Yukon premier, opposition leaders look back at 2022 and ahead to a possible election year
We already know this much about the coming year: Yukon will have a new premier. Maybe even two, before 2023 is through.
Sandy Silver is set to leave the premier’s office once his chooses a new leader — and therefore new premier — in January.
Meantime, the confidence and supply agreement (CASA) inked by the Liberals and NDP after the 2021 election is also set to expire in January. If it’s not replaced, the minority Liberal government can’t count on NDP support to keep it in power. A general election could quickly follow.
Here’s how Silver and the other party leaders — Official Opposition Leader Currie Dixon of the Yukon Party, and NDP Leader Kate White — are looking at the year ahead, and also reflecting on the one now gone.
‘A lot going on,’ says Silver
“It’s the toughest, best job I’ve ever had in my life,” said Silver, feeling wistful about leaving the premier’s office.
He says he’s proud of the work he’s done since his party first formed government in 2016, and of the team he led, and the relationships that his government built with First Nations, the mining sector and other private business.
He’s also proud of what his government was able to do in 2022, as the territory emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re investing in and making lives more affordable during really trying times. We’re leading the nation in economic growth and population growth, [and] Liberal Party reconciliation — the Yukon Forums were really profound this year, with the chiefs,” he said.
“[We’re also] making a lot of transformations in our health-care system, and modernizing education. There’s a lot going on right now.”
Silver said he’ll “let the people that write the history books” assess his legacy as premier, but said he hopes to be remembered for the decision-making structure and systems he prioritized.
“Once I leave, the next leader who comes in can decide to continue with that good work and that good foundation, and I think that that would be a smart move,” he said.
“Because it was a lot of blood, sweat and tears, and I think that the public service that were involved are happier with the system now.”
He believes that the CASA with the NDP has been good for the territory, though “not without its challenges.”
“I think for the most part, you know, we’ve done some great things together and we’ll see what happens with another leader and whether the confidence and supply agreement can continue on,” he said.
Dixon ‘looking to have an election’
The Official Opposition leader hopes it can’t.
“To be perfectly honest, I’m looking to have an election,” said Dixon, about the new year. “We think that Yukoners should have a say on what’s going to happen going forward.
“I’m not sure that the current government has been as in touch with Yukoners as they should be, and have been distracted oftentimes by their own internal machinations.”
For Dixon, the past year has seen the government fumble when it comes to the housing crisis, the Hidden Valley school scandal, and the ill-fated bid to host the 2027 Canada Winter Games.
He says the decision to drop the Canada Games bid was a mistake that can be blamed entirely on Community Services Minister Richard Mostyn.
“There’s a very real possibility that the games will just be cancelled overall in that year, which really looks terrible for Yukon and I think it’s a huge black eye on our sport community. And it was inflicted by no one other than the minister,” Dixon said.
Dixon also blamed the government for not doing enough to address the local housing crisis, and real estate prices that are out of reach for many Yukoners.
“Unfortunately we just haven’t seen an adequate response from government and getting land out, getting the supply increased, to drive that price down,” Dixon said.
“For a lot of Yukoners, the cost of housing was a real problem and a real sticking point for the cost of living crisis that we’re all facing.”
Dixon also blasted the government for mishandling matters around the Hidden Valley sexual abuse case. He points to reports that found the government’s response was “woefully inadequate.”
“We still hear from parents that aren’t getting the services they need today, and to this day not a single person has been held accountable for that,” he said.
Dixon said he’s proud of what his party was able to do in opposition this past year, including seeing passage of a motion calling on the federal government to remove the carbon tax from home heating fuel.
“You know, it’s a small victory, but in opposition you gotta take what you can get and that was one that we’re really proud of,” he said.
‘Stand-out moments’ for NDP in 2022
NDP Leader Kate White, meantime, is also proud of what her party has been able to achieve this past year — and she’s also cagey about what might happen once the CASA expires.
“I think if anyone tells you right now that they don’t realize [an election] is a possibility they’d be lying,” she said.
“We’ll see who the new [Liberal] leader is, and whether or not, you know, negotiation can happen in my mind for the benefit of Yukon.”
White says the current CASA has been mostly a success.
“I think it’s done some really important things … the bar’s moved farther, you know, toward the progressive than it has in a really long time,” she said.
White says she’s proud of what her party was able to do in 2022, including seeing the passage of an NDP bill to amend the Education Act to require Yukon schools to establish inclusive spaces and activities for students who identify as LGBTQ2S+.
Another NDP bill, to declare National Truth and Reconciliation Day a statutory holiday in Yukon, also passed this year.
“So those were two really stand-out moments for us,” White said.
She’s disappointed that another NDP bill, to reinstate a clause into the territory’s oil and gas legislation that would require First Nations’ consent for exploration and development activities to happen in their traditional territories, was voted down.
Overall, though, she thinks it was a good year for her party.
“The NDP, we really focus on issues that affect people, and I think we’ve honoured the stories that have been shared with us,” she said.
With files from Elyn Jones
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Canada extends continental shelf claim, increasing overlaps with Russia in Arctic, CBC News
Finland: One in 10 Finnish families with young children dealing with food insecurity: survey, Yle News
Sweden: Calls for more Indigenous protection in Sweden on Sami national day, Radio Sweden
United States: Alaska and its tribes sign child services agreement, Alaska Public Media