Boost in federal infrastructure fund 'huge' for northern municipalities
'That's really going to help a lot of the infrastructure, especially with the climate change issues'
Snow has been melting fast in Yukon this week, and Tara Wheeler says that can really do a number on roads.
"That fast melt, and those floods — it really effects roads. And roads are super-expensive to repair," said Wheeler, who's a village councillor in Carmacks, and the president of the Association of Yukon Communities.
Infrastructure is a major concern for all Yukon communities, she says — and that's why the unexpected boost in the federal gas tax fund this year is "huge" for them.
"That's really going to help a lot of the infrastructure, especially with the climate change issues that are happening, that are affecting our northern infrastructure," she said.
"Municipalities don't have that kind of funding to keep up with it."
On Tuesday, as part of his latest budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the gas tax fund would receive a one-time, $2.2 billion boost this year — essentially doubling what's available for infrastructure projects.
Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis could hardly contain himself when he heard the news.
"I know there's a lot of really cool things in the budget, but after I heard about the gas tax, it was just white noise — I couldn't pay attention after that," Curtis said.
"You will not talk to a mayor in Canada who's not a huge fan of the gas tax."
'100 per cent reliant'
Whitehorse typically receives close to $8 million each year from the gas tax fund and Curtis says without that money, the city would be in rough shape.
"We are 100 per cent reliant, and we're no different than Teslin or Mayo or Faro or any community regardless of their size," he said.
"Our tax base just wouldn't be able to support our needs. And it's not like we're doing frivolous things, we're doing things that are really, really important to do."
According to the federal government, the new money is meant to address short-term priorities for municipalities and First Nations. Projects eligible for funding include bridge and highway construction, public transit, broadband connectivity, waste management, disaster mitigation and others.
Yukon received a total of $16.1 million in 2018-2019 through the fund. About half went to Whitehorse, and the rest was divided among seven communities and 14 First Nations.
The most recent batch of projects to receiving gas tax funds in Yukon was announced earlier this month. They included upgrades to water treatment plants at Tagish and Deep Creek, an update to the Village of Teslin's community plan, upgrades to the Champagne and Aishihik potlatch house, and repairs to curling rinks in Whitehorse and Mayo.
Written by Paul Tukker, with reporting by Nancy Thomson