Yukon Premier Sandy Silver talks to media about the recently released territorial budget in Whitehorse on Mar. 5. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Updated: Silver predicts sliver of a surplus

The 2020-2021 Yukon territorial budget estimates a surplus of $4.1 million

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver is touting a $4.1 million surplus in the 2020-2021 territorial budget.

“True to our commitment to Yukoners,” Silver said during his budget speech in the legislative assembly March 5, “we have balanced the budget — and have done so a full year ahead of schedule. Returning to a surplus reflects our commitment to sound fiscal management and making responsible financial decisions for the benefit of all Yukoners.”

The Yukon government’s budget for the next year is capped at $1.6 billion, slightly higher than last year.

The 2020-2021 budget for operations and maintenance has decreased from fall forecasts by 0.6 per cent. It’s at roughly $1.3 billion. The lion’s share goes to the Department of Health and Social Services, which has been allotted $19.3 million in order to compensate for things like Whitehorse General Hospital’s orthopedic program.

“More than $3 million is included to support Yukon’s new expanded orthopedic surgery program,” Silver said. “With two resident surgeons, this program has already improved accessibility and continuity of care for patients, while reducing travel times and costs.”

Capital spending has increased by 14.1 per cent when compared to forecasts, landing at $370 million. This price tag accounts for projects like the Dempster fibre line and infrastructure spending in communities and First Nations. The Department of Highways and Public Works makes up the majority of capital spending, at roughly 44 per cent – similar to the last fiscal year. Yukon-wide investments in infrastructure are $87 million. The new arena in Carmacks, for instance, will see roughly $3.75 million go towards it, Silver said.

Roughly $1 million is anticipated for renovations to the downtown Whitehorse shelter during 2020-2021.

“There’s never been a bigger budget as far as capital assets in the Yukon,” Silver told reporters following the first day of spring sitting. “That’s an extreme important piece that’s needed in the local investment climate.”

Stacey Hassard, interim leader of the Yukon Party, said it smells like an election year with elevated levels of capital spending.

Stacey Hassard, interim leader of the Yukon Party, responds to the 2020-2021 territorial budget announced by Premier Sandy Silver in Whitehorse on Mar. 5. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

“It was a bit like watching an Oprah Winfrey Show, you know, a free car there, a free microwave there, so it kind of makes you wonder when they talk largest capital spending in history. …” he said.

He also disputed the surplus.

“The only reasons there’s a surplus, a small surplus, is because the federal government came through with an excess of $25 million at the last moment, so I think it’s a little unfair for the premier to say that this government has been fiscally responsible and has actually produced a surplus,” Hassard said.

There were things that he was pleased with, however, including the decrease in taxation for small businesses, the Nisutlin Bay bridge project and a new fire hall in Teslin.

Kate White, leader of the NDP, said there are many things that aren’t included in the budget. Last year, a climate change emergency was declared, but there’s nothing earmarked in the budget for it, she said, aside from $1.5 million for renewable energy projects.

Housing, as presented in the budget, is fairly Whitehorse-centric when needs go across the territory.

Corporate income taxes for small businesses are decreasing from two per cent to zero next year. This changeover could represent $2 million in savings for small businesses.

Proposed income tax change will affect low to middle level earners, bringing in savings of roughly $2.4 million per year, Silver said.

As is typical, money is coming from Ottawa coffers, which prop up the territorial government’s spending by roughly 80 per cent. This fiscal season will see roughly $1.1 billion from the federal government.

According to the economic outlook, revenue is projected to be $1.3 billion, an increase of 4.5 per cent from the last year’s main estimates.

The labour market remains strong, it says, with the lowest unemployment rate in Canada. Projections show a 4.3 per cent unemployment rate.

Net financial debt is pegged at $60.8 million by April 1, growing to $81.5 million the following year.

The housing market remains hot in the Yukon, with the average cost of a single-detached home being roughly $514,000.

There are difficulties with the renting market, too, “with a prolonged period of low vacancy rates and historically high rents,” the economic outlook says. Vacancy rates in October 2019 were 2.9 per cent, which is considered high; the median monthly rent for all housing “reached a record high of $1,099” that same month.

There are investments in housing in order to reverse these problems. The Yukon government is slated to earmark $27 million in order to develop residential lots across the territory, including more than 200 in Whistle Bend.

Silver said $9 million has been allocated for the 47-unit, “mixed-use” housing project located in downtown Whitehorse.

“Finally, you have a government working on the full spectrum of social housing, community housing, using all of our mechanisms to support funding in housing for people that are most in need,” he said.

While the latest surplus roughly follows in line with estimates this time last year — $5 million — the deficit for 2019-2020 is about $12.7 million more than what was expected, coming in at an estimated $18.6 million.

This is the result of issues like the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter and a protracted fire season. Roughly $40 million was spent on fighting fires — that includes prevention methods like fire smarting on top of reactionary ones. Estimates for 2020-2021 for this issue are roughly $22 million.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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Stacey Hassard, interim leader of the Yukon Party, responds to the 2020-2021 territorial budget announced by Premier Sandy Silver in Whitehorse on Mar. 5. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

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