The spring sitting of the legislative assembly has been called off in the wake of COVID-19.
“I’ll be very altruistic on this,” Premier Sandy Silver said on March 19. “I know that whether you’re in the third party, or the opposition or in government, all of us are feeling the strain of not being in our home communities.”
The legislative assembly will reconvene the first week October.
Legislators had to balance shutting down the legislature, temporarily or otherwise, with the passing of a crucial piece of legislation — the territory’s $1.6 billion budget, which the Liberals used their majority to pass late in the evening on March 19.
On March 18, Brendan Hanley, chief medical officer of health, urged the 2020-21 budget be pushed through immediately.
“We’ve been emphasizing over the last couple of weeks how important it is to get the mains passed,” Silver told reporters on March 19, referring to the main parts of the budget. “That gives us spending authority past two months.” (An interim supply budget was passed earlier this week.)
Passing the budget will ensure more supports to combat the virus, Silver said. The Yukon government, he continued, will then be eligible to apply for federal funding. Emergency spending measures and supplementary budgets can follow suit, too.
“All that money can flow and now we can take a look at what we need to do with this new normal.”
NDP Leader Kate White requested the sitting reconvene so that specific funding for COVID-19 can be inserted into it, cautioning against ramming the budget through in the midst of the pandemic. She submitted a motion on March 18 calling for the adjournment of the legislative assembly until mid-April or earlier June. White voted against passing the budget.
White previously said the Liberals appeared to be trying to get the budget through without scrutiny when the ones most affected are those who may not be able to afford looming rent, mortgage and, or utilities payments.
Concessions have been made with both opposition leaders, however.
In a written statement obtained by the News, Premier Sandy Silver’s chief of staff informed White that the Yukon government will work to ensure housing security during the pandemic “by adding a clause to all tenancy agreements that will safeguard against COVID-19 related evictions.”
White told reporters on March 19 that she is satisfied with this.
“My line in the sand was evictions,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that no matter what happened in the next couple of weeks that no one would be homeless because they couldn’t pay their rent. It’s not often you get wins like that from the opposition.”
Stacey Hassard, interim leader of the Yukon Party, said while he disagrees with rushing to pass the budget, “you have to choose your battles.”
He said a deal was brokered between him and Silver late on March 18 — that MLAs worked into the night to pass the budget, enabling more debate time. The Yukon Party fought to see a continuation of funding for glucose monitoring devices for Yukoners with Type 1 diabetes.
Silver sent a letter to Hassard after the budget was passed, committing permanent funding for continuous glucose monitoring devices for Yukoners up to 18 years old. A monitoring program for people over this age is in the works, too, he noted.
“We all know this world is a bit of give and take,” Hassard said. “Extenuating circumstances are cause for extenuating decisions, but I am happy to say today we have been able to make some concessions with the government and move forward.”
Contact Julien Gignac at firstname.lastname@example.org