Five days in May: Yukon Liberals pitch informal budget hearings

Yukon's Liberal government is offering the opposition parties something they've been asking for: budget hearings. But the Yukon Party and NDP say they're wary of the fine print, and they still want to review measures the government has taken to combat the fallout from COVID-19.

Opposition parties skeptical of government offer of 90-minute sessions for each department

A series of 90-minute hearings on this spring's territorial budget are scheduled to take place at the Yukon Legislative Assembly. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Yukon's Liberal government offered opposition parties something they've been agitating for: hearings on this spring's territorial budget. 

Under the Liberal proposal, opposition MLAs would be able to question ministers and civil servants. The hearings would take place over five days spread out over two weeks in late May.

Every department and two major Crown corporations would each get their own 90-minute session. Several smaller agencies, including Elections Yukon and the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office would be lumped into one session. Any time left over from one session could be applied to other departments, according to a letter outlining the offer from Liberal house leader Tracy-Anne McPhee.

Liberal house leader Tracy-Anne McPhee takes reporters' questions after question period March 18. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

The hearings are unusual because MLAs typically don't review bills after they've become law, McPhee said in an interview.

But opposition parties agreed in March to expedite passage of the budget in order to allow the legislative assembly to shut down early to avoid the risk of COVID-19.

"We also recognize that the opposition parties might have more questions regarding all or some of the departments with respect to the budget and we had made a commitment at that time to arrange an opportunity for further scrutiny of the budget," McPhee said.

Not good enough, opposition says

Opposition leaders said Wednesday the government's proposal is at best a half-measure.

Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard said the offer does nothing to address opposition concerns about measures the government has taken to combat the impact of COVID-19. Those include orders-in-council made under the territory's civil emergency legislation. Those orders can be made by ministers and don't need legislative approval.

"It does not even address COVID-19," Hassard said. "It doesn't cover any of the new spending. It does not cover the OICs [orders-in-council] that have been put into place. So [I'm] not impressed."

Still, Hassard stopped short of saying the Yukon Party would oppose the hearings. In a letter to McPhee Thursday, he repeated a call for an all-party legislative committee to scrutinize COVID-19 measures.

The opposition parties also have operational concerns. The hearings would take place in the legislative assembly chambers, with legislative assembly staff handling logistics, McPhee said.

But the hearings would not technically be sessions of the legislature, meaning MLAs would not enjoy the usual privileges and time allocations. NDP leader Kate White said as leader of the third party, that's particularly concerning.

"This is uncharted territory," she said. "There aren't rules in place for how this looks ... there's no discussion about our time allotment per department."

McPhee said time allocation will be up to the opposition parties.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?