The quiet death of the territory’s Yukon Hire policy in April has done little to hurt the job prospects of Yukoners, says Jim Kenyon, minister of trade.
The policy, which ensured Yukoners had first dibs on government jobs, was scrapped to comply with a new section of the Agreement on Internal Trade.
The deal, first signed in 1995, is aimed at removing trade barriers between Canada’s provinces and territories.
Kenyon sits as chair of the federal committee responsible for updating the deal, which met in Whitehorse on Thursday.
“Nothing much has changed” in the Yukon as a result of the deal, said Kenyon. But, when asked about the new hiring practices, he dodged the question.
The territory continues to favour local contractors, thanks to a raft of loopholes that the Yukon negotiated into the deal, said Kenyon. For this reason, “nothing much has changed,” he said.
But the tendering of contracts and the hiring of employees are two separate matters.
Before April, the government would give Yukoners first kick at government job openings. Only if no suitable applicants could be found in the territory would the job be open to Outside applicants.
That’s no longer allowed.
But Yukoners still often have an edge when applying for government jobs, said Martha Kenney, director of corporate human resource services.
That’s because the territory won’t help fly up Outside applicants for an interview unless the job has been advertised nationally, she said.
Nor does the trade deal affect the government’s ability to restrict hiring to applicants from within government.
“It’s not going to make that big of a deal, I think,” said Kenney.
The NDP’s Todd Hardy isn’t so sure.
The Yukon Hire policy was his brainchild, among other efforts developed in the late 1990s that aimed to keep jobs and money in the territory.
Hardy remembers with fondness how the NDP government hired local carpenters to build furniture for government offices.
“It wasn’t a lot of money, but it had a big impact on our community,” said Hardy.
And he laments the slip away from favouring local hires. At one point, applicants for Yukon government jobs were required to produce Yukon health cards as proof of residency.
As trade barriers continue to be pulled down, Hardy predicts “we’ll see businesses shut down as money goes pouring out.”
Trade advocates disagree. They say it’s easier for a company to set up shop in different countries in the European Union than it is to expand across different Canadian jurisdictions.
This increases the cost of doing business in Canada, which makes goods and services more expensive, which in turn makes everyone poorer.
And Yukon still has much work to do to rid the territory of unneeded red-tape, said Dan Kelly with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Premier Dennis Fentie committed to conducting a red-tape review in his 2003 throne speech. He later formed a committee to oversee this process, but if any work was actually done, it was never reported in the legislature.
“The territorial government hasn’t really been taking this issue as seriously as we would have liked,” said Kelly.
British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have all conducted similar reviews, he said.
When BC conducted its review, it committed to cutting unneeded regulations by one-third. “They actually overachieved it. They cut regulatory requirements by 40 per cent,” said Kelly.
Why does this matter? Because when municipal, territorial and federal regulations are all considered, business owners are expected to comply with “hundreds of thousands of rules,” said Kelly.
“If a business owner understood well 375 requirements, I’d be pretty impressed. But they have hundreds of thousands of rules they have to comply with, and are expected to know, and, of course, no excuse if they don’t know.”
But the Yukon is a leader in one respect. It’s the only jurisdiction in Canada in which a business owner can pick up a licence in the capital that may also be used in outlying communities.
Elsewhere, a separate business licence is required.
“No other jurisdiction does that,” said Kelly. “For example, in BC, if you have a business in Richmond and you want to do business in Vancouver, you need to have a separate licence in every municipality in which you do business, and pay for them all individually.”
Last week’s trade talks in Whitehorse were aimed at eliminating barriers to trading agricultural goods. Ministers also discussed energy matters. But, said Kenyon, none of the proposed changes would affect Yukon Energy’s operations.
The internal trade deal now also features tougher consequences for jurisdictions found to be breaking the rules. Big jurisdictions face fines up to $5 million. The Yukon’s top fine is scaled down to $250,000.
In the 14 years the agreement has been in place, the territory’s practices have never been challenged, said Kenyon.
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