In the first few days after Monday’s territorial election that saw the Yukon Liberals win their second majority in nearly 40 years of partisan politics, Yukon’s business community seems cautiously optimistic about the new government.
“There appears to be a willingness to work with Yukoners in the business community, and we’re excited about it,” said Michael Pealow, chair of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce.
He said the chamber has a number of priorities for the new government, like improving local procurement and reducing the amount the Yukon spends on fossil fuels from outside the territory, which he estimates at $200 million annually.
Pealow said fossil fuel imports could be cut without necessarily developing a local oil and gas industry. The Liberal commitments to building retrofits and more biomass heating could reduce Yukon’s demand for fossil fuels, he explained.
The Liberals have also promised to implement the recommendations of a recent procurement advisory panel report by 2018, partly to help local businesses compete for government contracts.
Pealow said adopting those recommendations is “a good place to start.”
“If we can see measurable growth in the number of businesses and the health of those businesses in the territory, that will be a success,” he said.
He’d also like to see the government support the growth of Yukon’s tourism and knowledge sectors, as well as local food production.
And he said the Liberals will need to work on telecommunications and housing issues, which can hamper business growth, particularly in the communities.
“There are many, many issues that need to be addressed,” he said. “So there’s a lot on their plate.”
But the chamber has yet to take a position on a possible carbon tax, which became a major election issue.
That’s not the case for the Klondike Placer Miners’ Association, which came out swinging against a carbon price during the election campaign. The Liberals have said that a federal carbon tax is coming, but they will make it revenue-neutral for the Yukon.
Jonas Smith, the association’s executive director and a former chief of staff of the Yukon Party caucus, said the KPMA is interested to see more details of the Liberals’ plan for a carbon price. But he seemed unconvinced by their promise of a revenue-neutral tax.
“Governments are typically not very efficient in the administration of programs such as that,” he said. “And programs cost money.”
But Smith said it is beneficial to placer miners to have the MLA for Klondike, Sandy Silver, as the territory’s next premier.
“I think history shows that the home riding of the government leader certainly gets its fair share of attention and is not ignored,” he said. “Klondikers are a really unique breed of Yukoner and they’re proud of it. … (Silver) is a Klondiker through and through, so I think that will be advantageous.”
Larry Turner, president of the Yukon Contractors Association, said he’s hopeful the Liberals will strengthen Yukon’s business incentive program, which awards rebates to businesses working on government contracts that hire a majority of Yukon residents or use Yukon-manufactured products.
“We had a positive response to our issues that we raised before the election from the Liberals, so we look forward to working with them,” he said.
He added that the Liberals’ commitment to tender construction contracts no later than March of each year should save the government money, because it shouldn’t have to pay the added cost of construction work in winter months.
Government procurement is also a major concern for the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce.
President Rick Karp pointed out that a letter outgoing premier Darrell Pasloski sent to government employees this spring instructing them to buy local hasn’t actually taken effect, because the government’s procurement guide tells employees not to give local preference.
He said those guidelines now have to be changed. “It’s the details now that have to be brought into line.”
He also said the chamber wants to see the Yukon government work with First Nations on resource development. And he wants the Liberals to focus on affordable housing, diversifying the economy, and helping Yukon College to become a university.
“We’re pretty positive that it’s new blood and new direction, new focus,” he said. “It’s always good after 14 years to have a change.”
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