Question re: Economic outlook

Hansard November 13, 2013

Mr. Silver:   Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. Earlier this summer, the minister told Yukoners that the numbers don’t matter. He was speaking about the Peel watershed, of course.

I disagreed with him at the time and I still do. It appears that the minister’s way of thinking extends to the Yukon economic outlook. This is an annual preview of what the minister’s economists see on the horizon.

It is usually released in April or in May, but this year it was not made public until late September. Other than the fact that the numbers don’t matter, can the minister explain why this report was delayed for so long?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         Mr. Speaker, the answer to that is quite simple: we have changed some of the ways that we plan on doing economic reporting and forecasting in the territory. This is under the advice of our economists in the Department of Economic Development, who suggested that it may make more sense to table an economic outlook in the late summer/early fall and then have an updated outlook come forward in the winter of early next year. So we’re in the process of switching to a once-a-year economic forecast to a twice-a-year economic forecast, and that’s the reason why we have had some changes in the timing and nature of reporting that we are experiencing.

Mr. Silver:   If they’re switching to a biannual report, they missed a complete season. A really good reason why this report was held back was that the numbers were horrible, so the government delayed releasing them, hoping that they would improve over the course of the summer. The numbers show Yukon will be 11th out of 13 jurisdictions when it comes to GDP growth this year. We are near the bottom of the barrel.

In the letters to the editor this summer, the minister boasted, “We have not only weathered the storm better than most, we have flourished through it.”

Our GDP growth this year will be less than one percent. We are certainly not flourishing. The Yukon Party likes to take credit when things are going good, but it seems like they have a problem taking responsibility when our economy stalls.

Is the Yukon government willing to take responsibility for the Yukon having the third lowest economic development in the country this year?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         Obviously I disagree with the member opposite’s speculation as to the timing of our releasing of the economic forecast. As I said before, we’ve switched to a new system of reporting and that’s the explanation for why we are reporting now in the fall instead of the spring with our economic forecast.

I also disagree with his interpretation of what that forecast says. What the forecast says is that even in a climate of weak mineral prices and of soft markets for investment — a very challenging market on the whole for the junior mining sector in particular — our economy is still growing this year. That’s a positive sign. What the forecast says as well is that next year it is anticipated to rebound to a higher level.

I am the first admit that economic forecasts are just that — forecasts — and they are not written in stone, but what they do point to is a direction — direction of growth and what we hope to be further prosperity for this territory.

I know we’ve got more work to do but we are committed to doing it and I look forward to reporting back in the spring with a new update on the forecast. We will have I’m sure some conversations about it then.

Mr. Silver:   Mr. Speaker, we’ve seen countless examples of Yukon Party ministers taking credit for the Yukon’s economy in the past. In 2007, we heard: “I will take credit for becoming the hotspot in Canada.” In 2010, we heard: “We, the Yukon Party, made the Yukon an attractive place to live.” In 2011, we heard: “It is everything to do with us, this government.” Now it’s 2013 and our GDP growth for this year is almost the lowest in Canada and this government won’t take any responsibility for this poor showing.

Here is a previous Yukon Party economic development minister — and I quote: “Certainly it is not world mineral prices that are responsible for the economic boom that we are seeing today.”

Mr. Speaker, will the current Yukon Party accept responsibility for our poor showing for this year?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         With regard to the member opposite’s quote, I would have to disagree of course that mineral prices have nothing to do with our economy. Of course world markets affect our economy. Yukon, most certainly is not an island. We are affected by global economic trends and conditions and in this current situation where we have weak mineral prices and a soft investment climate — a situation that is, as I said, generally very challenging for the mining industry across the country and across the world.

These challenges aren’t unique to Yukon. They affect other parts of Canada as well. But, as I’ve said, let’s focus on what’s happening right now. We’re seeing positive signs about next year. We hope that 2014 will be a strong year. Of course, Yukon government’s economic forecast suggests economic growth of 8.8-percent GDP growth. The Conference Board of Canada predicts close to 6.

So you generally see a positive outlook and a positive trend going forward. I know the member opposite doesn’t like to acknowledge the good work done by economic forecasters like those in the department or in the Conference Board of Canada, but of course we respect the role that those economic forecasters play and the important contribution they make to understanding our economy here in the territory.