Opposition leaders are questioning how the dynamics will play out in the Yukon legislature this fall now that the premier has announced he will be stepping down. Premier Sandy Silver will vacate his role following a Yukon Liberal Party leadership convention that has not been set.
The News interviewed the three elected territorial party leaders in the days leading up to the legislature convening on Oct. 6.
Silver told the News he will not be creating new rules for cabinet ministers who are seeking to replace him as leader. (See related story, below.)
According to Silver, it will be “business as usual” for the Liberals.
“We’re going to continue to do what we do, which is govern,” he said.
Silver said the first things Yukoners can expect from him this sitting is a balanced budget and a continued path of bringing substantive legislation.
Fires and floods will be major budget items from his point of view.
“My focus is the mandate letters to the ministers and making sure that every single item there is being worked on and continue to move those forward, because that’s what we campaigned on,” he said.
He said the Clean Energy Act will be tabled in October, while the Animal Protection Act will be seeing proposed amendments.
“Part of our campaign is the environment and so to keep on working on climate change and continue to work towards our targets was extremely important,” he said.
“It’s always been important to us to modernize our healthcare system, to modernize our education system, and also to tackle climate change.”
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon had been wondering if cabinet ministers would be required to step aside from their roles in order to put their names forward in the Yukon Liberal Party leadership contest.
Dixon said the “untenable” situation will make for an “unusual” sitting.
“It’s really difficult timing for the premier to make that announcement [to resign] because we now go into a fall sitting where we have a lame duck premier. We have potentially several sitting cabinet ministers jockeying to succeed the premier and take over the leadership,” Dixon said.
“They will be undoubtedly distracted and focused on their own leadership process.”
Dixon said he doesn’t anticipate his party putting forward any legislation, although that could change depending on what happens in the House and what the government tables, noting that tools the opposition has to change laws are limited.
His team will concentrate on addressing issues like the rising cost of living in the territory.
“What’s really disappointing about that is just the real lack of a plan,” he said.
Housing is also top of mind for Dixon on the heels of an auditor general’s report that criticized the government’s handling of housing and a startling lack of progress in the territory.
Dixon said the housing problem is being compounded by the lack of lots and land development.
“The lots that have come out have been not as many as needed and have been persistently delayed by various things,” he said.
The state of the private sector is another concern for Dixon as he said costs have increased for small businesses and the labour shortage has deepened.
NDP Leader Kate White had also been asking what happens next with the looming leadership contest.
“I imagine it might get feisty because all of these questions that exist,” White said.
She indicated the NDP will be digging to address the root cause of problems instead of offering surface-level solutions on a range of issues.
White said her party’s take on affordability will look substantially different from what the other two parties are pitching. She wants to see an immediate inflation relief payment and a full review of social assistance rates, among other measures the NDP has priced out.
The cost and scarcity of firewood is another issue that White will be taking on.
“The government offering a $50-per-chord rebate is actually not helpful when there’s no wood available,” she said.
“That’s not going to help. That might actually exasperate the problem as opposed to benefit it.”
Ensuring the Yukon government fulfills its promise for a walk-in clinic in Whitehorse and increasing access to health-care practitioners are priorities for the NDP.
“People still don’t have access to doctors,” she said.
White said the NDP will be putting forward a private member’s bill that would make the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation a statutory holiday.
“It’s not good enough here that it’s just federal employees and territorial government employees, it needs to be an ability for all people to honour that day in the way that they should,” she said.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com