Press feds for unpaid bills, say Liberals

Ottawa owes the territory $14 million. When the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs visits the Yukon next week, the government should press the…

Ottawa owes the territory $14 million.

When the minister of Indian and Northern Affairs visits the Yukon next week, the government should press the case to collect the unpaid bill, said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell.

That won’t come up, said Premier Dennis Fentie.

Strahl won’t be bothered with debt collection when he is in the territory, he said.

The $14-million bill for aboriginal health services provided by the territory on behalf of Ottawa is part of the supplementary budget tabled last week.

“This premier does talk frequently about the great relationship that he has with the current government in Canada, how well they understand the North and how responsive they are to our requests,” said Mitchell in question period.

“Well, here’s a request for the government of Canada — pay your bills on time.”

But Fentie doesn’t plan on discussing debt collection.

“We do business at a much higher level,” he said in question period.

The medical services provided to First Nations is an ongoing account, Fentie later said in an interview.

“We always get the money,” he said.

“It’s an ongoing process. We’ll be getting cheques on an ongoing basis.”

Not long ago, the sum owed was $20 million, so Ottawa is paying the bills, said Fentie.

“It used to be a lot worse before we brought fiscal management to the Yukon,” he said.

Fentie could not confirm how regularly the cheques would be received. Finance department officials will sort that out, he said.

The supplementary budget, now being debated by the legislature, updates government finances for each department.

While the government bumped its surplus projection to $99.5 million, the government is planning to spend more than it will take in for the first time in five years.

The government projects a $14.8-million spending deficit.

Despite the deficit, government finances are “very healthy,” said deputy Finance minister David Hrycan.

“Most governments across Canada — except Alberta — have net debt and we actually have net surpluses,” said Hrycan.

With no debt, the government is more flexible when making financial decisions, he added.

For example, the government doesn’t have to borrow money.

“It costs money to borrow money and it’s a complicated process,” said Hrycan.

“Nobody wants to spend future money today.”

The updated budget proposes spending $914 million, $52 million more than predicted last spring.

Operations spending is projected to $674 million, while capital spending is estimated at $240 million.

Revenues are expected to come in at $841 million. The federal transfer estimate increased slightly by $212,000 to a total of about $593.5 million.

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