Question re: Energy projects - November 23, 2015

Mr. Silver: Yukoners are well aware that for many years the Yukon Party government explored the privatization of our energy future.

The government had plans to sell our public utility to Alberta, and the former minister, who is now the minister again, was in full support of it until it was leaked to the public. Luckily the plan never came to fruition.

Now, years later, the government is once again looking into the future with its next generation hydro project. Like so many other politically driven projects that this government tackles, it’s also now delayed. A spokesperson said this summer that a business case that was supposed to be delivered by the end of this year will in fact not be ready. It has recently been announced that it will be released in early 2016.

Why has this project, like so many others, been delayed?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: First of all, I would remind the member that his preamble was, of course, quite inaccurate. Members need only refer to news articles from 2009, but I will not dwell on the past.

We are focused on the future, and that is why the next generation work that is being done is in fact looking at options for the Yukon government, for First Nation governments and all Yukon citizens to consider in building our hydro future.

Yes, the report has been slightly delayed, but it will still occur and there will be a technical workshop in late November that will provide the Yukon public with more information about the good work that the Yukon Development Corporation and their consultants have been doing in exploring the opportunities for next generation hydro.

Mr. Silver: The reality is that the government hasn’t stuck to its schedule and/or their budget, and we see that time and time again. Here is another example.

The Yukon Party government spent valuable time and resources trying to sell our public hydro asset to Alberta. It’s important to mention that because the minister was smack in the middle of it. All this time was lost when we should have been planning for the future, but instead we were planning on selling our future.

The big hydro project was announced with great fanfare and has been followed up with some major delays. This is supposed to be a priority but, over the summer months, word quickly leaked out that the project was now several months behind schedule and there is no explanation from the government for it.

Will the minister just admit that the heavy lifting and the big decisions on this project will be left to the next government?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: I’m not going to dignify the Liberal spin that the member has put on the past with this. I will remind Yukoners, if they’re interested in what occurred back in 2009, that they can explore the articles about it online.

We’re focused on the future. In fact, we have strengthened, through the protocol for the first time — previous governments did not clearly stipulate, as we have, in the protocol to Yukon Development Corporation that no sale of hydro assets is to occur or any significant portion of the assets, but that doesn’t prevent them from doing capital maintenance on that.

We have strongly invested in the public hydro system — over $100 million in the Mayo B project alone, plus the investment in the Aishihik third turbine, which has significantly added to Yukon’s hydro system. Under our watch, we have exceeded the target that was set out in the 2009 energy strategy for increasing renewable energy on the Yukon grid as well as connecting both grids.

We will continue to invest in that public hydro system. Yes, the next generation hydro work is slightly behind schedule, but in fact excellent work is being done by the board of Yukon Development Corporation, by the staff of Yukon Development Corporation and by the consultants. It is all about helping Yukoners plan for the future, but planning for a hydro project, even at rapid speed, takes 10 years; a fact that the member simply does not seem to be aware of, or chooses to ignore.

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It is worth noting that the government has let go of not one, but two deputies in charge of this project. Also, while this one-off project is going on, the Energy Corporation also announced a review of its own 20-year resource plan. Talk about no coordination between projects.

The delay in the new dam project means that big decisions are going to be left to the next generation. Now that’s obvious, and I believe that this was always the plan for this public relations exercise. The government wants to look busy on this issue, but doesn’t have the support it needs to go ahead, nor is the money in place to build it.

Can the minister tell Yukoners how much money has been spent so far on this public relations exercise?

Hon. Mr. Cathers: If Yukoners were to rely on the information from the Leader of the Liberal Party, they would have a very distorted view of reality. In fact, contrary to what the member has said, this is planning work. That planning work is not unique to Yukon, but the planning work for a hydro project, even at rapid speed, is a long-term initiative, but if we never begin, we will never be in a position to make those investments.

We were able to pursue federal investment in Mayo B because the planning work had been done by previous generations of Yukoners and, in fact, exactly what we are doing with next generation hydro is doing the planning that together will help us determine the best projects to meet the Yukon’s hydro needs 30 and 50 years from now. We are proud of the work that is being done. Yes, the reporting is slightly behind schedule, but for a project of this scope and for the type of process and planning that has not been done for quite some time, I am pleased with the work that is being done by Yukon Development Corporation and their board, and as the member knows, the chair and president of Yukon Development Corporation and the chair and president of Yukon Energy Corporation will appear before this House later this Sitting for their annual appearance in front of the Legislative Assembly. I’m proud of the excellent work that they have done over the last four years in investing in Yukon’s hydro system and in strengthening the financial accountability.