Premier gives businesses a budget sneak peak

Premier Pasloski spilled some of the 2015-budget-beans at a Yukon Chamber of Commerce lunch on Wednesday. He gave the business community a taste of the Yukon's largest capital budget ever.

Premier Pasloski spilled some of the 2015-budget-beans at a Yukon Chamber of Commerce lunch on Wednesday.

He gave the business community a taste of the Yukon’s largest capital budget ever, including $87.5 million allocated for more than a dozen construction projects across the territory.

“Because of our strong financial management over the past decade, this budget is full of job-creation projects,” he said.

He also reiterated his government’s focus on reviving the struggling mining industry.

“The mining industry has been the backbone of Yukon for more than a century,” said Pasloski.

“It is an industry that we all benefit from. That’s why we are so focused on ensuring its viability. It drives much of the other activity of other sectors, like retail, construction and hospitality. So when you see this government focus on mining and other resource industries, you need to know that we see this as an investment in your small- and medium-sized businesses as well.”

The long list of major capital projects included $7.4 million for the new F.H. Collins, plus $3 million to upgrade the school’s existing trade wing.

The government has also committed millions to the new Sarah Steele alcohol and drug treatment building, the St. Elias group home, a new Salvation Army shelter, and an interim senior care facility that will deal with those who are being kept at the hospital because there are not enough extended care beds.

The territory’s biggest project this year will be the 150-bed continuing care facility in Whistle Bend. The government plans to spend $26 million on that project over the coming year.

Opposition NDP Leader Liz Hanson criticized Pasloski this week for sharing details of his budget with the business community before tabling it in the legislative assembly.

“It’s kind of a sacred trust that you do that in the legislative assembly, not to special interest groups,” she said.

“We just witnessed over the last week the premier, in my view, thumbing his nosed against the whole concept of an elected, democratic legislative assembly. If you had the money to go to a business luncheon … you would have a better idea of what the government is proposing to spend Yukon taxpayers’ and citizens’ money than those members of the legislative assembly that were elected by all Yukoners to represent them.”

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver said the announced Yukon Party spending spree has more to do with the election coming in the next year or so than with careful financial planning.

“We create a false economy when we make these large, major decisions based upon political cycles as opposed to based upon a more evened-out approach to capital builds,” he said.

“It’s a typical cycle, and as the election approaches, we get more building projects than the contractors can handle, and as a result more people come up from down south to build, and more companies from down south take on the major projects.

“What we’re hearing from contractors and what we’re hearing from pipe-fitters and skilled trades workers, is this is a boom and bust. And why is it that government spending is boom and bust? There needs to be a better way to take politics out of our decision-making process, to allow the economy to flourish.”

A major issue this legislative sitting, which started Thursday, is sure to be the government’s relationship with First Nations.

This week Yukon First Nations joined together in firm opposition to federal amendments to Yukon’s environmental assessment regime, and have renewed their promise to sue if those changes pass.

If you ask the premier, though, he’s said things are not as bad as they might seem.

“We know that continued economic success is largely dependent upon co-operative governance, and forming partnerships with First Nations,” he said at the chamber lunch.

“The opposition parties will focus on issues where the Yukon government and First Nations disagree. These few disagreements are the part of our relationship that end up in public. In reality, there are far more areas where First Nation governments and the Yukon government agree and work together.”

Pasloski mentioned some construction and development projects that the Yukon government is helping to fund with First Nations, and said that negotiations have begun to reach reconciliation agreement with non-settled First Nations.

“Even on issues such as YESAA, where we disagree on a few issues, there’s an agreement on the majority of the recommended amendments.”

When asked by an audience member about the environmental assessment changes, Pasloski said that decision ultimately rests with the federal government.

“This is federal legislation. If they pass this legislation, we’re willing to sit down with the First Nations to say, ‘How can we implement those amendments here on the ground, (in a way) that works for everybody?’” he said.

“It’s about leadership, and recognizing what we can control and what we can’t control. And I believe that we need to focus on those things that we can control.”

However, some of the amendments opposed by First Nations were recommended to Canada by the Yukon government.

The premier did not consult with First Nations before putting those recommendations forward, and his position continues to be that the federal bill should be passed as drafted without further negotiation or consultation.

A parliamentary committee heard from the premier, First Nations and industry on the changes earlier this week.

There are real concerns with the assessment process that everyone agrees on, said Silver, but the Yukon Party is attempting to address them in ways that do more harm than good.

“I don’t think anybody in that room doesn’t believe that there’s a better way to move forward on these recommendations.

“There are some logistical problems with the way we do our assessment that really should be the focus of the negotiations and the argument, and I’m wondering about the methodology that the Yukon Party uses to address these regulatory and assessment concerns. It’s flawed. It’s absolutely flawed, and their leadership is going to put us into the courts, and it’s going to hurt the economy.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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