Money well spent?

By John Thompson News Reporter It's that time of year. The sun has returned, birds are trilling and cabinet ministers, emerged from hibernation, are stumbling over one another to announce their plans to shower Yukon communities with money. The legislature

It’s that time of year.

The sun has returned, birds are trilling and cabinet ministers, emerged from hibernation, are stumbling over one another to announce their plans to shower Yukon communities with money.

The legislature reconvenes Thursday, and soon afterwards the 2009 budget will be announced.

It will be the biggest ever, Premier Dennis Fentie has promised. That means it’ll top the $978 million spent last year.

And while the budget has yet to be read, let alone approved, there’s been no shortage of budget spoilers released.

In the past week, no fewer than 11 spending announcements have come from Fentie’s office.

Dawson City’s Front Street will be paved for $3.5 million. Another $4 million will go to making the community’s recreation centre earthquake-safe.

The long-awaited replacement of FH Collins Secondary School in Whitehorse will move ahead, with $400,000 set aside for drawing up designs.

Nearly $25 million in roadwork has already been announced, with $10.5 million slated for ongoing repairs to the Robert Campbell Highway and $14.25 million to replace Slims Bridge as part of the Shakwak Funding Agreement with the US.

And $2.6 million is slated for Yukon tie-ins for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.

There’s also a bundle of smaller spending, with $263,000 set aside for 19 community development projects, such as repairs and upgrades to the Carcross curling club building, the Faro swimming pool and Haines Junction’s convention centre.

But not all this spending is new. Plans to fix the Robert Campbell Highway had been previously announced, said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

In October of 2007, the government announced it would spend $31 million over three years to repair the road.

It’s impossible to offer a proper critique of this spending before detailed information has been put before the house, added Mitchell.

The blizzard of spending announcements, by way of news releases, is “a somewhat disconcerting way to receive budget information and it’s a bit of a disturbing trend,” he said.

“Traditionally, budgets were tabled and you didn’t have much information until they were. What we’d like to think, after being elected to the assembly, is that we’d get a first crack at it.

“Now it comes out in dribs ‘n drabs, in announcements with the disclaimer: subject to legislative approval.”

There are no surprises in the spending announcements so far, said NDP Leader Todd Hardy.

There isn’t much vision, either, he said.

Roadwork will keep some tradesmen employed. But it won’t address any of the bigger problems Yukon faces.

Hardy wants to see the government invest in green technology and housing.

He also wants to ensure women cash in on the spending splurge. Roadwork is largely done by men.

More money should be sunk into health and administrative jobs, which are dominated by women, he said.

More trades training should also be targeted towards women, he added.

“What we need now is smart spending, not foolish spending,” said Hardy.

The government seems more focused on publicity than in coming up with solutions to the economic downturn, said Mitchell.

There were 500 fewer people working in the Yukon in February compared to one year earlier, according to a Statistics Canada report released on Friday.

“I want to see a little less time spent promoting and a little more time governing,” he said.

“People have been hurt.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.