Few were surprised by this Thursday’s $793-million budget.
There are no big changes in those big numbers, said Official Opposition leader Todd Hardy.
“That’s a shame. (Premier Dennis Fentie) is rolling the dice and spending the money and hoping it will get him past the next election,” said Hardy.
Although Yukon’s legislative assembly has seen a whack of change since the house shut down in December 2005, the song remains the same.
New Democratic, Liberal and Independent MLAs were all popping up like whack-a-moles during Question Period Thursday to hammer the Yukon Party with questions and accusations.
The attacks focused on failed relationships with First Nations — after the Council of Yukon First Nations chiefs’ committee pulled out of the crumbling Children’s Act review.
They targeted pre-announcing spending at luncheons and news conferences before tabling the budget.
And they zeroed in on the absence of bail-out money for Dawson City.
Then the premier delivered a two-hour-and-20-minute budget speech chronicling the government’s achievements and announcing high sums in most departments.
But there were no big surprises and not much change from last year’s figures.
“This government is spent; the public’s confidence is certainly spent, almost all the money has been spent and, by the time Fentie is done reading his two-and-a-half-hour budget address, even he will be spent,” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell, who nipped out for an interview during Fentie’s address.
“It’s very clearly a go-for-broke budget, if he doesn’t win the next election the next government will have to deal with tremendous amount of spending promises,” said Hardy.
He calls the high spending “unsustainable.”
“Mr. Fentie seems to find that something to brag about.”
But he says there’s not much to brag about, the Yukon Party’s achievements are mostly due to luck.
“This is a government that caught the wave and is riding the wave,” said Hardy. “And the wave is coming from federal government funding, increasing mineral prices and low-interest rates bringing more investment.”
Things would have improved no matter who was in government, he added.
Hardy is pleased there’s a $2 million injection for substance-abuse action plan initiatives.
But the Environment department is being starved.
“The only reason they have a department of the Environment is because they have to,” said Hardy.
And the government is ignoring its economic potential.
“Look at tourism; tourism sells our environment, that’s what draws people here. I don’t think they come to look at out architecture. They come for the culture and the environment.”
And there is no money earmarked to bail out Dawson City
“If they were really concerned about the state of Dawson City, there’d be money in the budget. There’s nothing holding them back from allocating money to that shortfall.”
Like Hardy, Mitchell sees some big gaps in this year’s spending.
First, there’s no money to pay down Dawson’s debt.
Second, there’s no funding to build a seniors’ facility in Kluane, although there is $1.9 million earmarked for planning that facility and others around the territory within the Yukon Housing Corporation’s budgets.
“There is money to continue to study the need, but the need has been demonstrated,” said Mitchell.
“The seniors in Kluane have quite clearly stated what they feel their need is, but I don’t see (the Yukon Party) moving ahead with it.”
Third, there is no new jail.
Although there’s $1 million allocated for planning and design, there’s no construction money.
“They’ve been planning and consulting on it for four years and they have yet to break ground,” said Mitchell.
Fourth, there’s nothing to cover pension shortfalls at Yukon College or at Yukon Hospital Corporation.
And, there is no money for the promised school in Copperbelt, despite the fact that students are being turned away from Elijah Smith Elementary School, said Mitchell, whose riding is Copperbelt.
“I don’t even see planning money for it,” he said. “That’s going to be a disappointment for many of my constituents.”
To top it off, he’s accusing Fentie of “burning through” massive amounts of money.
“He’s got a great deal more money from Ottawa and has still managed to burn his way through the accumulated surplus nonetheless,” said Mitchell.
This year, total cash from Ottawa will rise to $558 million, from $468 million in 2003-04.
On the other hand, Mitchell gives kudos for upping funds to the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon, although he wants to see the government pony up long-term funding to fight the problem.
“They’re not annual problems; they’re on-going. We have NGOs that are dealing with these problems and they don’t know from year to year how they’re funded,” said Mitchell.
“There’s a great number of things in the budget that would be done by, most likely, any government, so I don’t want people to think we’d have any interest in coming in and turning the world upside-down,” said Mitchell.
Both opposition parties say the budget is nothing new.
If you want proof, simply take a look at the ongoing criticism.
In 2004, Hardy told The News that Fentie was tabling a “go-for-broke budget,” that “dumps on the environment.”
And in 2005, then-Liberal leader Pat Duncan told The News that by: “reading through the budget, you’d think the Environment department didn’t even exist.”