Early Years and Education
Sandy Silver was born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, to Eugene and Germaine Silver, who operated Silvers Cleaning & Laundry for four decades. He has three siblings — Tim, Mike and Gena — all of whom have established careers in the medical field. Like his father, Sandy Silver loved music and grew up practising the guitar and drums in his family’s basement. He also played basketball and raced motorcycles.
Silver attended St. Francis Xavier University and earned a degree in mathematics, with a minor in psychology. In 1996, he completed his bachelor of education degree from the University of Maine. After graduating, Silver and a friend (also a teacher) packed up and drove across the country to the Yukon, encouraged by another friend who had moved there and enthused about life in northern Canada.
Move to Yukon
In August 1996, Silver and his friend reached Whitehorse, Yukon’s largest city. On their first day in the city, they approached staff at F.H. Collins Secondary School and offered to coach basketball. The two were immediately hired as substitute teachers. Silver taught at the Whitehorse school for two years before moving north to Dawson City to teach math at Robert Service School in 1998. The mathematics teacher immersed himself in the community, coaching basketball, badminton and volleyball and volunteering with the Dawson City Fire Department, White Ribbon Yukon and the Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon. He was also president of the Dawson City Music Festival and performed with the Pointer Brothers, a popular Yukon band, for two years. Silver was also involved in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in community, supervising teacher practicums, mentoring at-risk teenagers and participating in the biennial Moosehide Gathering, a celebration of Indigenous culture that features music, dancing, feasts and workshops.
Liberal MLA in Yukon Legislature
Silver entered territorial politics in the fall 2011 election as the Yukon Liberal Party candidate for the Klondike riding. (Klondike is the oldest riding in Yukon, established in 1905.) Silver was elected, as was Darius Elias, incumbent MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, but other Liberal seats were lost and they were reduced to third-party status, behind the winning Yukon Party and opposition New Democratic Party. In August 2012, less than a year later, Elias left the party to become an Independent, leaving Silver the only Liberal MLA in the Yukon legislature and interim leader of the party.
Leader of the Yukon Liberal Party
In February 2014, Silver was acclaimed as leader of the Yukon Liberal Party and began work on reviving the organization with new candidates and fresh ideas. In the 2016 territorial election campaign, Silver emphasized the party’s commitment to jobs, the economy and the environment. While Premier Darrell Pasloski of the Yukon Party vowed to fight a federally mandated carbon tax, Silver and the Yukon Liberal Party maintained that carbon prices were inevitable and that they would work with the federal government to ensure that Yukoners would receive rebates. Among 130 commitments, Silver pledged government transparency, accountability and collaboration. Their platform identified five key priorities: Good Jobs in a Sustainable Environment; Modern Yukon; All Communities Matter; Healthier, Happier Lives; and Government for the People.
On 7 November 2016, the Liberal Party won 11 of the 19 seats in the Yukon legislature, an increase of 10 seats from the previous election and one of the largest gains for any party in Yukon political history. Silver received more than 59 per cent of the votes in his riding, retaining his seat and becoming premier of the Yukon.
In addition to his responsibilities as premier, Silver became Minister of Finance and Minister of the Executive Council Office, which includes intergovernmental duties and indigenous relations. Like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Silver appointed a gender-balanced cabinet, in which three of the six ministers are women. In his mandate letter (6 January 2017), Silver stated that his government would focus on job creation, “balancing efforts to strengthen and diversify our economy with environmental stewardship.” He also emphasized a focus on relations with Yukon First Nations, working “actively and continuously to advance reconciliation and uphold the spirit and intent of First Nation Final and Self-Government Agreements.”
In early December 2016, Silver attended a meeting of Canada’s First Ministers in Ottawa, accompanied by Chief Roberta Joseph and Chief Doris Bill, to discuss the country’s climate-change plan. Like most other provinces and territories, the Yukon adopted the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which committed the territorial and federal governments to partner on “renewable energy projects, research and pilot projects and energy efficiency improvements to buildings.” According to the agreement, 100 per cent of revenue from carbon pricing would be retained by the Yukon.
Health care funding has also been a focus for Silver and the Yukon government. In December 2016, the First Ministers rejected a funding agreement proposed by the federal Liberal government. However, the territorial governments in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut negotiated a separate agreement in January 2017. In addition to the existing Canada Health Transfer program, which guarantees an increase in base health funding by at least three per cent per year, the federal government will provide an additional $6.2 million for home care infrastructure and $5.2 million for mental health initiatives in Yukon over a 10-year period beginning in the 2017–18 fiscal year.