by Sandy Silver
For the second year in a row the Yukon Party government made a conscious decision to delay the spring sitting until after the 2016-2017 fiscal year had already begun.
The late call has resulted in the government once again bypassing the legislature for spending authority and relying on special warrants, which should be used for exceptional circumstances only. It demonstrates a lack of respect for the legislative assembly and for democracy. The decision to release portions of the budget in a speech outside the legislative chamber also shows a similar disregard for the institution.
The goal of this budget is to try to buy Yukoners’ hearts and minds with their own money. A look at the long term financial plan shows a spike in capital spending that drops off dramatically after the next election. Despite this spike, in the last year alone, 600 private sector jobs have been lost.
What the territory needs is a consistent project building schedule that ensures local contractors receive the lion’s share of the work, and keeps dollars in Yukon. This record spending budget is a last-ditch attempt to turn around our declining economy. It is interesting to note the two largest projects in the budget are being built by Outside contractors.
The Yukon’s GDP has declined for three years in a row and the government has repeatedly refused to accept any responsibility for its role in this development. While it has put money into grants and incentives like the Yukon Mineral Exploration Program, which provide some assistance to the private sector, the government continues to ignore the impact of its own actions.
Regulatory uncertainty, caused largely by the government’s botched attempt to amend Bill S-6 and the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act, has discouraged the private sector from investing in Yukon. In the same vein, court battles with First Nation governments have made Yukon a less attractive place to invest in. Exploration in the territory is forecast to drop by 18 per cent in the coming last year alone and Yukon continues to fall on the Fraser Institute mining rankings.
The budget documents also show the Yukon Party government has spent down the surplus from $223 million to $56 million in just the last two years alone as it ramps up spending to try and buy votes. While Yukon has no net debt the premier’s speech ignores the debt carried by our crown corporations. The public accounts detail approximately $190 million in debt carried by those corporations that this government and taxpayers are responsible for.
Given this government’s poor record when it comes to managing capital projects, I am not surprised to see another $4.3 million has been added to the cost of the F.H. Collins school, bringing the total to $55.3 million. In the last year the government has been forced to return to management board to ask for yet more money on this over-budget project.
In my home community I was disappointed to see that the entire term of this government will pass without the Yukon Party’s 2011 campaign promise to build a new recreation centre being fulfilled. It is a reminder to Yukoners that this government cannot be trusted. Similarly, a commitment to pave the Dawson airport runway is left out of the budget.
This is one of several projects on the government’s IOU list as it heads into this year’s election. The budget fails to deliver on promises of a new francophone school, a mental health strategy or the long-promised fibre optic line. All of these items are just political IOUs now.
The premier continues to talk about the Yukon becoming a net contributor to Canada. However the reality is that Yukon relies on Ottawa for 88 per cent of our budget. This is up from 80 per cent the first year the Yukon Party came into power, leaving us no further ahead in terms of standing on our own two feet today than we were 14 years ago.
I cannot support the budget because I do not agree with the direction the current government is heading. Over the next six weeks I will continue to hold the government to account as we debate another billion dollar budget.
Sandy Silver is leader of the Yukon Liberal Party and MLA for the Klondike.