Category: Currie Dixon Letters

Wildland Fire Prevention – We all have a role to play

Currie Dixon, MLA for Copperbelt North

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, June 12th, 2015
by Currie Dixon, Minister of Community Services

Like many of you, I’ve been enjoying our beautiful Yukon weather, including the unseasonably warm temperatures and bright sunshine that we’ve had at times. It is great to get out and enjoy all that Yukon has to offer including spending time camping, hiking, and enjoying our wilderness. At the same time, warm and dry conditions also mean high levels of fire danger.

All of us need to be prepared, be aware, and exercise caution as we enjoy a great summer. We all have a role to play in fire safety. Homeowners can reduce risk of wildfire by properly installing and permitting backyard fire pits, cleaning up dead grass and forest debris, stacking firewood away from homes, and cleaning out rain gutters.

The Government of Yukon does its part by investing in FireSmart projects right across the territory. These projects put local contractors to work reducing the buildup of brush and deadfall and helping safeguard communities by educating Yukoners about fire safety. It is important to recognize that wildfire is a normal part of the landscape’s natural rejuvenation process. We manage wildfires in our territory using a zonation policy ranging from wilderness areas to transition areas, to strategic, full and critical zones.

In wilderness zones, we monitor fires and protect structures where necessary and feasible, but essentially let wildfires do their natural work. This may mean there are times when some of our communities experience smoke or spent ash, but the fires themselves are not threatening people or infrastructure.

If a fire moves into an area closer to more people or infrastructure, we begin to action or manage the fire with resources that include on-the-ground personnel, air tankers and helicopters.

Finally, in those cases in which fires occur close to our communities and infrastructure, our Wildland Fire Management professionals take immediate, effective and sustained action; those fires receive the highest priority.

Without fail, some fires each year are caused by human carelessness including failing to properly extinguish campfires or discarding a lit cigarette. Please remember to soak, stir, and repeat, when you are done with your campfire. Soak your fire with water, stir the ashes, and soak again. When your fire is fully out, your ashes will be cold to the touch and you can put your hand in them.

Please also be aware of the fire danger rating and honour fire bans when they are in effect. These bans are in place to protect not only you but also our shared infrastructure and communities.

If you spot a wildfire, immediately contact 1-888-798-FIRE (3473). You can also find out the latest information on the fire situation in the territory by visiting:

 
I would like to thank our Wildland Fire Management team members for all the hard work they have already done on our behalf this year. I would also like to thank those from other jurisdictions – including most recently Ontario – for providing personnel to help us when we need assistance.

A strong case for a new sports complex in Whitehorse

Currie Dixon, MLA for Copperbelt North

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, May 1st, 2015
by Currie Dixon, Minister of Community Services

In the context of the current debate and discussion about potential track and fields proposed for Whistle Bend, I wanted to provide my perspective as Yukon Minister responsible for sport and recreation. In 2013, the Yukon Soccer Association (YSA) approached the Yukon government for funding support for the planning of what they argued was a much needed addition to Yukon’s recreational infrastructure: a properly-sized artificial turf soccer pitch.

As then Minister of Economic Development, I was pleased to provide funding through the Community Development Fund to develop a conceptual design for a facility that would meet their needs. Through that work, the YSA consulted broadly with many other sport governing bodies and organizations over the winter of 2013-14 and developed a conceptual plan that would accommodate a multitude of sports and user groups. They then brought forward that plan to Yukon government for our consideration.

The YSA pointed out that despite the fact that soccer and track and field sports are exceptionally popular here, Yukon has never had an adequate, properly-sized soccer pitch or an adequate competition-level running track. They noted that multiple users (including dogs and motorized vehicles) and the challenges of Yukon’s weather have combined to leave our existing grass fields in an undesirable condition. Artificial turf would have lower maintenance costs compared to grass, would extend the playing season, and would allow our athletes to compete on surfaces comparable to what their peers in the rest of Canada use. A similar argument applied to the rubberized track.

Needless to say, they made a compelling case, and Yukon government agreed to support the next steps by announcing funding in the spring of 2014. The Yukon Outdoor Sports Complex Association (YOSCA) was formed with representatives from Sport Yukon, Yukon Soccer Association, Athletics Yukon and others. Yukon government and YOSCA agreed to move forward on a phased approach and identified two artificial turf fields and an eight-lane rubberized running track as an appropriate first step.

