Question re: Economic outlook 2014

Hansard, November 14, 2014

Mr. Silver:   After delaying the release of this year’s economic forecast for several months, it finally saw the light of day in September. We know the Yukon’s economy will grow only 0.6 percent this year and that will put us 11th out of 13 jurisdictions in Canada for 2013.

On the surface, the numbers for 2014 look better but they raise a bunch of questions. The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, for example, has said publicly that they are a little bit skeptical and that they would like to see some facts. They didn’t believe the minister’s hype and neither do I, Mr. Speaker.

The forecast assumes that both Eagle Industrial Metals and Bellekeno will be producing ore in 2014. Will the minister confirm for the record that he believes this is the case? Does the minister think both these mines will be open and processing ore next year?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         It’s very interesting to hear that the Liberal Party is cheering against these mining projects in the Yukon. I’ll be happy to convey to the owners of those two mines — the Whitehorse Copper project and the Bellekeno mine — that the Liberal Party of Yukon would like to see those projects not proceed and that he’s rooting against them and thinks they won’t go forward, despite what the companies themselves have put on the record. They have said they do plan to reopen the Bellekeno mine.

It’s very disappointing to hear the member opposite from Klondike suggest that he hopes those mines won’t go forward. We’re very optimistic that the companies, when they put forward information, do so honestly and in proper accordance with the law and with what they’re required to put out on the public record.

As to the forecasts, they aren’t my predictions.

They are the predictions of the economists within the Department of Economic Development and they are based on the best available data that they have as to what companies plan to do. They aren’t written in stone. They aren’t guarantees. They are simply forecasts. If the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce or any other chamber or body has questions or skepticism about them, that’s fine. They are entitled to that. All that the department can do is publish a forecast based on the best available data at the time of publishing.

Mr. Silver:   I guess berating me while I ask questions from the mining industry itself is not beneath the Minister responsible for Economic Development.

The forecasts for next year, I believe, are quite optimistic and I’m not alone. The government seems to think that they’re bang on. If you support the conclusions then you must support the assumptions that go into this report. The conference board estimates are based upon Victoria Gold Corp. and Copper North Mining Corp. Carmacks projects both opening construction in 2014. Many people who I’ve spoken to in the mining industry don’t see either of these things happening in 2014. It doesn’t mean they don’t want these things to happen and it doesn’t mean that I don’t these things to happen, it means they don’t believe it. Will the minister confirm for the record that the government thinks that both of these different mines will begin construction next year?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         If a company has a proposal to build a mine and they have on paper publically available — either through a website or reporting mechanisms through their national instruments — a plan to build a mine in a certain year, then the government takes that information very seriously. It’s not the place of government to decide whether or not a project will go forward in terms of whether or not they can meet their requirements of raising capital and being able to build a mine. We have to make a forecast based on the best available data that we have. In the case of the forecast that we’re talking about today, it is based on that. It’s based on what companies are saying they are going to do. It’s not a promise.

It’s not that we are guaranteeing it’s going to happen; it’s simply what the companies themselves are saying they’re going to do. So if the member opposite wants me to speculate whether or not I think companies are lying, I won’t do that. That’s not fair. All I can do is ask my economists to make a forecast based on the publicly available data.

Mr. Silver:   And his economists did and we had to wait months and months to get these numbers.

It is very interesting to see the minister refuse to not make this commitment in the House. This government has been very busy telling Yukoners to look past this year because things are going to get better next year. But now it looks like even the minister doesn’t believe these optimistic numbers recorded in these forecasts. For our economy to rebound, the government is once again putting all of our eggs into one basket. It is very unfortunate that during the good times of 2010 and 2011, the government didn’t put more thought into economic diversification. Last year, we lost more than 1,100 jobs in the private sector under this government’s watch.

The minister is trying to have it both ways. He says, “Look at the report. Good news is on the way,” but at the same time, he is unwilling to put on the record that he is confident that these mines are going to open up next year.

Why should Yukoners believe these reports when even the minister won’t endorse them?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         Mr. Speaker, I’ve explained a number of times that we’ve changed the timing of when we release these economic forecasts to a biannual situation and the member opposite knows that. He knows that companies publish their planned intentions for what they plan to do in the coming years. We make our forecasts based upon what they tell us and what they say they’re going to do. Of course I can’t promise that a mine is going to go forward. I’m not in a position to make that kind of promise or guarantee. All I can do is ask economic forecasters — the economists in the department — to make decisions and make forecasts based on the best available data.

It’s very disappointing for me to hear from the Liberal Party rooting against these mines because, for them, it’s a political win. He’s cheering against economic development because he sees a political gain in it.

Mr. Speaker, we won’t do that. We’re advocates of the economy, we’re advocates of creating jobs in this territory and we won’t root against mining projects in the territory. What the NDP and what the Liberals would have us do is ban mining in large tracts of the territory, increase royalty rates, eliminate the free-entry staking system and undertake an online staking program as committed to by the Liberal Party in the last election.