The Yukon government’s budget was, apart from its size, pretty bland in the grand scheme of things.
Given the ideological bent of the political party in power it was to be expected that dollars would be focused on resource extraction and construction projects.
Instead of focusing on all those ore bodies, and the concrete and asphalt being paid for with the readers’ taxes, let us instead discuss what could have been done with slightly over one thousand million dollars.
Contrary to what is often thought about recent budgets they are not dedicated to solely stimulating the economy.
They are intended to provide services that Yukon residents need and require.
The budget partially does this.
Money for water and sewage treatment, for ongoing health and social service programs, for education and schools are all in this budget.
But essentially it maintains the status quo.
It is time to imagine how some of that money could have improved the Yukon.
Instead of the status quo, imagine what could have been done with all that money.
First, banning garbage burning at community dumps should have been a priority.
Funds could have been used to turn the most dumps into transfer stations.
There would be a few centralized landfills that bury, as opposed to burn, garbage.
Now this would cost more, but the alternative is to continue to pour pollutants and poisons into the air for those Yukon people who live in most rural communities to breathe.
No matter what, the financial implications the cost of fresh air for those downwind of the dumps is priceless.
A further initiative would be to combine transfer stations with increased funding to support recycling and composting territory wide.
This would decrease the quantity of garbage requiring burial while the quantities of recyclables and compostables would go up.
Both these initiatives would create local employment throughout the Yukon, make safe the very air that all Yukon residents and visitors breathe and allow the Yukon to actually export something other than raw metal ore. There could have been a mention in the budget that existing economic activities, such as outfitting, trapping, tourism and agriculture require certainty of land tenure and land usage.
This has budgetary implications because of the need for funding for land-use planning.
All Yukon regions need land-use planning commissions, and this requires money.
It also requires a hands-off approach from politicians and a commitment to respect the findings of the commissions even if the non-renewable resource extraction industry does not like the results.
These independent commissions can provide designated uses for land, whether it is as conservation areas or for existing industries dependent on the existing ecological landscape or renewable resource harvesting.
Land use planning can also accommodate sectors that can be highly speculative and environmentally destructive such as mining or oil and gas.
Another aspect that the budget overlooked was the need for an inter-community transit system.
A fleet of mini-vans connecting all Yukon communities year-round would greatly assist those without vehicles.
It would provide a safe alternative to those who are currently forced to hitchhike.
It could also encourage those who currently drive to consider an environmentally better option.
Finally, this recent territorial budget must not be judged on its size.
Rather it should be evaluated on the social and environmental progress it brings to the Yukon.
In short, how happy will it make all Yukon residents?
This sort of indicator can be measured through something other than gross domestic product figures.
It can be measured through a national happiness indicator.
This is similar to a genuine progress indicator.
Very few political jurisdictions measure their national happiness, although the small Himalayan country of Bhutan does use it.
If the budget had been geared towards Yukon happiness, it is most probable that the spending priorities would have been geared towards what Yukon society and environment needs, rather than what the business community desires.
Lewis Rifkind as a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.