The Yukon Party coyly tabled its $54.7-million supplementary budget this week, describing it as an apt response to fluctuations in the “global economic cycle.”
The budget was released on October 30th, but was only tabled this past Wednesday by Steve Nordick, the party’s sole backbencher.
With three days left in this legislative sitting, the Liberal opposition roundly condemned the last-minute economic help as a ploy to skirt debate on the issue that has dominated Canadians’ minds for the last two months.
“I am disappointed he would have us debating three days away from (the end of the session) with something released six weeks ago,” said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.
“(Premier Dennis Fentie) didn’t even rise to fight to speak to the motion,” said Mitchell.
The $54.7-million supplementary budget, which is based on past expenditures and expected costs, shouldn’t be counted as a response to the global economic downturn, he said.
“This is nothing more than what we have already spent or are predicted to spend,” said Mitchell.
“It’s not additional stimulus,” he said.
Up until Tuesday, the government depicted the Yukon as impervious to the financial storm wreaking havoc in economies around the world.
“There’s no correlation whatsoever with what the Yukon is experiencing and the situation the United States finds itself in,” said Fentie on Tuesday.
But he changed his tune the next day.
“We recognize that the global cycle will affect all members of the global community, we being one of them,” said Fentie.
Most of the added expenditures in the supplementary budget are going to the departments of Highways and Public Works, Health and Justice.
But this isn’t how to respond to what’s changed in the last few weeks, said Mitchell.
“We’re going to see a slowdown in the mining sector and the tourism sector,” he said.
Base mineral prices have already plummeted.
“I don’t think we can stimulate the mining sector, it’s going to be what it’s going to be,” said Mitchell.
But the government should spend extra cash on infrastructure to replace lost jobs next year.
“Next summer, there will be less junior companies doing exploration and less tourism,” he said.
“That’s the time for the government to try and do something to replace those jobs by using the surplus.”
The government has posted six straight surpluses and unemployment remains below five per cent, Fentie told the house on Wednesday.
But those rosy numbers deal with the past, not the impending economic trouble, said Mitchell.
Projects like the Whitehorse Airport, the Whitehorse Correctional Centre and others should have received more attention in order to give employers confidence that there will be work in the territory through next year, he said.
“It takes months for the downturn to affect the employment numbers,” said Mitchell.
“The time to prime the pump is not at the end, but at the beginning.”
So while the Yukon economy and the government’s surplus numbers seem sunny now, the government needs to get responsible for an unpredictable 2009.
“The reason you save that money is for a rainy day,” said Mitchell.
“And I would say it’s storming out there.”
Contact James Munson at firstname.lastname@example.org