North

'We need to move forward together': Yukon's 1st minority gov't in almost 30 years now in session

The Legislative Assembly is back in session, with the first minority government elected by Yukoners in nearly 30 years.

Throne speech reiterates Liberal campaign promises, with some NDP influence sprinkled in

Premier Sandy Silver says the Liberal's budget will include new items to accommodate the NDP. (Wayne Vallevand/ CBC)

The Legislative Assembly is back in session, with the first minority government elected by Yukoners in nearly 30 years.

Angélique Bernard, commissioner of Yukon, delivered the throne speech Tuesday, which outlines the new government's priorities. It started by saying that Yukoners have sent a clear message "that we need to move forward together for the benefit of our territory."

With no clear winner after the territorial election, the Liberals and NDP struck an alliance, called a confidence and supply agreement. The speech said it "embodies the spirit of collaboration."

The agreement will advance a range of legislative and policy initiatives, the government said, while addressing climate change and protecting the environment.

The agreement will also help the Liberals pass their budget, and Premier Sandy Silver said it will include new items to accommodate the NDP.

"I gotta give credit to Kate. Right from the beginning our conversation was, let's not write an agreement that sets either of us up to fail and I think the spirit and intent of this agreement really bodes well," he said.

Yukon's Legislative Assembly on May 11. The Liberal government's confidence and supply agreement with the NDP featured prominently during the spring sitting. (Wayne Vallevand/ CBC)

11-day session too short, Yukon Party leader said

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon said the sitting is only back for 11 days, which he considers unreasonably short.

Dixon said this hamstrings any attempt to bring a critical lens to issues introduced by the Liberal minority government.

"Now, with [Tuesday] concluded, that will mean 10 days for the legislature to consider the throne speech, a $1.8 billion budget and legislation, which we think is unbelievably inadequate," he said in a scrum with reporters after the sitting.

NDP Leader Kate White said sittings have tended to be shorter after elections in the past, and she's confident there's enough time to get everything squared away.

"The one thing I would say to Currie is he could look at the members on his side who have spoken for an entire 11 days before," said White.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon says sitting for 11 days is not long enough time to put a critical eye on the government's $1.8 billion budget and legislation. (Wayne Vallevand/ CBC)

Dixon also said there's not enough time to debate the government's proposed rent control program, which was not mentioned in Tuesday's throne speech.

The throne speech was primarily a re-iteration of promises from the Liberal's campaign, along with a few of the NDP's promises sprinkled throughout. 

Here are some highlights:

COVID-19 response

The speech said it was because of strong leadership that Yukoners were immunized long before the rest of Canada.

The government said COVID-19-related supports will continue "for as long as they are needed," including the paid sick leave rebate, the Yukon Business Relief Program and tourism sector support.

As well, the speech said "the great Yukon summer" campaign will create incentives for Yukon tourism operators to offer "Yukoner rates" for tourism products and services and help the industry "rebound stronger than ever."

Addictions crisis

The government said it will take "immediate action" to develop a safe drug supply program in the territory, along with the creation of a supervised consumption site.

"These innovative programs have been shown to significantly decrease substance related deaths across Canada and will help us reduce the harm caused by these dangerous drugs," Bernard said, reading from the speech.

The speech also reiterated the Liberal campaign promise to fund a rural on the land mental health and substance treatment centre, in partnership with Yukon First Nations governments and the federal government.

NDP leader Kate White speaks with reporters after the first sitting of the Legislative Assembly. White says she is confident they will have enough time to get everything sorted. (Wayne Vallevand/ CBC)

Economic recovery

Yukon was one of only two jurisdictions in Canada to experience GDP growth in 2020, the speech said, adding that the government is committed to carrying that "economic momentum" forward.

The government will also continue to work with mining industry partners to ensure that the Yukon has a "flourishing mineral resource sector," the speech said.

The government said it will also carefully analyze the recently released independent mineral development strategy, develop legislation and increase regulatory clarity in collaboration with partners. 

Yukon's minimum wage will be increased to $15.20 per hour this year, a promise made by the NDP in their campaign platform.

Climate change

The new government is doubling down on its commitments to tackle climate change, including continuing to implement the Liberals' climate change strategy — Our Clean Future — and the ambitious promise of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent.

The speech laid out how the government will permanently protect McIntyre Creek, and complete Yukon's wetland strategy in the coming year.

Healthcare

The government said with the implementation of the Putting People First report underway, Yukon is on track to become a healthcare leader in Canada.

The speech reiterated the Liberal campaign pledge of a new secure medical unit at Whitehorse General Hospital, along with more funding for the new universal early childhood education program.

It will also work to provide dental benefits to uninsured Yukoners, a promise that was a staple of the NDP's campaign.

Housing 

The government said it will address the urgent need for increased access to stable and affordable housing across the territory.

It said it will build on the success of opening the first Housing First residence in the North, which provides safe and secure housing in Whitehorse, by opening up a new project in Watson Lake.

The government also said the 5th and Rogers land parcel will be developed for affordable units, and will release 1,000 new lots across Yukon "in coming years."

'Nation's eyes on Yukon'

Mayo-Tatchun MLA Jeremy Harper, the party's one new face this time around, was elected as the 26th speaker of the assembly, with support from the official opposition and third party.

Harper, who is a member of Selkirk First Nation and worked in recreation with the First Nation for over two decades, said the role is an honour and privilege.

"It is the speaker's duty to be impartial and to treat all members equally, without favour. This high standard must be met in order to maintain the confidence and respect of the [Legislative] Assembly."

"I commit today to carry on this tradition," he said.

The speech concluded by saying that Yukoners must move forward together on the path to recovery.

"The nation's eyes are on the Yukon as we forge our next steps," Bernard said.

Written by Danielle d'Entremont with files from Julien Gignac

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