Yukon Liberal gov't's pre-election budget draws mixed reviews

·4 min read
The exterior sign at the Yukon Legislative Assembly in Whitehorse. The government delivered its proposed 2021-22 budget on Thursday. (Chris Windeyer/CBC - image credit)
The exterior sign at the Yukon Legislative Assembly in Whitehorse. The government delivered its proposed 2021-22 budget on Thursday. (Chris Windeyer/CBC - image credit)

Yukon Premier and Finance Minister Sandy Silver may be trying to spread the wealth ahead of a territorial election call, but not everybody's impressed.

Despite more than $500 million in new spending — including $434 million worth of capital projects — the territory's opposition parties say the budget includes some glaring omissions.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon said the budget fails to offer a roadmap to guide the territory out of the economic havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I can't help but notice that this government is entirely focused on the past. They are focusing their budget on delivering on their platform promises from 2016 that have been left undone until the 11th hour," Dixon said, citing funds for midwifery, prenatal nutrition and the Dempster Highway fibre optic project as examples.

Dixon also said the budget doesn't do enough to help businesses who have been hit hard by the pandemic. The budget's economic outlook acknowledges growth was slow this past year, but projects real GDP will grow 7.9 per cent in 2021-22, driven largely by mining.

But Dixon said that does little for the tourism industry, which accounts for around five per cent of Yukon's economy.

"We know that the tourism industry is on life support," he said.

Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon says the 2021-22 budget doesn't do enough to help businesses and says he's concerned about the amount of debt the government is accumulating.
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon says the 2021-22 budget doesn't do enough to help businesses and says he's concerned about the amount of debt the government is accumulating.(Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Too little for housing, opioid crisis, says NDP

Despite the presence of money for longtime NDP priorities, such as universal childcare and action on climate change, leader Kate White said the budget still fell short.

White said there isn't enough money for housing and nothing at all to combat the opioid crisis, which has killed at least three Yukoners so far in 2021.

While the budget contains $12 million for affordable housing and $30 million for lot development, White said that's not enough to clear the waiting list for subsidized Yukon Housing.

"It's not going to address the people who are being priced out of their rental accommodation, doesn't do anything for mobile homeowners, doesn't do anything for a lot of homeowners," she said.

And while the government has budgeted $15 million for a universal childcare program that will offer parents $700 per month per child, White said that does nothing to address the shortage of childcare spaces.

NDP Leader Kate White says the budget doesn't do enough to tackle the Yukon's housing problems or the opioid crisis.
NDP Leader Kate White says the budget doesn't do enough to tackle the Yukon's housing problems or the opioid crisis.(Chris Windeyer/CBC)

NGOs say budget a mixed bag

Meanwhile, some NGOs were more charitable toward the budget, though they still had concerns.

Lewis Rifkind with the Yukon Conservation Society said he's glad to see funding for electric vehicle charging stations, the planned Atlin hydro expansion, and a battery storage project included in the $50 million listed to combat climate change. But he said he doesn't see how the listed projects add up to $50 million.

He also said he's concerned there isn't enough for greening Yukon's transportation network, the single largest source of carbon emissions.

"I would say it's a safe budget, but it's definitely not a green budget, even though there are some very interesting green things in it," Rifkind said.

Patrick Rouble, president of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce and a former Yukon Party cabinet minister, said he's glad to see relief programs for businesses continue. And he said spending on roads and other infrastructure is welcome.

"Certainly seeing projects like that are going to put our contractors, our trades, our suppliers and our related businesses to work," he said. "These are important industrial components that are very important sectors in our economy."

But Rouble said he's concerned rolling out capital funding too fast risks overwhelming local contractors with work, meaning some of that business could end up going to outside companies.

He's also concerned about Yukon's net debt, which is doubling to $175 million this year, and will nearly double again in two years, to $330 million.

"If the territory has net debt like that, that debt needs to get to be repaid. That money's got to come from somewhere and when money is used to pay down the debt, it isn't going towards providing the other programs and services needed by Yukoners."