The next Yukon election campaign is effectively underway

·4 min read

Don't look now, but the next Yukon election campaign is effectively underway.

Sure, the governing Liberals have until November 2021 to actually call an election, and the legislative assembly is scheduled to run until Dec. 22. But behind the scenes, parties are already lining up candidates, nailing together policy platforms and, no doubt, fundraising.

As all that election-readiness work goes on, the atmosphere in the assembly during the fall sitting is noticeably more tense. Call it "sharpening their attacks" or "framing" or any other crutch phrase of horse-race political writing, if you like.

This pattern is most clear in Liberal responses in question period.

An example: Tourism Minister Jeanie McLean's response to Yukon Party criticism of the way she's handled aid for a tourism sector battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"What I don't hear from the Opposition is real true support for the tourism industry," she said. "You cannot secretly hope for the Yukon Liberals to fail in our efforts to support Yukoners today. There is no room for politics."

Chris Windeyer/CBC
Chris Windeyer/CBC

All parties say they want to 'take the politics out of it'

"Taking the politics out" of any given issue is a universal go-to for politicians, based on the logical construction that politics is bad when other parties do it.

The Liberals are not the only ones who use this strategy. Indeed, Opposition Leader Stacey Hassard explains his call for an all-party committee to study economic responses to the pandemic by saying such a committee will "take the politics out" of the matter.

Of course, an all-party committee wouldn't be free of politics at all because it would include, you know, politicians. But the Yukon Party's suggestion of a supposedly politics-free committee is itself politics.

The Yukon Party knows the Liberals won't agree, but they can position themselves as the adults in the room, even though it is, ultimately, the government's job to handle economic emergencies.

Energy trek: the next generator

In a similar vein, the Yukon Party has repeatedly criticized the growing use of rented diesel generators by the Yukon Energy Corporation as proof it was a mistake for the Liberals to scrap a plan last year for a 20-megawatt thermal power plant. The plant was to serve as a permanent backup to the hydroelectric system.

On Thursday, Hassard said the Liberals "were short-sighted for cancelling a new, reliable LNG facility as our insurance plan in favour of their plan to spend millions renting more diesels for at least a decade to come."

Chris Windeyer/CBC
Chris Windeyer/CBC

Energy Minister Ranj Pillai noted, correctly, that the public's enthusiasm for that plant was low. But he also insists that the Yukon Party would have the government build a 20-megawatt diesel plant.

The reality is that no fuel source was ever decided upon for that project. It was listed as maybe diesel or LNG or some combination of the two.

So here again is the framing: the Yukon Party accusing the Liberals of wasting money and the Liberals painting the Yukon Party as climate laggards.

The NDP as it so often is, finds itself casting a pox on both the other parties' houses. Yes, the Yukon Party failed to bring new hydroelectricity online during its time in power, said NDP Leader Kate White. But so too have the Liberals failed to act with urgency on getting new renewable power sources into operation.

White said since the Liberals took power the share of Yukon's electricity from renewable sources dropped from 98 per cent in 2016 to 84 per cent in 2019.

"How is that being addressed?" White asked.

"There are plans — we all know that they're plans — but after four years in power, this government's track record speaks louder than plans on paper that are years down the road from completion."

CBC
CBC

What triggers an election?

Which brings us back to this pre-election runway we find ourselves hurtling down. Given that the Liberals enjoy a majority in the assembly, and that MLAs are making up for time lost when the house shut down early last spring, the chances of an election before Christmas are virtually nil.

But once February rolls around, the temptation for a spring election has to exist for the Liberals. If Yukon gets through the winter with relatively few COVID-19 cases, the Liberals can claim that as a success. If they wait until fall, maybe a second straight bad tourism season reflects poorly on the government.

Typically, sitting premiers run away from direct questions about the timing of the election. Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Premier Sandy Silver prefaced his response with the usual "we're focused on governing."

But he acknowledged that his party is already balancing the myriad factors that influence an election call and laying the pre-election groundwork within the party apparatus.

"I'm not going to reinvent the wheel as far as what triggers an election," Silver said. "Every jurisdiction is going to be talking about the exact same things. You all know what those things are: polling, [the question of] do we go full term? You know, lots of different questions."

So the electioneering is underway. Right now, you have to squint to see it. But it won't be long before it's everywhere.