Yukon Premier Sandy Silver speaks with media in his office announcing his government’s legislative priorities for the coming session, which starts Tuesday Oct. 3. (Jesse Winter/ Yukon News)

New sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly kicks off Oct. 3

Session expected to run until Nov. 27

Yukon’s three political parties are preparing for the next sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

Premier Sandy Silver laid out some of the legislation Yukoners can expect to see tabled when the MLAs return to the house Oct. 3.

Major legislation includes updating the territory’s Legal Professions Act and introducing presumptive post-traumatic stress disorder legislation for first responders, the premier said. New missing persons legislation will also be part of the sitting.

“For me it’s a good balance between legislation that is just overdue and also mandate stuff that we’ve been campaigning on,” Silver said.

The presumptive PTSD legislation will also come with changes to the Occupation Health and Safety Act to enable “the development of workplace psychological health and safety regulations,” the premier said.

The idea is to provide workplaces with directions when it comes to policies around mental health, he said.

“We heard loud and clear from EMS and firefighters and others the best thing you want to do is make sure PTS (post traumatic stress) doesn’t become PTSD.”

Presumptive legislation means first responders won’t have to prove their PTSD is work-related in order to be covered by workers’ compensation laws.

The Liberal’s bill doesn’t go as far as what the NDP proposed during last year’s election. The NDP wanted presumptive PTSD legislation to include not just first responders, but anyone else whose job is covered by workers’ compensation.

Silver said his government is open to the idea of expanding who is included in presumptive legislation after this version of the new law has been tested.

“We’re putting this legislation in first and we’re going to see what happens with it as far as the costs associated (with it) and also if it accomplishes the goals it needs to accomplish,” he said.

Silver said he has to be responsible with the public purse.

“This is the good news. When you start opening up presumptive legislation and you start talking about the upfront preventive conversation and dialogue you do create more need because now people will come forward with these things.”

Updating the Legal Professions Act is something the industry has been calling for for years. Details of the exact changes will come out during the sitting.

Updates proposed by the Law Society, include increasing the decision-making power of the society’s executive, removing the need for government approval to pass or amend rules, and establishing separate member categories for lawyers and people who provide more limited legal services like Aboriginal court workers or paralegals.

New missing persons legislation would allow investigators to apply for a court order to access someone’s personal information such as health, banking or telephone records, even if there’s no evidence of a crime.

The sitting will mark nearly a year since the Liberals won the 2016 territorial election. NDP Leader Liz Hanson said she has higher expectations of the government this time around than she did during the first sitting earlier this year.

She accused the government of operating in a “narrow box.”

“That box seems to be, ‘this is what my mandate is … and that’s all I can do, I can’t do anything else. I have to operate within this little narrow parameter.’”

Hanson said if the government had embraced the NDP’s position that presumptive PTSD legislation should cover all employees subject to workers compensation laws, it would have been a sign that they were listening.

This sitting, she said she’s hoping to get a clearer picture of the direction the Liberals want to take the government and how they will be measuring success.

“To be quite honest when you look at their platform it was vague and general and then they wrote rather vague mandate letters to the ministers which could be read almost any way.”

The final report from the independent advisory panel looking at the territory’s finances is expected to be released during this sitting.

Silver said he’s waiting for the final recommendations before deciding what, if any, changes he needs to make.

Before there is direction from the final report, Yukon government departments are starting to submit proposals for what they think should be in the next territorial budget.

Silver said representatives from all the government departments have met in one room to talk about “priorities” and find ways to be efficient.

“If you’re putting money forward in a certain area of programs and services and another department is as well and they’re not talking to each other … you’re probably going to be spending more money on administration and less money on services,” Silver said.

While Silver says he won’t be making any decisions about the financial panel’s suggestions until the final report comes in, that hasn’t stopped the opposition parties from raising concerns about some of the suggestions that came out of a draft report earlier this summer.

Hanson said she’s concerned the Liberals could be looking at making cuts without criteria to determine what’s been successful and what hasn’t.

“That’s one of the big huge legacies, a negative legacy, of the Yukon Party, they let government grow … because they never focused on outcomes.”

Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard said he expects to spend some of the sitting grilling the government about the rising cost of living in the territory.

He pointed to the possibility of a new sales tax — one of the options listed by the advisory panel — and the upcoming federal carbon tax as things that are going to cause the cost of living to go up.

Hassard said he still has unanswered questions about the carbon tax and how it will be implemented in the territory. The federal government has promised to introduce the tax sometime in 2018, which could be as little as four months away, he said.

“I would certianly hope that (the Yukon Liberals) are making some deciasions because time is running out.”

Silver said he is still waiting to hear from Ottawa about how the carbon tax will be implemented and what special considerations will be given to the North.

The territorial Liberals have promised to return any money they get from the carbon tax to Yukoners. But what that rebate will look like isn’t clear yet. Silver said his government is working on various options, but needs details from Ottawa.

“If you’re conscientious about the environment then this rebate, compared to the amount of money you put in, you’re going to see dividiends,” he said. “That’s hopefully the point once we get all the parameters from the federal government.”

Hassard said he also expects his party to press the Liberals on government contracts that went out late this season including one to restore the Ross River Bridge which was delayed when the bids came in $1 million over budget.

“So many of the seasonally-dependant tenders went out so late this year,” Hassard said.

“I think it was difficult for contractors. It wasn’t good for workers on those contracts because it was late in the season before they got working and certainly that doesn’t help their cause.”

The sitting is expected to run until Nov.27.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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