Premier Sandy Silver has issued what appears to be the biggest special warrant ever to come out at the beginning of a Yukon fiscal year.
After speaking out against the practice during his time in opposition, Silver announced a warrant of his own for up to $427 million on March 30, in time to keep the government’s lights on when the new fiscal year starts April 1.
Yukon’s legislative assembly reconvenes April 20. The sitting will start after the beginning of the 2017-18 fiscal year, when the current budget has already expired.
Whenever that happens, governments — of all political stripes — issue special warrants to cover expenditures until the new budget receives assent in the legislative assembly.
They’ve been common for years. But recent special warrants at the beginning of fiscal years have been around $200 million. In most cases they only cover the month of April while the budget is debated.
In this case the special warrant covers a full three months worth of costs, from April 1 to the end of June. Silver said that’s because of the date of the next sitting.
A warrant needs to cover the period from the start of the fiscal year until the budget receives final approval in the house.
Since the upcoming sitting won’t begin until April 20, it is unlikely budget debate will be over before June.
“I want to be clear that every nickel from the supplementary (budget) of the last Yukon Party government to the special warrants, all this will be debated in the legislative assembly when we open,” he said.
This isn’t Silver’s first special warrant as premier.
He issued a smaller one in January, for up to $29.4 million that wasn’t included in the spring budget. At the time he said it was all Yukon Party spending.
The decision to use special warrants has the official Opposition accusing the government of hypocrisy.
This time last year, when the Yukon Party government issued a $235 million special warrant of its own, Silver called the practice undemocratic.
At the time he said it shows “a lack of respect” for the legislative assembly when money is approved and spent before MLAs get a chance to debate the budget.
“The most glaring thing here is that it’s directly contrary to what the premier said in opposition and is probably the largest special warrant in Yukon history, especially when you combined the two,” said Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers.
Silver said he’s still “not a big fan” of special warrants but that this one was necessary so government had time to come up with a more detailed budget showing “the full cost of governing in this territory.”
“What you’re going to see, believe you me, when we table the budget, you will see a full picture of budgetary considerations.”
Cash that has to be handed out starting April 1 includes municipal grants to Yukon’s communities and the fulfillment of a contribution agreement with Yukon College. Contributions also have to be made to the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the RCMP.
The 911 contract needs to be fulfilled and money needs to go out to various NGOs, boards and councils.
Special warrants list how much money is going to each department.
About $334 million is connected to operation and maintenance money and $93 million is for capital plans.
The largest chunk of this special warrant is about $100 million going to health and social services. That’s followed by $53 million for education and $45 million for community services.
Despite Silver’s promise of a more detailed picture of the territory’s books, the opposition is not convinced he needed to take this length of time to come up with a budget.
Since winning the November election and being sworn in in December, the government could have come up with a budget before now, Cathers said.
“For the premier to contend that he needs almost half a year before he can face the legislative assembly is simply a fear of question period.”
Silver won’t say when during the sitting he plans to table his budget.
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org