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‘Too early to tell’ future of NDP-Liberal agreement under new premier: NDP leader

Political leaders react to Ranj Pillai’s acclamation as Yukon Liberal Party leader
Ranj Pillai spoke to a crowd at his Nov. 25 campaign launch in Whitehorse. He has been acclaimed as the Yukon Liberal Party leader following an uncontested leadership race. The incoming premier and his cabinet will be sworn in on Jan. 14. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Premier-designate Ranj Pillai and his cabinet will be sworn into office in the foyer of the Yukon legislature on Jan. 14.

Pillai was acclaimed as the Yukon Liberal Party leader by the party’s executive on Jan. 8 following an uncontested leadership race. The swearing-in ceremony will see Pillai replace Premier Sandy Silver at the helm. His plans for the party and the makeup of his cabinet have yet to be released.

On Jan. 9, Pillai tweeted that he and his family met with Angélique Bernard, the commissioner of the Yukon, to give his intention to serve as the 10th premier of the Yukon.

In a Jan. 9 tweet, Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon offered a “sincere congratulations” to Pillai.

“I look forward to working with the new premier,” reads Dixon’s tweet.

Dixon was not available for an interview.

In an interview on Jan. 9, Brad Cathers, the Yukon Party’s critic of democratic institutions, compared the Liberal’s leadership situation to a captain abandoning a sinking ship.

Despite the Liberal party previously indicating that it expected multiple candidates, Cathers called it an “uninspiring” leadership contest with only one candidate putting his name forward.

“It seems to be reflective of a growing pessimism within the Liberal party,” he said.

Cathers commented on Pillai’s lack of policy announcements during the campaign period.

“It is reflective of a government that is increasingly tired and very much out of new ideas and a vision for how to improve the territory,” he said.

Cathers said the Yukon Party will be calling on the incoming premier to “demonstrate more respect” for the Yukon Legislative Assembly than his predecessor. He said the outgoing premier “thumbed his nose” at the legislative assembly when it came to a few motions that passed with only Liberals opposed.

“Mr. Silver demonstrated blatant disrespect for the assembly by refusing to do what had been requested by those motions,” Cathers said.

“We’re hoping we’ll see a different approach from Mr. Pillai.”

However, Cathers said he doesn’t expect the change in leadership will alter the direction of government. He said his party is expecting “more of the same” from Pillai.

“Mr. Pillai does have a history of making promises and then not following through on many of them,” Cathers said.

The Yukon Party wants to see Pillai call a territorial election.

“We believe that it is in the best interest of the territory to have an election soon and to allow Yukoners to choose who has their confidence to govern the territory,” Cathers said.

Pillai told reporters Nov. 25 that he would not trigger a snap election. He said his party is not out of ideas.

Yukon NDP Leader Kate White was acclaimed when she ran on her own in a Yukon NDP leadership contest to replace Elizabeth Hanson as party leader in 2019.

In an interview on Jan. 10, White offered a message to the incoming premier and addressed the ways that Yukoners are struggling.

“There’s a real opportunity to address those needs,” she said.

“I hope he keeps Yukoners at the centre of his decisions.”

White is unsure about what direction the territory will be headed, as Pillai hasn’t given much indication.

“This is an opportunity for him to revamp cabinet seats and deputy minister positions, and so I’ll be paying close attention,” she said.

As for her working relationship with Pillai, White said she is willing to work with anyone.

“We’ve had to work together,” she said.

“There’s been some positive things and some more hard things.”

White’s party will focus on bringing forward ideas that are important to them.

“The dental plan is an example of what happens, you know, when the NDP are able to influence policy changes,” she said.

White said “it’s too early to tell” what will happen with the NDP-Liberal confidence and supply agreement, which expires on Jan. 31.

“I can’t even — at this point in time — guess what the future holds,” she said, adding that she expects to hear from Pillai soon on this front.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement Jan. 9 on the territorial Liberal’s leadership swap.

“I look forward to working with incoming Premier Pillai to continue to build healthy and resilient communities in the Yukon and a better future for all Canadians,” Trudeau said.

“Together, we will work to advance key priorities for people in the territory and across the country. This includes making life more affordable, building an economy that works for everyone in the Yukon, moving forward on the shared path of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, taking ambitious action in the fight against climate change, expanding access to child care for Yukon families and improving access to safe, affordable housing and quality health care.”

In a tweet, Trudeau thanked his “friend” and the outgoing premier for his more than 11 years of service in territorial politics, including the past six years as premier.

In a late Jan. 9 statement, Silver said he is confident in his successor.

“He has an unparalleled dedication and compassion that will serve Yukoners well,” Silver said.

In the statement, Silver said being premier was the “biggest honour” of his life.

“The Yukon Liberals are the government this territory needs. Now, more than ever, we need to come together and push the territory to a positive future for all Yukoners,” he said.

Silver will be staying on as MLA for the Klondike.

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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