Sandy Silver became the Yukon’s ninth premier, as the second Liberal government in Yukon history was ushered into office on Saturday.
It was standing-room only in the lobby of the main administration building on Saturday afternoon, as the Dakhka Khwaan Dancers led in the new Liberal cabinet for their official swearing-in.
Elder Phil Gatensby, who delivered the opening statements, said he was never motivated to vote before this election.
“But this year I did,” he said. “This year, something changed in me and I thought, ‘I have to do this. I have to vote now. I have to make a change for my children and for their children and for those people that are coming behind us.’”
After the new ministers took their oaths, Silver addressed the crowd as premier for the first time, sounding perhaps a little nervous.
“We have pledged to do a lot of work on your behalf,” he said. “We are committed to being an ethical, responsible and accountable government for all Yukoners.”
The Liberals have opted for a smaller cabinet than their Yukon Party predecessors, with just six cabinet ministers besides Silver.
As is customary, Silver is the new finance minister and minister of the executive council office.
Ranj Pillai was named deputy premier and minister of economic development and of energy, mines and resources. He is also the minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation.
Tracy McPhee, a lawyer and former Yukon ombudsman and privacy commissioner, is minister of justice and education.
John Streicker, a former councillor for the City of Whitehorse, was named minister of community services and minister responsible for the French Language Services Directorate, the Yukon Liquor Corporation and the Yukon Lottery Corporation.
Pauline Frost was named minister of environment and of health and social services. She is also the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation.
Richard Mostyn is the new minister of highways and public works and of the public service commission.
And Jeanie Dendys was named minister of tourism and culture and minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate and the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.
Despite her previous role as director of justice for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, Dendys said she trusts Silver’s instinct in putting her in charge of tourism and culture.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to work on the file and to be potentially that ambassador for the Yukon,” she told the News. “I will work very hard with my colleagues and bring the expertise that I have in health… and justice to assist them in whatever way that I can.”
Silver has nominated Nils Clarke as Speaker of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. Paolo Gallina, Don Hutton and Ted Adel are the remaining backbench Liberal MLAs.
The mood in the crowded lobby after the ceremony was excited and optimistic.
“Woo-hoo!” said Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston, when asked how he feels about seeing two First Nations women named to cabinet.
“That’s awesome. I mean, that’s where we need to be. … And I’m really excited about what the next five years entail.”
James MacDonald said he’s never attended a swearing-in ceremony in the past, but something drew him out this time.
“Change is a good thing. It’s a natural part of our society and we’re here to embrace change,” he said. “Sandy’s talking about improving and repairing relationships with Yukon First Nations, and I think that’s one of the cornerstone important pieces of his platform. And I’m hopeful he’s going to deliver on that.”
Gurdeep Pandher said he wasn’t necessarily rooting for a Liberal government, but he was looking for a change.
“I want a government to be more people-friendly, not staying away from people,” he said. “I’m optimistic, but we’ll have to see how it goes.”
One of Silver’s first official commitments as Yukon premier will be to attend meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the provincial and territorial premiers in Ottawa on Dec. 8 and 9, where they are expected to discuss climate change and carbon pricing.
The Yukon Party is already calling on Silver to fight “for an exemption for Yukon from the carbon tax.”
But Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell said he believes Silver will get along well with the federal government.
“Both Sandy and Justin keep talking about having a strong economy, but… protecting the environment at the same time,” he said. “Because they have similar visions of how to proceed, I think they’ll be able to cooperate on a number of things.”
The Liberals are planning to hold their first legislative session in early January, though it may be a shortened sitting.
Silver has also promised to meet with all Yukon First Nation chiefs within 30 days of forming government. On Saturday, he said he’s met with many of them informally already.
“The clock’s ticking right now,” he said. “We will get that done.”
Contact Maura Forrest at email@example.com