Legislative session wraps up with much to do over Liberal leader’s absence

The final session of the legislative assembly before this year's territorial election went out with a whimper on Thursday.

The final session of the legislative assembly before this year’s territorial election went out with a whimper on Thursday, with the Yukon Party and the NDP sticking to tired pre-election talking points and Liberal Leader Sandy Silver not bothering to show up.

This session saw the government pass a record $1.4-billion budget, and saw the three parties lay out their campaign ammunition in the run-up to the next election, which must take place by October 2016.

The government has also passed legislation to improve access to funding for post-secondary education, to maintain fitness and arts tax credits for parents and to support mineral exploration.

The Yukon Party has been on the offensive through much of the session, and has seemed to focus its attacks on the Liberal leader.

The party made much of the fact that Silver went to the Liberal convention in Winnipeg instead of being present in the House on Thursday. Hashtags like #SandysDayOff and #PuttingYukoners2nd quickly appeared on the party’s Twitter account, followed by a press release titled “Sandy Silver: You had one job.”

By missing the last day of the session, Silver missed the final budget vote. But he defended his decision in an interview, pointing out that he already voted against the budget during second reading, and suggesting the Yukon Party has no interest in fostering a good relationship with the federal Liberals.

“Somebody has to make some good inroads with our counterparts in Ottawa,” he said.

The incident was a minor shakeup in a session often marked by predictable questions from the opposition and repetitive answers from the government, suggesting the parties are refining their messages ahead of the election.

Premier Darrell Pasloski has pointed out that the Yukon has no net debt at every possible opportunity. He has frequently tried to focus attention on the fact that the NDP and Liberals favour some form of carbon pricing, while the Yukon Party opposes it.

He has also repeatedly accused both opposition parties of planning to cancel the controversial Whistle Bend continuing care facility, though both parties have denied it.

Pasloski refused to speak with the News for this story, with no explanation. His aide told the News that the government doesn’t have to give a reason for refusing to speak with the press.

Meanwhile, the NDP and Liberals have both spent a fair amount of time blaming the government for the fact that the Yukon’s economy has shrunk for the last three years.

The NDP has also pressed the government to be clearer on its stance on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. NDP Opposition Leader Liz Hanson has promised to put a moratorium on fracking if elected.

“How do you trust a government that doesn’t tell you what they really stand for?” she said in an interview.

The party has also criticized the government for its testy relationship with Yukon First Nations and its approach to poverty reduction, long-term care and mental health.

The NDP made headlines this session for tabling an ill-fated bill to rid territorial election campaigns of donations from unions and corporations. The bill has been sent to the member services board, and no legislative change will occur before the election, meaning it’s essentially dead in the water.

But Hanson said the government wouldn’t have allowed the bill to pass even if it had been tabled last year, so the last-minute timing doesn’t really matter.

“Our track record of getting this territorial government to accept anything from the Opposition is not high,” she said.

For his part, Liberal Leader Sandy Silver has tried to position himself as the everyman’s candidate, helped along by the slew of new potential Liberal candidates with varying political stripes.

“There’s not necessarily as big of a partisan lens on voting Liberal,” Silver said.

In the House, he has focused heavily on the government’s plans for infrastructure spending, and has criticized what he sees as a lack of progress on the planned fibre-optic line up the Dempster Highway and the paving of the Dawson airport runway. He has also regularly accused the Yukon Party of not wanting to make nice with the feds.

Still, he’s been reluctant to show his hand on many issues, and has offered few tangible commitments of his own.

Outside the legislative assembly, this last session was marred by unanswered questions regarding Yukon Party MLA Darius Elias and newly Independent MLA David Laxton.

Elias and his party have refused to say what has been done to address the Vuntut Gwitchin MLA’s alcohol addiction, which came to the fore when he refused a breathalyzer test in 2014. The issue came up again after Elias’s breath seemed to smell of alcohol last month during a media tour of Old Crow, a dry community.

Laxton, MLA for Porter Creek Centre, abruptly resigned as Speaker and left the Yukon Party earlier this month, after an allegation of sexual harassment surfaced. The party has not said whether it will consider taking him back into the fold for the coming election.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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