Suppose that your neighbour announced that his lawnmower was broken and that it was too expensive to get a new one, so he was going to stop mowing his lawn.
Upset by visions of knee-high grass, fields of dandelions and plummeting property values, you storm next door to sort it out.
Your neighbour offers you a coffee, and suggests a new “partnership.” You would mow his lawn every week, and you both would benefit from how well-kept lawns keep the neighbourhood looking nice.
In return, he would give you … err … full permission to mow his lawn.
Sound like a good deal?
This is basically what happened last month when the feds talked the Yukon government into paying to plough the formerly federally maintained road at Kathleen Lake and the Log Cabin parking lot all winter.
Not only did the Yukon cabinet fall for this neighbourly stratagem, they even put out a press release bragging that “Yukon/Canada partnership allows winter access to Kluane National Park and Reserve and Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site.”
Our federal MP, Ryan Leef, also put his name on the press release, which was co-ordinated by four government communications officials (perhaps more, but only four put their names on it).
I wish there had been a webcam at the meeting. Picture it in your mind, with two Yukon ministers, a member of Parliament and four (at least) communications advisors.
I see an image sort of like that Star Wars film, where the emperor has to keep sending his evil apprentice to far-away star systems to bring various minions back into line. The Yukon ministers and Ryan Leef are in a dark room in Haines Junction with their staff, muttering discontentedly about the feds not ploughing their roads anymore and messing up snowmobile season.
Then some fiendish Parks Canada official slips into the room, wearing a dark cape and playing the role of junior Sith Lord. She waves her hand in front of the politicians like a Jedi Knight. “You like to plough roads,” she says soothingly. “You want to pay for it. It’s a partnership.”
Draft press releases tumble to the floor. Titles flash across the screen as they fall: “Conservative MP convinces Ottawa to rescind cuts,”“Yukon government stands up to Ottawa service cuts,”“We wrote a stiffly worded letter but never heard back,” and so on.
The Parks Canada official emerges from the room and makes one of those Star Wars holographic Skype calls to Ottawa: “They bought it, Master. Thin edge of the wedge successfully inserted.”
We are in really big trouble if our elected representatives’ strategy on Ottawa budget cuts is not to resist them, but to suck it up by dipping into the Yukon’s own budget. If it is road ploughing this time, what’s next?
Are we to expect another “partnership” memo next month gleefully telling us that the Yukon cabinet has dipped into some department’s budget to pay for tour guides on the SS Klondike to be restored?
And after that? Revenue Canada office funding? Federal surveyors? Training and immigration activities? Francophone school programs?
Back in the bad old 1990s this was called “downloading,” and the provinces howled every time Ottawa suggested “partnering” with them. In turn, the municipalities howled as the provinces gave them all kinds of new responsibilities without funding to go with them.
The only howling I’m hearing now are the coyotes behind my house.
The drying up of federal spending in the North is going to hurt us. The highly visible core transfer payment is probably safe, for now, but all the various departmental programs, special funds, strategies and so on are “sunsetting” or being quietly reduced.
Even the Americans have apparently decided not to renew their Shakwak funding, which was worth millions in highway maintenance dollars to us.
I may be old-fashioned here, but I expect our MP to stand up for the Yukon. Same for the Yukon government. Even at the cost of offending some powerful people in the Prime Minister’s Office.
It really is astounding that Ryan Leef would actually put his name on a press release announcing that the federal decision to reduce services at Parks Canada was going ahead, and that the Yukon government was expected to pick up the tab.
At least we’ve learned one thing from this. We know who to call if we want our lawns mowed.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.