The next sitting of the Yukon legislative assembly starts March 1. To prepare, here is a breakdown from A to Z of the topics we expect will come up when the politicians go at each other over the next two months:
Affordable/supportive housing — We will find out in the budget whether the government will support plans by Challenge Disability Resource Group to build 42 affordable rental units in Whitehorse. The building, which would also include the non-profit’s office space and seven penthouses for sale, needs a one-time $7 million grant from the government.
Budget — Premier Sandy Silver has promised to release the 2018-19 territorial budget on the first day of the sitting. Last year’s budget projected deficits starting in 2018-19. This will also be a chance to see what the Yukon’s net financial assets will look like and whether the territory is going to land in net debt.
Carbon tax — Those who were paying attention last go-around know the Yukon Party has been pushing the territorial government for more details on how it will implement the federal carbon tax. To date the Yukon Liberals have avoided providing many specifics claiming they’re waiting for more information from Ottawa. Silver had said he believed the carbon tax would happen sometime this summer. Ottawa has since said the new rules for jurisdictions that don’t have their own carbon tax will start Jan. 1, 2019.
Dempster fibre line? — There is still no word on whether the federal government plans to help fund a redundant fibre optic line through the Yukon. There’s no specific line item in the federal budget for the line but Yukon’s MP Larry Bagnell has said there are funds the project could qualify for. The Dempster route is one of two routes being considered, the second would run through Alaska.
Energy — At the request of Economic Development Minister Ranj Pillai, the Yukon Development Corporation is looking into tying the territory’s power grid to B.C. to take advantage of extra power that is expected to be generated by B.C.’s Site C hydro dam. The news came as a surprise to both opposition parties. After all, a similar report just a few years ago put the price tag at $1.7 billion.
Financial advisory panel — Last year the Yukon government hired a group of financial advisors to come up with ways to improve the territory’s financial situation. This is the first budget that could include some of the panel’s suggestions. Until now Silver has been vague about what ideas he might implement but he’s already ruled out a sales tax, changing the placer royalty regime and government layoffs.
Gender neutral — Silver has promised an omnibus bill covering five pieces of legislation from three departments, making them gender neutral. That means removing rules such as requiring that certain boards and committees have a fixed number of men and women.
Health care — There’s no question that the new continuing care facility in Whistle Bend and the growing pressures on Yukon hospitals will be a topic of conversation. The first phase of the 150-bed facility won’t be ready until the fall and the hospitals continue to be crowded thanks to patients who should be in continuing care beds. The government has hinted that opening more beds at the Thomson Centre could be part of this budget.
I.T. — The government spent close to half a million dollars on, among other things, a new website and logo. The Yukon Party has been critical of the decision but also taken its own amount of flack for suggesting work could have been done more cheaply.
Justice building — Since mid-January the RCMP have refused to work in the cell block in the Andrew Philipsen Law Centre in downtown Whitehorse. Police and the Yukon government will only says that “deficiencies” that are “security-related” were uncovered. No one is saying publicly what those deficiencies are or how much the Yukon government is going to have to pay to fix them.
Klondike — There’s money to be spent in the Klondike. The Liberals have promised to pave the Dawson City runway, though no timeline was set for when that could happen. There are also questions about whether there will be any cash set aside for a new recreation centre in the premier’s riding.
Land-use planning— After years of fighting, the Yukon government got a final answer from the Supreme Court of Canada on how to plan the future of the Peel watershed. Government officials have said it could take a year to come up with a final plan for the Peel. Meanwhile there are other land-use plans that need to be completed across the territory. Now that the top court has provided clarity, expect questions on when those plans will get underway.
Minimum wage — The NDP was expected to continue to push for a review of the minimum wage, something it’s been doing for years. Two days before the sitting was scheduled to start, the Liberals announced they would be doing a review. There are few details at this point.
Negotiations — The Yukon government is still negotiating with First Nations before major road work can start on the Resource Gateway project. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Yukon last year to announce the $360-million plan, but until those agreements are signed, the cash won’t start flowing.
Ottawa’s money — The federal budget was released two days before the Yukon’s budget is made public. Ottawa’s budget lays out some broad strokes for how it plans to spend its money but most of the specifics haven’t been released yet. The Yukon’s transfer is set at just over a billion dollars for 2018-19 year. It will be reviewed next year.
Pot — The Yukon will have to pass its cannabis legislation this sitting so that it is in place in time for federal legalization. Legalization was supposed to happen by July, but now Ottawa says it likely won’t happen until August or September.
Question period — There are always a few surprises that come out during question period.
Ross River — The community continues to struggle with a housing shortage. Most recently the Ross River Dena Council hired a new construction company to finish building three much-needed duplexes after, it says, the previous company put up buildings with “significant structural problems.” The Liberals have promised to make housing in the community a priority.
Stakeholder consultations — All signs point to the Yukon Party coming after the government for what the opposition says is a lack of consultation on a number of files. That includes the territory’s proposed new recycling regulations where ministers showed up to a public meeting only as “keynote listeners,” not to answer questions. There have also been concerns over plans to open a new group home in Whitehorse and build a new housing-first-style building. Other consultations have been more successful. The government says it has seen unprecedented numbers when it comes to consultations on legalizing cannabis.
Tenders — Ahead of the election, the Liberals promised to tender seasonal construction projects no later than March of each year. They didn’t meet that promise in 2017 and are now saying they will tender “major” seasonal contracts by March 31, 2018.
Unknowns — As much as the government tries to plan for what might come up in a sitting, they also have to be prepared to respond to unknown issues that might pop up over the next two months.
Vuntut Gwitchin — The Gwich’in people continue to fight back against the possibility of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which includes the calving ground for the Porcupine caribou herd. Late last year the American government passed a tax bill that includes a provision to allow exploration in the refuge. The Yukon and Vuntut Gwitchin governments put out a statement saying they were “saddened” by the decision.
Waste — Plans to change the territory’s recycling regime have been put off repeatedly. Changes which would add an upfront fee to the purchase of electronics and change the way tires are taxed were supposed to be in place by Feb. 1. That has since been put off, after complaints from industry. There isn’t a clear date for when the rules might actually be in place.
X marks the spot — Mineral exploration is a central part of the territory’s economy and any news of exploration will likely generate questions. The UK-based company with plans to purchase Minto mine says there are a number of prospective exploration targets have been identified and will require drilling. If everything goes as planned the sale is slated to go through in April. Meanwhile in Ross River a staking ban has been extended until July 31, 2019. Staking is also prohibited in the remaining portion of the Kaska asserted traditional territory in Yukon until April 30, 2018.
YESAB — Major mining projects are working their way through the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment process. Public comments on the Kudz Ze Kayah project 115 kilometres southwest of Ross River are being accepted until March 1. Meanwhile Goldcorp has been asked to answer pages worth of questions for the assessment board before its Coffee mine might be allowed to proceed.
Zzzzzzzzzzz — Let’s face it, not everything in this sitting is going to be compelling. Assuming that the sitting runs for the expected 30 days, it will all wrap up April 24.
Contact Ashley Joannou at email@example.com
Clarification: the story has been updated to include that the federal government now says carbon pricing will be implemented on January 1, 2019.