Beginning his first full week as premier, Pillai said the first order of business is looking at the possibility of a new confidence and supply agreement with the NDP.
The current agreement, which resulted in initiatives like rent caps and a new dental program, ends Jan. 31.
“My conversations with (NDP Leader) Kate (White) have been positive,” Pillai said. “I think there’s still some real alignment on a number of different issues. When I look back at the agreement, from 2021 until now, I think the agreement has given us an opportunity to do a lot of good things for Yukoners. We’ve always felt within our team that good ideas come from all sides and a lot of good ideas came from the NDP.”
The agreement, the premier continued, provides more certainty for government while bringing fresh ideas to the territory. It’s his hope that a potential 2.0 version could do the same.
As for what a new agreement might include, Pillai said he expects health care, education and housing will be among the top issues.
“Once we get into those deeper conversations, I’ll have a better sense,” he said.
Pillai stands by earlier statements that he does not favour going into an election, though he recognizes the need to be ready.
“The majority of Yukoners want us to be focused on doing the work to improve their lives and they want to move the Yukon forward versus another election,” he said. “As I stated my goal is to come to an agreement with Kate White on a confidence supply bill, but I’m also very well aware that I have a responsibility to have a team ready for an election.”
Focusing on health care, education and housing
For Pillai, a big focus under health care is the implementation of the Putting People First report, as well as dealing with the substance emergency in the territory.
“That has impacted our communities and so many families in such a significant way that we need to continue to put the right resources in place and expand those resources to do everything we can to help Yukoners that have been affected,” he said.
Continued efforts to ensure mental health resources are available, working with the Yukon Medical Association on access to family doctors and working with other provinces and territories for new funding agreements with Ottawa are also priorities.
On the education front, Pillai pointed to the recent establishment of the First Nations School Board in the territory and noted the work McLean, as Education minister, has put into making that vision a reality.
At the same time, he acknowledged “lots of trials and tribulations” impacting schools, and stated his continued support for the minister.
Housing, he said, will largely be about “continuing the work that we’ve been doing.” The territory is seeing diverse partnerships with First Nations, development corporations and non-government organizations, Pillai said.
“There’s a lot of different pieces moving all at once,” he said, highlighting a variety of projects underway that could ease some of the housing pressures.
In the capital city, Pillai said, he’d like to see development happen in other places than the Whistle Bend neighbourhood, adding the Fifth Avenue and Rogers Street site downtown is being studied. Work to plan out the former tank farm site near the Valley View neighbourhood is also underway. Areas of that site are owned by a number of different entities — private owners, First Nations, the city and territory.
Projects and planning are also underway in Old Crow, Dawson, Carmacks, Mayo and others, with the Yukon government also offering to co-apply with First Nations for federal housing funding.
“Pretty much all the communities in the territory have a project underway, a project that’s just been completed or projects that we’re working on in concert with them to build,” he said.
Stepping into the role of premier, Pillai said he’s been pleased to hear from many who have been part of his life over the years, showing their support.
Walking into the Jim Smith Building on Saturday for the ceremony, he was greeted by a long-time friend now living in the territory who he met in the first days of kindergarten in Nova Scotia.
The ceremony also saw the premiership move from one high school friend to another, as Pillai and Silver first met when they both attended Dr. John Gillis Regional High School in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.
For Pillai, Saturday’s ceremony was largely about thanking supporters.
“It was a chance to show our gratitude to so many people,” he said.
The level of diversity and multiculturalism at the ceremony was especially moving for the new premier, who is also the territory’s first person of colour to take the premier’s seat.
It was his youngest son who pointed out to him, when he was considering running for the Liberal leadership, that not many with his background get such an opportunity. His son told him that it was important, if he could do it, to take the opportunity so that other kids could see what can be achieved.
Along with being the first premier of colour, Pillai was also the first person of colour to take a seat as an MLA in the legislature and the first to serve on city council when he was elected to that role.
“So, there’s been lots of firsts,” he said. “I think it’s important that kids of all backgrounds know that with hard work and determination, many, many things are possible.”
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org