The fall sitting of the Yukon Liberal-majority legislature wrapped up Monday afternoon, and party leaders’ end-of-session comments were par for the course.
Premier Sandy Silver is proud of the work his government has accomplished.
Meanwhile, Yukon Party Leader Stacey Hassard and NDP house leader Kate White expressed discontent with a details deficit and lagging progress from the Liberals.
In a post-question period scrum with reporters Monday, Silver highlighted his government’s legislative achievements.
Eleven bills passed in the house this session.
They include a supplementary budget, the Public Airports Act, the Missing Persons Act and amendments to the Workers’ Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to establish presumptive PTSD legislation.
Silver told reporters the session’s new and updated legislation is intended to “make Yukoners’ lives better” by filling gaps and updating outdated acts.
The Yukon was the only major airport operator in Canada without legislation governing public airports, for example, while the Legal Profession Act hadn’t seen a significant update since 1985.
The premier also highlighted his government’s commitment to transparency. That has been demonstrated, he said, by the tabling of more than 100 legislative returns in the 60 days the house has sat in the spring and fall 2017.
“This provides further information on questions that are asked in the legislative assembly, and are put on record,” Silver said. “They’re on public record as opposed to going back into someone’s email.”
The 2011-16 Yukon Party government tabled one legislative return over its five years in power, the premier pointed out.
“I am happy to continue offering information to Yukoners, and I’m very proud of the work we’ve accomplished in these 60 legislative days.”
Silver took a similar tact when faced by questions from local media about the government and minister Pauline Frost’s challenges with health, social services and housing.
The fall session was dominated by questions about hospital bed shortages, continuing care bed shortages and housing shortages in Whitehorse and the communities.
“I’m watching all the work that is being done behind the scenes, and I’m very proud of the work that the minister’s doing,” Silver said.
Ross River housing
Frost is going “above and beyond” to serve Yukoners, according to the premier, as evidenced by the work she’s been doing on housing in Ross River.
The Yukon Housing Corp. (YHC) is making former Yukon government staff housing available to the Ross River Dena Council, and intervening to help reset an Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada-funded housing contract gone awry.
“I believe over a long-term vision of her work, from year one and to year two and year three, we will see a lot more of the fruits of her labour,” Silver said.
The premier went on to note that he’s not considering a ministerial portfolio shuffle at this time. (The ministers were sworn in on Dec. 3, 2016). Frost is currently responsible for Health and Social Services, Housing and Environment.
Meanwhile, the official Opposition leader criticized a lack of progress on the continuing care file in his end-of-session comments to reporters.
The Yukon Hospital Corp. and Health and Social Services have been relying on the practice of transferring patients from Whitehorse General Hospital to the Dawson City and Watson Lake hospitals.
They’re doing it to deal with bed pressure in the capital, prompting outcry from politicians and community groups.
“The previous government had been working, moving forward on that file, and we’ve seen very little, basically nothing change from this new government in a year,” Hassard said Monday.
On this and other subjects like the impending carbon tax, Hassard said the government has failed to provide tangible information about the work it’s doing.
“I think we brought forward a lot of good questions from our constituents and Yukoners alike, and to be quite honest ... I think the government’s been very vague in providing answers and details to our questions,” he told reporters.
Consultation is also another government shortcoming in the eyes of the Opposition.
The Public Airports Act is a relatively innocuous piece of legislation aside from its provision for the possibility of an airport improvement fee.
Yet, it erupted into controversy after the Yukon Party and industry players called out the government for insufficient consultation.
Silver, however, said his government is making significant strides in the way it consults with stakeholders and the public – strides the previous government didn’t take.
“Being beaten up over the Airports Act by one of the opposition parties – I don’t think that’s necessarily what we would look at to see whether we’re doing engagement correctly or not,” he said.
“If we get past the distraction of the Yukon Party, we are changing the way we do engagement.”
He referenced the launch of engageyukon.ca in October, a new website where government consultations are posted and can be browsed by the public. He made a ministerial statement to the house on the website at the time.
The Yukon Party’s frustration with insufficient information and progress from the government was echoed by the NDP house leader.
White offered end-of-session comments on behalf of her party as leader Liz Hanson was away.
“The first time around, you can give someone a pass, then after that, you expect more thorough answers,” she told reporters.
White acknowledged that finding her party on the same side as the Yukon Party on occasion feels strange.
However, “we’ve been really consistent on the fact that we support good ideas and we support things that make sense,” she said.
Some of the NDP’s ideas have not seen support from the government.
They range from expanding new PTSD legislation beyond first responders to strengthening the rights of mobile homeowners to a review of the territory’s minimum wage.
“I’ve shouted it into a void before. It feels really familiar,” White said.
“One thing I would caution the territory is right now, that their optimism, maybe they should rein that back a bit. Because it turns out that red is a lot more like blue than anyone expected.”
The legislature’s spring sitting is set to begin March 1.