Yukon government and YOSCA began meeting with the City of Whitehorse in 2014 and through discussions identified an area in Whistle Bend as a desired location. The site was vacant and adjacent to the site of a future school. This location made sense for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that the future school would benefit from access to the complex. So a zoning application was put forward to Mayor and Council.

We explained that Yukon government and YOSCA had entered into an agreement (a Memorandum of Understanding) which outlined the intended arrangement for the complex – that it was to be on Yukon government land, constructed by Yukon government and then leased to YOSCA, which would operate the facility with funding from user groups, advertising and sponsorship.

As I noted to the City of Whitehorse on a number of occasions, we were not seeking a financial contribution from the City. In fact, the facility would be a net financial benefit to the City as Yukon government would be required to pay a grant-in-lieu of taxes, as is the case with all other government-owned properties within City limits.

Despite the strong support expressed by Yukon’s sport community, the assurances provided by Yukon government, and the offer to reduce the scope of the project to address some concerns raised by some Councillors, City Council ultimately decided to deny the zoning request and turn down this opportunity.

While I am obviously disappointed with this decision, I respect that these types of zoning matters are within the mandate of Mayor and Council to make. In the coming weeks I will meet with YOSCA and others in the sport community and determine how to proceed. While we disagree on this issue, I know that there are many other areas where Yukon government and the City of Whitehorse will continue to work together closely. There are far more things upon which we agree than disagree.

Yukon athletes, young and old, competitive and recreational, deserve access to infrastructure that will encourage them to lead healthy active lifestyles, and we are committed to providing such access throughout Yukon.

Yukon’s Year of Sport

Currie Dixon, MLA for Copperbelt North

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, February 27th, 2015
by Currie Dixon, Minister of Community Services

Earlier this year, Governor-General David Johnston proclaimed 2015 the Year of Sport. Numerous international Games will be hosted on Canadian soil this year, including the Pan Am Games, the FIFA Women’s World Cup and the IIHF World Hockey Junior Championships. Declaring a Year of Sport recognizes its benefits and encourages participation by all ages. Here in Yukon, we will also recognize 2015 as our Year of Sport, as we have a lot to celebrate.

After returning from the Canada Winter Games in Prince George, BC with Team Yukon, I am inspired by our amazing, young athletes. While competition continues throughout this weekend, Yukoners have already left their mark at the national Games, pulling in seven medals and numerous personal bests. We have athletes competing in Alpine, Freestyle and Cross Country Skiing, Archery, Artistic Gymnastics, Biathlon, Men’s and Women’s Curling and Hockey, Speed and Figure Skating, Snowboarding, Squash, Judo, Synchronized Swimming and Table Tennis.

All of our athletes are fair competitors who not only put everything they have into their sport, but who do so with respect and dignity as ambassadors of Yukon. We should all be proud to have them represent us.

It is this display of skill and integrity that reminds all of us about the importance of investing in sport, recreation and active living opportunities for Yukoners in all communities. This year, our government will be increasing funding for recreation in rural Yukon communities by $400,000.

New funding agreements with Canada, like the Northern Wellness Agreement and the Sport Bilateral Agreement, will bring more resources to Yukon for sport, recreation and active living opportunities. This support for Yukoners to participate in sport, recreation and active living is important, so that we can continue to live fulfilling and healthy lifestyles.

Along with several other provinces, we are also in the process of joining in the first Canadian Assessment of Physical Literacy project.

We have developed a Yukon Sport Action Plan that will guide our sport development and priorities in Yukon and which also lays out a physical literacy framework for collective efforts in sport, recreation and active living for individuals, school, organizations and communities.

The success of the Sport School programs in Whitehorse continues to grow and the year ahead is very bright with a long list of Games and events for Yukoners and Yukon athletes. The Special Olympics World Games in July will see a Yukoner represent Canada for the first time in over 30 years. The World Eskimo/Indian Olympics will have a team from Yukon compete in Arctic Sports and Dene Games. Team Yukon will be competing at the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games this summer as well.

For our recreational athletes, Yukon’s numerous annual events will continue to provide fun and active challenges encouraging personal achievements, from the Kluane Chilkat Bike Relay and Klondike Road Relay to the Native Hockey Tournament and Dustball.

Opportunities to celebrate and participate in sport, recreation and active living are plentiful this year, so I encourage all Yukoners to join me in marking 2015 Yukon’s Year of Sport.

