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Push to quickly pass budget 'irresponsible,' Yukon opposition says

Yukon's opposition parties say the COVID-19 pandemic is no reason to rush debate over the territorial budget — despite what the premier and the territory's top doctor say.

Premier Sandy Silver wants to pass territorial budget on Thursday, but opposition questions urgency

'I don't think that it's fair to the citizens of the Yukon that a government would expect us as legislators to pass a $1.6-billion budget with less than three days of debate,' says Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard. (CBC)

Yukon's opposition parties say the COVID-19 pandemic is no reason to rush debate over the territorial budget — despite what the premier and the territory's top doctor say.

Premier Sandy Silver has said he wants to see MLAs pass the 2020-21 budget by Thursday afternoon, in an effort to wrap up the current sitting of the Legislative Assembly.

Dr. Brendan Hanley on Wednesday also urged MLAs to finish with the budget "as soon as possible," and focus instead on preparing for COVID-19. The territory has declared a public health emergency.

Stacey Hassard, interim leader of the Yukon Party, agrees that COVID-19 is a major concern, but said it would be "irresponsible" to just rubber-stamp the budget.

Yukon's Chief Medical Officer of Health Brendan Hanley and Premier Sandy Silver declared a public health emergency on Wednesday. Hanley urged MLAs to deal with the budget quickly so they can focus on the COVID-19 pandemic. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

"I don't think that it's fair to the citizens of the Yukon that a government would expect us as legislators to pass a $1.6-billion budget with less than three days of debate, scrutinizing that budget," Hassard said.

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous that the premier could expect Yukoners to believe that that's proper."

Hassard said the House can adjourn even if the entire budget has not been passed. MLAs have already passed an interim budget that ensures the government is funded for the next two months.

Yukoners in more urgent situations, says NDP

NDP leader Kate White was also sceptical of the government's urgency to pass the budget. She said many Yukoners are wondering whether they'll be able to make rent or pay the bills next month.

"So if the premier told me that there's a line item in that budget right now that addresses those very questions, then he and I could have the conversation," White said.

'As far as I'm concerned the Yukon government is not doing their jobs,' says NDP Leader Kate White. (Steve Silva/CBC)

White said many low-wage earners in Yukon will suffer if they are forced to stay home, and can't work. 

"Until they address those concerns, until they tell me how every single person can go home right now and self-isolate and could do so without worrying for the next two weeks, then as far as I'm concerned, the Yukon government is not doing their jobs," White said.

She said the government could be deferring property taxes, or disallowing evictions during the pandemic.

The opposition also supports ending the Legislative Assembly session early. It's supposed to run until late April but White introduced a motion that would suspend the session until at least April 15. 

Hassard said he's also open to talking about specific budget items, or short-term measures to respond to COVID-19. He said his party was shot down when it tried to establish an all-party committee to prepare.

"We put forward a motion saying, let's work together, let's get a handle on this. You know, the government essentially told us we were paranoid, we didn't know what we were talking about, and they didn't need our help," Hassard said.

"This government has not prepared in the fashion that they needed to do."

With files from Chris Windeyer

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