Yukon Premier Sandy Silver got his first glimpse of the house from the government side of the aisle during a brief, one-day legislative sitting Jan. 12.
“It’s a different view over here,” said the new premier, who sat as the lone Liberal MLA before the territorial election on Nov. 7. “It’s nice to have colleagues on this side.”
There were few items on the agenda during the sitting, which lasted under two hours.
As a first order of business, Riverdale North MLA Nils Clarke was officially elected Speaker.
Commissioner Doug Phillips then read a brief throne speech, which traditionally sets out the priorities of the incoming government.
He spoke about the importance of advancing reconciliation with First Nations, whom he said “play a key role in our economic, social and cultural life in the Yukon.”
Phillips also said the government will carry out a review of spending priorities over the next two months, before tabling a budget during the spring session.
He said the government will present a second throne speech at the beginning of the spring session “that will set out in more detail the government’s priorities and its legislative proposals.”
In his reply to the throne speech, Silver said his government “will work to create jobs for Yukoners and a more diverse economy, balanced with stewardship of the environment.”
But in his own reply, Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard seemed ready to dispense with the platitudes and get down to business. He set out a laundry list of questions for the government, wanting to know what the Liberals will do to support mining, energy efficiency, the IT sector, local agriculture, education and child care.
He also criticized the government for only sitting for one day and not having a question period.
“Question period is a critical part of our democratic system here in Yukon and allows us … to ask questions that are important, not only to our constituents, but to all Yukoners.”
Both the Yukon Party and the NDP agreed to the shortened session. After the sitting, Hassard told reporters he agreed to the one-day sitting because “there’s hills to die on and this wasn’t one of them.”
Hassard also came out swinging at Silver for accepting “unilateral” decisions from Ottawa. He referred to a recent climate change agreement, signed by most Canadian premiers, that will bring carbon pricing to the Yukon, and to the agreement between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama to ban offshore drilling in the Arctic, decided upon largely without consulting Northerners.
“In the short time that this government has been in power, we have seen either silence or defence of Ottawa’s decisions,” Hassard said.
To that, NDP MLA Kate White had a characteristically blunt response after the sitting was adjourned.
“That’s the pot calling the kettle black,” she said, referring to the cozy relationship between the former Yukon Party government and the Harper administration.
“It was hard to sit through listening to that, actually. It was a struggle.”
White was the lone NDP MLA in the house on Thursday — Leader Liz Hanson is in Alberta with her husband, who is critically ill.
White was optimistic about the new government’s approach, saying she’s already met with Community Services Minister John Streicker to discuss mobile home issues.
“My hope is that Premier Silver, having experienced what it was like to be on the opposite side, in the third party, understands that you can only lead with respect for your colleagues, because we did not have that before.”
For his part, Silver stepped lightly around Hassard’s criticisms when questioned after the sitting. “It’s the job of the official Opposition to critique the government, and that’s what the official Opposition leader was doing.”
Silver said he told Trudeau he doesn’t support unilateral decisions after the Arctic drilling ban was announced.
He also rejected Hassard’s criticism about the one-day sitting, pointing out that when the Yukon Party took over in 2002, the house didn’t sit at all until the spring session began in February 2003.
The Liberals are planning to issue a special warrant in the coming days to authorize government spending until they table a budget in the spring. Silver has criticized the former Yukon Party government for its use of special warrants, because they allow the government to spend money without debate in the legislature.
But he said it’s warranted in this case, because issuing a supplementary budget now would force the Liberals to defend the spending decisions made by the Yukon Party when it was in power.
“If we did a supplementary budget, this would be a supplementary to the last main (budget). That’s not our budget.”
The Liberals have not yet announced when the house will sit for the spring session. Silver was slated to meet with First Nation chiefs during his government’s first Yukon Forum on Jan. 13.
Contact Maura Forrest at firstname.lastname@example.org