Yukon’s First Nations development corporations have about $500 million in capital, and they’re looking to invest it in the Yukon.
Lynn Hutton, president of the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Chief Isaac, Inc., the business arm of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in First Nation, said the development corporations started calculating their combined assets about two years ago, and they were surprised by the results.
“That number was kind of shocking to us,” she said.
Much of that capital is currently invested outside the territory, but Hutton said the First Nations trusts are looking to create some kind of pooled fund to invest in Yukon projects.
“We realize that we need to bring our own capital home,” she said.
She said the development corporations are interested in hearing proposals from the Yukon government for projects they could partner on.
“Every day, there are potential opportunities out there,” she said. “With the changes in government, they do forget about us sometimes.”
The issue is especially relevant now, since Community Services Minister Currie Dixon warned last month that federal infrastructure money could drive the Yukon into deficit spending, because of a requirement that the Yukon pay for 25 per cent of new projects.
At the time, he didn’t rule out the possibility that the territory might leave federal infrastructure dollars on the table at some point in the future.
But Paul Gruner, a board member of the First Nations chamber of commerce, said choosing not to spend federal money would be “crazy.”
“We’re at risk of losing an opportunity here where we can leverage federal dollars,” he said.
The Yukon government prides itself on the fact that it has no net debt, and would likely be reluctant to enter into an arrangement with First Nations that would incur more debt.
But Gruner said there are ways around that. He said the government could consider public-private partnerships with the development corporations for some infrastructure projects, which could transfer ownership and risk from the government to the corporation.
“Why does the government have to own all of these assets? Why can’t they be owned by a third-party private entity?” he said.
Liberal Leader Sandy Silver also raised the issue in the legislative assembly in May.
“We think the government should be talking to the Yukon First Nation development corporations about accessing their capital for this money that is left on the table,” he said.
But Dixon is skeptical.
He told the News he’s not sure why First Nations development corporations would be interested in partnering with the Yukon government on many of its infrastructure projects.
“They would obviously need to have a return on their investment,” he said. “There isn’t a great return on sewage and drinking water plants.”
But there is a precedent for First Nations investing in infrastructure projects. For instance, the First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun has invested in the Mayo B hydro project, and the Taku River Tlingit own a hydro plant in Atlin, B.C.
Dixon said the government would review any proposal received from a development corporation, but it hasn’t seen any such proposal to date.
He also said the government doesn’t expect to have trouble financing infrastructure projects in the immediate future.
“In the future phases of the federal infrastructure funding, it’s possible that we may be facing challenges,” he said. “But that’s not a problem we have today.”
He also used the opportunity to throw in a dig at the Liberal leader.
“By contemplating this, it appears that Sandy Silver and the Liberals are contemplating going into debt.”
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