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No virtual sitting for Yukon legislature

Opposition reacts to lack of opportunity to scrutinize government
Premier Sandy Silver during a live update on the COVID-19 situation at a press conference in Whitehorse on March 27. Silver said recently that the Yukon government is not planning on holding a virtual sitting of the legislature. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

The Yukon government is not planning on holding a virtual sitting of the legislature but the premier said the opposition will get a chance to scrutinize the budget at a later time.

Premier Sandy Silver made these comments during the April 28 COVID-19 update.

Silver said his government is focusing on how to manage the health crisis that is “unlike anything we have ever seen before” and it is the government’s number one priority at the moment.

“Our entire caucus is focusing on the needs of all our constituents and Yukoners and I am extremely pleased at the work they have done,” Silver said.

He said he worked with the opposition to pass the 2020 budget as well as to suspend this year’s spring legislature sitting in order to focus on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Both opposition parties agree to this,” Silver said.

He pointed out that no other provincial legislatures are currently sitting in any shape or form. That said, he committed to giving the opposition time to be able to scrutinize the budget at a later time.

The News spoke with representatives of the Yukon Party and Yukon NDP about this issue on April 30.

Scott Kent, a Yukon Party MLA, said the party would be happy to have some kind of method to hold the government accountable because there is currently little the opposition can do at this point.

He said he has taken phone calls from constituents over various issues surrounding the pandemic as well as reopening.

Kent explained that while his party did agree to pass the budget and early adjournment, everyone was hoping more steps would be taken for accountability.

“We were hoping for a little bit more regular briefings and opportunities to question the cabinet ministers and the premier,” Kent said. “That hasn’t materialized.”

He feels the Yukon Party needs to find ways of getting their questions to the government. Members are currently sending letters to the government. He said some ministers are better at responding but none of their questions have been answered.

The party would be willing to explore the possibility of having some kind of virtual meeting or other methods to ask questions.

“The ball’s in the Liberal government’s court,” Kent said.

Kent argued that the government’s current mode of operating is not good democracy and it goes against the Liberals’ tagline in the 2016 election of “be heard”.

“They (Liberals) aren’t willing to listen to anybody,” Kent said.

NDP Leader Kate White said that some relief programs could end up weaker due to the lack of scrutiny, giving the example of the territory looking to claw back the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit and reversing that decision once the story hit the media.

She doesn’t expect the government to take many steps to provide the opposition a chance to ask questions.

“There needs to be oversight,” White said.

She said the opposition needs to be able to push the government to help people, like those who need assistance with expensive DSL internet.

She added that there are a lot of people in the community that could come up with good ideas and need a method of which to share them. In this case, she said some kind of committee would be enough to get the job done.

“I would like something to happen,” White said. “That would be great.”

As for a virtual sitting, she said there is a value in question period. There were questions she would have liked to ask the government. She gave the example of the Adult Resource Centre being moved to the Whitehorse Correctional Centre. She said there were questions she would have wanted to ask about this decision but there was no opportunity to.

Contact Gord Fortin at