An artist’s rendering of the Yukon College’s proposed university science building. (Submitted)

2019 federal budget promises cash for Yukon College, First Nations, economic development

Over five years, up to $26 million is earmarked for a new science building

Packed into the Liberal’s fourth federal budget is a major investment in Yukon College – soon it will have a new science building.

Over five years, up to $26 million is earmarked for it in order to help the school “undertake its transformation into a hybrid university,” says the budget document, released on March 19 and entitled Investing in the Middle Class.

In total, there’s about $22.8 billion budgeted. There’s a deficit, too, pegged at $19.8 billion in 2019-20, the document says. By 2023-2024, the federal deficit is projected to decline to $11.4 billion.

Across the country, the budget includes $300,000 million over three years for rebates on electric or hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles, training for workers and money for infrastructure projects in municipalities and First Nations. There’s $1.2 billion over three years to enhance social services for Indigenous families and children, the main element in a package of spending aimed at Indigenous Peoples.

The science building for Yukon College is a feather in Yukon MP Larry Bagnell’s hat, as he’s been lobbying to turn the school into a university for years. He called the money allotted for the add-on a “key pillar” in the push to do so.

“They needed it before they could become a university,” he told the News, noting that research will be enhanced by way of new grants being made available.

“Therefore, it will be able to attract the type of professors they need in the university,” Bagnell said.

“We’re the only Arctic nation without a university north of 60,” he added.

Premier Sandy Silver called the development “very positive news” in a press release.

“Our government has made it a strategic priority to ensure our education system achieves solid outcomes that meet Yukon’s social, economic and community goals,” he said. “This includes a commitment to life-long learning and the transition to Yukon University further advances opportunities available in Yukon and the North. Today’s announcement brings Yukon College one step closer to this goal.”

Dr. Karen Barnes, the president and vice chancellor of Yukon College, called it a “historic day.”

Next year, the college will officially seal its university status, she said.

“Over the last few months, we’ve had many interactions with federal ministers,” Barnes said. “In every situation, people have really started to recognized that it’s long overdue for Canada to have a university in the North. It’s important for Northerners to study the North where they are, at home, and be able to stay and not have to leave.

“I think that Ottawa has listened to this idea that we need to build capacity in the North. It has huge potential to develop. And Northerners really need to define what that looks like.”

Calling in from Ottawa, Bagnell helped break down some of the key points of the budget.

Over a seven-year period, $1.4 billion is for Indigenous nations in Canada that took part in negotiating modern treaties in order “to forgive all outstanding comprehensive claim loans and reimburse ones that have already repaid their loans,” he said.

“That would be a very large amount of funds for Yukon self-governing First Nations, and they could use that on housing or whatever they want,” Bagnell said.

As of press time, it’s unclear how much money Yukon First Nations could receive because of this.

Bagnell said there’s more funding for three programs that are part of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency: $75 million for a diversification program; $1.5 million for a tourism program; and $15 million over five years for isolated communities to become more food secure.

Every Canadian will eventually have internet access, the budget document says, “no matter where they are located in the country, including in the North.”

“Delivering high-speed internet to every Canadian, especially in more rural and remote areas, will help businesses grow, create new jobs and connect more people to the resources, services and information they need to build a better future,” it says. “To meet this commitment, Budget 2019 is proposing a new, coordinated plan that would deliver $5 billion to $6 billion in new investments in rural broadband over the next 10 years.”

Bagnell said the federal government is going to find Canadians over 70 who are eligible for the Canadian Pension Plan program.

“That could affect 40,000,” he said.

There are hyper-specific, local elements in the budget, too. Take Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, which have been given $20,769 “for capital improvements to their community kitchen so seniors can continue to prepare weekly lunches for other seniors and offer new programs for traditional food preparations,” the budget document says.

As announced in the fall of 2018, the mineral exploration tax credit has been extended until March 31, 2024, it says.

Money for remediating contaminated mine sites in Canada is mentioned.

“To clean up the largest and most high-risk of these sites, Budget 2019 proposes to provide $49.9 million over fifteen years ($2.2 billion on a cash basis), starting in 2020–21, to Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to create the Northern Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program,” the budget document says.

With files from Canadian Press

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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