Ottawa hands Yukon $243 million infrastructure boost

The Yukon government will consult municipalities and First Nations before it spends $243 million in federal infrastructure funding.

The Yukon government will consult municipalities and First Nations before it spends $243 million in federal infrastructure funding.

There are plenty of options: lagoons in Dawson City, airport expansions, fire halls and roads.

The cash is part of a federal-territorial agreement that will provide $242.91 million for infrastructure projects over the next seven years.

About $60 million of that comes from an extension of the Gas Tax fund, which provides money for environmental projects.

Premier Dennis Fentie wouldn’t say which projects will be funded.

Before that decision is made, the territory will work with municipalities and First Nations to develop a public infrastructure plan for the federal cash, Fentie said during a news confernce this week.

“We want to ensure the infrastructure needs in sequence of priority are being met across the territory and we have resources now to do that,” he said.

“We want to be as expeditious as possible. There are needs out there.”

The territory will prepare a plan immediately, but when it will be finished and when municipalities and First Nations learn of the funding application details is unknown, said Fentie.

Creating the plan will take “as long as it takes,” he said.

In 2005-06, the Yukon spent only $170 million on its capital budget.

The new funding would provide an average of about $34.7 million more a year, about a 20 per cent increase to the capital budget.

A stronger Yukon economy and healthier environment will result from the new funding, said federal Revenue Minister Gordon O’Connor.

Economic and social development, environmental protection and sovereignty are integral to the success of the North, he added.

“Our government recognizes the unique challenges in the needs of Canada’s North,” said O’Connor.

“We are funding public initiatives that will contribute to a stronger Yukon economy, healthier communities and a cleaner environment.”

Ottawa handed over the money in a funding agreement signed by Fentie and O’Connor, who represented Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon.

A signing ceremony with Community Services Minister Glenn Hart was held Monday afternoon at the legislature.

The funding is part of Ottawa’s $33 billion Building Canada infrastructure plan.

The framework agreement emphasized the priority of community infrastructure spending, including water, green energy, airports and roads.

By combining the base funding from the Building Canada and the gas tax money, the framework provides more flexibility and simplified administration, said O’Connor.

“It also recognizes that Yukon First Nations have infrastructure needs,” said O’Connor.

“Funding will be available to support large-scale projects and smaller local projects, including those in First Nations communities.”

Municipal infrastructure, gas tax and GST rebates are integral to improving the large infrastructure deficit facing municipalities, said Liberal MP Larry Bagnell.

But the funding lacks significant details, he added.

How Ottawa and the Yukon plan to divvy up the cash will be closely scrutinized, said Bagnell.

“Of the money for infrastructure, there’s no specific amounts identified for municipalities or First Nations,” he said.

Project planning is hindered when municipalities lack access to important details, said Bagnell.

“Under the last program, the amounts were specific,” he said.

“Municipalities don’t know the conditions they’re applying under; they don’t know how much they’re getting, and will it be as much as they got under the municipal rural infrastructure program?”

Hart announced more than $16 million from the Canada-Yukon Gas Tax Agreement will be spent on mostly Whitehorse projects.

Nine projects in Whitehorse and five for Watson Lake and the Ross River, Selkirk and Carcross/Tagish First Nations were identified.

City-wide composting improvements, a Porter Creek reservoir upgrade and fire hall upgrades were approved along with several sewage and water upgrades.

Whitehorse wants to hear the territory’s plan and process for doling out the new funding, said Mayor Bev Buckway.

“We want to see the details on how we can work and see money flow to municipalities,” she said.

The new funding holds much promise for Whitehorse, said Buckway.

“We’re always happy to have money coming from Ottawa,” said Buckway.

Approved projects are the result of integrated sustainability planning the city has done, said Buckway.

“The fact we got $16 million is the accumulation of a lot of hard work getting the projects ready and the plans in.”