As long as I can remember, the Yukon has heralded itself as the land of opportunity. Come north to the place where anything is possible. Endure our cold and in the spring thaw, having set the foundation for your new home, the honorary title of Sourdough will be yours to share with those who have come before.
Interestingly, when I first arrived in the Yukon over 30 years ago, that was no fable.
Yes, the cost of living was higher here than in the south, but plenty of well-paying jobs helped offset the challenge of making ends meet. Like many of my peers, I took a stab at eating off the government’s fine china, gaining sufficient salary to endure a spike in housing costs caused largely by speculation in a major gas pipeline.
And I got lots of help. When the cost of food escalated, the government structured a committee to investigate and correct the situation. When not enough land was available for purchase, the government again intervened, providing the infrastructure for new residential lots at the cost of development. And when rental units were costly and hard to find, the government instituted controls on rental rates and legislation intended to serve both landlord and tenant.
That was long ago.
Fast forward to 2011. The cost of living still is much higher in Whitehorse than the Canadian average. The cost of owning a home has tripled since 2000. The demand for land is greater than what’s available and rental units are both scarce and more expensive than ever. At the same time, most Yukon salaries have failed to keep pace.
You’d think nothing has changed. But you’d be wrong. When so many of us baby boomers arrived here years ago, the government intervened on our behalf. They provided land to stake for agricultural use. They developed residential acreages and sold them at cost. They even capped rental rates and gave tenants more rights than ever before.
Now the Yukon and municipal governments sell land at market value (while also controlling the market), enact nothing to control rents, and insist the market will dictate what is best for all.
Thank God we didn’t have to live through that!
Ironically, as the beneficiaries of the government’s altruism years ago, we’ve lost the will to share our legacy with today’s young people and new arrivals. We’ve exchanged the land of opportunity for the land of our opportunity. And we’ve somehow become convinced that our success was solely the result of hard work and determination.
It’s an illusion that will cast long shadows in the years to come.