Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. Politicians return for the spring sitting of the assembly March 4. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. Politicians return for the spring sitting of the assembly March 4. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Analysis: What to expect in spring sitting of the legislature

They’re back on March 4, but election speculation is looming large

When the Yukon legislature returns this week the budget will be top of the agenda — after that, stay tuned.

The 2021-2022 budget will be tabled by the Liberal government on Thursday when the house resumes.

Premier Sandy Silver is also the government’s Minister of Finance, making him the point person for questions following the tabling.

All bets are off following the passing of the budget — the sitting could continue normally or it could end abruptly if the government decides to call an election. Right now we don’t know.

All three parties have been rapidly finalizing candidates in preparation of the latter. Under current laws, the Liberals must call an election on or before Nov. 18, 2021. Governments across the country have faced criticism for forcing voters to the polls during a pandemic, but if vaccine rollout continues to go smoothly, the party could decide a spring election is a strategic move.

Depending on what it contains, the 2021-2022 budget could become a de facto election platform for the Liberal party. If it’s full of big promises, the opposition parties will inevitably accuse the ruling party of not getting enough done in their four years of power.

If the legislature does return for a full sitting the three parties will be using question period to jockey for position ahead of any writ drop.

If that’s the case, we can expect COVID-19 questions to continue to dominate, along with concerns about the opioid crisis, energy and education.

Since the marathon fall sitting ended in December, the Liberal government has made a number of large policy announcements.

On Feb. 25 the government announced that it would extend COVID-19 business relief, including the Yukon Business Relief Program and the Paid Sick Leave Rebate, in addition to a new loan program.

The NDP has criticized some of the programs as being top-down, employer accessed, rather than employee accessed. The Yukon Party has accused the government of not rolling out funds quickly enough. It’s likely they’ll continue to raise their concerns even as the Liberals tote the success of the programs.

One of the biggest policy commitments was to bring in more affordable childcare starting April 1.

Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the average parent is currently paying $43 per day and the goal by the spring is to reduce that amount to $11 a day and bring full-time kindergarten to all Yukon schools next year.

Expect the parties to be demanding details.

Also on the education file, McPhee is likely anticipating more questions on when Whitehorse high school students will return to full-time classes.

The decision to split classes due to a lack of space for physical distancing could shape up to be an election issue. Some of the potential candidates stepping forward — including Angela Drainville, Cynthia Lyslo and Vanessa Thorson — were vocal critics of the changes to high school.

Since mid-January, there have also been three deaths confirmed from drug overdoses.

The Blood Ties Four Directions outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a temporary boost in funding from the territorial government, and the Liberals have committed to finding solutions to the opioid crisis.

Whether that looks like a safe supply plan — allowing opioids to be prescribed as an alternative to street drugs — or something different, remains to be seen.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com