The Yukon Liberals voted down a motion seeking to establish a select committee that would have looked into the effects of the coronavirus on the Yukon’s economy.
Premier Sandy Silver told reporters that his government is already doing enough to deal with the issue.
“Everything being asked by the opposition we believe we have under control,” he said.
The motion, tabled by Stacey Hassard, interim leader of the Yukon Party on March 9, called for the committee to be comprised of an MLA from each party who would work to file a report halfway through the spring sitting, quantifying impacts to the economy. Concerns have been swirling since the Arctic Winter Games were cancelled earlier this month after two years of preparations.
“This is not just in reference to the decision to cancel the Arctic Winter Games, but also to the significant impact that COVID-19 has had and continues to have across the country,” Hassard said during general debate. “For starters, we know that business activity in some regions — particularly those hit hardest by the virus — has fallen sharply and global supply chains have been disrupted. This has lowered commodity prices and has already dragged down the Canadian dollar.”
Hassard went on to say that the Liberals’ budget doesn’t mention the virus, nor is any money earmarked for precautionary measures.
“This, of course, is why we brought forward this motion today. We believe that there is a way that we can all work together to find solutions for a potential economic downturn,” he said.
Silver has routinely said risk of the virus in the Yukon remains low. There are no confirmed cases, and no international flights have arrived at the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport, said Silver, noting, however, that no tests are occurring there. People with influenza symptoms are also being screened for the virus, he said.
Dr. Catherine Elliot, the acting chief medical officer of health, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
On March 9, the Department of Education cancelled all international school trips, following Elliot’s advice. Domestic travel is unchanged.
“At this time, this cancellation does not include trips to Alaska,” a department statement says. “We are currently reviewing all school trips to Alaska with Dr. Elliott and will determine whether or not they will go ahead on a case-by-case basis. In the coming days, we will provide an update directly to those schools who have trips to Alaska planned.”
Silver, who’s meeting with federal counterparts in Ottawa this week, said Yukoners don’t need to worry about the virus immediately.
“Now, are we prepared for the situation in Canada? Yes, we are. Do we have confidence in the medical community to make sure that Yukoners are safe? We’re extremely confident in that. We really want to follow the lead of the chief medical officer and we don’t want people to panic either. Level heads should prevail here and we shouldn’t get into the practice of fear mongering.”
Yukon Party house leader Scott Kent said it’s too late, there’s already an international panic, adding that he’s “disappointed but not surprised” with the Liberals collective action to quash the motion.
“I think we put out an opportunity to again tear down those partisan walls and those blinders and work together on behalf of all Yukoners,” he said. “We think all members of the legislature have something to offer when it comes to the effects on the economy.”
Kent doubts the Liberals have a plan to combat the virus and that they’re taking the matter seriously enough.
“We’re gonna have to keep pressing them in the legislature rather than working together.”
On March 9, the premier urged Yukoners to stay home if they are sick.
John Streicker, minister of community services, said that those people would be still be paid, despite working from home.
NDP Leader Kate White said not all workers have the luxury of not showing up to work such as those in the hospitality sector.
“What a glorious thing to be allowed to work from home,” White said, “but how does he imagine that a cashier could work from home and still earn a paycheque? What about a person who works retail? How could they work from home and still earn that paycheque?”
On March 10, she called on the Liberals to adopt paid sick leave for all workers.
Streicker suggested this wouldn’t be immediately possible, as it would work require legislative changes.
Contact Julien Gignac at firstname.lastname@example.org