Minister of Finance Sandy Silver presented a $1.94-billion budget with the second-highest level of capital spending on record and a $48.2 million surplus.
Overall, the budget is slightly less than last fiscal year’s $1.97-billion budget. It includes $484 million in capital spending and $1.45 billion in operations and maintenance spending, which represents a 2.5 per cent increase from last year.
“Our team has worked very, very hard to create a plan that will move the territory forward,” Silver said.
“Many of the budget items reflect priorities outlined in our Liberal government’s 2021 mandate. While a lot has changed since then, one thing has not: the importance of these commitments in meeting the needs of Yukoners today, and setting up the territory for a prosperous tomorrow.”
By department, the largest areas of estimated spending are in the departments of Health and Social Services at $528 million, Highways and Public Works at $411 million and Education at $279 million, with Community Services coming in next at $197 million. Out of those four departments, Education is the only one that saw an increase from last year’s forecast. All four departments are up from the 2021-22 actuals.
Silver attributed the decrease in spending in the departments to correcting for increased spending during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is just making sure that we’re always very conscientious of all the different factors that are out there, including, you know, federal government,” he said.
The estimated revenue is $1.58 billion, with the bulk of it coming from the federal government at $1.33 billion and taxes and general revenues at $171 million. Transfers from the federal government make up about 84 per cent of the Yukon’s total revenue.
Expenses are tagged at $1.64 billion.
Net debt has gone up to $374.8 million. The $76.3-million increase over last year is being attributed to increased investment in new and ongoing infrastructure projects.
The territory is experiencing gross domestic product growth at 5.4 per cent and a strong labour market with the lowest unemployment rate in Canada, according to budget documents.
Down 9.9 per cent from last year’s record, this is the second-largest capital spending budget in the Yukon’s history. About 40 per cent is recoverable from the federal government.
The Whitehorse General Hospital’s new Mental Health Unit is expected to cost $12.2 million and will be completed this fiscal year.
Nearly $10 million is budgeted for the Old Crow Health and Wellness Centre, which is slated for partial completion this summer.
Whistle Bend Elementary School is also marked for completion this fiscal year and budgeted at $20.3 million.
Nearly $4 million has been earmarked to plan a new school in Burwash Landing, which will be tendered this year with a $20- to $30-million budget over three years.
The eventual replacement of the Whitehorse Elementary School is also budgeted for, with a maximum of $500,000 for planning this year and a total cost of about $50 million over five years.
Another $22.4 million has been slotted for a Northern Carve-Out fund to construct housing units.
The much-awaited Dempster Fibre project is slated to cost about $25 million this year and $35 million next year.
The Nisutlin Bay Bridge replacement is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2026 and is budgeted to cost another $110 million, including $40 million this year. The Nisutlin Bridge project will come in around $160 million and is the largest capital project ever undertaken in the territory.
The Whitehorse airport will receive about $30 million for runway improvements. The budget also includes several pockets of funding for highway improvements, including up to $9 million on the Alaska Highway, $20 million on the Klondike Highway and $20 million on the Yukon Resource Gateway Program.
Capital budgeting decreased this year in part due to labour shortages and inflation driving up prices.
Budgeting for surprises
The next budget has the Yukon’s largest-ever emergency contingency fund to the tune of $50 million.
That fund can be allocated toward relief from fires, floods or highway washouts, according to government officials.
“There may be a recession coming in Canada,” Silver said, noting that money is set aside for emergency purposes.
The budget for fire management is $22.5 million, which covers baseline operating costs. Last year, the budgeted $21.7 million ballooned to $38.4 million after the summer’s historic fire season.
In previous years, the contingency fund has only been about $10 million. This is the first year a government budget has anticipated a large chunk of spending on attending to environmental disasters.
Opposition leaders react
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon suggested the only new items in the budget appear to come out of the Liberal-NDP confidence and supply agreement (CASA).
“This is an opportunity for the new premier to set out his vision for the territory. Instead, we just see more of the same,” he said.
“We have concerns about the ability of the Yukon government to get that money out the door, and to deliver those capital projects that are so important to our economy.”
Yukon NDP Leader Kate White was surprised to see $1 million to $2 million set out for golf course irrigation while the territory grapples with its declared substance use health emergency.
She would have liked to see all of the CASA commitments laid out in the budget.
“There’s definitely some numbers there that wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the NDP and for that I’m proud,” she said.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org