Premier Sandy Silver talks to media after delivering the territory’s 2019-2020 budget at the legislature in Whitehorse on March 7, 2019. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

‘This is our north star’: Liberals release 2019-2020 budget

There’s an estimated $5.9-million deficit

On March 7, the Yukon Liberals tabled the 2019-2020 budget worth $1.5 billion, falling in-line, overall, with preceding estimates.

Broken down, this means $1.2 billion for operations and maintenance spending, which went over forecasts, and $288 million in capital spending. The latter is consistent with expectations carried over from last year.

Last year, it was predicted the budget would come in slightly below the total at $1.48 billion.

Speaking with reporters, Premier Sandy Silver called the O&M budget, which has increased by 1.9 per cent, “historically low.” The 20-year average, in contrast, he continued, has been 6.3 per cent.

“I’m very proud of the budget we put forth today,” he said. “This budget is built on the priorities of Yukoners, who have clearly shared their view through feedback and engagement.

“You can see that confidence in this budget,” Silver said during his budgetary address earlier that day. “There is no extravagance here, no adornment to distract. This is our north star.”

The Yukon government is slated to be in deficit by $5.9 million. But this is expected to change in the next fiscal year. The budget predicts that by 2020-21, there will be a $5 million surplus.

Surpluses are expected to continue, with a dip in 2021-2022 to $3.7 million.

The deficit prediction last year was $7.1 million.

In broad strokes, Yukon Party Leader Stacey Hassard sees nothing fresh in the budget, calling it “underwhelming.”

Hassard didn’t backup this claim when asked for specifics.

“I’m not gonna give away all my ideas,” he said.

“There doesn’t seem to be any vision from this government and I think that was quite evident today in this budget speech.”

Projects tacked to the capital plan – money allotted for a new French school or another in Whistle Bend, for instance – are unsurprising to Hassard.

“We knew those were coming,” he said.

Liz Hanson, the NDP leader, said the events on budget day presented “a repeat of the Liberals’ deep affection for themselves” in that it has essentially rehashed plans, attempting to spin them off as new – a health care review, for example.

“So what I would suggest is that this government stop talking and looking for this magic bullet from some other source, but actually talk to the people who are practitioners in this territory and make it happen,” she said.

As with any budget, there’s a patchwork of projects slated for 2019-2020, housing being one of them, where $25.8 million will be invested into: building new residential lots in Whitehorse and rural communities; planning and design phases for more community housing; and unit conversions.

Creating new residential lots runs the highest tab at $19 million – $15 million for Whitehorse, $4 million for rural zones.

Money allotted this year includes $19 million for new lots in Whitehorse and rural communities — $15 million and $4 million, respectively.

Unsurprisingly, the Department of Health and Social Services has the highest budget, pegged at 35 per cent of the total allotted for O&M; education is next with 15 per cent; and highways and public works sits at 12 per cent.

In his budgetary address Silver said the O&M spending within HSS is “on the rise, growing by $25 million, an increase of 6.2 per cent over the 2018-2019 forecast.”

He added that it’s the biggest expenditure.

Capital spending for next year ($288 million) was consistent with forecasts. The Department of Highways and Public Works has 44 per cent of it; community services 25 per cent; and Yukon Housing Corporation 10 per cent.

The Yukon relies heavily on transfers from Ottawa. These are expected to be roughly $1 billion this fiscal year, “with modest growth forecast for future years,” according to a summary of the main budgetary points.

At the beginning of this fiscal year, April 1, there will be a net debt of $11.2 million. To follow next year, however, this is expected to balloon to roughly $58 million.

There are no tax changes or changes to fees, according to a summary report. Increases to recoveries, it continues, equates $23.5 million and is primarily from the federal government.

This, too, is broken down — $5.6 million in recovery of French services, including language. The rest, however, pertains to infrastructure matters, the Gateway project, for instance.

As for carbon taxation, which comes online this summer, it’s anticipated that there will $5.2 million in revenues. Expenditures come in at roughly $4.4 million. This isn’t profit, though. Some groups, placer miners, for instance, won’t be receiving a payout until after the upcoming fiscal year. This explains the discrepancy.

It’s a restricted fund, meaning that the Yukon government cannot spend any surplus accrued – it can only go towards carbon tax rebates.

The Yukon Liquor Corporation, which currently controls the cannabis market, won’t take any profit in order to keep marijuana sales low and away from the illicit drug trade. There’s an excise tax of $620,000 on it.

The Yukon government is looking to pull out from selling cannabis, closing its pot shop in Marwell and eventually handing the task over to private retailers.

Other tidbits in the budget include fiscal and economic outlooks. The Yukon’s unemployment rate, for instance, is projected to increase to 3.9 per cent from 2.7 per cent, where it sat last year. The subsequent two years, 2020 and 2021, it’s expected to rise further – 4.7 and 4.9 per cents, respectively.

“It’s hard for the unemployment rate to get any lower,” Silver told reporters. “It’s the lowest in Canada, so you’ve got to expect it rise at some point. We have a thriving labour market right now.”

While Hanson said maintaining a low unemployment rate is a good thing, 30 per cent of workers in Whitehorse earn less than $30,000 per year, below the living wage, in other words.

Starting on April 1, minimum wage will be increased to $12.71 per hour. It currently sits at $11.51.

“That’s it,” Hanson said, noting that the government will reel in yet another independent review of the system in two years.

“It’s the social equity aspect of this that really perturbs me as an individual and as a New Democrat,” Hanson said.

There are more projects in the second consecutive five-year capital plan. They include group home renovations at Wann Road, worth between $1 and $5 million; the Ross River school, worth between $10 and $25 million; and the Gateway project, which is listed as being worth more than $25 million.

In Silver’s address, he said the first construction phase of Gateway will happen this year at Carmacks Bypass.

For 2019-2020, $8.6 million is reserved for Gateway.

Construction will start on the new French First Language Secondary School in Whitehorse this spring, according to Silver.

“$19 million has been set aside for the project in 2019-20, and we are eager to continue our collaboration with the Commission scolaire francophone du Yukon and the francophone community to help students thrive,” he said.

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

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