Another billion dollar budget

The Yukon Party announced another record budget of over $1 billion yesterday. There will be no tax increases, and an estimated surplus of $73 million. "The 10 previous budgets tabled by three successive Yukon Party governments have helped make the economy of the territory one of the strongest in Canada."

The Yukon Party announced another record budget of over $1 billion yesterday.

There will be no tax increases, and an estimated surplus of $73 million.

“The 10 previous budgets tabled by three successive Yukon Party governments have helped make the economy of the territory one of the strongest in Canada and have placed Yukon in an enviable fiscal position,” said Premier Darrell Pasloski in his budget speech.

Yukon’s budget has doubled since the Yukon Party took office in 2002.

The budget speech touted Yukon’s strong private sector and resource economies.

The government projects net financial assets, or a “savings account,” of $127 million by the end of the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

The capital budget for the year is an estimated $253 million.

The biggest ticket item is the F.H. Collins school replacement – $27 million has been set aside for that for the coming year.

The Whistle Bend subdivision will receive $26 million over the coming year.

Planning of the replacement for the current Sarah Steele building, which houses alcohol and drug services, will begin this year. The government has set aside $900,000 for that purpose.

The government expects the replacement of McDonald Lodge in Dawson City to be completed within a year. It has allocated the full $7.3 million for the project in the coming year’s budget.

Opposition parties have criticized the government both for items missing from the budget and for taking credit where it is not due.

On the morning of the budget announcement, the Yukon Party issued a media release praising their decision to give $27 million to the Yukon Hospital Corporation to help pay down debts associated with Crocus Ridge, the Thomson Centre, and new hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson City.

The move will save taxpayers millions in interest payments, according to the release.

But the government is just trying to save face after a scathing auditor general’s report exposing mismanagement of the hospital projects, said NDP Leader Liz Hanson.

“To take credit for that as good fiscal management?” she asked. “No. You got caught, and you got shamed and now you’re trying to make it look like you’re doing something smart? Smart would have been not to create (the debt) in the first place.”

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver called the move a “bailout” of the corporation, and questioned why an amount equal to a tenth of the capital budget was going to that use.

“In the end – and you can be sure we’ll be asking these questions – who’s accountable for this?” asked Silver. “I don’t think the design was that the Yukon Hospital Corporation was going to spend all this money and then go, ‘Oh, we need a bailout.’ I don’t think that was the official intent to begin with.”

The government has defended its decision to scrap the existing plans for the replacement of the F.H. Collins school as the only fiscally responsible choice.

The lowest bid on the project came in almost $10 million over the government’s own estimates.

But this is just another example of government mismanagement, and millions have been wasted on planning to date, said Hanson.

Furthermore, poor planning is costing the construction companies dearly, she added.

“You don’t just put together a bid on a multi-million dollar project overnight. This costs the private-sector companies a lot of money. And eventually people are going to start getting kind of skittish of bidding on Yukon government contracts, because they have proven that they can’t manage them.”

And while it is true that the territory’s budget has doubled over a decade, our dependency on transfers from the federal government remains, said Hanson.

“It hasn’t changed one iota our dependency. It’s just double the amount of money that has been transferred from Canada to the Yukon government.”

And the government’s focus on resource extraction to the exclusion of everything else will hurt the territory, she said.

According to budget documents, the government brought in more revenue from campground permits ($306,000) than it did from resource royalties ($233,000) in 2012-2013.

“The signals are there that this government has got a single agenda, and what’s most disappointing for me is that that agenda leaves out so much of the real Yukon, in terms of ordinary people who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Hanson.

“It’s not trickling down. There’s no mention of homeless people. … Where’s the social inclusion strategy?”

More than $13 million of federal funds earmarked for affordable housing remains in the Yukon’s coffers, and there are no plans to spend it this budget year.

In an interview, Pasloski said that strings attached to this money have made it difficult to find a project that can make use of those funds, but the government continues to address housing through a number of initiatives.

“We are working on housing throughout the continuum and we look forward to addressing the best use of that money going forward.”

The government is alienating not only everyday Yukoners, but First Nation governments as well, said Hanson.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy for this premier to stand there and go on about the wonderful anniversaries of land claim agreements and the fact that we’re going to be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first four agreements and the signing of the UFA when he’s clearly repudiating these agreements and picking battles with just about every First Nation that he could possibly choose to do so.”

The actions she saw yesterday were familiar, said Hanson.

“It’s much more blatant in terms of the old Yukon Party lines. And that’s what is kind of disappointing, because this premier said when he was running for election that he was bringing a new spirit and a willingness to co-operate and engage in a positive relationship with other levels of government, with Yukon citizens and even with the Official Opposition.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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