Legislative assembly’s spring sitting starts tomorrow

Yukon MLAs are set to be back in the legislative assembly tomorrow. Aside from a one-day sitting in January, this spring sitting will be a first for Premier Sandy Silver’s Liberals.

Yukon MLAs are set to be back in the legislative assembly tomorrow.

Aside from a one-day sitting in January, this spring sitting will be a first for Premier Sandy Silver’s Liberals. With the exception of the premier, everyone in the government caucus is new to territorial politics.

None of the bills the government plans to table this sitting will come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention since the Liberals won a majority in November.

On April 24, the government will table a bill to make National Aboriginal Day — June 21 — a statutory holiday, said Liberal House leader Tracy-Anne McPhee.

On April 25, a single bill will be tabled to make changes to the Yukon’s Vital Statistics Act and Human Rights Act. It would remove the requirement for sex reassignment surgery before someone can change their gender on their birth certificate and explicitly ban discrimination based on someone’s gender identity.

On April 26 the government will introduce a bill to make room for the federal government to appoint a third Yukon Supreme Court judge.

In all likelihood most of the sitting will be spent debating the 2017-18 budget, which is slated to be unveiled April 27.

“It’s a large budget, it’s for spending for every department in the territory, and we expect it will take the majority of the time,” McPhee said.

The premier has promised a more detailed look at the territory’s books than what has been available before.

Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard said topics like the new education curriculum and the need for more money for medical travel will also likely come up in the legislature.

His party is going to push this sitting for more information on how a federal carbon tax will be implemented in the Yukon, he said.

Opposition to a carbon tax was a frequent talking point from the Yukon Party during the election campaign.

Silver has promised revenue from the carbon tax, coming in 2018, will be returned to Yukoners, even though it will be administered by the federal government.

Hassard said there needs to be more information about what that will look like.

“It was the first thing that the premier did as premier, he signed on to the agreement with the federal government, and we’ve seen no explanation, no understanding of how it’s going to work.”

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Liz Hanson said she hopes the current government will pay attention to issues like affordable housing, income inequality and environmental sustainability.

She said the long stretch of time between the election and the first sitting has likely heightened people’s expectations of the new government this spring.

“It’s been a much steeper learning curve for this group of people and if it’s taken them time to get that understanding than hopefully it’s worthwhile.”

There’s no word yet on how long the sitting will last. All government bills have to be introduced and given first reading by April 27. After that the house leaders for all three parties will meet and decide on the sitting’s duration.

The Yukon Party has said publicly that it wants a 40-day sitting whereas McPhee said she’s expecting something “somewhere around the 30-day mark.”

Yukon MLAs sit for a total of 60 days a year and a 30-day sitting now allows for another 30 days in the fall, she said.

“We wouldn’t want it to be considerably shorter in the fall when there will likely be more lengthier pieces of legislation.”

If the sides can’t come to an agreement the sitting will be 30 days. That means it will likely end on June 13.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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