The territory used to have a rainy day fund.
Now, apparently, it just prays for rain.
This probably isn’t a prudent way to manage the territory’s finances.
Last year, Finance Minister Dennis Fentie drained an emergency fund the Yukon uses to fight forest fires. And it hasn’t been topped up – presumably there’s no spare cash available to do so.
That doesn’t mean the territory’s firefighters are out of luck, it just means if we have an extraordinary year the Yukon will have to scrounge up more cash.
In the Yukon, there are no repercussions for our actions.
This year, the territory is prepared to spend less money fighting fires, about $14 million. Last year it was prepared to spend closer to $15 million.
When the summer was over, it had spent close to $23 million.
This is about money and budgets, and so there are plenty of figures you can toss around to bracket the potential costs.
In a damp summer, the territory expects to pay about $12 million fighting fires. When it’s hot and sunny, it has spent as much as $33 million.
And since 2003, when the territory took over responsibility for fighting forest fires from Ottawa, we’ve always managed to deal with the costs – the federal government has come through with more money. So there’s probably nothing to worry about this year.
However, the fire emergency fund is another way to glimpse the true state of the territory’s finances.
For the last couple of months, Fentie has been talking about cash in the bank and surplus budgets, and yet all that confident rhetoric runs counter to the significant debt that’s collecting, off the books, in the Yukon Hospital and Yukon Energy corporations.
That has raised questions about the true state of the territory’s finances.
And the territory’s citizens have a right to be skeptical.
Last week, the CD Howe Institute released a report titled Target Practice Needed. It evaluated budgeting practices across Canada, ranking proposed spending estimates to actual spending.
The Yukon ranked dead last among the provinces and territories when it comes to aligning budget promises with actual spending.
That makes it next to impossible to gauge how well the territory is meeting its spending targets – or how much money it has.
So, people have to sift through tea leaves. Like trying to reconcile Fentie’s budget optimism with the lack of money in its emergency fire suppression budget.
Put simply, things don’t add up.
But this is probably an esoteric exercise. This territory is a bit of a wonderland because the lion’s share of our budget is provided by the Canadian taxpayer. There is a gross sense of entitlement and little responsibility for our spending decisions.
Which is why our government burns cash.
And if we hit a terrible fire year, we’ll ask Ottawa to rain loonies on the place because we simply can’t cover the cost among our small population.
This is expected to be a dry summer, which suggests an expensive year for fires.
There’s little money in the kitty.
Apparently, our fiscal plan is to pray for rain while we lobby Ottawa for more money.
Not the most prudent way to manage the place, but, as long as the money’s flowing it’s no big deal.
Yup, no big deal … as long as the money is flowing.