Yukon News

Is your organization’s government grant on the ‘review’ table right now?

Keith Halliday

Yukonomist Keith Halliday Friday February 24, 2017

“Over the next two months, my government will be carrying out a review of spending priorities,” said new Premier Silver’s first speech from the throne.

That was a month ago. Although Silver has not communicated much detail about the scope and intensity of the review, it is certain that budget decisions are being made now. It’s been over three months since the election, so he’s had plenty of time to get his feet under the premier’s desk.

I have talked with several savvy figures from Yukon industry associations. They are not taking any chances, and have been actively meeting people from the Premier’s office, talking to ministers and writing letters.

There was a mini-brouhaha in January about whether the Yukon government had a $8 million accounting deficit and, if it did, whether this was the fault of the old government or the new one. It doesn’t actually matter much on a $1.392 billion budget if there is a $8 million deficit or a $8 million surplus. It’s only a 0.6 per cent difference.

It has been known for several years, however, that the Yukon Party government was rapidly spending down the Yukon’s rainy day fund. The cash deficit in each of the last three years was between $40 million and $95 million. The rainy day fund was $223 million in March 2015, and the last Yukon Party budget forecast it to be $57 million at the end of this March.

The Yukon government can’t keep burning that much cash every year if it only has $57 million in the bank. Unless it borrows of course.

Which brings us to the spending review. Like it or not, the new government is probably going to be forced to trim spending.

If you are one of the many Yukon volunteers who runs an organization doing important work for our community, this may mean your favourite funding is on the chopping block. This may mean a major reduction, or reductions in growth. The latter is less painful immediately, but over time inflation will eat away at the real value of your funding.

So what should volunteers do? The first thing is to come up with what big-city consultants call a government relations strategy. This will be very different in a small place like the Yukon, and for different organizations, but there are a few general principles.

The first is making a list of the government officials you need to talk to. In a small jurisdiction like the Yukon, the premier is also the minister of finance. He will make all the final decisions. So think about starting with him.

Don’t take no for an answer. Sometimes Yukon government officials like to give volunteer groups the impression that this is like Ottawa and ministers are god-like figures who don’t meet with plebs. But we’re still in the Yukon. After campaigning on open and accountable government, he should take your meeting.

If you are having trouble getting through, you have a choice about how persistent to be. I was once involved in an organization whose minister was too busy to see us. The late Todd Hardy recommended we set up a call roster and have someone from our group call the minister’s office every 15 minutes until he would see us.

It worked like a charm.

Yukoners are often uncomfortable with being this annoying. But ask yourself what message the premier is sending if he wants to bounce you down the chain of command.

Also, let the minister in charge of your department and his or her senior officials know you are asking to see the premier as minister of finance. After you’ve made your case to the lead dog, you’ll have to work with the rest of the team.

You also have to think about what you are going to say at your meeting. I sometimes observe Yukon advocacy groups focus too much on getting the meeting, and not what they will do once in the room.

Everyone smiles, agrees it was a nice meeting, and nothing happens.

You need to have a specific “ask,” usually with hard numbers in it. For example, you need assurances your funding will rise at the rate of inflation or more. Or you need a 10 per cent increase because the price of something important to your organization went up by 25 per cent or you want your group to serve an extra 200 Yukoners.

You also need to “sell” the government on your organization. Don’t assume your funding is an entitlement, even if you’ve been receiving it for years.

This means you also need to communicate your organization’s value to the Yukon government, again with as many specific numbers as possible. How many Yukoners did you help? What statistics do you have showing how much you helped them? What did you do on things in the new government’s election platform, like boosting economic growth or reducing carbon emissions?

You should also let the premier and ministers know what services you provide which, if your organization didn’t exist, might fall into the government’s lap. Remember when Raven Recycling had to shut down its recycling drop-off temporarily due to lack of funds? This raised the possibility, alarming to many in government, that they would have to do the job themselves.

You have to be careful about not seeming to threaten the people you are meeting with. But you should be calm and factual about decisions having consequences. If you get cut 10 per cent in the spending review, then the choices you’ll have to make to cope with the cut might include things like closing one day a week or reducing the number of Yukoners you serve by 25 per cent.

You also have to think about the opposition parties and the media. Even though it is your right as citizens to see your local opposition MLA, in the Yukon ministers can get nervous about this and sometimes upset that you are going “political.” On the other hand, it helps concentrate the minds of ministers if they know you know other people in the legislature. Plus, if the new government does take action that hurts your group, you may need opposition MLAs in the future.

One way to thread this needle is to call up some opposition MLAs and ask if you can take them for coffee to tell them about your group. Don’t mention your specific asks or ministerial meetings, but make sure they know about all the good work your organization does.

As for the media, hopefully you’ll never need to talk to them. But if things go wrong, the information you prepared for your meeting with the premier will be handy. If you do end up in the paper after painful cuts, instead of just complaining you’ll want to be able to say specifically how your organization helps Yukoners and what the cuts will force you to stop doing.

Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist.

5 Comments

Read auditor wrote:
6:42pm Wednesday March 8, 2017

general report.

Brian wrote:
9:30am Monday March 6, 2017

Thank you Keith, will let you know how it went. Very good article, I like how you point out how facts can assist in maintaining or increasing funding.
  I look forward to rewriting my proposal now.
  This article couldn’t have come at a better time.

No one is going after wrote:
11:53am Sunday March 5, 2017

the suppliers, like pop, beer, super store, etc.

Yukon wrote:
10:07am Saturday March 4, 2017

Volunteer non profits don’t deserve funding, they should be run by volunteers out of the goodness of their hearts…not as a career path milking our tax dollars. Small business owners need government support, these are the people who employee Yukoners and stimulate the economy.

This article can be summed up as

“liberal whining for dummies”

Wow what this wrote:
11:51am Thursday March 2, 2017

All governments have there own approaches to operating government and make good and bad choices.
All governments are not perfect and are ran by people from our communities and try to do their best.
Lets get the facts rightist on the Yukon financial situation:
The last government permitted the Yukon Government, to build up a rainy day fund. The present Federal Government, does not permit the Yukon, to build up a rainy day fund. Spend it or have your funding, cut by Ottawa. History, has shown, that this is the type of actions, the present Federal Government, takes in managing our countries finances.
The former Yukon Government, who created the real rainy day fund, which was not $223 million dollars, because over a $100 million of that money was committed to other programs.
The real reason the Yukon Government, has to trim spending, is of the $900 million, the Federal Government, is taking out of the Yukon funding, over the next five years. Some public finance people state it will be more.
My back ground experience, is in operational and finance of public and private sector organizations. I have reviewed Yukon Government budgets, going back to 1986 and have put information into the budgets, over the years.
Mixing volunteers work and blaming the last government for spending cuts, does cut it with most Yukoners. Yukoners can see right through, the 60’s style of politics.
The spending cuts, to the north and western Canada, are just more off loading, unto the Provinces and Territories. Paul Martin, who I supported, did the same as being done none.
Finance people in the Federal, tell me, to be prepared, for more cuts and higher taxes, which means less for the Yukon.  Wilf Carter

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