Question re: Economic growth 2014 - December 17, 2013

Hansard, December 17, 2013

Mr. Silver:   On December 9, the Government of Yukon released its monthly employment report. It confirmed what most Yukoners already know. Our private sector growth has stalled and is, in fact, shrinking. On the other hand, our public sector workforce is growing. The government’s own stats contradict the message that the government is trying to get out — namely, that our private sector economy is growing.

Mr. Speaker, according to the government’s own stats, private sector employment was down 3.4 percent from November of last year, while the public sector employment increased by 10 percent.

Our unemployment rate is roughly the same as it was a year ago, but the only reason it’s stable is because the government, not the private sector, keeps hiring more people.

Why is our private sector shrinking?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         This government is focused on growing the private sector economy in Yukon, and we plan to do that through a number of ways. One of them is growing a robust and healthy mining industry. We see the mining industry as having the potential for growth and it has contributed greatly to Yukon’s private sector growth over the past number of years. Obviously we’ve seen a bit of a slowdown with regard to the economic forces in the world, which have softened some mineral prices and made attracting investment quite challenging for companies, but we’ve seen some positive signs that the Yukon is still a positive place to invest, including the investment announced yesterday by Selwyn mining company, which will see $56 million invested in their project on Howard’s Pass in eastern Yukon. That’s $56 million that will contribute to the health of Yukon’s economy and will bring jobs to the territory and opportunities for Yukoners to get out and get to work.

We’re also making investments and working with industry in the tourism sector, in the knowledge sector and in a range of sectors throughout our economy to try to grow the private sector economy here in the territory. We know that the Liberal Party likes to point to these economic projects and cheer against them, because they see a political gain from challenges that Yukoners face on a daily basis.

We won’t take that tack — we’ll continue to work positively with industry and with companies throughout the territory to grow Yukon’s private sector economy.

Mr. Silver:   I’m not even going to bother with that comment.

In this year’s budget speech, the Premier said, “Our objective has been and continues to be to develop an economy that is less dependent upon government spending and more reliant on the private sector.”

He said — and I quote: “Our objective has been and continues to be to develop an economy that is less dependent upon government spending and more reliant on the private sector.”

According to our government, private sector employment was down by 3.4 percent from November of 2012, while the public sector employment increased by 10 percent. One of the reasons for the drop in the private sector job numbers is the fact that we’ve just gone through the lowest exploration season for mining in the last nine years. Meanwhile, across the border in the Northwest Territories there was an increase of 46 percent in 2013 for mineral exploration.

Why is mineral exploration increasing in the Northwest Territories and dropping here in the Yukon?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         As I indicated, we’ve seen a decline in the mineral exploration budget by the private sector for 2013 as a result of a number of challenges that the industry is facing. We know that mineral prices have softened. We know that the investment climate has become more and more challenging. We know that these are challenges that are faced not just by Yukon, but by jurisdictions across the world and across Canada. We’ve seen similar declines in Alaska, in British Columbia, and some of those provinces and states have a bigger overall number, but the reductions they’ve seen are similar at least.

The challenges the mining industry faces aren’t all challenges that we can address here in the Yukon, but there are challenges we can address here in the Yukon. They include resisting the calls from the Liberals and the NDP to raise royalty rates, to alienate vast tracts of land from mineral exploration in the territory — like the Liberal leader has advocated for — and for eliminating the free-entry system, which the NDP continues to advocate for.

We will continue to work with the mining industry. We will continue to work with all industries in Yukon to grow Yukon’s private sector economy, but we will do that by resisting the calls from the Liberal Party to alienate vast tracts of land from mining in this territory.

Mr. Silver:   In the last twelve months, the private sector employment in the Yukon is dropping. We have the worst mineral exploration in nine years, construction companies are laying off workers, housing prices are dropping and the Government of Yukon is hiring. Public sector employment increased 10 percent from this time last year. The Yukon party likes to take credit when things are going good, but ducks down when things are going bad.

Here is the Yukon Party in 2011 on our economy, which they said has absolutely nothing to do with world mineral prices and has everything to do with this government making the changes necessary to restore investor confidence in the Yukon. The new jobs in the Yukon are in the public sector, not in the private sector. What is the government doing to reverse this picture for 2014?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         What we have seen over the past 10 years is a growth in population, a growth in GDP and a growth in jobs in this territory. That is a result of solid fiscal management; it’s a result of economic planning, economic generation and economic growth.

Now, what we plan to do is continue to do that. We plan to continue to allow the mining industry to grow in this territory, we are continuing to allow the tourism industry to grow in this territory and we continue to identify other sectors of this economy, like the knowledge sector that we see as having tremendous opportunity for growth in the territory.

I would note that just yesterday the government signed a memorandum of understanding with the Carcross-Tagish First Nation, which includes a significant tourism opportunity at Millhaven Bay site in southern Yukon. That has the potential to grow the tourism industry. We have seen investments from companies, like Selwyn made yesterday, that forecast that the mining industry in this territory will likely grow as well. So we are seeing positive signs.

 We know that the skies are not all blue and there are some challenges out there, but we intend to address the issues that we are able to address with government and allow the private sector to grow in this territory. What we don’t plan is, apparently, widespread public sector job cuts as proposed by the Liberal Party.