COVID-19 impacts have turned a projected government surplus into a $31.6-million deficit, according to a financial update released after the Yukon legislature resumed Oct. 1.
A projected $4.1-million surplus for the 2020-21 year has now turned into a projected $31.6-million deficit, contributing to an end-of-year net debt estimated at $117.7 million for 2020-21.
“It’s very concerning to us as the government that we can have the ability to not have to pass on debt to the further generations,” said Premier Sandy Silver.
“But compared to other jurisdictions in Canada, we’re in a very, very good place because of our strong commitment to the economy and the environment and I believe that’s very helpful in how we move forward,” Silver said.
Thanks largely to the insulating effects of a large public sector and mining industry, the Yukon is one of only two Canadian jurisdictions forecasting an overall increase in GDP this year.
Yukon’s real GDP growth is projected to grow 0.8 per cent, down from the 6.2 per cent forecast for growth made in March.
The fiscal update documents also note that COVID-19 impacts could continue to change unexpectedly, and the “revised 2020-21 forecast incorporates additional spending room to allow government to respond quickly to these developments.”
Along with the fiscal update, new spending measures are detailed in two supplementary budgets tabled Oct. 1.
Politicians are also waiting on details from the Northern Support Package, a specific funding support for the territories that is still being negotiated but will be “finalized very soon” according to the premier.
The government’s bureau of statistics also released numbers estimating that 129 businesses were forced to close in April 2020, 79 in May and 65 in June as a result of COVID-19.
The estimates are based on businesses that had paid employees in the previous month but had no paid employees at the time of reporting and should be used with caution, according to the bureau. Industries hardest hit by the closures appeared to be accommodation, food services, personal services and construction.
The fall sitting is expected to be busy as the MLAs catch up on leftover business after an abrupt end to the spring session.
At the first question period that has been held since March, opposition MLAs zeroed in on what the government has been doing to support the tourism industry and support for the mental health of Yukoners.
NDP leader Kate White raised concerns about low-income essential workers who will lose their up to $4 top-up wages on Oct. 3.
A motion was also introduced Oct. 1 that will form a new special committee tasked with suggesting updates to the Civil Emergency Measures Act. The committee will include Community Services Minister John Streicker as well as one MLA each from the Yukon Party and NDP.
Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon, who has advocated for reforming the current act, said changes to the policy are badly needed but took issue with Streicker being appointed to the committee.
“That’s tantamount to him wanting to participate in the writing of his own report card,” Dixon said.
In response, Silver said Streicker, having led the emergency response, was the best-informed person for the job.
“He is the shepherd of the current CEMA. And he’s the first one to say this act needs work,” Silver said.
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