Question re: Investment in infrastructure development - May 24, 2016

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I would like to follow up on the question of infrastructure spending that I raised last week. While the Premier has been busy asking Ottawa to send more money, the Minister of Community Services has stated that he is worried too much money is on its way and the Yukon would not be able to keep up with its share. The government has known since last fall that a large influx of cash would be on the table from Ottawa and seems ill-prepared to take advantage of it.

Now, one option for the Government of Yukon to pursue would be to approach Yukon First Nation development corporations as a potential source of capital in order to take maximum advantage of the federal infrastructure dollars.

Madam Speaker, has the government even looked at this option?

Hon. Mr. Dixon: Thank you very much, Madam Speaker. We are in a fortunate position in this territory that we have the fiscal resources that we do. As a result of proper and responsible budgetary management over the last number of years, we have money in the bank and we have no net debt. That allows us to make investments into Yukon’s infrastructure as needed. We have done that in a number of ways over the past number of years, but, as I have noted before, with the soon-to-be new influx of cash from Ottawa for infrastructure — I noted at the AYC meeting that it would be prudent for us to be responsible about how we spend that money and ensure that we avoid, wherever possible, either getting into a deficit or, ultimately, into debt. It has been the position of this government for some time to avoid debt, and that is why we have not taken on any net debt in this territory. We are the last jurisdiction in the country to make that claim.

Now, when it comes to some sort of novel approach to infrastructure financing involving First Nation development corporations, that is something we haven’t considered to date because we haven’t needed to. We’ve had the cash in the bank and we’ve been able to access federal funding as needed and develop Yukon’s infrastructure throughout our Yukon communities.

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Madam Speaker. It’s interesting — the minister did admit last week that the Government of Yukon might have to leave some of this federal money on the table because it wouldn’t be able to come up with the 25 percent of its funding or had to look into options therein. We think that the approach of leaving that money on the table is wrong and we’re merely asking them what they have done to look past this. We think the government should be talking to the Yukon First Nation development corporations about accessing their capital for this money that is left on the table.

Another way to ensure that we take full advantage of the federal dollars is to concentrate on projects that fit the federal criteria instead of go-it-alone projects that don’t qualify for federal funding. When you only have to come up with $1 to access Ottawa’s $3, it would make sense to prioritize spending in this way.

Madam Speaker, why hasn’t the government done that?

Hon. Mr. Dixon: Thank you, Madam Speaker. We have done that. We have prioritized our infrastructure projects. Starting last year, we consulted every Yukon municipality, First Nation and unincorporated community about the development of a Yukon infrastructure plan that would prioritize Yukon’s infrastructure projects for the coming 10 years. We released that plan in the fall of last year and have had significant discussions with Yukon municipalities and others since then. I can say with confidence now, having met with each and every mayor and council throughout this territory, that our priorities are very much aligned with theirs and that we will be deploying infrastructure over the next number of years in a way that is consistent with the priorities of Yukon municipalities.

We are planning for the development of our infrastructure projects in this territory. We are working closely with Yukon First Nations, municipalities and other communities throughout the Yukon to do that planning. We have a clear record of doing that over the past number of years, and we look forward to working with Yukon communities to deploy infrastructure throughout the Yukon, commensurate with the funding available from Ottawa.

Mr. Silver: Thank you, Madam Speaker. These are only 25-cent dollars and it would be foolish for us to leave them on the table because we can’t come up with our share of the capital funding. First Nation development corporations have money and have invested in Yukon infrastructure projects in the past, and I suspect that they would be willing to do it again — a great option for the minister to consider.

The Premier and the Minister of Community Services aren’t even on the same page when it comes to how much Ottawa should send — one wants more, one wants less. The government could issue a bond — the Yukon Development Corporation did so for the Mayo B project — or simply borrow from Yukon First Nation development corporations on a case-by-case basis. We believe that this is well-documented and it’s an opportunity that we could miss.

We’re just wondering, for the record: Is the minister closing the door to these opportunities?

Hon. Mr. Dixon: Thank you, Madam Speaker. We have not looked at borrowing money from any source for our infrastructure projects. That’s because, as a result of solid financial management over the past number of years, Yukon is in a net fiscal resource position. That means we have no net debt, we have money in the bank, and we’re able to invest that money in infrastructure projects as is needed.

We have a proven track record of investing in infrastructure over the last number of years through the old Building Canada fund. Now, starting this year, we will begin to develop projects under the New Building Canada fund. As well, we are in negotiations with the federal government to sign an agreement on what they call their “phase 1” of their infrastructure funding that was tabled in March 22 of this year’s budget.

So Madam Speaker, we’ll continue to work with all Yukon communities to develop infrastructure priorities. We’ll continue to work with Ottawa and the Government of Canada to ensure that we access the federal funding opportunities that are made available by them and we’ll continue to invest in Yukon infrastructure for the betterment of our lifestyles in the communities as well as our economy.