Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski announced another record budget last week. The government plans to spend $1.367 billion over the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
The premier wore new construction boots for the announcement, a tribute to the $312 million in capital expenses planned for this year.
“This budget is all about putting Yukoners to work,” he said on Thursday at the opening of the spring legislative sitting.
Those capital expenses include $26 million towards a 150-bed continuing care facility in Whistle Bend, $26 million for the Whitehorse hospital expansion and $16 million for the replacement of the Sarah Steele alcohol and drug services building.
Other major expenses are $10 million for the new F.H. Collins and upgrades to the old school’s trades wing, $9 million towards a new Salvation Army shelter, $8 million for the McDonald Lodge replacement and contributions to dozens of smaller projects.
Pasloski also announced changes to the Income Tax Act that will result in $5.5 million in lowered taxes or increased benefits for Yukoners.
Opposition members, however, say that the government’s spending spree is shortsighted and politically motivated.
“Yukoners know the pitfalls of budgeting for election photo ops – projects that don’t receive proper scrutiny, aren’t well-planned, overwhelm the capacity of local contractors to bid on the jobs and result in massive cost overruns and design errors,” said Opposition NDP Leader Liz Hanson during question period.
“The auditor general has repeatedly taken the Yukon Party government to task on how it spends Yukoners’ money. Does the premier think he can simply spend his way out of this economic downturn with Yukoners’ own money?”
Pasloski responded that his government’s good planning has allowed for this boon of a budget.
“Governments right across this country are cutting jobs and raising taxes,” he said. “We’re doing exactly the opposite. We’re creating jobs and we’re cutting taxes – putting more money into Yukoners’ pockets.”
NDP MLA Kate White asked about the government’s intentions to push for a natural gas industry in the territory despite public and First Nation opposition to fracking.
“We are not going to rush into this,” responded Resources Minister Scott Kent. “We are not going to panic. We are not going to spread false information. We are not going to make an ill-informed decision. Members know there is currently no activity of this type taking place in the Yukon, nor are there any applications in the queue for this type of activity to take place.”
He promised to table a formal response this spring to the report of the select committee on the risks and benefits of fracking.
NDP MLA Jim Tredger asked the government to answer for its handling of the Wolverine mine closure.
“With modern mining and regulatory regimes, the Faros were supposed to be a thing of the past, yet here we are with Wolverine, a mine that failed to pay its securities, a mine that ignored its obligations in the mine closure plan, and a government that failed its responsibilities,” he said.
“The result for the mining industry: a black eye affecting its image. Those benefits promised for Yukon businesses? That came in the form of $4.3 million in unpaid bills.”
The mining industry is “the cornerstone of our economy,” responded Kent, “and we recognize the impacts that this closure is having on Yukoners, both those who worked at the mine as well as the businesses that supplied the mine.”
He said Yukon government officials have been working with Yukon Zinc to ensure the safety of the environment as well as people working and living in the area.
In the first of what will surely be many admonishments directed at MLAs this sitting, Speaker David Laxton cautioned Hanson against using inflammatory language.
Hanson had accused the premier of a disrespectful attitude towards First Nations, as evidenced by his support of proposed federal amendments to Yukon’s environmental assessment regime.
Laxton disagreed that Hanson had contravened the assembly’s standing orders, but warned the members to watch their tongues.
“Inflammatory language will cause problems and they will come back to haunt you,” he said.
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