The Yukon legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse. The assembly is poised to resume Oct. 1 after an extra long break due to COVID-19. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

What to expect: Yukon legislature resumes Oct. 1

In March the legislative assembly quickly passed the budget before ending early

The Yukon legislature will resume on Oct. 1 with a few changes that include masks, social distancing and – if parties are to be believed – a new spirit of collaboration.

The legislature resumes Oct. 1 at 1 p.m.

So far items up for discussion are expected to include a bill on fixed election dates, changes to the Condominium Act, leftover legislation from the spring sitting and multiple budgets that will include details on COVID-19 spending.

All government bills to be dealt with during the 2020 Fall Sitting will have to be introduced by Oct. 8.

In March the legislative assembly quickly passed the budget before ending early due to COVID-19.

How long the fall session will last is a decision that will be made by mid-October. At its shortest, the legislative assembly will rise on Nov. 5 and at its longest, the House will rise on Dec. 14.

Leftover business

Seven bills left over from the last sitting are already on the order paper and up for debate. These include the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Protection Act that will ban conversion therapy for minors and the Act to Eliminate Daylight Saving Time.

Legislation is also being brought forward that would allow victims of domestic or sexual violence to access a paid or unpaid leave of absence.

State of emergency financials

On Sept. 29 Government House Leader Tracy-Anne McPhee said the government plans to introduce two supplementary budgets. These documents deal with changes in spending from what was previously allocated in the main budget.

The first will deal with changes made to the 2019-20 budget, including funds that have already been spent.

A second supplementary budget will deal with changes made to the 2020-21 budget, including changes in spending that have come up over the last six months during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government has also made some major funding announcements recently tied to emergency relief that will be included in those financials.

In June the federal government doubled the territory’s debt limit to $800 million at the request of the Yukon government. At the time the premier said the funds don’t have to be used, but could make more green energy projects possible.

Opposition priorities

Both the Yukon Party and the NDP have been criticizing the decision not to recall the legislature during the COVID-19 state of emergency, so don’t expect that tone to lessen as the government resumes sitting as scheduled.

Both parties say they want an opportunity to give feedback on COVID-19 decisions – and they’ll likely be making up for lost time when they get their chance during the sitting.

Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon said the party has concerns about the Liberal strategy when it comes to businesses struggling with the pandemic, the government’s approach to wildlife management and hunting and the debt limit being doubled in a state of emergency.

NDP party leader Kate White said her main priorities right now are a post-pandemic vision for the territory, including a living wage. The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition pegs that number at $19.07 per hour, but the minimum wage is now $13.71 per hour.

Both Dixon and White said they have concerns about the current back-to-school configuration, including a decision to make some high school grades part-time that has many parents and students concerned.

Playing nice

The most recent full sitting by the government a year ago was characterized by back-and-forth bickering. Dixon said his party intends to change that going forward.

“We’re going to be taking an approach that’s very constructive and positive. We’re going to offer solutions,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, the Liberal Party isn’t taking the blame for political tension either. When asked about Dixon’s statement by reporters, McPhee said her party has been aiming for collaboration since 2016.

“We’ve always taken the position that constructive work together is far more productive on behalf of Yukoners, than sniping or insults or name-calling for the purposes of trying to make cheap points,” she said.

NDP leader Kate White said she looks forward to seeing both parties end “the blame game.”

“It doesn’t make life better for Yukoners,” White said.

Election looming

A territorial election is looming, a fact that is likely to influence how politicians interact over the sitting days and the following 12 months.

The Liberals will be required to call an election sometime prior to Nov. 18, 2021. Although they plan to introduce new legislation that would establish fixed election dates going forward, that law won’t come into effect until after the next election.

Without a fixed election date the decision of when to call an election remains with the sitting government. All three parties and election officials are already beginning to prepare for an election that could, in theory, be called at any time.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that while the Yukon government requested the federal government to increase the debt limit, the Yukon government did not in fact increase the debt limit, and that only four of the returning seven bills are government bills.

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