COVID-19 legacy remains on Yukon municipal balance sheets

·5 min read

After two years of pandemic-fuelled cash infusions, Yukon’s Community Services minister brought some unwelcome news to this year’s community leaders’ meeting: There’s no more money.

Minister Richard Mostyn was speaking at the Association of Yukon Communities (AYC) annual general meeting on May 13.

Yukon’s communities say they’re hurting after two years of the pandemic and they need assistance to dig themselves out of the hole created by COVID-19. For some, facilities were closed, then opened, then closed again, and revenues fluctuated, and rentals decreased.

Now in 2022, it is not easy for the minister either. “Any funding for municipalities is going to have to be new money,” Mostyn said, explaining how both the federal and territorial coffers of COVID-19 relief and recovery money had dried up.

He said that any requests will have to be detailed from each municipality, and then their requests will be weighed and assessed for possible funding.

Most in the room were not surprised by Mostyn’s comments.

He had responded to the request from the association and had sent a similar message to mayors in a letter on April 27. The letter read, “We do not currently have a similar funding mechanism available, nor was specific funding identified [in] our recent territorial budget as there are a number of other funding priorities that Yukon government had to consider.”

It had been two years of heavy lifting for all in the room, and there’s no cash left to lighten the load.

Yukon’s COVID-19 cash bump

Over two years, it appears that as much as $300 million of new money came into the territory, according to data compiled by the News from territorial and federal offices.

Federal money, totalling $97 million over the two pandemic years, came straight into the Yukon’s budget to cover four areas: health care and public health; economic relief and recovery; education supports; and pandemic management. For 2020-21 and 2021-22, $56 million went towards health; $28.5 million for economic relief; $5 million for educational supports; and $7 million for pandemic management.

Direct transfers from the federal government went to individuals in the territory through five different programs: the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy and Lockdown Support, Canada Recovery Benefit, Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit.

Program expenditures for these five programs over the two years accounted for $130 million, with the largest piece being $96 million spent on 4,350 applicants to the wage subsidy program.

Businesses were also funded through a combination of federal programs and Yukon government programs that provided loans and grants to businesses. High-level information from MP Brendan Hanley’s office shows that loans to 910 Yukon business owners account for $48 million sitting in the Canada Emergency Business Account as of Jan. 26.

In addition to the loans, more detailed federal information shows that $11.7 million flowed through Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency programs, the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund and Northern Business Relief programs to businesses and industry associations.

As well, information supplied by Yukon’s department of finance shows that internally over $40 million went to economic relief and recovery efforts, including the Yukon Business Relief program, Paid Sick-Leave program, aviation sector funding, tourism sector funding, and other programs that were created or supplemented.

In comparison, the finance department reported that relatively little money went to education supports for students and classrooms in the Yukon. The federal government provided $5 million over the two years, and the Yukon government allocated $258,000 in 2020-21, and nothing in the year following.

Federal information showed that direct federal transfers from Ottawa to Yukon First Nation governments for COVID-19 related expenditures for 2020-21 and 2021-22 totalled $12 million. Another $2.5 million went to First Nation organizations to help with coordination and management of pandemic-related efforts.

Eight Yukon municipalities shared an extra $4 million that was added to the Comprehensive Municipal Grant formula under what was called Safe Re-Start funding. It was 50-50 cost shared between the federal and territorial governments, and distributed in two allocations.

That is the money municipalities are now saying wasn’t enough.

Today’s funding picture

Federal funding has been reduced to a trickle. For 2022-23, the information from the Yukon government table shows that the federal contribution in 2022-23 for COVID-19-related initiatives to the Yukon government has dropped to $3 million, down from $27 million in 2021-22, and from $70 million in 2020-21.

This year’s federal contribution of $3 million will be divided, with $2 million for public health and health care, and the remaining $1 million divided evenly between education supports and pandemic management.

As the federal contributions decreased, Yukon’s contributions have increased, with Yukon government spending $23 million in 2020-21 and nearly $40 million in 2021-22.

The Yukon will be spending $10.5 million for public health and health care and $5 million for economic relief in 2022-23. Nothing is budgeted for education supports or pandemic management.

Post-pandemic world

COVID-19-impacted municipalities are not only dealing with new operational expenses, but mayors also reported extreme fatigue, mental health issues, low morale and more alcohol and drug use in their communities. These are the additional supports the funding request was hoped to cover, especially for rural Yukon.

Ted Laking, the incoming president of AYC told the News on May 16 that, “It sounded to me like he [Mostyn] was going to keep an open mind, and that he was looking for a bit more information.”

But even though the minister had opened the door just a tad, AYC’s membership passed a unanimous resolution for additional and appropriate financial relief as they closed their annual meeting.

Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News

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