Question re: Economic growth and 2013 GDP - November 6, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. Just over a year ago, the minister issued a news release, patting the government on the back for its role in seeing the Yukon through yet another year of economic growth. There’s only one problem with the minister’s self-congratulations — he was incorrect and the final numbers weren’t yet in.

Yesterday, Stats Canada released their final GDP numbers for 2013 and Yukon’s economy actually shrank in 2013. In fact, we had the worst economic growth of any jurisdiction in Canada in 2013. Our economy shrank by almost a full percentage point.

The Yukon Party likes to take credit when things are going good, Mr. Speaker. We’ll see if they can accept the responsibility when they are not. Will the minister confirm for the public that the Yukon had the lowest economic growth of any jurisdiction in Canada in 2013?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         Thank you to the member for bringing this question forward. Of course the Stats Canada data has come out recently. It’s important to recognize what that data says. What it says is what many Yukoners already knew: 2013 was a difficult year for Yukon’s economy. We recognize that. As the stats indicate, it was particularly challenging for the construction industry, both in residential and non-residential construction, as well as challenges faced by the mining industry.

That’s why, in response to that challenging year, Yukon government brought forward the largest capital budget in Yukon’s history. That’s why we see now, throughout the Yukon, including in Whitehorse and other communities, construction projects underway. We have F.H. Collins underway, which I know the member doesn’t support; we have construction at the Whitehorse Rapids facility on backup power generators, which I know the opposition parties don’t support; we have construction going on for seniors facilities down on the Whitehorse waterfront, which I know the members opposite have all voted against.

It’s important to recognize that yes, 2013 was a challenging year, but that’s why this government brought forward the largest capital budget in Yukon’s history to ensure that our construction industry continues to grow and continues to benefit from government expenditures.

What I anticipate is that 2014 will be a stronger year. We know that the construction that is going on today is much better than it was last year. We know that the residential construction has improved greatly by this government making land available and we know that the mining industry seems to be improving based on exploration numbers to date.

Mr. Silver:   It’s nice to know that the minister says, “We recognize this”, because a year ago he said in 2013 Yukoners continued to enjoy a growing economy. He also said we were expecting to experience a tenth consecutive year of GDP growth. The problem is the minister spoke before all the numbers came in.

We had the lowest economic growth in the country and our economy actually shrunk in 2013. Yukon is one of only two jurisdictions in Canada in 2013 where the economy actually contracted and we are in last place in terms of growth in Canada. This is despite a billion dollar budget, mostly from the feds, which this government likes to boast about.

The government has downgraded its economic forecast several times already for 2014. After claiming it would see growth of 8.8 percent, the government has been backpedaling furiously and now we’re as low as 1.7 percent.

Would the minister confirm what the latest GDP numbers are for 2014?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         It’s been clear throughout the years that we have been debating these types of issues that the opposition parties really don’t like the economists in my department. They don’t like the work that they do and they don’t appreciate the opinions that they have.

The economic forecasts that are conducted by the Department of Economic Development are not influenced by me, they’re not done by me and they’re not a result of any sort of political direction. They are done by the economists in the department who work as best they can with the data that they have available.

Now we make that data available twice a year and the GDP forecasts will be again available at the end of this of calendar year as it always is and as it will always continue to be from hereon in.

When we see the criticisms of government’s economic forecasts — we know that that is not a direction given by me or done by anybody on this side of the House. It is done by the forecasters in the Department of Economic Development who are doing the best they can with the data they have available to them. If the members want to criticize them, then that’s too bad. I will continue to support those officials in the department who do the best they can with the data they have available to make Yukoners aware of what is going on in the economy at time.

Mr. Silver:   All I asked was what the latest number is.

Yukon has the worst economic growth in Canada for 2013. Our economy actually shrunk under this government’s leadership. We will have one the lowest growth rates in Canada for 2014.

This government talks a good game about the private sector growth and employment, but let’s look at some stats from here. From September 2012 to September 2014, the number of government public sector jobs increased by 1,200 jobs. At the same time, the private sector dropped by 300 jobs. So the government’s own numbers do not back up the rosy picture that the Premier and the minister try to paint. We are seeing growth in the public sector and losses of jobs in the private sector.

When is the government going to admit that their own numbers do not back up their claims of growth in the private sector economy?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:   Well, the member, in the numbers he just cited, confirmed the fact that the private sector did grow. I know he doesn’t like the fact that the public sector has grown as well. He doesn’t like the fact that the federal government, the First Nation governments, municipal governments have grown as well. That is in part, of course, because First Nation governments are growing and becoming more mature. The federal government is increasing. The territorial government, yes, is increasing as well and so are municipal governments.

The public sector is not just the Yukon government; it is all public sector governments in the territory. The member opposite quotes numbers indicating that the private sector grew and that employment increased and then wonders why it has decreased. Well, he is simply wrong, Mr. Speaker. The private sector has grown. The numbers he has just cited —

Some Hon. Member:         (inaudible)

Point of order

Speaker:       Leader of the Third Party, on a point of order.

Mr. Silver:   This will be on Standing Order 19(h): issues that another member is “…uttering a deliberate falsehood.” The numbers speak for themselves.

Speaker:       Government House Leader, on the point of order.

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      On the point of order, I believe it is simply a dispute among members. The minister did not accuse the Leader of the Liberal Party of deliberately misleading this House. He said that the leader was saying two mutually contradictory things, which is absolutely correct.

Speaker’s ruling

Speaker:       It makes it interesting when you don’t have the instant replay right in front of you. The wording is interesting but I do not believe there is a point of order at this time. It is a dispute between members. All members are free to present and interpret the facts as they choose.

Some Hon. Member:         (inaudible)

Speaker:       Excuse me? Did you want to add to the point of order?

Please carry on.

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         If the Leader of the Liberal Party is concerned with some of the public sector jobs, perhaps he can indicate to us which public sector jobs he would like to see cut. If he’s concerned with the growth of the public sector, perhaps he can give us a list of the jobs that he would like to see cut, and we can let those employees know that the Liberal Party doesn’t value their contributions to our economy.