Question re: Shakwak reconstruction project - May 7, 2015

Mr. Silver: Mr. Speaker, the budget before us contains just under $10 million of funding as part of the Shakwak highway project. It is a far cry from the $40 million spent in 2006 and even the $25 million spent in 2012.

In recent years, the funding from the United States government for this project has dropped substantially. It gets worse, Mr. Speaker. The funding for that project for future years was cut off by the United States government in 2012. Since then, the government has been lobbying unsuccessfully to get this funding reinstated and it has also spent down what monies were banked over the years. This reserve is now almost empty.

Now the Premier confirmed in his budget speech that the future of this money “remains in limbo” — his words. Can the Premier confirm that over $180,000 has been spent lobbying United States politicians on this issue with no success?

Hon. Mr. Kent: Again, just for those who are unaware of the Shakwak agreement, it’s a Canada-U.S. cost-sharing agreement first proposed by the United States. It has been in place for 36 years. It recognizes the fact that the citizens, business community and the Government of Alaska rely heavily on this land link through Yukon to the rest of North America and Yukoners have also come to rely on this link for travel and recreational activities.

In 2012, the U.S. government removed funding for the Shakwak project from their federal transportation bill. That means the U.S. funding needed to complete the requirements of the agreement is no longer in place. Again, we have been working with the Government of Alaska. I have been engaged with the Yukon Chamber of Commerce and other organizations to try to help in lobbying with respect to having the United States place this back into their transportation budget. The Government of Alaska has been very supportive of our efforts and we look forward to continued lobbying of the U.S. federal government, both through the end of President Obama’s term and into the term of the new president when that happens as well.

We’re working hard to try to get this funding back because this is an extremely important link and most of the traffic on that link of course is U.S. traffic. Of course the Government of Yukon and Government of Canada have been upgrading the area east and south of Haines Junction, so we’re also doing our part and we do the maintenance as well on the Shakwak. We’re playing our part and we want the U.S. government to play their part as well.

Mr. Silver: So we’re waiting for President Obama to leave office. When the last minister was responsible, we were told that we were waiting for the Senate to turn Conservative; that already happened.

Mr. Speaker, for the minister’s own information, his own website states that a South Carolina law firm named Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough has been paid $181,000 to lobby the United States Congress on behalf of this government.

Now we would not be in this situation of course if the Government of Yukon had been paying attention to those changes previous to 2012. The Premier himself travelled to Washington to make his case for the funding last spring and he said — and I quote: “… we will know in two to three months whether this work has been successful …” A year later, and there has been no news at all.

To date, Mr. Speaker, the Premier’s lobbying efforts, and those of the Member of Parliament and Senator, have produced nothing but some expensive hotel bills in Washington. The Premier was forced to admit in his budget speech that the funding remains in limbo.

What follow-up has been done since the Premier’s unsuccessful trip to Washington last spring?

Hon. Mr. Kent: For the member opposite to suggest that we’re waiting for a change in president to continue lobbying, no — he says that that’s what I said. I said that we’ll continue lobbying throughout the balance of President Obama’s term, as well as into the term of the next President of the United States.

Of course, a permanent loss of funding will have significant impacts on Yukon’s ability to continue highway improvements and will have a direct impact on the condition of the road for all future road users.

This summer, we’ll be welcoming former federal Cabinet minister, David Emerson. He is currently conducting the Canada Transportation Act review. We’ll be welcoming him to the territory, and we anticipate taking him to the northern part of the Shakwak, near Beaver Creek, to show him some of the challenges we have with the road there. I think it’s important for us to continue to lobby not only U.S. politicians, but to continue lobbying with our federal counterparts to ensure that they understand how important this road is and the condition of this road.

I guess, taking from what the member opposite has said, he would not spend any time or effort lobbying on behalf of Yukoners to improve this road. There have been hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the Shakwak, providing many jobs and opportunities and creating a transportation link that is both safe and well-used by Yukoners and U.S. citizens alike.

Again, this is important to us and we believe that continued lobbying efforts on behalf of —

Speaker: Order please. Final supplementary.

Mr. Silver: Of course we need to lobby, but we also need a plan B. It was this Premier himself who said that we would know within two or three months whether or not this lobbying would be successful. It’s another item under the unfinished business column, when we look at this government’s track record. It has been over a year since the Premier travelled to Washington and took a bunch of pictures and posted them to his Twitter account about the important senators who he met.

The trouble is that we still don’t know if the Shakwak agreement will ever be funded again by the United States government. The Premier himself admitted in his budget speech that that funding remains in limbo — his words. The Yukon Party’s failure to keep an eye on the ball means that this valuable source of revenue has all but dried up. Its lobbying efforts since 2012 have produced no results.

So let’s talk plan B, Mr. Speaker. What’s the government’s plan to upgrade this road, given the loss of millions of dollars from the United States government?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski: As this House is aware, not only have we talked to the officials in the U.S. government and also officials in Alaska, we also have brought this up with the Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is an agreement between two sovereign nations, between the Government of Canada and the United States of America.

Yes, at the time when I was there, there were indications there could be a movement on that bill at that time. I know that this is a very important job, but within the United States government, we don’t have that much influence. We continue to have support from both houses. We continue to have support from labour and from business on this.

The member opposite, the Leader of the Liberal Party, wants to know what plan B is. What we do know — and I have already said it in this House today — is that they are high on criticism and very short on solutions. Plan B — the Liberals have no plan.