Steady as she goes

Don’t expect the housing crunch to ease up anytime soon. With less residential construction and an increasing population, it’s going to…

Don’t expect the housing crunch to ease up anytime soon.

With less residential construction and an increasing population, it’s going to get cozy in Whitehorse.

People are moving to the Yukon three times faster than originally forecast, according to the territorial government.

Yukon’s population grew to 33,294 in June, 3.4 per cent higher than in June 2007 and roughly triple a previous growth estimate.

The new numbers were released in the Economic Development department’s economic forecast update last month.

“We were the highest in terms of population growth, percentage-wise,” said Gary Brown, senior information officer with Yukon Bureau of Statistics.

“We’re definitely rebounding here.”

Whitehorse grew by 848 people, and the numbers in other communities grew as well.

A notable decrease occurred in Old Crow, which saw 23 people leave the community.

Originally, the Yukon bureau of statistics estimated the 2008 average population would grow to 32,500.

Now it’s projecting the year-end population will pass 33,500.

Relative to larger jurisdictions, population changes in a small place like the Yukon can seem to fluctuate wildly, said George Marchewa, government economist and co-author of the report.

But the numbers are still general indicators of economic health, he added.

The surprising population growth can be attributed to a number of factors, like the labour shortage and a foreign worker increase, mineral exploration and government spending.

This is the fourth straight year of population growth, which follows six years of decline.

Driven by mineral exploration and mine development — including a full year of production at the Minto copper mine — the territory’s economy continues its steady growth.

But oil prices and a shaky US economy — which may or may not be in a recession, depending on who one talks to — are keeping territorial economists cautious.

“High oil prices will trickle through everybody’s pocketbook, said Marchewa.

“You have to spend money on gas, you have to spend on heating fuel.”

The Yukon economy is dependent on tourism and US demand for natural resources, both of which are major reasons for continued growth.

“Should the US enter a prolonged recession, it may reduce visitation to Yukon and dampen demand [and hence prices] for commodities,” says the report.

Opposition parties have long-criticized the Yukon Party government for relying heavily on the mining sector and not diversifying the economy.

The tradition mineral economy is cyclical, but a large government sector almost ensures the territory will weather a downturn, said Marchewa.

 “(Government employment) is a baseline, it’s always there,” he said.

“It’s moderated a lot of the impacts over the years.”

Tourism was down two per cent in June, compared to the same time last year.

High fuel prices have kept American traffic away from the Yukon, says the report.

The decrease is part of a nationwide trend, but overseas tourism has kept the tourist numbers from free-falling, the report adds.

Since July 2007, the number of employed people in the Yukon has grown by 900.

The unemployment rate increased slightly to five per cent, which should be maintained until the end of the year, says the report.

Residential construction declined 2.6 per cent in the first half of 2008, compared to the same period last year.

Building permits are falling short of expectations, despite an expected decrease due to the Minto mine completion.

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