The Yukon’s official opposition is questioning the Yukon government’s funding prioritization regarding road maintenance.
Yukon Party MLAs are asking why the parking lot beside the main administration building is a better use of $2.5 million dollars than two small rural roads programs that were cut last year. In total, they would amount to half that price.
“The Rural Roads Program has been a long-standing program in government budgets under parties of all stripes,” said MLA Brad Cathers. “I think it’s fair to say that it was just low on the government’s priority list, or not on the priority list.”
The two programs – the rural roads upgrading program and the resource access road program — hasn’t received space in the Yukon’s five-year capital planning document for the past two years. Each program usually came in at $250,000 to $500,000 each and were available to ad hoc groups who lived or worked along less serviced roads in rural Yukon.
“It gives you an opportunity to apply for funding to do upgrades to those roads, sometimes, it’s into maybe a small subdivision where there’s three or four families living,” says Pelly-Nisutlin MLA Stacey Hassard. “Especially in years like this, where we’ve had a lot of snow, a lot of run-off, and maybe the culverts need some work or some ditching needs to be done.”
Cathers and Hassard, both rural Yukon Party MLAs, heard from their constituents how much the program was missed.
First the Yukon Party asked in the legislature, then they sent a letter to the minister, and then they put together a news release.
As to where the money went instead, Highways Minister Nils Clarke wrote to Cathers saying that “the pressure on the capital budget this fiscal year have been particularly acute due to rapidly rising construction costs.”
On July 15, when the News asked Cabinet folks where the money went, the cabinet spokesperson said “For this year, the funds have been reallocated to address flood mitigation in specific areas. The government is investing roughly $1.5 million to raise three rural roads in response to flooding concerns.”
Cathers countered that this was the largest capital budget in the history of the territory and there was no reason to cancel programs Yukoners had learned to depend on.
The two programs were put into a holding pattern two years ago. In 2021-22 they were slated to return in 2023-24, but in this years’ five-year capital planning documents, the return date was set for 2025-26.
But now the government has changed its plans.
Krysten Johnson, the manager of communications at Yukon’s department of Highways and Public Works confirmed the change, saying that both programs will return next year, and that people can start filling out and submitting their applications now. She added that the five-year capital plan will be adjusted.
Lawrie Crawford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Yukon News