Question re: Economic outlook - April 28, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. In 2013, the Yukon Party oversaw our GDP growth slip to only one percent. We had one of the lowest growth rates in all of Canada. The government also oversaw a 10-percent increase — or 700 new public sector government jobs — in the Yukon in 2013 — this, despite promises to focus on improving our private sector.

Last fall the minister produced an economic forecast that called for 8.8-percent GDP growth for 2014. That forecast was predicated on virtually every mineral property in the Yukon being operational this year. At that time, I and many Yukoners raised concerns about the forecast being wildly optimistic. Only five months later, the minister had issued a new forecast that said that the rate of growth would be 60 percent less than what the government was projecting.

Will the minister now admit that the fall’s forecast was unrealistic?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         First of all, I need to correct the member that his facts are incorrect when he states the growth of government jobs.

I should also note that — I’ve discussed this previously with them — the economic forecast provided by the Department of Economic Development is conducted by professionals in the department, economists and econometricians, who review the best available data that they have and make a forecast based on that data. Of course, there are changes in data. Every government and every forecaster in the country changes their forecast from time to time. That’s exactly what we did.

So what we have done now is we have changed the structure of our reporting to report every six months with our economic forecasts. We’ll continue to make those forecasts, based on the best available data that we have at our fingertips and the best available data that’s out in the public at the time of issuance. We’ll continue to work with other organizations, like the chambers of commerce and the Conference Board of Canada, to conduct these types of forecasts. I would note that the Conference Board of Canada, which is an independent forecaster of Yukon’s economy, has presented very similar forecasts to the ones conducted by the Yukon Department of Economic Development.

We have confidence in our employees to do this work. We have confidence in their ability to do their work professionally and we will continue to support them.

Mr. Silver:   Last fall, the Government of Yukon put out an economic forecast that was completely unrealistic. The minister was so convinced about the forecast that he put out news releases trumpeting the projected 8.8-percent growth. He did multiple media interviews and patted his government on the back for a job well done. Anyone who did disagree was simply wrong and was shouted down.

Fast-forward to this spring, there was a new forecast — one that confirmed that our economy was one of the worst in Canada last year and one that slashed growth projections by more than 60 percent for the year. The minister sent out news releases but didn’t mention any of these numbers and then refused to do any media interviews on it.

The government can’t take credit fast enough when things are going good, but they send officials to answer the hard questions when the news is bad. Why is the minister so unwilling to take responsibility for our poor performance in 2013 and for an economic forecast that was completely out of touch?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         Unfortunately, the member has chosen some very disparaging comments for the officials and the Department of Economic Development. They don’t make decisions based on rosy outlooks. They make decisions based on the data that is available to them. They make those forecasts twice a year now and they will continue to do so. I would note that Yukon has experienced 10 consecutive years of economic growth and that’s something that we’re very proud of on this side of the House. We’ve also seen 10 consecutive years of population increase. So, Mr. Speaker, the trends for Yukon economically are very sound and very strong. I anticipate that to continue in the years to come.

What I won’t do is allow the member opposite to make these disparaging remarks about officials in my department and I think it’s inappropriate. I think he should reconsider those kinds of comments. With regard to making officials available for comment, we always ensure that officials in the department are available to the media when they need technical information. Whether it’s the Department of Environment, Economic Development or any other department, our officials frequently comment on a number of the goings-on of Yukon government and we will continue to make our public servants available to the local media and to Yukoners alike to ensure that Yukoners across the territory understand what its Yukon government is doing.

Mr. Silver:   Last fall the minister — it was the minister — who put on his rose-coloured glasses and put out the forecast that was wildly optimistic. The government has now been forced to back away from these numbers and has revised the future growth for this year sharply downward. Things are not as rosy as the government would have Yukoners believe.

We have just come through a year where the economy in the Yukon was outperformed by virtually every jurisdiction in Canada. Talking to people in the mining industry, it was obvious that many of these projects that the minister was touting were not ready to go this year, yet the minister included them anyway.

Mr. Speaker, can the minister explain why the forecast was so far off?

Hon. Mr. Dixon:         It is incumbent on government to use data that is available to us when making these kinds of forecasts. We can’t take data that is put forward by a publicly traded company and disagree with it or question it when we are doing our forecast. We have to provide the data as provided to us by those companies.

What we will continue to do is support our department officials. It is not me who crafts these things — I’m not an economist and neither is the Member for Klondike. I will continue to respect the opinions and suggestions from our department and respect the good work done by our economists in the Department of Economic Development. Make no mistake, we will put out a new economic forecast in a number of months and I imagine it will be different. These things change — economic conditions change — and these changes necessitate changes in our forecast as well. So, we will put out a new forecast later this year and yes, it will be different yet again. Every forecaster in this country changes their forecast from time to time.

I again will stand up and defend the good work done by the Department of Economic Development and the economists therein who do the great work of forecasting based on the best available data they have. I will continue to resist calls from the Member for Klondike to make disparaging remarks about them.