Yukon Liberal Leader Sandy Silver is vying for a second term as the territory’s premier and third as the Klondike’s MLA.
“It’s a lot of work, but it sure is an honour,” he said of balancing both roles.
Silver, who’s originally from Nova Scotia, has lived in Dawson since 1998. He taught at Robert Service School along with volunteering in a number of roles in the community, before he was first elected to the legislature in 2011 when he defeated incumbent Yukon Party MLA Steve Nordick in his riding’s seat.
In that election, the Liberals lost three of its five seats (including that of Arthur Mitchell, who was the leader at the time), leaving Silver and Vuntut Gwitchin MLA Darius Elias as the only Liberals in the house.
In 2012, Silver became the interim leader of the party and lone Liberal in the house when Elias left to sit as an independent. His position of leader became permanent in 2014.
Fast forward two years later to the 2016 territorial election and the Liberals would go on to take a majority government with 11 seats compared to six for the Yukon Party and two for the NDP.
Now Silver says he wants to continue the work that’s already underway, representing his constituents and moving through the COVID-19 pandemic to a post-pandemic world.
As summed up in Liberal messaging throughout the campaign: “Let’s keep going.”
Along with continuing to address the pandemic and plan for after, Silver said there’s a long list of priorities to focus on next term.
Mental wellness is on the list with Silver pointing to the establishment of mental health hubs in some communities to provide services in this past term as a step taken to address mental health, among others. He’s part of the Promising Practices podcast, that’s focused on mental health, with other premiers from across the country .
“People are struggling,” he said, noting that COVID has had a big impact on mental health.
Agriculture is another priority. Silver said it’s clear Yukoners want more local food production. In 2020, the territory’s most recent agriculture policy was released and Silver said he’s anxious to continue to see the actions set out in the policy implemented.
Actions to move forward on addressing climate change, implementing recommendations outlined in the Putting People First report on health and social services in the territory and working with First Nations on economic development are also on the list to address over the coming term.
“There’s things we have to tackle right away,” he said, highlighting work that has been done over the last term to address housing as well as plans for the next term.
Among those plans is a proposal to build housing in Mayo, Watson Lake and Whitehorse to be open to tenants by the end of this year.
Looking back on the past term, Silver said he’s pleased with what his government has achieved, but also recognizes the need for some changes.
As he pointed out, serving as both MLA and in government is challenging and much of that first year in office is spent in the territory’s capital getting to know the legislative processes in place. Dealing with a pandemic in the last year of office also kept himself and cabinet often in Whitehorse.
“Our MLAs need to be more present,” Silver said, adding there’s a desire amongst many Liberal MLAs who served in this past term to spend more time in their ridings, something they plan to do.
The Liberal Party’s platform, condensed
“Let’s keep going.”
The tag line that has dominated Yukon Liberal Party communications throughout the election asks Yukon voters to allow the party to continue doing the work it says was started during its 2016-2021 term.
Throughout the platform, the party looks back on measures taken during its nearly five years in office, while highlighting continued plans for after the election, should the party be granted another term in office.
The 51-page document sets out plans for the economy, addressing climate change, renewable energy, continuing to deal with COVID-19, healthcare, education, housing and more.
Here are some highlights.
Supports for Yukon businesses impacted by COVID would continue under a Liberal government.
The party is also touting its Great Yukon Summer campaign that would help subsidize tourism for Yukoners. Under the program would be incentives for tourism operators to offer Yukoner rates in 2021, free access to the territory’s marketing agencies, a $500,000 fund to be established for organizations to host events in 2021, along with support for the Mountain Music Festival in the fall of 2021.
“We will work with each Yukon community to make sure that all COVID-19 precautions are met and they are ready to accept new travellers,” reads the party’s platform.
Among other measures, the party also proposes the following plans:
- A workforce development agreement to retrain workers and support transitioning to a green economy;
- A new immigration strategy to support increased workforce requirements;
- The development of a fieldhouse complex for athletes;
- Continued work on the bid to host the 2027 Canada Winter Games;
- Establishing an innovation commission to attract tech startups;
- Various measures to support different sectors from mining to tourism.
The Yukon Liberals say the environment would continue to be at the heart of its decisions with plans to create — working with the City of Whitehorse, First Nations and stakeholders — the McIntyre Creek Park, introducing carbon intensity targets for mines and large industrial plants, and completing the Dawson Land Use Planning Process as well as working on plans for other parts of the territory.
Also outlined are:
- Partnering with the City of Whitehorse to improve transit;
- Introducing legislation to enable geothermal projects;
- Consolidating climate change initiatives and programs under one roof; and
- Working with Yukon University to consider developing a building science program tailored for northern climates.
The Liberal plan includes initiatives that would move the territory to more renewable energy use with support for the building of a biomass plant, continued support for solar and micro-energy projects across the Yukon and investigating the use of geothrmal in the territory.
Also outlined is the implementation of Yukon Energy’s 10-year Renewable Plan:
- Investing in legacy renewable projects with First Nations and community partners;
- Establishing an energy task team within the Yukon government that would be dedicated to helping communities and First Nations advance energy projects.
Recognizing that COVID won’t be going away anytime soon, the Liberals highlighted a number of programs established through the pandemic to support impacted businesses, workers, families and more.
“We will continue to support familes, individuals, and businesses until we are entirely through the pandemic,” the platform reads.
Along with continuing with measures already in place to address the pandemic, the Liberals propose to implement a rapid-testing program for the Yukon and work towards reopening borders safely.
Plans to improve the Civil Emergency Measures Act and Public Health and Safety Act are also included as well as the committee that would review the acts. A data-sharing arrangement would be looked at with First Nations and emergency coordination training sessions would also be offered to First Nations, municipalities and unincorporated communities.
Healthcare and Education
Just ahead of the election, a new universal early childhood education program was announced that subsidized child care by $700 per child each month with child care moved from the Health and Social Services department to Education.
It was also announced that high school students would return to full-time classes on April 19.
Among other measures outlined in the Liberals plan are:
- Subsidizing the cost of birth control, fertility treatments, the cost of period products;
- Creating a bilingual health centre in Whitehorse;
- Hiring of more nurse practitioners among many more.
Recognizing “there is much to do,” the Liberals argue there has been “significant progress” made to increase housing options, highlighting the first housing first residence in the North has been built in Whitehorse, support for more than 350 units of affordable housing since 2018 and increases to housing accessibility with support to projects like the Blood Ties Four Directions tiny home project, the Normandy Manor project (which is being built) and more.
Among plans for the coming years under the Liberals would be:
- Working with First Nations and the private sector to investigate the potential development of a new, bare land condominium mobile home park;
- Develop and release 1,000 new lots over the next five years throughout the territory;
- Establishing a land bank for housing lots; and
- Building of the next housing first project in Watson Lake among others.
The full Liberal platform is available on its website. Voters head to the polls April 12.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at email@example.com