The latest $1.97-billion budget has unsurprisingly passed following a 10-8 vote in the Yukon legislature that saw the Yukon Party go against it and the NDP side with the Liberals in favour of it.
Prior to the vote on Bill 204, the three territorial party leaders weighed in on the 2022-23 budget and reflected on the 2022 spring sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly as it came to a close on April 28.
“The budget will pass today, with support from the NDP, and we thank them for the support,” Premier Sandy Silver of the Yukon Liberal Party told reporters at the legislature following the final question period of the session and ahead of the vote.
Silver said he was proud of the work being done by his team and the NDP under the first full year of the confidence and supply agreement, which is similar to the recent deal put in place between the federal government and the NDP at the parliamentary level.
All government bills were passed this session, he added, including “legislation that will enable the better buildings program to launch. This will provide an affordable option for Yukoners to retrofit their homes and businesses and to help reduce emissions.”
Silver said that seeing changes to the Child and Family Services Act was “very profound” for him.
“When this bill first came forward under the Yukon Party, the First Nations governments were in the parking lot protesting, and we co-developed this legislation, the amendments of this legislation, with those First Nations governments,” he said.
The premier summarized what he called “absolutely unacceptable” low points in the spring sitting as “personal attacks from the Yukon Party, complete disrespect, even taunting to go for fights out in the parking lot.”
“Yukoners deserve better than that, that’s for sure,” he said.
Silver compared his government’s record to when the now-official opposition were in power in 2016, as he often does, saying his team has come a long way but they “still have a lot of work to do” when it comes to mental health, opioid support and safer supply.
“We have been working tirelessly during sessions [and] in between sessions – with other governments and all the communities – to do what we can, and this budget is not stale. This budget is record investments in these initiatives,” Silver said.
Silver said the government is working on implementing the recommendations set out in Putting People First, which is a comprehensive review of health and social services, and Our Clean Future, which provides a road map on climate change.
“I work in channeling all my energies towards what we can do and working with people that want to work with us,” he said.
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon told reporters his party has argued the budget was out of date since the day it was tabled.
“The biggest issue facing Yukoners today is the cost of living and inflation, and unfortunately, the budget is silent on that issue,” he said.
He added that the $150 rebate over three months on electricity bills seemed “deeply out of touch.”
When asked about what he would change, there was no question about it for Dixon: cutting the fuel tax.
Dixon said the “unsustainable” ballooning of the public sector has come at the cost of the private sector and the territory’s economic recovery.
“There are things like privatizing cannabis distribution that we’ve proposed. There are things like reducing red tape and getting out of the way of small business that we’ve suggested; not going ahead with disastrous policies like the rent control and the paid sick leave proposals,” he said.
“Get out of the way and let business do business.”
Although the motions and private member’s bills put forward by his party were unsuccessful, Dixon remains optimistic about others that are still on the order paper, such as a motion on fertility.
That motion urges the government “to create a refundable tax credit to subsidize the cost of certain fertility treatments provided by medical practitioners or infertility treatment clinics, and for surrogacy-related medical expenses.”
Dixon said it is clear to him that the “premier has largely checked out” as his ministers jockey to take over the leadership torch.
NDP wants broader action on mental health, climate chage
“We will be voting in favor of the budget,” Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said in a phone interview on the morning of the vote.
“But it doesn’t mean that we fully support the budget.”
In White’s opinion, the budget has some “disappointing” aspects, particularly in that it falls short on action to address climate change and the government’s declared substance use health emergency, despite what the premier said.
“Safe supply still isn’t available in rural communities. Mental health supports aren’t as readily available as they should be,” she said.
“But I mean, that’s our job, right? We continue to push on.”
The third party leader said a highlight for her was the passing of Bill 304, which the NDP put forward to modify the Education Act to make safe spaces in the form of activities and organizations for LGBTQ2S+ students mandatory in schools.
Another positive part, which came as a surprise to White, was Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee’s announcement on the floor about a government-supported walk-in clinic opening in Whitehorse, which came several months after the city’s only walk-in clinic closed.
White said her team had asked about a walk-in clinic many times, without any clear answer or direction, until that point.
“Then all of a sudden, that was an action that was happening, so I feel like that in large part is due to our pushing,” she said.
On the down side, White said there were times when the legislative assembly descended to a place that it should not go – that falls below the “high standard” the NDP holds itself to.
“That means as far as politicians and behavior, you know, there’s been some catcalling between the Yukon Party and the Liberals that I think doesn’t belong in that place, doesn’t belong in politics at all, but certainly doesn’t belong in the assembly,” White said.
The party leaders and their teams will return to the House for the 2022 fall session of the legislative assembly.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com