It looks like a tough session

The NDP and Yukon Party have a secret deal, and the arrogant government bench is guilty of financial mismanagement even as it focuses on petty…

The NDP and Yukon Party have a secret deal, and the arrogant government bench is guilty of financial mismanagement even as it focuses on petty politics.

That’s how the Liberals describe their opponents in the territorial legislature.

And the spring session hasn’t even started yet. It’s going to be a tough session.

But there aren’t any grudges, said Liberal house leader Garry McRobb.

“We’ll have an eye out for opportunities to work together (with other parties), but we won’t hold our breath,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

The party was quick to exhale.

Two Liberal members of the Public Accounts Committee resigned after arguing the Yukon Party blocked a public hearing to the government’s illegal $36.5-million investment into third-party asset-backed commercial paper.

It was a tough opener in the leadup to the spring session of the legislative assembly, which begins Thursday when the government introduces its budget.

“In the legislature, it’s a patty-cake game between the Yukon Party and NDP,” said McRobb.

“It’s obvious they have a secret agreement to lessen the criticism of each other.”

The evidence is Hardy’s penchant for attacking the Liberal opposition, while Fentie limits his criticism of the NDP.

It’s a mix of political expediency and desperation, said McRobb.

“Liberals are the only ones who take the hard issues to the government,” said McRobb.

“We’re not in bed with (Premier Dennis Fentie) or his colleagues.”

Hardy is saddened that he has to respond to silly conspiracy theories.

“There is no secret deal,” said Hardy.

“We’ve been critical. This is a shallow analysis. I called for the premier’s resignation at one point.”

Pushing through anti-smoking and the SCAN legislation has proven the NDP a successful opposition party, said Hardy.

“We’re not just critics; we take opportunities when they’re presented,” he said.

“The Liberals are struggling to define themselves and lashing out at everybody.”

The government often brags about its economic performance, and opposition parties will be watching the budget closely for proof.

There is speculation the budget could top the $1-billion mark, but so far the information available has indicated that’s not true, said McRobb.

But it will be the biggest budget ever, he added.

“We’re creeping up to that mark, but I’d be surprised if we surpassed $1 billion,” said McRobb.

He expects the budget will continue to increase the territory’s reliance on federal transfers.

“We’re already too reliant on Ottawa for handouts,” said McRobb.

The Liberals will be watching for more spending on the new corrections centre and Watson Lake care facility.

Specifically, they’re watching for more cost overruns, said McRobb.

Legislation that could be introduced this spring includes the Children’s Act, Smoke-free Places Act and changes to the Workers’ Compensation Board Act.

While the government has been tightlipped about legislation it will bring forward this spring, there’s a good chance MLAs will get a look at the new Children’s Act, said Hardy.

First Nations and lobby groups have criticized the government’s proposed legislation.

If the government is serious about the act, then it comes forward with improved provisions, said Hardy.

Opposition parties will be asking about the government’s wayward $36.5-million investment.

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” said McRobb.

“That the premier calls the auditor general’s finding ‘just an opinion’ speaks to the arrogance of the party.”

If the budget isn’t $1 billion, it will be close, said Hardy.

But he wonders how the government is preparing long-term plans for the economic slowdown that’s begging to hit Canada.

“We’re not really feeling the slowdown up here, yet,” he said.

“But there’s no doubt the United States is in a recession and in deep trouble. Canada’s manufacturing sector is in deep trouble.”

The territory should be planning for funding cutbacks in Ottawa, he added.

“If other sectors slow down, we’re not immune,” said Hardy.

In the fall, opposition parties focused on money issues: the wayward investments, MLA pay hikes and the retroactive clause giving them six months of back pay, and contract interference leading to discounts for local car dealerships.

The government spent much of the time going through the supplementary budget, which included more funding for arts and culture, sports and recreation.

Increases were made to child benefits, too.

The final report on the Smoke-free Places Act was released, but the government stalled debate on Bill 104’s final reading.

The anti-smoking bill will be back this spring.

Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers said at the time that the government would introduce its own legislation rather than continue with the NDP’s bill.

Now, the NDP, with the help of the Yukon Party, has drafted 19 amendments and will reintroduce the bill.

Hardy is confident the tweaked bill will pass.

“I think the government realized the bill isn’t as bad as initially thought,” he said.

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