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Yukon MLAs wrap up fall sitting

The fall sitting concluded on Nov. 27
An overview of Yukon’s legislative assembly. The News spoke with party leaders Nov. 27 and 28 to see how they thought the 2019 fall sitting went. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

To the premier of this territory, the fall sitting plugged along productively — there were facelifts to legislation, the cannabis market was handed over to the private sector and a draft strategy to combat climate change was released.

“A lot of topics that have been topical for over a decade now finally are getting to legislation, because we’re not shying away from tough conversations,” Sandy Silver said on Nov. 28, the day after the sitting finished. “We recognize that a lot of our legislation needs work.”

Silver is referring to changes to the liquor and corrections acts, along with turning Yukon College into a university, among other things.

“Whether it’s best practice legislation or being a snow plow for regulations in legislation, I think this team has done a great job, and the philosophy that makes that work is the whole of government approach,” he said. “You can’t expect to make silos in your departments and be on the cutting edge.”

Tough conversations also include work on piecing together a final plan to fight climate change. A draft strategy was released this month laying out 140 “actions” that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent over a 10-year period compared to 2010 levels.

The Liberals were hammered by opposition parties this sitting. Some criticism stunk of grandstanding, though, with certain issues — the “restructuring” of Queen’s Printer and shuttering of Central Stores, for instance — being dredged up ad nauseam during question period by the Yukon Party.

Decorum, at times, exploded. Off-mic barbs were common from all parties. It grew heated and personal.

Silver wouldn’t comment on the opposition parties’ styles of politics.

“Everything’s not perfect necessarily, but there’s less to criticize,” he said. “What I can say is, every day we go into the legislative assembly, I tell my team the same thing, ‘Every question has, past the rhetoric, past the angle, has a question that Yukoners want the answer to.’”

Stacey Hassard, interim leader of the Yukon Party, told reporters on Nov. 27 you can’t take things personally as a politician.

“At the end of the day, when you get into this game we call politics, everyone knows you need to have pretty thick set of skin hanging in your closet, and you need to remember every morning when you’re coming in here to drag it out of the closet and put it on, because it does get heated in there. There are times when people get quite emotional and that’s just the nature of the beast, I guess.”

There were reasons why it got heated, opposition leaders say.

For Hassard, the Liberals seem to sit on information for as long as possible. He called this unfair to constituents.

“We’re three years into this government’s mandate and honestly it’s not a lot different than it was in year one. There’s ministers that really, truly, don’t appear to have a handle on their departments yet, which is very unfortunate.”

There’s a laundry list of issues the NDP wants movement on.

NDP Leader Kate White said she’s still waiting for a climate change lens to be tabled, one that would apply to all future projects in the Yukon. As it stands, she said the Liberals’ climate strategy doesn’t adequately account for mining emissions (the plan is at its draft stage. The government is consulting with a variety of sectors to zero in on potential options).

White also wanted to see an announcement increasing minimum wage, along with more discussions on construction of a portion of the Alaska Highway near Hillcrest.

“As it stands right now, people are still crossing the highway like Frogger, because you actually can’t access that pedestrian controlled crosswalk,” she said.

A definite stick in the mud this sitting was electoral reform.

Silver seems to have changed his mind this week, now supporting the idea of a select committee made up of MLAs from all parties, a concept put forward by the NDP and Floyd McCormick, the former clerk of the legislative assembly, via a letter sent to the Members’ Services Board in the summer.

“What we could have done better is explain, ‘That’s not all, folks,’” said Silver, adding that once a commission makes recommendations, it would have been channeled through an all-party committee anyway.

“It has to. We knew that from the get-go. I think we didn’t do the communication well,” he said.

Silver said once Jessica Lott Thompson resigned from the Liberals’ “independent” commission earlier this year it opened up the floor to other possibilities.

Opposition parties have “converging views” when it comes to electoral reform, making it difficult to make any ground, he said.

The sitting had brief moments of unity, too.

When CBC North management wanted to centralize all morning broadcasts to Yellowknife, MLAs stood together, tabling motions, writing letters to the federal government to sink more funding into it, among other things. CBC reversed its decision, though the problem could still resurface at a later date.

Contact Julien Gignac at