There’s really no subtle way to say it; the Yukon has too much government.
Admittedly, we inhabit a sparsely populated corner of our vast country and in order to receive comparable levels of service for comparable levels of taxation, our small tax base requires public resources to supply amenities that could otherwise be provided by the private sector in more populous regions.
But that does little to comfort the small business owner who seems to spend more time submitting redundant application forms to a gaggle of government departments than actually running their business.
Another part of this public to private imbalance can be credited to the fact that we are “just” a territory.
While the management of our lands and resources was assumed by Yukon government in 2003, Ottawa still actually owns them, so as part of devolution Yukon also assumed a good portion of the former federal employees as well.
Yet another contributor is the fact that 11 out of 14 Yukon First Nations have modern day self-government agreements, which greatly assist Indigenous Yukoners along their path to self-determination, but also means many roles and functions are duplicated across multiple orders of government.
So, it’s no surprise that federal, territorial, municipal and First Nation governments combined make the public sector our number one employer.
In jurisdictions that have other primary industries – fisheries, oil and gas, agriculture, for example – those industries often significantly influence the culture of the region and therefore its government policy.
But here we have the industry of government influencing the policy of government.
So given this self-perpetuating predicament, what are the implications regarding the prospects of diversifying our economy for the next generation of Yukoners?
Now don’t get me wrong, the work is good if you can get it – with reasonable 37.5-hour work weeks, a long weekend every month, at least four weeks paid vacation, employer-funded healthcare and pension plans – but if we truly want our children to have career choices other than growing up to be a bureaucrat it’s currently tough for the private sector compete.
Considering all the reasons outlined above – we’re small, we’re remote, we have a complex governance structure – what could even be done to try to make Yukon’s private sector more competitive?
One of the few things government can do is invest in infrastructure, particularly energy.
The Yukon is maxed out on clean, green power.
Our growing territory is now home to over 40,000 people and this past winter Yukon Energy Corp. had to rent six portable generators to help meet peak demand on our power grid.
Comparatively, it wasn’t even that cold a winter, and yet we were forced to turn to fossil fuels to power our modern northern lives, even in this carbon-conscious world.
It seems more than a little ironic that we’re being encouraged to purchase electric cars but our current reality is such that it means we need to use diesel power to charge them.
Public investment in additional hydro capacity would result in a number of benefits.
First and foremost, it would demonstrate a commitment to prioritizing clean energy for the next generation of Yukoners and, unlike current policy initiatives that involve raising the cost of living by taxing life’s daily necessities, could sincerely be seen as taking action to address climate change.
It would also provide certainty in the form of reliable and price predictable power for industry – important considerations in determining whether a development is considered feasible or not – while providing partnership opportunities for First Nations.
One of the challenges past proposals for additional hydro potential have faced was the significant impacts damming a river would have on a Yukon First Nation’s traditional territory.
But those impacts could be better managed if instead of advancing one large project, and therefore burdening one community with its consequences, multiple smaller sites were pursued, minimizing localized displacement and sharing the economic opportunities across multiple Yukon First Nations.
And by partnering with First Nations governments or development corporations, with their access to capital beyond public sources, not only could the public investment go that much further but with First Nations as co-proponents the projects would have the support of our affected communities.
Yukoners pride ourselves in our independence and strive to shed the paternalistic government approaches of yesteryear, but self-determination is truly only attainable through self-sufficiency.
Public investment in additional hydro capacity would provide a clean environment for our children, partnerships with First Nations, and the building blocks for industry to create private sector job opportunities that will reduce our reliance on government and drive the economy of our future.
Jonas J. Smith
2019 Candidate – Yukon
Conservative Party of Canada