The Yukon government will be holding meetings at the end of May with the opposition parties in order to provide them with a venue to scrutinize the 2020-2021 budget.
The meeting schedule was announced on May 6. They are scheduled on May 20, 21, 27, 28 and 29, and will happen on a department-by-department basis.
This comes a days after the Yukon Party made a public request for an all-party committee to discuss COVID-19 and a return to the legislature.
Premier Sandy Silver was asked about the Yukon Party proposal during the May 5 COVID-19 update.
Silver said no other provincial legislatures are sitting or meeting and that his government worked with the two opposition parties to get the budget passed in March, which allowed the territory to tackle the pandemic.
“Both opposition parties agreed to this,” Silver said.
He said there was an agreement for further budget scrutiny and his government remains committed to it.
“Right now my team is focused on the really important work that’s needed immediately,” Silver said.
Stacey Hassard, the Yukon Party’s interim leader, responded on May 6.
He said the opposition wanted an all-party committee to look at the pandemic’s affects all the way back in March.
This was voted down and the party has been trying to encourage input from the opposition since that time.
“It (opposition input) hasn’t happen to a large degree,” Hassard said. “There has been several OICs (Orders in Council) put in place, the government has obviously spent millions of dollars and all of it has been done with absolutely zero legislative oversight.”
Hassard is concerned with the lack of accountability on decision of this magnitude and does not feel the budget meetings will be adequate.
The territorial government now has extraordinary new powers, like ignoring regulatory timelines and changing contract, he pointed out. He argued that this is a government overreach that needs to have legislative scrutiny.
“Otherwise we’re just undermining our democratic institutions,” Hassard said.
He said he also finds it unfortunate that Silver was still saying no other province’s legislatures are holding meetings when that it is not true. He cites assembly agendas posted on the Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec legislature websites that show provincial governments have had sittings during the pandemic, saying this shows the premier is not taking things seriously.
As for reopening, he said he does not like that there is talk about a plan existing but no details. He pointed out that people are worried and need information to plan their lives during the pandemic. He feels the government is more interested in the photo ops than releasing details of the plan to reopen.
Kate White, the Yukon NDP leader, offered some comments on May 6, saying this process leaves a lot of uncertainties.
She said at this point she is unsure if she will even get to ask questions and feels these meetings are missing the boat if the opposition can’t ask about COVID-19 relief programs.
“There was no mention of talking about that because there was not any COVID-19 measures in the 2020-2021 budget and I think it’s really important to be able to ask those questions,” White said.
She agreed that because there was no legislative oversight to any of the pandemic response programs, they might not be as strong as they could have been otherwise.
She added that, based on a community response, some of the pandemic related programs are not working to full benefit or effect. She wants a chance to ask questions about it.
The NDP leader said she does not feel the series of 90-minutes meetings for each department will be able to provide accountability.
She said she feels it would better serve Yukoners if the pandemic response was part of this.
If given the chance, she said she would like to do a deep dive into the territory’s OICs so see how the response pairs to the federal government. She also wants to make programs better and not leave anyone behind.
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