Promises prompt budget bulges

The Yukon government has tagged millions of additional expenses onto its 2006-07 budget, tabled in March.

The Yukon government has tagged millions of additional expenses onto its 2006-07 budget, tabled in March.

The government has committed to “deal with” a $6.25-million pension shortfall at Yukon College.

Similarly, the Yukon Hospital Corporation will also need more than $1 million to fund its pension shortfall.

Dawson City received its bailout, or at least an official commitment, last Friday, to the tune of $3.43 million, with another $1 million committed for capital projects.

Plus, the government promised to cover the cost of repairing Dawson’s sewer system and to assume the liability for the faulty recreation centre, both of which will cost millions.

And the Yukon Teachers’ Association recently ratified a new collective agreement with the government, promising a three per cent wage increase over the next year.

The budget notes $14.8 million in “net financial resources” and a current annual surplus of $8.98 million.

What will those numbers look like, once all the extras are accounted for?

The question is irrelevant, according to Finance minister Dennis Fentie.

It’s all part of the “fiscal framework.”

“All through the fiscal year before us, variances will be tabled and reported as required, and that’s an ongoing, normal process by the government — in fact, any government that is conducting its finances in the appropriate manner,” said Fentie on Tuesday.

“Furthermore, any of these commitments that relate to pension funds for employees and the situation with the city of Dawson is non-discretionary money.

“That means, in simple terms, it’s a basic expenditure by government now and into the future.

“It’s non-discretionary, so there’s no issue here whatsoever.”

In other words, the money for Dawson and the pensions is already in the budget, and will be appropriated in subsequent supplementary budgets, he said.

Budgets are merely “snapshots” of financial status at a given point in time, but that status is constantly evolving, said budgets director Mark Tubman.

The public accounts, for instance, from the end of fiscal 2005 indicate $48 million in net financial resources — considerably more than $14.8 million in the 2006-07 budget.

“Our financial assets are greater than our liabilities, so if we were forced to discharge all our liabilities, we would be able to do so,” said Tubman.

“There might be other things that have been going on that have improved our financial position, that has a factor on (political) decisions that have been made.”

Details of the bailout packages will become clearer in the fall supplementary budget, but such payments are normally considered by department, he said.

The Yukon is expecting $60 million to $70 million added to the fall supplementary, said Fentie.

“Money will be coming from further lapses, which happen at every year end, and there’s a commitment in the federal budget for $10.8 million, and there’s the northern housing trust, just to name a few.

“There’s no way of accounting for own-source revenues until we get closer to fiscal year end, but there are going to be own-source revenues in this territory throughout the fiscal year.”

Safer communities legislation passes

The assembly passed safer communities legislation Thursday, making it the third jurisdiction in Canada to implement watchdog neighbourhoods.

The legislation is intended to shut down drug houses, booze cans and brothels.

It empowers Yukon citizens who are suspicious of illegal activities among their neighbours to file complaints with the Justice department.

Justice now has the right and the resources to conduct surveillance, shut down criminal operations and evict lawbreakers.

With a $340,000 preliminary budget, Justice will open a two-person office to enforce the legislation in the fall, said Justice minister John Edzerza.

“This is to ease fear, not create it,” Edzerza said Thursday.

“I’ve talked to several people who fear having these big-time drug dealers right next door to them.

“This legislation may have the potential to minimize that fear, because now there is a process to deal with those individuals that might be their next-door neighbours, that they’ve never been successful at having moved out of their community.”

But what about people who are worried Big Brother might be watching?

“This is not meant to damage anybody, this is meant to help people,” said Edzerza.

“If there’s nothing going on, there should be no fear of this legislation.”

Safer communities was initially an NDP bill that piggybacked on legislation in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“I’m very pleased,” said NDP leader Todd Hardy, who started campaigning at substance abuse meetings in his Whitehorse Centre riding last year for safer communities.

“I don’t want people to forget that it could be their child; it could be their niece; it could be their friend who ended up in this world,” said Hardy.

“When I see someone like this, I try to remember that they were once a child, and we don’t know how they were raised and what they’ve been through.

“The humanity must stay with it. These people are still human beings, no matter what.”

Access delayed

The government has canned plans to review the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

It’s too complicated, said Community Services minister Glenn Hart, whose department has been promising a consultation process for more than a year.

“(The act) attempts to strike a balance between access to government records and the protection of personal privacy,” Hart said Monday.

“Many off the issues surrounding (the act) are very complex and require significant planning and research time before legislative options can be presented to the stakeholders.”

So what has the government been doing all this time, if not planning and research?

Training staff, said Hart.

“We’re reinforcing the principle of readily releasing information that is already in the public domain, instead of making applicants go through the ATIPP process.”

The process is getting overhauled across the country, and the Yukon is going to wait and see what other jurisdictions come up with, he said.

“We’re going to take advantage of other people’s research.”

In a 2004 report Yukon Privacy Commissioner Hank Moorlag recommended a review of the act.

The lack of a mandated periodic review is a “serious obstacle to maintaining the act’s effectiveness in guiding public bodies toward the goal of openness and accountability,” he said.