The Yukon sweepstakes, 2014 edition

The Yukon will be getting an additional $38 million from Ottawa for the fiscal year starting April 1, according to the federal Department of Finance. That's an extra thousand bucks each approximately. 

The Yukon will be getting an additional $38 million from Ottawa for the fiscal year starting April 1, according to the federal Department of Finance. That’s an extra thousand bucks each approximately.

Those nice people in Ottawa! You gotta love ‘em.

Of course, the feds aren’t sending you a cheque. They launder the money through the Yukon government, which will decide who gets the money and who doesn’t.

These Yukon sweepstakes are an annual ritual. Since 2005-6, the annual transfer payment has been increased a whopping $365 million.

One of the remarkable things about public life in the Yukon is how restrained the lobbying is. If you put this much money on the table every year in New Jersey or Louisiana, there would be blood in the streets as mayors, big business, union bosses and every interest group in the phone book fought over the money.

I guess that’s why the political drama House of Cards is not set in Whitehorse.

It’s too bad, since it would be fun to see Kevin Spacey play a Yukon MLA.

Even more remarkable than the muted lobbying is the way some organizations seem more focused on raising money from citizens than in tapping into Ottawa’s largesse. While the government is figuring out how to spend its windfall every year, the hospital foundation runs a well-organized and successful fundraising campaign.

I went to the dinner this year and had a very nice time. But while my wife and I were bidding enthusiastically in the silent auction for the power washer, it crossed my mind to get out my smartphone and Google the upcoming transfer payment raise.

Never mind, the car will look very nice with a weekly power-wash.

Then there are the municipalities. Whitehorse city councils have raised taxes every year for almost a decade without screaming “fiscal imbalance” and leading a protest march up Second Avenue to YTG headquarters.

And also the First Nations. While First Nations reps are suffering through long meetings with territorial negotiators about self-government implantation funding, Yukon finance officials are in a different room whipping out their box knives and cutting open bales of cash from Ottawa.

Plenty of charities and other non-governmental organizations in the Yukon do not have a formal lobbying strategy, with well-defined funding objectives and lists of decision-makers to be cultivated. In House of Cards, this is practically all Kevin Spacey’s wife ever does besides go jogging. She’s the executive director of an environmental organization.

This also explains why quite a few organizations in Whitehorse have seen their government grants lag inflation for years.

Government ministers will quibble that lots of the increase gets eaten up by inflation, cost-of-living increases for government staff, topping up the MLA pension fund and so on.

While there is some truth to this, there is still a lot of cash up for grabs. It reminds me of a dinner I once attended with the minister of foreign affairs in a dining room on the minister’s floor. As we chewed our filet mignon and enjoyed a nice Burgundy, the foreign aid agency official across the table from me was whispering things like, “They’re cutting the public service to the bone. There’s nothing left to squeeze.”

I think life is too easy for our politicians. Yukoners don’t ask them for enough.

The Yukon has many worthy community organizations. You probably belong to several. I suggest you get your board together, come up with a compelling “ask,” put it on paper and start setting up meetings with MLAs. Don’t forget to remind them how many voters – I mean members – are in your organization.

You might not be successful, at least the first year. But the $38 million will go to someone else if you don’t even try.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. You can follow him on Channel 9’s Yukonomist show or Twitter @hallidaykeith

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