Construction driving economic turnaround

As Submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, November 14, 2014 by Minister Currie Dixon

Recent revised GDP data from Statistics Canada confirmed what many Yukoners already knew: 2013 was a difficult year for our economy. After nine years of steady growth, Yukon’s real GDP decreased modestly by 0.7 percent in 2013 to $2.21 billion. Contributing to this reduction in real GDP was a decline in the construction industry and a cooling off of the mining and exploration industry. Non-residential construction decreased by more than 54 percent and residential construction decreased by almost 19 percent. While these 2013 statistics were disappointing, the forecast for our economy in 2014 and beyond looks much more promising.

In direct response to the difficulties that 2013 presented, Yukon government brought forward the largest capital budget in Yukon’s history. We recognized the challenges faced in the construction industry and sought to do our part by increasing spending on capital projects significantly to stimulate economic activity and job creation. The evidence of this is apparent when we look at the numerous large construction projects underway in Whitehorse.

The FH Collins replacement project is well underway and many Yukon workers, subcontractors, and supply businesses are seeing the benefits. The construction of new backup generators at the Whitehorse dam, the completion of the new seniors’ residence at 207 Alexander Street, and the multiple construction projects underway between Front Street and 2nd Avenue all highlight the considerable activity in the local construction industry.

On the residential construction front, one only needs to take a drive through Whistlebend to get a sense of the activity in that sector. While all of these projects provide evidence that citizens of Whitehorse can see for themselves, the statistics also back up the idea that there has been a turn-around in the construction industry.

According to the latest Stats Canada data, non-residential building permits increased 31 percent from August to September of 2014. What is more impressive is that non-residential building permits for September of this year are up a whopping 122.8 percent from September 2013. Similar statistics are presented for residential building permits. September 2014 residential building permits are up 31.4 percent from August 2014 and 119 percent from September 2013. Year-to-date building permits total $64 million, up 24.1 percent from $51.6 million in 2013.

While building permits are only an indication of future construction intent and don’t represent actual expenditures, the trend is very promising. Ultimately, whether Yukoners look at the construction going on around them or the statistical data provided by Stats Canada, it is clear that Yukon’s construction industry is heading in the right direction. This is at least in part due to the decisions and expenditures of the Yukon government.

Currie Dixon

Minister of Economic Development

Telecommunications fibre is the highway of a digital economy

As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, October 3rd, 2014 by Currie Dixon, Minister of Economic Development

Monday’s internet, mobile and landline telephone service breach affected virtually all Yukoners. This provides us with yet another reminder of the vulnerability of our telecommunications infrastructure.

Whether it was an errant spade or backhoe, a third party construction company in northern BC caused a significant disruption in the lifestyles and economic activities of Yukoners. Public statements from Northwestel suggest that the line was cut somewhere between Fort Nelson and Watson Lake. Thankfully, Northwestel’s backup microwave system kicked in and service was not entirely lost. The company also deserves commendation for its rapid response to the fibre cut, as it seems that in approximately 12 hours, services were restored. However, as wireless customers and businesses that rely on connectivity will certainly attest, telecommunications services were noticeably degraded for at least one business day.

While the degradation in service to wireless customers was limited and the negative impacts on Yukon businesses were curtailed, the incident once again highlights a glaring gap in Yukon’s telecommunications infrastructure: the lack of a redundant fibre line to the South.

Numerous studies commissioned by Yukon’s department of Economic Development and others have noted this infrastructure gap and have recommended that it be addressed. Further, we have identified the route between Whitehorse and Skagway as the most promising option to provide such a redundancy.

The current Economic Development budget identifies approximately $600,000 to conduct the planning and take steps toward constructing such a project. The engineering and consulting firm Stantec has recently begun this work. Once Yukon government has decided on an appropriate business model, ownership structure and construction plan, work will commence to install the new fibre optic cable.

For decades or longer, public governments have invested in physical infrastructure such as roads, bridges, railways and ports to facilitate economic activity and growth. In today’s modern economy, where so much commerce and business is conducted online, telecommunications infrastructure must be considered just as important as other traditional infrastructure.

Fibre optic cables represent the highways of a digital economy. As such, governments have a role to play in investing and developing these critical components of our modern economy. Our government recognizes this and looks forward to playing our part in addressing this gap in telecommunications infrastructure for the benefit of our people and our economy.

Currie Dixon

Minister of Economic Development