Yukon premier promises ‘transformation’ of health-care system

Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai said this year’s territorial budget, to be tabled on Thursday afternoon as the spring sitting of the Legislative Assembly gets underway, will ‘invest in the areas that Yukon and families need us to invest in.’ (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Legislative Assembly back in session as of Thursday afternoon, with tabling of budget

Yukon’s premier is promising more investments in housing and a “transformation” of the health-care system as the spring sitting of the Legislative Assembly gets underway on Thursday afternoon.

In the meantime, the official opposition continues to push for an election, saying Ranj Pillai’s Liberal government has “reached its best-before date” and that Yukoners are ready for a change.

The sitting begins this afternoon with the tabling of the territorial budget, the second one since Pillai took over as premier. Speaking to CBC News on Wednesday, he said the budget will focus on health care, housing and education.

“Those are the key priorities for our government,” he said.

“You’re going to see a budget that’s going to invest in the areas that Yukon and families need us to invest in.”

Pillai touted his government’s spending on affordable housing initiatives, including an announcement last week of $12.9 million in territorial funding for a project to turn a former hotel in Whitehorse into a 67-unit supportive housing project.

He promised the budget will include “some of the most substantial investments ever, in Yukon history,” on housing.

Pillai also said the upcoming legislative session will see a big focus on health care.

The territory’s health-care system has been struggling under pressure from a growing and aging population, and a ongoing shortage of health workers. One Whitehorse emergency-room doctor said recently that the system has “broken down” as the territory has not kept up with the needs of a growing population.

The hospital in Watson Lake, Yukon. The government is expected to table legislation this spring to create Health and Wellness Yukon, an arms-length government agency that delivers health and social services in the territory. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

“The key thing to watch from a legislative standpoint this spring will be the transformation of our health-care system,” Pillai said.

“You’ll see some strong conversation in the spring sitting and debate around the transformation of our healthcare-system — and it’s the work that’s culminating from the Putting People First conversation and report that we saw a number of years ago.”

That report, compiled by a panel of experts appointed by the government and released in 2020, included a recommendation to create a health authority — an arms-length government agency that delivers health and social services in the territory and contracts non-government organizations and others to deliver specialty services.

The government said last fall that legislation to create the health authority — Health and Wellness Yukon — would be tabled in the spring. Asked this week whether that will happen, Pillai was coy.

“I’ll leave it till we get into session, but I think you’re, yeah, you’re on the right track,” he said.

Opposition ‘done with this government’

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon is beginning this spring sitting much as he did the last one, and the one before — hoping it’s his last as official opposition leader.

“You know, we’re done with this government. We think Yukoners are done with this government,” said Dixon.

“The big question for the spring sitting is whether or not the NDP will be done with this government.”

‘We think that Yukoners are tired of this government,’ said Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon. (Mike Rudyk/CBC)

Since being reduced from a majority to a minority in the 2021 election, the Liberal government has been propped up by Kate White’s NDP through a Confidence and Supply Agreement (CASA), first signed by the two parties in 2021 and extended last year, to 2025.

Dixon would love to see that agreement fall apart, prompting an election sooner rather than later.

“We’ve heard [White] say some very strong things, like the health-care system is crumbling under their watch, we’ve seen the NDP vote to remove one of their [Liberal] cabinet ministers from cabinet — those are pretty strong words at least. The question is whether or not the NDP will back up those those words with action,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that there has been some positive things that have come out of the government, in some part driven by the NDP. But at the end of the day, we think that Yukoners are tired of this government.”

Dixon argues that the territory’s finances have “deteriorated” under the Liberals. He also points to “disastrous” rent-control policies, and questions the spending on Safe at Home’s 67-unit supportive housing project.

“These units will come online likely in the fall of 2026 at a cost of over $40 million. That’s well beyond what was originally promised, it’s well beyond what was originally spent,” he said.

“So we have a lot of questions about that project. There’s questions about transparency, about accountability, and about money.”

NDP ‘waiting to see what’s tabled’

White, meanwhile, describing her party as “the conscience of the Yukon political scene,” would not say whether the NDP would support the budget — regardless of CASA.

“Saying that I was going to vote for it, you know, without seeing it — I don’t think is really responsible. So like others, I’m waiting to see what is tabled,” she said earlier this week.

Still, the NDP leader says that CASA has been good for Yukoners and suggests that she’s not ready to scrap the agreement early, despite her occasional frustrations with the Liberal government.

“There’s lots of really important things that happened in the confidence and supply agreement, and will continue to happen,” she said.

“When people ask me what’s the line [for pulling NDP support for the government] — I don’t know what the answer is. But you know, it’s not a blank slate. If we get there, everyone will know.”

Written by Paul Tukker with files from Elyn Jones

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Nunavut gets $35 million from Ottawa for health care services, CBC News

Finland : Finland’s elder care needs funding boost to meet Nordic standards: researcher, Yle News

Sweden: Giving birth in a car: a real rural problem in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Alarming number of patients at Alaskan psychiatric emergency room, Alaska Public Media

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