Gov’t spending promises a sign of spring

It's yet another sign of spring. Before songbirds return to trill, another creature has emerged from its winter den to make itself heard: the Yukon government cabinet minister.

It’s yet another sign of spring. Before songbirds return to trill, another creature has emerged from its winter den to make itself heard: the Yukon government cabinet minister.

They are eagerly trumpeting their spending plans in advance of the Yukon Party government’s 2012-2013 budget.

It will be delivered by Premier and Finance Minister Darrell Pasloski on Thursday. That’s the first day of the spring sitting that runs until April 19.

In making the pre-budget spending announcements, this government is following a pattern started by former premier Dennis Fentie. His government announced major projects in advance of the budget in part to prolong the publicity.

Most notably in recent weeks, plans to build a new recreation centre in Ross River and provide cash for second-stage housing for women fleeing violence have been announced.

On Monday, it was Education Minister Scott Kent and Economic Development Minister Currie Dixon, touting plans to spend $5 million on the Yukon Research Centre and Cold Climate Innovation Centre.

That sounds like a lot, but that money covers the Yukon Research Centre for two years and the Cold Climate Innovation Centre for five.

The amount received by both centres remains essentially unchanged.

But the multi-year commitments will offer “certainty and confidence” to researchers, said Dixon.

He touted Northerm’s quadruple-paned windows as one example of a Yukon-made product that got to market with the help of such spending.

The Yukon’s next technical innovation may be Garret Gillespie’s Plastovac. The machine separates plastic from compost.

That’s useful because so-called biodegradable bags actually take several years to break down. That’s hampered Whitehorse’s efforts to compost.

Gillespie dreamed up his invention with support from the Yukon Research Centre. The gadget is now being used in Victoria and out-performing its pricier, European counterparts.

Dixon likened the research centre to another high-tech fixture.

“It’s a lot like eHarmony – finding the right funder for the right project,” he said.

Other researchers are investigating the suitability of powering Destruction Bay and Burwash Landing with windmills, growing vegetables year-round in Whitehorse and powering Northwestel’s transmission towers with the cold, using a gizmo called a Stirling engine.

Kent and Dixon’s spending commitments haven’t yet received legislative approval. But with the Yukon Party holding a majority government, their passage is a foregone conclusion.

Some spending pledges haven’t even cleared the government’s own management board. Such is the case with a promise by Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor to continue supporting Yukoners with spinal injuries and other mobility problems.

Over the past five years, the territory spent $100,000 on this cause, with the money flowing through the Rick Hansen Institute.

The government plans to continue this support, said Taylor.

But she didn’t specify how much money would be spent or over what period because that hadn’t yet been decided.

The fund has helped provide disabled Yukoners with scooters, wheelchair ramps and other aids. In one instance, it helped a mobility-impaired trapper rig out his snowmobile so that he could continue working.

The announcement was timed to coincide with Hansen’s visit to Whitehorse on Friday during the Arctic Winter Games.

Elaine Schiman, a cabinet spokesperson, couldn’t say when further details would be known other than “it’ll be soon.”

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