Federal budget promises money for health, housing in Yukon

Yukoners can expect to see money for health care, housing and infrastructure with the tabling of this year’s federal budget in the House of Commons March 22.

Yukoners can expect to see money for health care, housing and infrastructure with the tabling of this year’s federal budget in the House of Commons March 22.

The budget announced the renewal of the territorial health investment fund, which provides health funding to the territories beyond what they receive through the Canada health transfer.

The Yukon is set to receive $25.6 million over four years, starting this year.

The budget commits $24 million over 11 years for housing in the Yukon. It also includes various pots of money that could provide infrastructure dollars to the territory, including a $2-billion fund over 11 years for rural and northern communities.

Yukon Liberal MP Larry Bagnell said he’s happy to see the renewal of the mineral exploration tax credit, intended to stimulate investment in mining exploration.

He also pointed to a promise of $8.6 million over four years for Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada “to support the development of Canada’s unique and authentic Indigenous tourism industry.”

Bagnell said tourism is a mainstay of Yukon’s economy.

But Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard was quick to criticize the budget this week, pointing to the projected deficit of $28.5 billion, up slightly from the estimated $23-billion deficit this fiscal year.

“Obviously, that’s very concerning,” he said.

He claimed the Yukon doesn’t stand to benefit much from this budget, pointing out that the housing money works out to just $2.2 million a year, and the rural and northern infrastructure money may be divided between all 13 jurisdictions.

“All of a sudden that $2 billion becomes a pretty small number,” he said. Last year, for instance, the Yukon government applied for nearly $250 million from Ottawa for road upgrades that would benefit three possible mines in the territory.

“This isn’t going to come close to funding something like that,” Hassard said.

He was also concerned that the commitment to the territorial health investment fund doesn’t mention anything about medical travel, which the fund currently helps to pay for.

But Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said that’s because the territories are being given more latitude to decide how they want to spend that money.

“We’re able to use that as we see fit,” he said. “(Medical travel) is of course where we’re going to be putting a good chunk of that money.”

Yukon NDP Leader Liz Hanson said the budget left her “underwhelmed and disappointed,” and echoed Hassard’s concerns about the housing fund.

“The new investments are small, they’re really small,” she said.

Hanson also said it’s misleading to budget money over a decade, when the Liberals’ mandate lasts only until 2019.

“Don’t tell us that we should give you credit if you’re going to spend this money 10, 11 years from today,” she said. “Who knows who’s going to be in power then?”

Yukon’s business community is also lukewarm on the new budget.

“There’s not a whole lot to move the needle forward for the Yukon from our perspective,” said Yukon Chamber of Commerce president Peter Turner.

He pointed to a $400-million Arctic Energy Fund announced in the budget. He called the fund “intriguing,” but said the lack of detail makes it difficult to know how it will benefit the Yukon.

The budget also includes a promise of $21.4 million, starting in 2018-19, to help get Indigenous and northern communities get off diesel.

But Turner said he wonders if much of that funding will flow to the other territories, since the Yukon is largely powered by hydro already.

Lynn Hutton, president of the Yukon First Nation Chamber of Commerce, said it remains to be seen how federal dollars will filter down to the Yukon.

A promise of $225 million over 11 years to support housing for Indigenous people living off-reserve could be important to the territory, she said, since there are no reserves here. But it’s unclear how much of that money will come north.

“We’ve got a lot of digging to do,” she said.

Samson Hartland, executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines, said he’s pleased to see a $2-billion fund for national trade corridors, which is partly intended to “unlock economic development in Canada’s three territories.”

But again, it’s hard to know where that money will go. “The devil’s in the details and the details have yet to emerge,” Hartland said.

The new federal budget also promises $55 million over five years “to create 28 new federally appointed judicial positions,” and singles out Alberta and Yukon. The Yukon government wouldn’t confirm whether the territory will be getting more judges.

There’s also a commitment to provide $14.7 million over three years to extend the northern adult basic education program.

Budget 2017 also promises details in the coming months around its backstop carbon pricing mechanism for jurisdictions that don’t implement their own carbon prices by 2018, which will include the Yukon.

Ottawa is also planning to launch its new Canada Infrastructure Bank this year, to provide low-cost financing for infrastructure projects.

In the wake of the federal budget, Silver wouldn’t say much about his plans for his own budget, to be tabled during the spring legislative session that begins April 20. He did say there will be “more pressure” on this year’s finances.

But Hassard said he’s expecting the Yukon Liberals to table a deficit, like their federal counterparts.

“It’s just what we’ve heard,” he said. “It seems to be a fairly common thing with Liberal governments.”

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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