Yukon’s premier says his biggest concern when speaking with other premiers from around the country this week is Northern infrastructure funding.
Premier Sandy Silver spoke to reporters July 19 at the end of the first day of the Council of the Federation meetings in New Brunswick.
Silver said he and the other Northern premiers have been pushing for more “flexibility” in federal infrastructure funding. He said the western premiers agree.
“We need to maximize those dollars … so we need the federal government to be more flexible in how funding can be applied when it comes to the North,” Silver said.
The federal government’s Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program includes up to $600 million for the Yukon over 10 years.
Of that, approximately $445 million could come from Ottawa and the territory would be expected to make up the rest.
Silver said he’s hoping Ottawa will loosen up some of its rules on the type of projects eligible for the money.
“One of those particular pots of money doesn’t allow us to spend that money on public buildings. And our argument, and the argument for Northwest Territories and Nunavut as well, is that … a lot of the buildings, more so than other jurisdictions and provinces, they’re going to be public buildings,” he said.
“So you’re kind of limiting us in our ability over the next 10 years to spend that federal money.”
The Yukon is expected to cover 25 per cent of the cost of infrastructure projects in order to access the federal money. That’s a smaller contribution than the provinces.
Silver pointed out that the Yukon’s budget is tiny compared to the federal budget.
“When you take a look at the amount of money that we can spend on a yearly basis. You take a look at just that one fund of close to half a billion dollars in money … we need that flexibility,” he said.
As a way of trying to spend the Investing in Canada money, the Yukon had tried to get First Nations and municipalities to cover some of the Yukon’s contribution.
Silver said the First Nations and municipalities weren’t interested.
“We put it out there to see if it would work. We didn’t get any uptake to it.”
The infrastructure fund is not the only pot of federal money that will require territorial cash to access. There’s also the $112 million that the Yukon has to contribute to the massive Resource Gateway mining roads plan.
“I’m sure as we move towards a federal election you’re going to be seeing other things coming down the pipe so as we do that we have to always keep on reminding Ottawa that the Yukon and the North is a different circumstance,” Silver said.
In the end Silver was unable to say whether the Yukon government was going to be able to find enough money on its end to take advantage of all the cash Ottawa is offering.
“I will have to look at the magic eight ball. We’re going to try our best.”
Along with infrastructure funding Silver said the premiers talked about the upcoming legalization of cannabis.
Silver said he told the other premiers that Yukon will be ready for October legalization.
“My vent this time around was that we need to move to the next steps when we’re taking a look at craft legislation or edibles,” he said.
The territory also needs a commitment from the federal government to develop educational material specific to the North and remote communities, he said.
When cannabis is first legalized this fall, the Yukon government will be running the only shop. The government has promised to make way for the private sector and eventually get out of the retail business.
Silver said timelines from Ottawa regarding additional legislation dealing with craft production and edibles will influence when the territory can start developing a private sector.
Other provinces have made news this week by voicing their opposition to the federal government’s upcoming carbon tax.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his government will intervene in support of Saskatchewan’s court case challenging the federal government’s right to impose a tax.
Silver said the discussion hasn’t happened with the Yukon delegation.
“We’ll have to see what unfolds there,” he said. “But we’ve been very clear about our position about federal carbon pricing and we’re not going to speculate or comment on other people’s positions. We’re going to continue to work with Ottawa and just make sure we have the best solution for Yukoners.”
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