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5 things to watch for in Yukon's spring legislative sitting

The Yukon Legislative Assembly's spring sitting begins today, with a budget and the Peel watershed appeal front-and-centre. CBC's Nancy Thomson gives you five storylines to watch for.

Budget, cabinet shuffle, Peel appeal front and centre as session begins today

The spring sitting of the Yukon legislature begins April 2.

The 19 members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly will gather today for the first day of the spring sitting.

On the government side, many cabinet ministers will be defending and explaining their portfolios for the first time, following the January cabinet shuffle that saw government House Leader Brad Cathers lose that job to backbencher Darius Elias.

It's expected that Cathers, now justice minister, will move to the back bench, while Elias occupies the traditional spot beside the premier.

Elias did not, however, receive a cabinet post with his new position.

Here are five things to watch for during the spring sitting:

1. Hefty capital budget promises pre-election goodies

The first order of business for Yukon Premier and Finance Minister Darrell Pasloski will be to table the annual budget.

He's already promised the business crowd at the Yukon Chamber of Commerce it will be a whopper.

Pasloski said at a chamber luncheon earlier this week that "this will be an incredibly busy construction season in Whitehorse that will create jobs and ensure that small and medium size businesses benefit."

According to Pasloski, the $87.5 million budget will be spread over 15 major projects, the largest of which is $26 million on the new extended care facility in Whistle Bend.

2. Bill S-6 quagmire makes Peel look like small potatoes

Relations between Yukon First Nations and the Yukon Party government were tense at the end of the fall sitting, but in the intervening months, Bill S-6 has proven to be an intractable issue, one which has polarized the two sides.

The federal legislation would amend Yukon's Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act (YESAA).

Pasloski told a parliamentary committee studying the bill that his government supports S-6. First Nations leaders told the committee they can not and will not accept four amendments to S-6, which were added after the five-year review period.

First Nations say they will pursue legal action if it passes into law in its current form. And although it's federal legislation, the Yukon government will be caught firmly in the crosshairs if that happens.

3. The perils of email autofill

The legislative committee on hydraulic fracturing delayed issuing its report until mid-January. As expected, it wasn't a conclusive document, with the committee split between three Yukon Party members, two NDP and one Liberal.

The committee did not recommend a ban or moratorium on fracking and the government apparently interpreted that as a green light to pursue fracking in the territory, despite overwhelming public opposition heard during the committee's tour of the territory.

Documents in an email accidentally sent to a CBC reporter revealed the department is focusing on "multi-stage hydraulic fracturing," with plans for public and First Nations engagement, attracting the industry, and identifying the Eagle Plains and Liard Basins as the initial target areas.

The public response was immediate, vociferous, and outraged while the government tried to put out the fire by saying the documents were a "first draft."

That explanation isn't likely to satisfy the opposition, particularly those who sat on the hydraulic fracturing committee. 

4. The Peel appeal awaits

Yukon First Nations and conservation groups scored a win in December, when the Yukon supreme court found the Yukon government had not respected the consultation process. 

That euphoria was dampened when the government announced it would appeal.

There's no word on when that appeal court will hear the case. 

In the meantime, the Na-Cho Nyak Dun and Trondek Hwechin First Nations vow they will seek leave to be heard at the Supreme Court of Canada, should the government win the appeal.

5. 'If you build it, we will protest'

The flagship project in the pre-election budget is the extended care facility planned for the Whistle Bend subdivision in Whitehorse.

The facility will be built in two stages and when complete, will have 300 beds, about one for every 120 Yukoners. Continuing with the math, the project's total estimated cost of $330 million equates to just over $1 million per bed. 

The government plans to spend $26 million this fiscal year on the project.

The City of Whitehorse grudgingly passed the zoning approval, with councillors complaining that they had not been consulted about the project.

Some rural seniors don't like the idea of spending their last years in Whitehorse, away from their family, friends and communities.

A project of this size will provide a lot of jobs in the construction industry, just as Pasloski promised.

But expect some vigorous kickback from the opposition, a lot more if the construction contract doesn't go to a Yukon company.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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