The Yukon Liberals launched their first substantial sitting of the legislative assembly April 20 with a speech from the throne that offered few surprises or details beyond what could already be gleaned from their election platform.
“The throne speech sets the tone and then once we get into the details of the budget we’ll have much more to say about that,” Premier Sandy Silver told reporters after it was over.
That means waiting another week for the meat of the Liberal government’s plans for the territory. Silver, who is also finance minister, has promised to deliver his budget April 27.
The 30-minute speech, delivered by Commissioner Doug Phillips, promised to change the territory’s procurement process within the next 12 months “to spell out advantages for using local companies, local people and local materials.” By March 2018 the government will tender all its major summer construction contracts, it said.
The Liberals will license midwifery later next year, and introduce legislation this sitting to amend the Yukon Human Rights Act to explicitly ban discrimination based on someone’s gender identity.
They’ll hold a second Yukon Forum with First Nation leadership next month, and make National Aboriginal Day a statutory holiday this sitting.
Other promises came with less of a timeline. The government says it will work with Yukon’s francophones to build a new school in Whitehorse and that it will complete the 150-bed continuing care facility in Whistle Bend while “exploring other options for seniors to age in place.”
It will invest in mental health services, energy retrofits for government buildings, initiate pilot projects looking into the potential for electrical energy storage and expand e-health services and the online corporate registry.
And it reiterated one of the Liberals’ most controversial election promises for a “revenue neutral” federal carbon tax.
Interim Yukon Party leader Stacey Hassard said he was hoping for more from the speech.
“I certainly would have liked to have seen us get down to work a lot sooner,” he said. “He didn’t answer any of the questions as to why we’ve been almost six months before getting on with the work that we need to do.”
It’s worth noting former Yukon Party Premier Darrell Pasloski earned similar criticism over a lack of new information in his first throne speech after winning the 2011 election.
NDP Leader Liz Hanson called Thursday’s speech “glossy.”
“Failing the detail in this throne speech we will look to the budget speech for real succinct and concrete details about how they go about implementing these broad, general commitments,” she said.
In late March, Silver issued a $427 million special warrant to cover the cost of running the territory until the new budget is passed. It was the largest special warrant in Yukon history.
The premier maintains that he needed time to create a budget with more details than what Yukoners usually see.
“We could have, for political reasons, rushed things through but we worked with the departments, and we worked with the team here, and we decided that’s not what Yukoners want,” he said.
“Yukoners want to see the real cost of doing business, they want to see better forecasting into future budgets, they want to see a direction.”
Whatever the budget ends up looking like, the throne speech warned “fiscal challenges lie ahead.”
There is still no word if the territory will end up running a deficit this year. After taking office Silver accused the outgoing Yukon Party government of leaving the territory with an $8-million deficit. The Yukon Party has denied that.
Silver will certainly have less money to work with to avoid going into debt. The Yukon Party spent down the territory’s extra cash in the bank, from $223 million in 2015 to a projected $57 million at the end of the last fiscal year, partly to pay for large capital projects.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org