More finger pointing surrounds transfer payment shortfall

The Yukon Liberals are claiming the territorial government knew about recent changes to the federal transfer payment long before they came into effect. But the evidence they're relying on is fairly tenuous.

The Yukon Liberals are claiming the territorial government knew about recent changes to the federal transfer payment long before they came into effect.

But the evidence they’re relying on is fairly tenuous.

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver tabled a timeline in the legislative assembly this week that outlined correspondence between Statistics Canada and the Yukon Bureau of Statistics about the methodology changes.

“It shows clearly that this government has known about the changes since 2012 and was even provided estimates about the financial impact,” Silver told the assembly on Thursday.

In December, the Yukon government announced it would be receiving $23 million less than expected in federal transfer payments, thanks to Statistics Canada’s methodology changes.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced in February that the government would make legislative amendments to restore all but $6.5 million of that shortfall.

Silver’s timeline shows that the Yukon Bureau of Statistics was aware of the planned methodology changes as early as October 2012.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody knew what impact the changes would have on the transfer payments.

And Premier Darrell Pasloski is adamant that his government was blindsided by the shortfall when it was discovered in December 2015.

“The Liberal leader has no clue what he’s talking about,” Pasloski said. “The first that we’ve heard of this was in early December when the finance people came running down the stairs saying, ‘Oh, my God.’”

Bishnu Saha, director of the Yukon Bureau of Statistics, said it’s true that no one saw the changes coming.

The bureau was provided with draft economic data last October, but Saha said there was “nothing to raise any flag.”

That’s because the bureau only receives draft data for the Yukon – not for anywhere else in Canada. Those Yukon data didn’t show any major changes. The reason the transfer payment was affected is that economic data from all across the country were revised downward after the methodology changes.

Without seeing all those data, Saha said, the Yukon had no way of knowing what the impact would be.

But even if he had known, Saha said, he wouldn’t have been able to tell the premier. He said that only he, director of fiscal relations Tim Shoniker and one other statistician see the draft data before they’re published. They sign a confidentiality agreement, and could be criminally charged if they break it.

“It is so secretive that the data cannot go beyond my room,” he said.

Saha said he doesn’t even print the data, because then the information would be sent to the printer.

Still, Silver claims the Yukon government is only making noise about the transfer payment shortfall because the federal Liberals are in power. He pointed out that this transfer payment – totalling about $947 million – is still the largest the Yukon has ever seen.

“The only thing that really has changed … is Ottawa is now red instead of blue,” he said. “It’s dangerous for this government to change its tune for how it deals with Ottawa.”

Silver said the Yukon government is looking for “anything they can possibly point at other than themselves” to explain the territory’s shrinking economy.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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