ideas.

“I think in this situation — in this minority situation where no one party holds the power — there’s a real opportunity to work together,” she said, adding that every party must always be ready for an election in this climate.

“It’s never certain in a minority situation.”

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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