The spring sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly wrapped up June 13.
It was the first chance for nearly all of the Liberal MLAs to be part of a full sitting. Prior to the last territorial election Premier Sandy Silver was the only Liberal with a seat.
Silver said he’s proud of what they accomplished.
“We’re representing as Yukoners in the legislative assembly. We don’t have to act as politicians on this grand stage.”
During the session, the government made National Aboriginal Day a statutory holiday as promised. Other bills became law thanks to Yukon’s one-of-a-kind “guillotine clause” which means any government bill that was debated, even for a minute, gets put to a vote as soon as the sitting is over.
The Vital Statistics Act and Human Rights Act were amended to include transgender people, the government made room for a new Yukon Supreme Court judge and changes were made to various tax rates.
The biggest bill this sitting was the Yukon’s 2017-18 budget. After insisting the outgoing Yukon Party government left the books in a mess, Silver eventually predicted a $6.5-million surplus this year and growing deficits into the future.
Silver has since created a financial advisory panel that has been tasked with coming up with solutions to improve the outlook.
More details, including a schedule of public consultations, should be rolling out today, the premier said June 13.
The next sitting will start Oct. 3. The panel has been given until Oct. 31 to submit its final report meaning its budgetary suggestions should be presented before MLAs rise for the year.
Silver said it’s too early to say whether the government will need to issue any supplementary budgets this year to top up what it has already planned for.
“The supplementary (budget) should be more for these things that happen that you didn’t know about when you were doing the budgetary process in the spring, more of an emergency or as things come up.”
At least one major project has come up. The Ross River School continues to deteriorate. Engineers are recommending it be relevelled again, just two years after a round of similar repairs.
That could cost $1.2 million on top of the $500,000 the government may need to spend to fix the underground cooling system that appears to be causing the problems in the first place.
Engineers recommend the building be relevelled this summer. No decisions have been made yet, Silver said.
Interim Yukon Party Leader Stacey Hassard said the possibility of debt was one of the key issues for him this sitting.
“Obviously, the Yukon has been fortunate enough to be one of the last jurisdictions in Canada to have no net debt so it’s very disturbing to see the government moving in the direction they’re moving,” he said. “They’re claiming $216 million in debt by the end of their mandate.”
Like they did for most of the election, the Yukon Party spent much of the sitting focused on the upcoming federal carbon tax. Opposition MLAs repeatedly questioned the government looking for any extra detail on what might be coming.
The Liberals repeatedly responded that they would be making information public as soon as it arrives from the federal government.
Hassard said he doesn’t think his party spent too much time focused on a single issue.
“The fact that we didn’t get a response is the concerning part,” he said. “This is a subject that is going to hit every Yukon in the pocketbook and for a government to sign on to something without knowing what the consequences are, or how the program is going to be rolled out, is ridiculous in my mind.”
After admitting frustration at not having more information from the federal government about the carbon tax, Silver said: “I don’t want to send the message that we’re frustrated with Ottawa. The message is we’re ready to work to make sure that our commitment throughout the campaign is reflected in their federal backstop.”
Silver complimented the NDP for its work this sitting, while criticizing the Yukon Party for being focused on a federal decision.
“What you see with the NDP is that they’re trying their best to stretch into NDP platform commitments and they’ve done their research in bringing that approach into the legislative assembly,” he said.
“The Yukon Party on the other side, they’re still focusing on federal considerations,” Silver said. “I don’t really understand their approach to this but we’re still willing to work with them.”
NDP Leader Liz Hanson said she has mixed feelings about the sitting.
“You can be really, really nice and still make it clear that I’m the government and you’re not,” she said.
In May, an NDP motion to review the Yukon’s minimum wage was voted down by both other parties.
The NDP have been advocating for a $15 minimum wage, though the motion itself only called for a review and didn’t mention a specific rate.
Hanson said the Liberals should be considering suggestions outside of their mandate.
“I expect that a politician and a government represents mature adults so you can recognize that (other parties) may have some good ideas.”
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