Fentie misusing emergency measure, says opposition

The Yukon Party is taking advantage of the system by shying from public accountability and scrutiny of government spending, said NDP leader Todd…

The Yukon Party is taking advantage of the system by shying from public accountability and scrutiny of government spending, said NDP leader Todd Hardy.

For the third year in a row, opposition parties are slamming the Yukon Party government for issuing a special warrant, which allows government to make budget decisions with public money without undergoing scrutiny in the legislature.

Yukon commissioner Geraldine Van Bibber signed off on the $257 million warrant on Wednesday, the same day Fentie announced the legislature would reconvene March 30.

In this case, a special warrant was issued to cover the government’s spending in through the first month of this fiscal year.

“Mr. Fentie has used special warrants in a way that they were never meant to be utilized,” said Hardy.

“If a government is intentionally doing this, then that is inappropriate, and I’m sure Mr. Fentie is acting in a manner that would be frowned upon by the auditor general.”

Special warrants should be used only in more extraordinary times, not as an automatic measure, said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

“It’s a step backwards and I think it shows a disregard for the Parliamentary tradition of having the elected representatives debate the spending bills.

“I think it is (the premier’s) way of saying, ‘Because I can,’” said Mitchell.

Democracy is a broad and elastic term, said University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman from Toronto.

And a government issuing a special warrant is not uncommon.

“It’s happened before; it’s happened in every province and federally — it’s how our system works,” he added. “It’s happened three years in a row, (in the Yukon) why should the sky be falling now?

“If the opposition feels it’s bad public practice, they can make it an issue in the next election.

“The ultimate court here is the court of public opinion.”

“As a government we will make sure we engage with the public at every possible venue, not just through the legislative assembly, not just through the media,” said Premier Dennis Fentie Thursday.

“The special warrant is a safety mechanism and there will be an interim supply bill to debate and there will be a budget to debate in its entirety and I certainly look forward to that debate with the opposition.”

But opposition parities say that debate should already be underway.

“There’s no need for it; everyone knows when the fiscal year ends,” said Mitchell. “Mr. Fentie has had many months to prepare for it.

“By and large the majority of the budget has been set by now and there’s no reason why we couldn’t have been told in mid-January.

“For the third year in a row Mr. Fentie has indicated his general disregard for the legislature by bringing us back at the end of the month rather than earlier so we can convene and debate a budget.”

But the premier says the government did the opposition parties a favour by waiting until the end of the month to reconvene the legislature.

“We have yet to know exactly where the opposition will be sitting so I think it’s fortunate for them to have more time to figure out what team they’ll be on,” said Fentie.

“As we are still the government in power I take full responsibility for the date I’ve called. I see no reason why I should even hesitate to worry about it,” he added.

In 2004, Fentie issued a special warrant for $223 million in government spending. And in 2005, Fentie did it again, asking for more than $265 million in spending through two special warrants.