Fentie offers mini stimulus while federal stimulus swells

Premier Dennis Fentie criticized calls to spend billions of dollars in stimulus spending in Canada, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared to…

Premier Dennis Fentie criticized calls to spend billions of dollars in stimulus spending in Canada, while Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared to be doing just that.

“The most up-to-date information shows we’re heading to negative growth,” said Fentie after a first minister’s meeting in Saskatoon on Wednesday. “One can define that as a recession but it also shows there’s a trend likely to take place that gets back into positive growth.”

“The wrong thing to do in a reactionary way is to start spending billions of dollars in this country only to find out you’ve missed the target,” he said.

Meanwhile, Harper announced Ottawa will begin stimulus spending that could create a national deficit of $20 to $30 billion. That spending would include a deal to help battered North American car makers.

“These are the policies we must adopt under these circumstances,” Harper told CTV in an interview.

Fentie preferred to focus on increasing labour mobility, streamlining environmental oversight and accelerating current infrastructure spending as solutions to the “unprecedented global economic cycle” when speaking after the meeting.

“We all agreed to accelerate infrastructure spending to make sure it’s flexible, faster, accountable, (while) recognizing regional priorities,” said Fentie.

Thawing credit markets is essential, he said, and the Yukon should focus on continued support in housing and home renovation.

Earlier in the week, the government announced a $3.7-million warrant for spending in the departments of highways and public works, education and the Yukon Housing Corporation.

The housing corporation was forced to freeze applications for home retrofit and renovation programs this fall after the department reached its spending limit allotted in the budget.

We have to do our work to make sure of continuing or increasing the allotment, said Fentie.

“We have therefore extended or increased the spending authority for the housing corporation in the millions of dollars,” he said.

Fentie also described the warrant as a form of stimulus.

“It also creates stimulus immediately,” he said. “This type of work is quick. The orders can be made immediately for ordering materials and supplies.

“It puts people to work on a basis of each individual proponent doing their own hiring. There is no need for tendering in terms of each home-repair allotment.”

The warrant was issued just after the end of the legislature’s fall sitting, prompting Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell to criticize Fentie for evading debate on the spending.

But the warrant contains a trap for critics. It includes extra money for social assistance programs, allowing Fentie to characterize Mitchell as detracting from the warrant’s good intentions.

“If Mr. Mitchell wants to criticize it, that’s his decision,” said Fentie. “We’re more interested in the 113 applicants and individuals out there who are going to get an increased allotment for social assistance for their daily needs in the need of food.

 “So yeah, go ahead, Mr. Mitchell, criticize it.”

The right way of keeping Canada afloat in this recession is not necessarily through stimulus, but by streamlining regulatory processes, said Fentie.

“What that entails is less bureaucratic impediments, especially at the federal level,” he said.

“That’s why an agreement on harmonizing and streamlining regulatory processes is part of this discussion on the national level, using the Yukon as an example.”

That example is the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board’s streamlined environmental oversight program. It keeps all environmental oversight in one body and is now being talked about at the national level for its success, said Fentie.

The meeting was constructive, said Fentie, and there will be a follow-up meeting in mid-January in Ottawa.

Contact James Munson at jamesm@yukon-news.com.