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Budget passes at the end of short spring legislature sitting

The Yukon Party tried to extend the sitting to allow more room for debate
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Premier Sandy Silver speaks to reporters after the final question period of the special spring sitting on May 31. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)

The Yukon Legislature’s spring sitting ended on May 31, after a short 11-day sitting.

Thanks to an agreement between the NDP and the Liberal government, the budget for 2021-22 passed third reading in the legislature and received assent on May 31.

“Yukoners definitely sent a clear message that all members of the Legislative Assembly need to work together for the benefit of the territory,” said Premier Sandy Silver, following the last question period of the sitting.

The budget was the main piece of legislation brought forward during the spring sitting. Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon took issue with the length of the special spring sitting, which lasted 11 days, saying that the opposition didn’t have enough time to thoroughly debate the spending.

“The result of that [short sitting] is that a significant portion of the budget was not thoroughly debated or discussed and a very small amount was voted on. Now today the guillotine will come down and pass the $1.8 billion budget with extremely little debate,” he said.

“If the premier doesn’t like being in the Legislative Assembly, I think it’s likely because his ministers are so unable to answer basic questions,” he said.

On the final day of the sitting Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers introduced a motion to extend the sitting, but the attempt was voted down in the house.

Silver said the length of the sitting was appropriate because of the existing delay in passing the financial documents. The budget was first introduced in March, but suspended when an election was called.

He said the Yukon Party had two opportunities to scrutinize the spending since there were few substantial changes to the budget after the election.

“It’s always interesting that we hear ‘We want time to debate the budget.’ They don’t really get into the details of the budget, the way that the NDP would do their research,” he said.

“Just because the session is over doesn’t mean that the opposition can’t ask questions about the budget,” he added.

Throughout the sitting, the Yukon Party members stubbornly referred to the agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party as a “coalition government” despite the other two parties’ objections to the term. The NDP has no party members sitting in the government’s cabinet.

The confidence and supply agreement, referred to as “the CASA” by the three parties, represents a formal agreement between the two parties that expires on Jan. 31, 2023.

The NDP have pledged to support the passing of the budget and other confidence votes in the house. In exchange for the support the agreement includes major policy promises, including universal dental care, rent control and new mining legislation.

Despite the newly-elected MLAs in the party and their leader not holding back during question period, Kate White said the progress made so far between the two parties suggests the agreement is workable and serves as an example to other jurisdictions with minority governments.

“To date, the relationship under the confidence and supply agreement has been good. But it’s like any relationship, it requires work and it doesn’t always mean smiles at the end of meetings,” she said.

“There is a conflict resolution [in the contract]. There’s no ability for someone just to throw up their hands right now and say, ‘I quit.’ We have to go through certain steps before we can get to that point. Part of that is to make sure that cooler heads prevail,” she said.

While the sitting may be over until the fall, the work does not end for ministers and MLAs. The Liberals have committed to implementing a supervised consumption site by Aug. 31 and a $15.20 minimum wage by Aug. 1. In addition, the agreement includes developing new mining legislation by Jan. 31, 2023.

On May 31, Silver made it clear that the timeline on mining laws will depend on consultation with First Nations.

He said the work is only beginning to implement the requirements of the agreement.

“Our party is working nonstop and will continue to make sure that we move forward on the agreement pieces. There is a lot of work to do this summer,” he said.

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