Analysis

More than a year in, what has Sandy Silver's Liberal government done for Yukon?

Yukon's Liberal government is about a quarter of the way through its five year mandate. We take a look at which promises have been kept, and which haven't.

A quarter of the mandate is up; we take a look at what been done or left undone

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver with his Liberal Party caucus. As the government prepares to return to the Legislative Assembly next week, it still has promises to keep. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver and his Liberal government have been at the helm for just about a year and a half — so they're about a quarter of the way through their five year mandate. 

So how have they performed so far? Have they delivered on key election promises, or demonstrated a skill at governing?

Remember that it's an entire slate of rookies on the government bench, including Silver, who is arguably still cutting his leadership teeth. 

Health care

As an election candidate in 2016, Liberal MLA Tracy-Anne McPhee said her party would "create better hospital infrastructure ... ensuring that all Yukon hospitals have enough beds, equipment, services and qualified staff."

Official Opposition House Leader, Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent, says this constitutes a big Liberal fail. 

Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent is disappointed by what the government's done so far to deal with a hospital bed shortage. (CBC)

"Fast forward to Nov. 15 [2017], and [Health Minister Pauline] Frost says — and I quote, 'we're not going to spend money that we do not have, to create new positions, new beds and new facilities, because the resources are not there.' So, it's a total flip-flop on what their promise was last year," Kent said.

Kent says he's disappointed that the Liberals' promise appears to be nothing more than "vague talking points" that don't do anything concrete to address the bed shortage. 

NDP House Leader Kate White agrees: the Liberals have performed poorly in health care, especially when it comes to hospitals.

'Unless you're echoing what they're asking, your opinion isn't valid,' said NDP MLA Kate White. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

White says sometimes it boils down to rigid policies that don't make sense, using the example of a senior who requires a motorized wheelchair. The government will only cover a manual wheelchair, which the senior in question can't operate.

White says because the government refused to pay for a $5,000 wheelchair, the senior had to be hospitalized — at a cost of $2,000 dollars a day, while also using a bed that's supposed to be used for acute care patients.  

"The cheapest health care for seniors is to keep them well; the second cheapest health care for seniors is home care," White said.

White is also unimpressed with the Liberal promise of inclusivity, and the party's campaign mantra, "Be Heard."   

"Unless you're echoing what they're asking, your opinion isn't valid," she said. "You're not really likely to be heard if you've got a dissenting opinion."  

The Liberals' 2016 platform highlighted a theme of the party's campaign message: 'Be Heard.' (CBC)

Promises on procurement

The Liberals promised they would "tender projects for seasonally dependent Yukon Government-funded construction projects no later than March each year," in acknowledgement of the fact that government work constitutes the lion's share of yearly projects.

That hasn't happened. In 2017, contracts were tendered by fits and starts. 

Kent says that's another obvious failing.

"We saw in the spring, Public Works Minister [Richard] Mostyn put an asterisk beside that promise, revised it to say that they'd do it by March first of the next fiscal year — March 2018," Kent said.

"They seem to be hedging their bets and moving further away from a commitment that they made to Yukon contractors."

Promises by the wayside

The Liberal promise to eliminate the small business corporate tax hasn't borne fruit. Instead, the government cut it by one percentage point — down to two per cent from three per cent.

"It was one of the first promises that the Liberals went back on, early in the spring," Kent said.

He notes they also failed to deliver on a pledge to increase the ceiling for the small business investment tax credit to $5 million from $1 million, and also to increase the asset limit to allow larger companies to qualify.

"When they made these specific commitments in their platform, I would have thought they would have fleshed them out a little bit more," Kent said.

"It's very much like they just said one thing to get elected, and then are doing entirely different things now that they're in office."

Kent says another big fail is the promise to deliver up $30 million annually to implement energy retrofits for residential, government and commercial buildings.

"Another opportunity for them to live up to a commitment that they made — pretty substantial commitment — but we're not seeing anything on it. It was a promise that we would have been able to get behind."

Kent says the Yukon Party will be looking closely at this year's budget for that $30 million.

The financial future

The Liberals took the unprecedented step last year of appointing an independent Financial Advisory Panel to collect ideas from Yukoners on how to chart a course forward. 

The government appointed an independent financial advisory panel last year to look at the territory's finances and recommend options to avoid future budget deficits. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

The panel released its final report in the fall, but Silver has not yet committed to any firm stance. When pressed for specifics at the close of the fall sitting last November, Silver remained vague.

The Yukon Party is getting impatient. 

"Typically, a government would take the first 100 days in office to put their stamp on things, and set the agenda for the mandate," Kent said. "We don't really see any sort of stamp, any direction that this government is on."

"There's a lot of talk, but there certainly isn't very much action."

Liberal wins

The Liberals have delivered on some promises, though.

Most notably, they have applied themselves to a real "government to government" relationship with First Nations, raising the bar substantially, compared to the previous 14 years of Yukon Party government.

Kwanlin Dun First Nation chief Doris Bill and Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston with Silver, at the Yukon Forum last year. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

Silver kept his promise to meet with chiefs within 30 days of forming government, and he's revitalized the Yukon Forum, as promised, with four meetings last year.

His government has delivered a memorandum of understanding on mining, a show of unity between the two levels of government that was just the signal industry was waiting for. 

National Aboriginal Day is now a statutory holiday in the territory.

Silver also delivered on his pledge to respect land use planning processes, for example, by shelving oil and gas requests for postings in the Kandik and Eagle Plains Basins.

He's committed to respecting the original recommendations of the Peel Land Use Planning Commission.

The Liberals have also shown commitment to reconciliation by ponying up cash to help prepare Gladue reports, pre-sentence documents which clearly outline the various impacts of colonization upon Indigenous offenders.

The government is also moving ahead with the territory's first-ever Housing First project, based on a model which recognizes that everyone deserves shelter, without penalizing vulnerable people for addiction to drugs and alcohol. 

The government has also commissioned a review of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, pertaining to inmates with mental illnesses.

Three-quarters of the government's mandate remains, so there's time to make good on more promises, such as setting fixed election dates, sorting out mining within municipalities, amending the Access to Information Act to make it more transparent and accessible, and striking a commission on electoral reform.

About the Author

Nancy Thomson

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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