Dreaming the big dream

Yukoners like to think of themselves as a hardy, self-reliant lot. This collective self-image is at odds with the reality that our territorial government is propped up with massive subsidies from Ottawa.

Yukoners like to think of themselves as a hardy, self-reliant lot. This collective self-image is at odds with the reality that our territorial government is propped up with massive subsidies from Ottawa.

This year total transfers from the feds are expected to top $1 billion. That’s nearly $30,000 for every resident of the territory.

By comparison, the territory expects to raise a mere $162 million through its own taxes and other levies. That’s just 13 per cent of the government’s total revenues.

Our Yukon Party government is usually of the habit of celebrating how much federal cash is raining upon the territory, and of suggesting that its cozy ties with its federal counterparts help make it all happen.

But, to some conservative-minded residents, this dependence on federal hand-outs is a sign that the Yukon has lost its way. Presumably as a sop to this crowd, Pasloski last week told a business audience that he aimed to see the territory become a net contributor to Canada.

It’s a nice idea. While we’re at it, it would be swell to live in a territory powered by endless supplies of clean power thanks to cold nuclear fusion, where we commute to work either in flying cars or on hoverboards and everyone has a pet unicorn in their backyards.

But nobody would expect such flights of fancy to happen anytime soon. After all, extravagant claims should be buttressed with credible details to be believed. Such specificity is completely lacking with Pasloski’s pie-in-the-sky dreams of financial independence for the territory.

The Yukon Party has always put much faith in mining. But even when a mining boom seemed much more likely to materialize back in the autumn of 2011, the wonks with the Conference Board of Canada didn’t expect new mines to make the territory any less dependent on Ottawa. That’s because as the territory’s population grows, so do federal transfers.

Of course, many of the mine projects that the conference board anticipated to surge forward are instead now stuck in the mud, as metal prices slide and investors fail to buy into already-permitted properties.

If you’d like further reasons to doubt the premier’s claims, consider what he touts as a shining example of fiscal discipline: the government’s badly botched plans to rebuild F.H. Collins Secondary School.

Pasloski maintains the territory saved $17 million in its handling of plans to rebuild the aging high school. He reaches that figure by comparing the construction cost of the ostentatious monument his government initially planned to build – all pricey glass walls, curving walls and long roof spans – against the cost of the revised plan, which doesn’t look like much more than a glorified chain of portables.

Students were supposed to occupy the new building last fall. Instead, thanks to the government having to go back to the drawing board and redesign the school, that opening has been delayed by two years, to the autumn of 2015.

Local contractors ended up wasting their resources to bid on the ill-fated project. And many later found themselves locked out of the bids for the new work, which required experience on projects in Alberta. This all represents missed opportunities for Yukon workers.

And the territory itself frittered away at least $5 million on generating its unused school plans. That’s not including all the man-hours consumed by bureaucrats who worked on the file. Needless to say, had these funds not been wasted, they could have actually been put to some good.

How does the premier characterize this outcome? Why, in his budget speech he described it as “one of the best examples of fiscal prudence” his government can muster. What a frightening thought.

Perhaps that’s how we’ll become financially independent, then. We need only earmark $1 billion in poorly conceived projects, then later scrap those plans at an expense of, say, a few hundred million. Presto change-o, by the premier’s own reasoning, we’ve just saved a billion bucks. 

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