For the first time in 14 years, the spring sitting of the Yukon legislature — which begins Thursday afternoon — will see a new territorial government in action. The Liberal administration of Premier Sandy Silver has taken the reins from the long-governing Yukon Party.
Silver’s caucus is made up of legislative newbies, with Silver himself the only Liberal MLA with territorial legislative experience.
But despite the inexperience, the Liberal cabinet is an educated bunch — made up of lawyers, engineers, and several university graduates.
The Liberals promised respectful, transparent government if elected.
Will they deliver?
Here are five things to watch during this legislative sitting.
1. Where’s the beef?
The budget is always the big event of the year — not just for legislators and government departments, but indeed for all sectors of the Yukon’s economy, given how excessively dependent the territory is on government spending (read: federal transfer payments).
During its tenure, the Yukon Party steered the territory through the unpredictable shoals of the commodities markets, sometimes not so well (Yukon’s gross domestic product has taken a dive in recent years).
And while Yukon still has no net debt, expect the days of the surplus budget to end — at least in the short term. The Yukon Party spent generously over the summer and fall and last year’s projected surplus of $9.4 million has gone the way of summer wages.
Premier Sandy Silver’s first budget will be delivered next week, and it will indicate his priorities for the territory — how he’ll put the Liberal stamp on programs, policies, and capital projects. And it’s time: the Liberals have already been in office for six months.
2. A Capital Plan
One unsavoury aspect of taking the reins of office from a party that’s been entrenched for a decade and a half is that you inherit all its big plans for bricks-and-mortar projects, or what’s known in government parlance as “capital builds.” For the Liberals, some have already been built but the spending headaches continue.
That’s the case with the Dawson wastewater treatment facility, or what then-opposition MLA Sandy Silver once dubbed the “WTF”. It’s now his W.T.F.
The government has filed a lawsuit against Corix Utiliites, the Alberta company that built the plant. The facility is still not operating as it should, and the town of Dawson has refused to assume ownership.
Then there’s the massive Whistle Bend continuing care facility — costing $146 million to build, and already seeing some setbacks. Plans for underground parking had to be altered, and there have been issues with a sinking foundation.
The company, PCL…