Leef lauds federal budget

As Ottawa prepares to slash spending by $5.2 billion and cut more than 19,000 jobs over the next three years, the territory can breathe a sigh of relief, says Yukon MP Ryan Leef.

As Ottawa prepares to slash spending by $5.2 billion and cut more than 19,000 jobs over the next three years, the territory can breathe a sigh of relief, says Yukon MP Ryan Leef.

That’s because the territory’s transfers will continue to grow, given the plans laid out in this week’s federal budget. The Yukon is set to receive a total of $809 million from Ottawa in the coming year.

“We’re seeing a tremendous increase,” said Leef, a Conservative backbencher in Stephen Harper’s government.

Worries of deep federal cuts, meanwhile, have been overblown, he said.

“There was a lot of fear early on we’d see massive cuts. And we aren’t seeing that,” he said.

Federal officials in the territory likely won’t share Leef’s cheery optimism, as they wait to see if their jobs are axed.

Most layoffs are expected to occur in Ottawa, but the impact on the Yukon remains unknown.

“I’m not certain there’s going to be any major impact in the territory,” said Leef. “We know one position in the Yukon reflects an entire program, rather than one out of 50 somewhere else.”

The cuts amount to just two per cent of total program spending, said Leef. But that’s ignoring inflation and population growth. Add those in and the cuts are considerably higher.

The CBC will see its budget shrink by 10 per cent over three years. Some programs, like the Katimavik youth-volunteer service, will end entirely.

Budget documents offer few details as to how individual departments will trim costs. Leef is still waiting to find out more about this too.

“We haven’t yet seen department-by-department, line-item cuts,” said Leef. “Those will be coming out in short order.”

Among the agencies on the chopping block is the RCMP.

As a former Mountie, Leef has taken an interest in this.

But he said he’s received assurances that frontline policing won’t be reduced.

“It’s going to come through administration and program efficiencies, not frontline policing services.”

And some cuts should be painless. Leef touted an effort to curb paper use in the federal bureaucracy, estimated to save $11 million annually.

“Obviously, I’m going to be deeply in tune to anything that could affect Yukon jobs and Yukon services,” said Leef.

“Today I don’t know that. But my weekend’s going to be full, dissecting that from department to department.”

The headline-grabbing items of the budget include the end of the penny and Ottawa’s decision to extend the retirement age to 67 in a decade’s time. A plan to put the brake on MPs’ pensions has been put off until the next election.

Federal environmental reviews for big projects, like the proposed Alaska Highway pipeline, will be streamlined, with review lengths to be capped at 24 months.

Funds earmarked for First Nation education and water infrastructure will benefit the Yukon, said Leef.

Spending cuts are expected to help the federal government eliminate the deficit by 2015, one year earlier than expected.

“In the end, it’ll put us in a better fiscal position years from now,” said Leef.

“Now the government has a chance to look long into the future rather than spending today to prepare for tomorrow’s election,” he said.

“The responsible thing is to plan for Canada’s future, and with a majority government, I think people would expect nothing less.”

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