MLA Kate White, from left, Yukon Premier Sandy Silver, and MLA Brad Cathers, all had something to say about the deficit in the recently released territorial budget. (Photo illustration by Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Public accounts show the Yukon in deficit for 2016-17

Yukon Party originally projected $9.5 million surplus. Documents show a deficit of $5.4 million

Newly-released public accounts show the Yukon government actually ran a $5.4 million deficit in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The documents, approved by the auditor general’s office, were tabled Oct. 31 in the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

The previous government had projected a near-$9.5 million surplus. By January of 2017, Premier Sandy Silver said publicly that the Yukon was looking at an $8-million deficit.

Now that all the numbers have been crunched, the deficit is actually $5.4 million.

“This deficit is a result of commitments made by the previous government prior to last year’s election,” Silver told the legislative assembly Oct. 31. “These commitments were significant and were not included in the budget for the last year and still need to be paid for.”

This marks the third deficit for the Yukon in eight years.

At the beginning of the 2015-16 fiscal year, the government had net financial assets totalling $223 million. By the end of the 2016-17 year that number was down to $88 million.

The documents show no one clear project that lead to the $15 million swing from surplus to deficit which presumably made it easier for both the Liberals and the Yukon Party to attempt to put the blame on to one another.

In the Legislative assembly Oct. 31 Silver blamed the Yukon Party for spending, among other things, “$2.2 million for new continuing care beds for the Thomson Centre and McDonald Lodge, another $1.8 million for the new Salvation Army building, $1.8 million for affordable housing; $1.5 million for transition costs, and $1.5 million for MacBride Museum expansion.

“(All) done outside of the scrutiny of the full budget, and outside the scrutiny of management board.”

Meanwhile Yukon Party finance critic Brad Cathers pointed out that the Liberals were in power for the last five months of the fiscal year.

“He made spending decisions during that time but would have you believe that he didn’t.”

Cathers pointed to $105,000 cabinet officials spent of electronics, furniture and maintenance before passing the 2017-18 budget.

Both men also spent portions of their time criticizing the other for decisions that have nothing to do with last year’s budget.

Silver went after the Yukon Party for not budgeting the operating costs of the planned Whistle Bend continuing care facility. The 150-bed facility has not opened yet and its operating costs would not be part of last year’s budget.

Cathers took the chance to criticize the government for planned spending this year.

“His decision to increase spending this fiscal year — including adding 202 new government staff positions, by his own admission in the spring — instead of restraining spending as they should have, is the premier’s choice,” he said.

The NDP’s Kate White appeared to celebrate wrapping up talk of last year.

“I hope what we just witnessed is to be the final chapter of the ‘It’s not our fault, it was the previous government’s fault’ narrative. I’m also hopeful that we will stop hearing it from this side,” she said.

While White said she had no doubt “that the rosy financial picture described by the previous government in the last election was more of a creative than realistic picture of Yukon’s financial situation” she said the Liberals can no longer blame other people.

“It’s time for this government to look ahead because they can’t keep living in the past.”

On its current trajectory, the Yukon government is slated to be in net debt by 2018-19.

The Yukon’s financial advisory panel, which is supposed to come up with options for improving things, is expected to release its final report in the next week or two.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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