Leadership race, Liberal gov't agreement with NDP drove fall sitting of Yukon Legislative Assembly

The Yukon Legislative Assembly on Nov. 24, the final day of the fall sitting.  (Julien Gignac/CBC - image credit)
The Yukon Legislative Assembly on Nov. 24, the final day of the fall sitting. (Julien Gignac/CBC - image credit)

An over-budget and delayed hydro expansion project in Atlin, B.C., a bill that seeks to improve animal welfare and a failed bid to host the Canada Winter Games — these are perhaps the top topics during the fall sitting of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, which wrapped up Nov. 24.

But two issues seemed to loom even larger.

Those are the imminent departure of Premier Sandy Silver — who announced in September he's pulling the ripcord on his political career after the next general election, slated for 2025 — and the fate of the confidence and supply agreement (CASA), which solidifies NDP support for Liberal aspirations, and vice versa.

In many ways, both riff off the other.

Let's start with Silver.

Julien Gignac/CBC
Julien Gignac/CBC

This sitting was Silver's last as premier, a position he's held since 2016, somewhat of a watershed year for the party, with Silver landing it a majority — a far cry from when he sat as the sole Liberal MLA for the Klondike, a seat he'll keep until he steps down.

He had a lot of things to say to reporters about hard-working ministers, who he said take their lunches at their desk, along with bills his government passed, including the Animal Protection and Control Act, which replaces three laws the government says are outdated and result in low animal welfare standards.

Things moved fast following Silver's sunset media scrum.

Less than 24 hours later, Minister Ranj Pillai announced to a cramped room of supporters in downtown Whitehorse he's going to take a chance at the premiership.

That evening, party faithful gathered at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for what appeared to be an exclusive event, catering to the well-heeled. Those in attendance heard that Jan. 28 is when party members will vote to name the next Liberal leader and, by default, the next premier of the territory.

Asked whether other ministers will run or if the party will throw its weight behind him, Pillai suggested it's possible Yukoners could see some of his colleagues enter the race.

That hasn't materialized yet. As of Monday morning, no one else had put their name forward.

Both the official opposition and NDP demand that cabinet ministers be required to resign from their posts before running for leadership. They flag the need to ensure ministers would not use their positions nor government resources to campaign.

The premier has said cabinet has already done its due diligence and consulted the commissioner.


On Jan. 31, CASA is dead unless MLAs choose to renew it.

It would be in both parties' favour, as the agreement defines mutually agreed-upon support.

This sitting, for example, the government announced a territory-wide dental care program, which will reportedly assist upward of 8,000 residents, providing them with $1,300 in insured benefits each year. This issue is a carry-over from when the NDP was in campaign mode last year, after which, the dental plan was negotiated into the CASA.

It's unclear what's going to happen to the agreement.

So far, Liberal ministers, including Silver and Pillai, have expressed interest to reporters in working something out with the NDP — problem is, it's unclear how, and whether it will be enough to smooth out some apparent rough patches with the NDP.

Asked by reporters whether the agreement will be renewed, Silver said, "Absolutely, I will meet them more than halfway."

Julien Gignac/CBC
Julien Gignac/CBC

NDP Leader Kate White struck a different chord altogether — a dissonant one, it seems.

"It's a hard day to ask that," she said last Thursday. "My frustration, today, is very high. We have the minister of community services who has all but said come January 31, he's removing the rent cap. I would suggest that they maybe stepped over the line of the CASA."

The rent cap has been in effect since the CASA was signed following the last election. That's the cap that limits any residential rent increases to one per cent.

White said she has routinely asked the government to review legislation regarding landlords and tenants, that every time she does, ministers request she sign another agreement first.

"They've been saying that for the last 18 months," she said.

"The fact that they've been using that as a negotiation tool as opposed to doing what's right, really shows their true colours."

Julien Gignac/CBC
Julien Gignac/CBC

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon told reporters he thinks the governing Liberals are "running out of ideas, running out of steam," adding the party is bumming off the NDP to put a fresh face to its agenda.

The sitting itself could also be indicative of what happens next between the government and the NDP.

Partway through, the NDP introduced a bill to amend oil and gas legislation that would have required First Nations consent to development in their traditional territories.

Liberal ministers unanimously voted against it, saying the third party neglected to get letters of support from all First Nations (White received seven such letters; one from the Council of Yukon First Nations).

At the time, White told CBC News the optics of the Liberal's move reflects poorly and that she's "on the right side of history."

Yukon Party grilling points

The Yukon Party seemed to lambaste ministers over the Atlin hydro expansion project, which has seen costs start to increase and timelines shift.

The tactic continued after a report was tabled in the assembly from the Yukon Utilities Board that states the project could actually increase electricity rates.

The falling through of the bid to host the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse set off a cascade of thoughts and feelings from various stakeholders, including the City of Whitehorse, who went in on the bid — the roughly $185-million one. The  federal government offered to cough up a pittance of the funds needed, about $17 million, including $3 million for capital expenditures.

Dixon hammered ministers on the failure of the bid. He sent a barrage of questions across the way on many things, including whether the Yukon government included the city in the decision, adding a memorandum of understanding between the two makes the city an equal partner.

Despite the memorandum, the city told CBC News it wasn't consulted on the government's decision to withdraw the bid.

Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn said the move was made to be fiscally responsible — a statement reiterated more than a few times throughout the sitting.