Deputy premier Ranj Pillai speaks to media after the last day of the legislative assembly’s spring sitting in Whitehorse on April 30. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Yukon politicians wrap up the spring sitting

Private licensing for cannabis sales and work on electoral reform were some of the issues

The Liberal Party is no longer a new government, deputy premier Ranj Pillai said, and the progress completed during the spring sitting helps speak to that.

On April 30, Pillai led the local media through the ins and outs of issues at the legislative assembly, including preliminary work on electoral reform, the passage of the carbon tax model and this year’s budget.

“The budget, of course, demonstrates careful consideration and sound financial management by taking a long term view on where our territory is headed,” he said. “We are making sure that hard-earned tax dollars of Yukoners are being spent in the most effective and efficient way possible.”

Pillai unpacked some of its highlights like the $288 million in capital spending this year, $9.5 million for airport improvements in Whitehorse and $19 million for lot development.

The opposition had a different view.

“Unfortunately, I think that the Liberal government’s priorities don’t necessarily align with the priorities of Yukoners,” said Stacey Hassard, interim leader of the Yukon Party, mentioning “budget cuts” at highways and public works and higher than average prices for homes.

Pillai fired shots at the official Opposition, saying that the party resorted to its “standard tactic of misinformation (in) the House over and over again.”

“It’s worth mentioning the questions we didn’t see from the opposition parties. We didn’t hear many questions about Yukon’s strong economy. We didn’t hear questions about the unprecedented amounts of money from the federal government that’s being used to support our communities. There were no questions about building people up or about building a strong Yukon for years to come.

“What we did hear is a lot of questions intended to tear people down, character assaults and accusations, questions constantly based on misinformation intended to cause unnecessary fear and worry.”

NDP Leader Liz Hanson called the sitting “lackluster.”

“We’ve seen a number of matters where we’ve had good debate and we’ve come to an agreement on things,” she said, but when it comes down to doing the work, the Liberals operate at “half measure.”

Implementing a surcharge on plastic bags, for instance.

“Instead of taking a simple, cost effective approach of just banning single-use plastic, they get into this long and convoluted process – ‘we’re gonna move towards it’ – and that’s costly to businesses, it’s irritating to citizens and we ultimately think it’s kind of self-defeating,” Hanson said. “It’s the same on any other matter.”

There were several announcements this sitting, which included pivoting towards the private sale of pot.

“Six months to the day after cannabis was legalized across Canada, the first private retail cannabis license was issued in Yukon,” Pillai said. “This is a huge accomplishment and commend the work of Ministers Streicker, McPhee and Frost who collectively worked so hard on this file.”

Triple J’s Canna Space on Wood Street opened on April 18.

Another file is electoral reform. The Liberals have most recently appealed to Yukoners to sit on a “non-partisan” commission. Residents can apply until May 3.

Upon completion of its work, the commission is to submit a final report “no later than December 31, 2019,” according to the draft terms of reference.

The commission would “investigate and assess options to ensure our electoral system captures the intentions of voters as well as possible.”

The draft terms of reference suggests commissioners will assume their roles this month.

A recent letter sent by Hanson to Premier Sandy Silver says the mandate of the electoral reform commission is “too broad.”

“After they are selected, commissioners will have only 40 days to visit each community, hear from Yukoners, educate them on electoral reform and report back with recommendations to the Government of Yukon,” says the April 18 letter, which Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard is cc’d on. “… (We) believe that the compressed timeframe presented to the commissioners necessitates a narrower focus.”

Group care was a leading topic over the last two weeks, after two anticipated reports were released.

One, from the Yukon Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner, found that health and social services erred in evicting one youth from a group home. She outlined eight recommendations for the department to respond to.

The other, a review from the child and youth advocate, which tackles systemic issues in group care, found that there should be more supports to ensure Indigenous youth are maintaining connections to their cultures and families while in group care. There are 31 recommendations in her review.

“I commend Minister Frost,” Pillai said.

“I think what we’ve seen is systemic issues within the health and social services and we saw that. Turning the way that that system works and ensuring that those children are back in their communities are back with their families in Whitehorse is absolutely an amazing task that she’s accomplished. Doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do,” he said, adding that recommendations are a blueprint for continued work.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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