Federal budget keeps funds flowing to Yukon

The Yukon is getting another bump in its annual funding from Ottawa. The territory's federal transfer payment this year will be $898 million, up from $860 million last year.

The Yukon is getting another bump in its annual funding from Ottawa.

The territory’s federal transfer payment this year will be $898 million, up from $860 million last year.

The news comes as part of the Conservative government’s budget for 2014, announced by federal finance minister Jim Flaherty on Tuesday.

Considered widely as a “stay-the-course” budget, there were few surprises in the 427-page document.

One big focus is on helping unemployed youth and aboriginal Canadians find work by providing training in areas that need more workers.

The government will provide a number of incentives, among them interest-free loans to apprentices in Red Seal trades and other key areas.

“I think it’s a solid budget right across the board, right across the nation,” said Yukon’s MP Ryan Leef.

“You can see that we’re targeting the labour market shortages. It means Canadian people for Canadian jobs and for us, Yukon people for Yukon jobs, coming from recognizing where our labour market shortages are and addressing those,” Leef said.

The territory will see at least one fund reduction, however. The federal government will spend $70 million over the next three years to improve healthcare in the Yukon and reduce the number of medical trips Outside, down from $30 million a year. The program was slated to expire this year, and the three-year extension will likely be the last one.

The North will see $305 million to expand broadband Internet access in remote communities, and $40 million over two years added to the Strategic Investment in Northern Economic Development, or SINED, program.

“That funding was set to expire, but will now continue,” Leef said. “It was through that funding program that allowed the Yukon government to move into the Frankfurt tourism market and ultimately reach that agreement with Condor and Air North,” which allows German visitors to access the Yukon through several one-stop flights via Calgary and Vancouver.

Parks Canada will get nearly $400 million to put towards upgrading roads, bridges and infrastructure in Canada’s national parks.

That may seem surprising considering the deep cuts to the Parks’ budget in 2012. Those cuts resulted in the loss of Parks staff jobs at the S.S. Klondike and Dredge No. 4 National Historic Sites. Staff curators were also lost at the Dawson City heritage collection, with curation services moved to Ottawa.

Many critics decried the cuts, saying they would make it difficult to for Parks to carry out its mandate of protecting Canada’s natural and historic heritage.

“This is all part of a re-tooling of Parks Canada, a strategic approach to make sure that the Parks Canada services are the best in the world, that they’re efficient and providing client service delivery the way they’re supposed to,” Leef said.

The government wants to see Parks Canada run more like a business instead of an arm of the bureaucracy, and to do that, it needs to increase its tourist draw and resulting revenues, Leef said.

“People might say we should be creating jobs, not roads. But if the roads deteriorate, and the people aren’t coming, then those jobs will go, too,” Leef said.

The Nutrition North program is getting more funding as well, but the government is being tight-lipped about exactly how much money it’s getting.

First announced as a replacement to the Food Mail in 2011, that program has come under fire for actually increasing the price of food in the community, not decreasing it. Instead of subsidizing the cost of shipping food to the fly-in community, the government instead subsidizes the town’s retailer instead. But that has only increased food costs in the community, according to Vuntut Gwichin MLA Darius Elias.

“This is the most difficult, frustrating file I’ve worked on since I’ve been MLA for the Vuntut Gwitchin riding. It’s just unbelievable,” Elias told the News in April.

It costs $26.16 per kilogram for red seedless grapes in Old Crow, Elias told the legislature during the spring sitting.

But Leef maintains that, across the North, communities can’t wait to sign up to the program.

“The reason that there’s a top-up is because it’s working. It’s a subsidy-based program. Because so many communities were up-taking the program, it drained the subsidy, it drained the pot,” Leef said.

For Old Crow in particular, a more “creative” solution may need to be found, Leef said.

“There have been some really positive discussions, and some appetite to look at the options that we are providing. Old Crow juts needs to be looked at differently than other Arctic communities because it is different. There is no road access, no sea-lift options, so we can’t ship in bulk,” he said.

Other northern highlights from the budget include spending $22.1 million towards the Aboriginal Justice Strategy, which seeks to help reduce the number of indigenous Canadians behind bars for non-violent crime and lesser offences by supporting community-based justice programs. And $25 million over five years will go towards reducing violence against aboriginal women and girls. The budget also highlighted the Conservatives’ long-awaited Victims’ Bill of Rights, and includes $8.1 million to create a DNA database for missing persons.

Ten million will go towards improving snowmobile trails across the country.

Contact Jesse Winter at

jessew@yukon-news.com

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