The Official Opposition Yukon Party has voted against the Yukon government’s $1.94-billion budget in an expression of non-confidence in the minority government.
But the Yukon NDP has unsurprisingly propped up the territorial government, as per the confidence and supply agreement (CASA) between the two caucuses, allowing the bill to pass 9-8 in the house on April 27.
That happened on the final day of the spring sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly. The three party leaders spoke with reporters following the question period that afternoon, prior to the budget vote.
It was Ranj Pillai’s first sitting as premier. He delivered his message to Yukoners.
“Our government placed an emphasis on responsible spending that allows the government to meet our obligations while improving the lives of Yukoners across the territory. We continue to experience GDP growth and a strong labor market and can again the lowest unemployment in Canada,” he said.
“I know that day-to-day activities of the Yukon Legislative Assembly may not be top of mind for most Yukoners, but I want them to know that their government is working for them to make their lives more affordable, to move forward on reconciliation, to build our clean and green future and to grow a strong resilient economy.”
Pillai spoke about tough decisions, particularly when it comes to the budget.
“You would obviously want to give more or do more, but, at some point, you have to look at the long-term financial sustainability of the government and where you should invest, and those are always decisions that you have to mull over and, in the end, come to some kind of compromise,” he said.
Other difficult calls included imposing a $100,000 asset ceiling to seniors applying for housing and personnel decisions.
“I have huge respect for many of the leaders that have worked inside of the Yukon government, but you also make some changes, and those are tough decisions, and they impact people’s lives, and you can never take those decisions lightly.”
As for challenges, Pillai reflected on a double homicide investigation in Mayo — in addition to the latest four suspected substance use-related deaths between April 15 and April 18 — amid a substance use health emergency.
“We’re working hard to address this public health emergency as quickly and effectively as we can,” he said.
The territorial government, which made the emergency declaration in January 2022, has yet to release its substance use health emergency strategy.
In terms of work that he was proud of, Pillai pointed to adding protections against mining and development in the McIntyre Creek area and taking “proactive” action at the Minto mine site to address the mine’s lack of storage capacity for contaminated water posing a danger to the environment. He also highlighted a Yukon dental program and launching a paid sick leave program that “supports Yukon workers without penalizing Yukon businesses.”
A dental program and a paid sick leave program both came out of CASA.
Yukon NDP Leader Kate White was asked about holding the government to account and the power she holds while her party makes gains under CASA.
“There is power in the position we’re in. Absolutely. But we do have also obligations to that relationship,” she said.
“The reason we’re not in a coalition is that we can speak against government programs or things that we don’t like, and we do.”
White wanted to see the government reverse its asset cap on seniors housing, which didn’t happen.
That’s one example of Yukon NDP MLAs bringing personal experiences to the floor in hopes of pushing for system-wide change.
“I think we did a really good job of honouring people’s stories,” White said.
She said the sitting had its high moments and low ones.
White expressed frustration with the Education department for not committing to a policy on student-on-student harm.
“I believe that there needs to be policies within the department of Education that deal specifically with student-on-student violence, and sexualized violence being a key one, and I was disappointed that there wasn’t just a solid firm ‘yes’ from the minister,” she said.
“I’m really frustrated because when I shared real life stories of victims of sexual assault, I got told by the minister that I was shaming victims.”
White said she will be drilling down into numbers on the referred care clinic released by the health minister that afternoon.
“I actually really want to know what the minister believes is safer supply, because my concern is that she’s referring to things like methadone, which is not actually about a safer supply,” she said.
“That’s about, you know, going towards sobriety as opposed to that safe supply.”
White said she looks forward to getting a Yukon citizens’ assembly off the ground.
While Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon sought vision and new ideas from the new premier and his government, he said he saw more of the same: policy items driven by the NDP-Liberal agreement.
His party railed against the government’s energy policy, calling it “greenwashing.”
“I still remain extremely concerned about the state of our electricity system. The government’s energy strategy, as we’ve described, is one that is absolutely failing,” Dixon said.
“The government has admitted that the current plan they have is not going to meet their projected forecasts for demand power, and so they’re going to apparently this summer launch a new review of their renewable energy strategy, which I think is a good idea, but it’s a day late and a dollar short.”
Yukon Party MLAs also went after the government on what they consider a lack of funding for the Yukon Hospital Corporation, unpaid doctors’ bills and increased wait times for joint replacement surgeries.
“We just heard over and over again from a variety of different primary care providers that the morale amongst primary care providers has never been lower,” he said.
“We’ve heard particularly from doctors that feel that this government has been just completely out of touch with the needs of our medical system.”
A positive development for Dixon was his colleague’s advocacy in favour of government spending on celebrating 125 years of the Yukon territory.
“That’s something that I was proud of,” he said.
“I thought it was an excellent job of my colleague to bring that forward and raise it, and I give the government credit for responding. They took that idea and ran with it and then there’s now that fund that exists to celebrate the territory’s birthday.”
Dixon commented on his MLAs voting against the budget for reasons other than opposing some of the measures in it.
“A vote on the budget is an expression of confidence in the government,” he said.
“We don’t have confidence in this government.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org