Opposition pans budget

The Yukon government’s budget is “pretty thin gruel,” says Liz Hanson, leader of the Yukon NDP Opposition. “The government makes a lot of spending plans,” she said in an interview."

The Yukon government’s budget is “pretty thin gruel,” says Liz Hanson, leader of the Yukon NDP Opposition.

“The government makes a lot of spending plans,” she said in an interview. “But there’s no strategic vision for more than $1 billion.”

Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski indicated that the territory’s prosperity depends on mining. “So goes mining, so goes Yukon,” he said.

A bigger emphasis should be put on diversifying the economy and supporting sustainable sectors, like tourism, said Hanson.

And the Yukon should prepare for when the mining boom goes bust, she said. “Why aren’t we planning for this a bit better?”

Rather than take the lead in creating affordable housing, the territory has asked the private sector to “develop a strategy for them,” said Hanson, referring to the government’s call for proposals to build affordable rental units on a vacant Mountainview lot.

There are no surprising social commitments in the budget. There’s $3 million earmarked to build more housing for women fleeing violence, but “that’s been talked about for years,” said Hanson.

And there’s been no mention of money going toward the Yukon Party’s promise to build a new homeless shelter downtown.

Hanson was similarly disappointed the speech made no reference to the recommendations of Dr. Bruce Beaton and James Allen, the chief of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, on how to help the territory’s hardcore alcoholics.

Pasloski has promised to expand detoxification services and replace the aging Sarah Steele building, but such efforts don’t go far enough, said Hanson.

Planning for the new F.H. Collins Secondary School has now exceeded $5 million, said Hanson.

“This is a lot of money for planning a school. When are we actually going to see someone building the school?

As health-care costs grow, the territory needs to allow nurses to play a more active role in treating patients, said Hanson.

“It’s more cost effective,” she said. “It just talks about spending more. There’s nothing there that talks about how to make it more sustainable.”

But Hanson gave Pasloski credit for giving a nod to the importance of home-based medical care. “If we developed an effective home-care system, we’d see less people with chronic conditions being forced to go to hospital and being housed in acute-care beds, which is the most expensive kind of care we can give. That’s what we do now.”

Pasloski expects to post a surplus of $80 million next spring. Interim Liberal Leader Darius Elias, who declined an interview, said in a release this is “not believable” given the Yukon Party’s string of deficits up until this year’s modest surplus of $29 million.

Elias wants to see the territory spend $13.5 million in federal funds earmarked for affordable housing, which remains unspent after it was received several years ago.

“In the middle of a housing crisis, when Yukon families are struggling to find affordable and available housing, this is deplorable,” said Elias.

During the lead-up to the last territorial election, the Yukon Party held sod-turning ceremonies for the new F.H. Collins school in Whitehorse and a new recreational centre in Dawson City, said the Liberals’ Sandy Silver. Yet now both projects have been put on hold.

“Yukoners are looking for results and so far they’re getting delays and excuses,” he said. “When a government tells its citizens that it’s going to do something, the people expect it to follow through.”

But the Liberals were happy to see the territory fund the Yukon Police Council and push liquefied natural gas as a solution to the territory’s power pinch.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com