Wean ourselves off Ottawa transfers, says chamber

The Yukon should eventually give up its federal transfer money, said the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

The Yukon should eventually give up its federal transfer money, said the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.

Government support has been good for the Yukon and good for Canada, but the territory will have to stand on its own at some point, said chamber chair Andre Roothman.

“We’d like to see ourselves as giving something back to Canada instead of just receiving,” he told a recent chamber luncheon.

“Some people think we’ll forever do with huge transfer grants from Ottawa, but there are a number of us who would like to see the Yukon become much less dependant on the transfer money, and we believe that day will come.”

Ottawa transferred about $594 million to the territory in 2007, according to last year’s budget estimate.

His comments came at a luncheon where Treasury Board minister Vic Toews spoke to the business community.

The strategic importance of the North, and Ottawa’s focus on it, means Yukon will play a bigger role in political and economic sovereignty, said Roothman.

The territory could be a bastion of climate change research, he added.

“We see ourselves not only as the last frontier but also the last frontier of golden opportunity,” said Roothman.

“We hope the government continues its financial support for economic development programs.”

But the handouts can’t be eliminated just yet.

“We would also like to see an increase in the northern allowance,” said Roothman.

“Irrespective of the government of the day, it’s time the issue of the northern allowance needs some attention.”

As the Treasury Board president, Toews said he’s more than happy to hear the chamber wishes to not receive federal transfers.

“But I noted, you kept on saying we don’t want money, but we want more money,” he quipped.

The northern allowance hasn’t increased for more than a decade, said Liberal MP Larry Bagnell.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion at a Whitehorse luncheon promised to raise the allowance if elected, he added.

“It was brought up at the luncheon (but) Toews didn’t say one way or another,” said Bagnell.

Toews, responding to a question for chamber president Rick Karp, suggested the Yukon sign on the controversial trade pact, the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement.

“The Yukon might well consider getting on board,” said Toews.

“With the failure to achieve a national consensus to remove these barriers, Alberta and BC have done the right thing and I’m hoping other provinces sign on.”

TILMA is an agreement between BC and Alberta that promises to eliminate all barriers to the movement of labour and investment between jurisdictions.

Provinces are putting up barriers to trade through provincial legislation and even though interprovincial trade is constitutionally a federal jurisdiction, Ottawa still has a role to play, said Toews.

“We need to co-ordinate the regulations and rules so there is mobility of trade and labour across the country,” he said.

Ottawa won’t step in to demand barriers are eliminated, he added.