Budget, amendments and goading: What happened at Yukon's spring sitting

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The final day Yukon's Legislative Assembly spring sitting, which saw a budget pass and amendments made to several pieces of legislation. (Julien Gignac/CBC - image credit)
The final day Yukon's Legislative Assembly spring sitting, which saw a budget pass and amendments made to several pieces of legislation. (Julien Gignac/CBC - image credit)

The spring sitting of the Yukon's Legislative Assembly is over and how it went depends on who you talk to.

Premier Sandy Silver told reporters Thursday the session was productive, and despite small bumps along the way, his government made inroads. He points to the passage of the budget, which Silver said signals change for Yukoners and the government.

The budget, worth roughly $2 billion, includes a projected $39.5-million surplus.

Silver said the budget doubles down on affordable housing, combating climate change and the opioid crisis. He said the budget will shepherd the territory away from the pandemic and into recovery mode, strengthening the tourism sector and small businesses.

Capital spending, about $546 million, is at a record level and represents a 26 per cent increase over last year, said Silver.

This level of spending will allow the territorial government to address the infrastructure deficit it inherited in 2016, he said.

Julien Gignac/CBC
Julien Gignac/CBC

"This budget will help to ensure that Yukoners benefit from our strong economic growth as a territory, while we work on building a brighter future."

Silver said Child and Family Services Act amendments, co-developed with Yukon First Nations, are "legendary" and will improve outcomes for children, youth and families involved in the child welfare system.

The amendments will also address the overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in care, he said.

"This is a first in the territory," he said.

NDP makes gains

Earlier this month, an NDP bill to amend the Education Act passed. Now, Yukon schools are legally required to mandate inclusive spaces and activities for LGBTQ2S+ students.

NDP Leader Kate White told CBC this is a highlight of the sitting.

"The more inclusive and representative a school can be, the better it is for all students," she said.

"We know that LGBTQ2S+ students face higher levels of discrimination, higher risks of self-harm and bullying and anything we can do to help, early on, is going to be better for every single person in that school," said White.

According to the amendment, every year, school administrators must put initiatives in place that promote equality and nondiscrimination. Initiatives need to include activities relating to gender identity, expression, and sexual orientation, and create organizations such as Gender Sexuality Alliances to foster inclusion.

Progress with confidence and supply agreement

NDP MLAs asked several questions about the absence of a walk-in clinic in the Yukon.

Government officials said they're working to reopen one in Whitehorse within the year.

"I think that's a positive," White said. "It means that people won't have to go to the emergency room to get the priority care that they need."

It's been a year since the confidence and supply agreement between the NDP and the Liberals came into force, after the now-governing Liberals lost their majority in the last territorial election.

While there continues to be friction between White's part and the government, she said the agreement is already laying the groundwork for progress.

"By the end of this year, Yukon will be the first jurisdiction in Canada with a public dental plan," she said.

The minimum wage is now two dollars higher than it was just over a year ago, she said.

The confidence and supply agreement expires in January.

Yukon Party Leader says sitting was a bust

Currie Dixon didn't mince words when referring to the government.

He said ministers hid behind smoke and mirrors during the sitting, and failed to brace the territory against surging inflation.

"It's clear that since the budget has been tabled, they've been scrambling to try to keep up," he said.

"We've argued that the budget was out of date the day it was tabled," Dixon added. "The biggest issue facing Yukoners today is the cost of living and inflation, and unfortunately the budget is silent on that issue."

Too much bickering

All party leaders referred to a lack of decorum during the sitting. They said a near-constant needling of each other stymied meaningful debate.

There appeared to be frequent off-mic goading, mainly between ministers and Yukon Party MLAs.

In the waning hours of the sitting, Silver and Dixon bashed each other's leadership and suggested the state of politics during sitting was, at times, wholly unproductive.

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