Whitehorse Daily Star

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DELIVERING THE GOODS – Premier and Finance Minister Sandy Silver makes his budget speech Thursday afternoon in the legislature. The $1.47-billion fiscal blueprint for 2018-19 has set a Yukon spending record.

YP bemoans deficit; NDP sees no vision

Premier and Finance Minister Sandy Silver tabled a budget Thursday that slashed the Liberal government’s projected deficit for the fiscal year by more than 90 per cent.

By Taylor Blewett on March 2, 2018

Premier and Finance Minister Sandy Silver tabled a budget Thursday that slashed the Liberal government’s projected deficit for the fiscal year by more than 90 per cent.

Instead of a $49-million deficit for 2018-19, as was projected in the 2017-18 budget, the government now expects to be in the red this coming fiscal year by only $4.5 million.

He told local media Thursday afternoon that his government was able to accomplish the “Herculean task” thanks in large part to the public service.

Its members found more efficient ways to deliver programs and services.

The government is also reworking its approach to capital projects and accounting for the future operations and maintenance (O&M) costs of these projects up front, Silver said.

“And so that’s the budget that you see in front of us right now.”

But not everyone is as satisfied with the government’s books and how it plans to spend money this fiscal year, which will begin April 1.

“I guess my first initial thought is deficit,” Stacey Hassard, the Yukon Party’s interim leader, told reporters in a scrum after the budget was tabled.

“It’s certainly something that we were hoping against, but it appears that this government has chosen to run a deficit for the Yukon for this year.”

Silver explained in his budget address that the deficit is the result of increasing O&M costs.

The government has to pay for projects like the $150-million Whistle Bend continuing care facility, which was not properly budgeted for under the previous government, he explained.

But this budget’s deficit is only $4.5 million, Hassard pointed out. Why not, he asked, identify a few more areas of efficiency to bring this budget into the black? Like the legalization of cannabis?

Silver explained one of his government’s priorities for the upcoming year is “getting out of the business of doing business.”

Cannabis is slated for legalization sometime late this summer or early fall, once the Senate gives federal legislation the green light.

In the Yukon, the territorial government will have sole jurisdiction over distribution and retail, for now.

“Here was an opportunity for the private sector to come in on day one, the government could set the rules up, we would have known how things were going to go, and instead they chose to do the opposite and to grow government,” Hassard said.

The budget includes revenue and expenditures resulting from the impending legalization of cannabis: a nearly $400,000 transfer from the federal government, $3 million for a Cannabis Distributor Corp., more than $1 million for Justice, of which almost half is recoverable from Ottawa, and $100,000 for Health and Social Services for an education and awareness campaign.

On the capital spending front, Hassard raised concerns about a 10 per cent reduction between last year’s budgeted amount, and this one.

The budget has earmarked $280 million for capital spending this year, in comparison to last year’s $309 million.

“A 10 per cent drop – where are those jobs going to disappear from?” Hassard asked.

“Who’s going to make up for that? Certainly, they’re not all going to be able to go and work in the new cannabis department of government.”

The Liberals’ promised Five-Year Capital Plan was also unveiled Thursday. Silver said capital spending for each of those five years will hover around a $280-million average.

The Yukon NDP also had some critical words for the government’s budget.

“There’s no sense of a vision being articulated here,” party leader Liz Hanson told reporters.

“I was really disappointed at the premier’s refusal to consider options around revenue generation.”

When it tabled its first budget last year, the government announced it would establish an independent financial advisory panel.

That body was assigned to go through the government’s books and suggest ways to correct an unsustainable financial trajectory that previous Yukon Party government financial management had established.

Introducing new taxes or fees or raising pre-existing ones were among the panel’s final suggestions: a hotel tax, higher campground fees, or a payroll tax on fly-in, fly-out workers, for example.

Hanson brought up the latter option.

“Those are our roads, those are our services that those workers will be using,” she said.

“Other jurisdictions have implemented a simple thing like a payroll tax.

“There are a number of ideas that are out there, and he’s dismissing them all with the same brush, as though a harmonized sales tax (HST) is the same as seeking to recoup some of our costs.”

Silver has definitively ruled out introducing a HST, along with cutting public service jobs and raising placer mining royalties.

However, he said his government will explore the financial advisory panel’s other suggestions related to fees and taxes in the future.

This year, along with “getting out of the business of doing business,” the premier said his government will be embracing other financial options the panel put forward by working on efficiencies in government service delivery and doing a comprehensive review of Health and Social Services.

The government already completed a health care review in 2009 under then-premier Dennis Fentie, Hanson pointed out, suggesting this government, through this budget, is just maintaining the status quo.

“It’s all about institutional care, high-cost focus,” she said of Health and Social Services’ budget allocations.

Hanson highlighted areas like daycare and midwifery as having been neglected.

Funding for regulated midwifery - a Liberal platform commitment - was not highlighted in this budget.

However, Silver listed a number of campaign promises the budget does satisfy, including:

• $46 million for seasonally-dependent contracts to be tendered by March 31, 2018;

• $11.8 million for advancing the fibre optic redundancy project;

• $3 million for the francophone high school in Riverdale;

• $1 million for campground infrastructure; and

• $320,000 for a Sexualized Assault Response Team (SART).

“Any budget process requires very, very tough decisions, and each member of our caucus and of our cabinet took the time to reflect on what was included and what was not included in our budget,” he said.

The budget will be debated in the legislature this spring, and both opposition parties will almost certainly take Silver and his cabinet to task on those decisions.

See related story; editorial and Yukon Party commentary.

Comments (2)

Up 0 Down 0

My Opinion on Mar 3, 2018 at 12:12 am

Was this their “Herculean task” or were the Conservatives correct when they said they left a surplus. Go figure.

Up 0 Down 1

Wilf Carter on Mar 2, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Good reporting.

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