The Yukon Party cabinet seems to think Yukoners are suckers. And they are telegraphing it in an almost laughably open way.
For a decade they took credit as the economy boomed thanks to rising mineral prices and skyrocketing transfer payments. Now that the industry is wobbling, it’s all the fault of sinister global market forces.
Do they really think you’ll fall for this kind of “heads I win-tails you lose” kind of reasoning?
I guess so. Cabinet ministers have started writing letters to the papers preparing Yukoners for the worst. One in last week’s News warned that the “Yukon is not immune to global market forces” (in case you thought it was). The minister then talks about “seeing an overcorrection in some mineral prices such as silver,” which have led to “project delays and limited layoffs.”
The minister then goes on to talk about how hard his government is working on tourism, roads, bridges, water, sewer, airports, energy, royalty regimes, forestry, agriculture, oil, gas and knowledge-based industries. Looking at Statistics Canada’s list of industries, the only ones he doesn’t seem to be working on are fashion, banking and nuclear power.
The emerging pattern is clear. Every time there is some bad economic news, expect a press release from the cabinet talking about how hard they are working on something not related to mining.
The pertinent question is not whether the Yukon government should take credit for gold rising from $300 an ounce to well over $1,000, or transfers from the feds going from under $500 million a decade ago to $978 million this year.
A better question relates to that old classic from Aesop’s Fables about the grasshopper and the ant. In the classical Greek version of the tale, the ant works hard during the good times to store food for the coming winter. All the grasshopper does, on the other hand, is cash transfer-payment cheques from the Athenian treasury and speak at conferences about how important it is to diversify the economy away from grass.
At the end of the story, winter comes and the grasshopper asks the ant to vote for him again.
Or something like that.
Ask yourself if our Yukon Party government behaved more like the ant or the grasshopper over the booming last decade. They spent 10 billion dollars; well, $9,589,431,000 to be exact, but let’s round it to a cool $10 bill.
Electricity. Did they build lots of new and efficient power plants to keep your prices low? No, your rates are going up more than 10 per cent if current applications are approved. Do you laugh at people from Outside because our upgraded power lines mean you suffer so many fewer power outages than them? Not exactly.
Internet. Are you or your friends working at the new data centre opened by a Silicon valley company after the Yukon’s second fibre optic cable was turned on? No, but the government did invest in a feasibility study for a railway to Alaska.
Housing. Back when the boom was ramping up, did the government have a land bank so people could get lots and build if supply was short? Did you see Yukon Housing signs sprouting up as new units were built? Or did you read special editions of the Yukon News entitled “Housing Crisis Special Report”?
Schools. Have you been impressed by how many new support staff are working at your kid’s school on things like literacy, credit rescue and special needs? No, but there have been several expensive consulting studies and conferences held at education headquarters.
Health care. Did you stop hearing those stories about people not being able to find a local doctor? Did you say “Jeez, that was fast!” after your last visit to Emergency?
You get the point.
Even on mining, which this government claims to hold dear, one has to wonder. The industry is up in arms at the government’s response to the latest court case on staking mining claims without consulting First Nations. Similar to the ongoing litigation between the government and the francophone school board, you have to wonder if a government with a bit more diplomatic skill would have brokered a deal before everyone ended up in court.
As anyone who has had the misfortune to visit Question Period could tell you, a principle of this government’s communications strategy is to just keep saying things again and again in the hope that eventually it will stick. So we’ll all have to get ready for more letters. Several years worth, probably.
But, no matter how many letters the cabinet’s public relations people write, winter is coming. And that’s bad news for grasshoppers.
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 Twitter @hallidaykeith.