Energy and housing stunting Yukon’s growth: report

The Yukon's energy and housing crunch is throttling economic expansion, says a report released by the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

The Yukon’s energy and housing crunch is throttling economic expansion, says a report released by the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

Coal, nuclear, run-of-the-river and the Alaska pipeline should be considered as future power sources if the territory wants to grow, says the final report of the Partnering for Success program, released last week.

And the private sector also wants the Yukon government to get back into selling housing lots because Whitehorse has inflated housing prices with its policies.

“Partnering for Success is like a think tank right now,” said Rick Karp, president of the chamber.

The Yukon’s GDP is around $1.4 billion in 2010 and Ottawa’s contribution is around $1.1 billion, he said.

Partnering for Success aims at making the private sector contribute 40 per cent of the GDP, which would mark a major transformation of the Yukon’s economic model, traditionally reliant on public funds.

“The Yukon will be giving to Canada rather than taking from Canada,” said Karp.

But before that can happen, major energy sources need to be built, said Karp.

The total capacity of the Yukon’s grid is 116 megawatts and current peak demand is around 70 megawatts. But Western Copper’s Casino mine, slated to begin construction in three years, will need 100 megawatts. A molybdenum mine proposed near Watson Lake in the same period will need 30 megawatts, said Karp.

The Yukon Energy Corporation’s current plans are much less ambitious.

A 10-megawatt powerhouse is being built in Mayo and a seven-megawatt turbine is being added to the Aishihik dam. Both of these are expected to accommodate the Bellekeno mine, set to begin production this year, and Western Copper’s Carmacks mine, which is currently stalled in the regulatory process.

The gulf between supply and future demand forced Partnering for Success to suggest some unconventional ideas, such as coal, nuclear, run-of-the-river and gas power from the Alaska gas pipeline.

None of these are considered future sources by Yukon Energy. The public utility is currently focusing on increasing water levels for the Whitehorse dam, which won’t produce enough energy to cover potential mines in the next five years.

And then there’s housing.

Whitehorse has inflated housing prices by failing to sell enough lots, said Karp. The Yukon government used to do a better job at handling housing when it developed neighbourhoods like Riverdale and Porter Creek. But since Whitehorse has taken over, it has sold lots for a higher fee as a revenue source.

“The Yukon government needs to be back involved in developing lots,” said Karp.

Whitehorse was warned it should have sold 200 lots four years ago, but it didn’t. The city is still suffering from the effects of that decision, he said.

“Whitehorse isn’t necessarily gung ho on keeping it this way,” he said.

The report also went a long way to promoting a move from mining and tourism so the Yukon can outgrow its dependence on federal dollars.

Academia could be a new direction if Yukon College could grow from hundreds of students to thousands, said Karp. A specialization in northern research could be its strength, he said.

Another way to expand the economy would be in providing corporate services.

Legal groups in Whitehorse suggested changes be made to the Yukon’s Business Corporation Act so companies locate their headquarters here.

“We use to be on the cutting edge,” he said. “Now BC and other provinces have usurped that position.”

That move would largely benefit lawyers and accountants, he said.

And tourism should look at niche marketing for tourists, such as bird watchers.

“(Newfoundland) get tens of millions of dollars from the ducks,” he said.

“We have Swan Haven. We’ve never marketed Swan Haven to the hundred of thousands of people who seek out bird migrations.”

Partnership for Success began two and a half years ago during a meeting of businesspeople in Whitehorse. The group soon applied for $100,000 from the Indian and Northern Affairs Department to continue their research. They applied for $145,000 last year from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency to hold a summit and write the report, which was penned by local economist Richard Runyon.

The program is a hybrid between lobbying for the private sector – which is the chamber’s job – and developing economic policy – which is Cannor’s job, said Karp.

The final report marks a shift away from information gathering toward implementing the report’s advice.

If the advice is followed, “we’ll thrive and we’ll grow in a responsible way, not like Fort McMurray,” said Karp.

Contact James Munson at