Premier Sandy Silver speaks during question period at the Yukon Legislative Assembly in Whitehorse on Oct. 1. Silver said the government is looking internally to find “efficiencies” rather than upping taxes and cutting programs across the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Liberals to scope out ‘efficiencies’ in departments

The premier was asked about ostensible reductions to department budgets at question period

The Yukon government is going to look within itself to find “efficiencies” rather than upping taxes and cutting programs, Premier Sandy Silver said when questioned about a leaked government document.

The missive, first published by CBC, appears to be a government directive to deputy ministers calling for a one per cent “overall” reduction to operations and maintenance budgets. Departments are to make plans to reduce O&M budgets by up to two per cent, it says.

“What I did see was an opportunity for departments to articulate their vision to achieve savings in their departments,” Silver said during question period on Oct. 2.

“The Yukon Party says ‘cuts.’ We say ‘efficiencies.’ The departments agree with us, and we’re taking a whole-of-government approach to make sure that we do find savings across every department. I don’t see any problem in finding savings in departments, and I certainly don’t find any problems with the departments themselves being the ones coming up with those efficiencies.”

According to the letter, which is undated, the management board “notionally approved” the one per cent reduction in expenditures, which would equate roughly $11 million, directing “(m)inisters to work with their departments to achieve (these) savings beginning in 2018/2019.”

It’s unclear what work, if any, has started on achieving these reductions.

The letter is in relation to period four and eight variance reports, which are July to August 10, 2018 and November to December 7, 2018, respectively.

“It’s a request of $4.8 million for (operations and maintenance) and $8.6 million in additional capital. The forecast increase in expenses is offset by $2.5 million in additional revenues and recoveries,” Silver said.

During question period, Yukon Party House Leader Scott Kent said a two per cent “cut” to the Department of Education’s operations and maintenance budget would equal $3.6 million.

“Over the course of the summer — actually, over the course of the last two years — we know that the Liberals have a tendency to take no responsibility and blame others when things go wrong. The letter was pretty clear. I mean, it even has the new logo and the fancy wave,” Kent said.

Silver refused to comment on a leaked document, specifically, but, he said “we do need to curtail the spending here as a government.”

“Now what we’re going to do is make sure that we do the best we can to find efficiencies without cutting programs and services. That’s the goal. That’s what we’re going to keep to,” Silver said.

Silver told the press there’s been “comprehensive action,” in terms of following some of the recommendations the Yukon Financial Advisory Panel came up with in a report that was published about one year ago.

“I think we’ve done a lot of great work when it comes to the financial advisory panel’s recommendations,” he said, noting that Yukoners didn’t want their taxes raised or there to be cuts to services and programs.

But, during question period, NDP Leader Liz Hanson said nowhere in the panel’s report was there a recommendation to “blindly cut” departments’ operation and maintenance budgets by two per cent, “yet this is what the government seems intent on doing.”

During the press scrum, Stacey Hassard, interim leader for the Yukon Party, called the ostensible two per cent reduction “bewildering.”

“A two per cent across the board shows the government isn’t doing their homework, they’re not looking to see where cuts can be made, where is going to be most beneficial, where is going to have the least impact on Yukoners. The premier needs to provide some clarification, some responses, because Yukoners deserve to know,” he said.

Hanson said it’s unwise to dismiss the “validity of documents.”

“I think this is a really bad way to demonstrate your grasp of managing government, and I’m hoping that the premier will pull back on that direction as the minister of finance,” she said.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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