This is a letter to the editor from Wade Istchenko, MLA for Kluane.
Despite giving it no priority, and treating the Shakwak portion of the North Alaska Highway as an afterthought, the Liberals were quick in their attempts to take credit this week for the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works advancing legislation that could open the door for renewed Shakwak funding.
However, actions speak louder than words, and unfortunately for the Liberals their actions tell a story of a government that does not care about highway safety or the North Alaska Highway.
In February of this year, the Yukon Party Official Opposition wrote to the federal government requesting that they include infrastructure money for the Shakwak in their 2019 Budget – a request that the federal Liberal government refused. During the 2019 Spring sitting of the Legislature, the Yukon Party asked the Yukon Liberal government to support this request but the Minister of Highways and Public Works said that he fundamentally disagreed with this request, going so far as to suggest the North Alaska Highway does not benefit Yukoners. Well, my constituents in Haines Junction, Destruction Bay, Burwash Landing, and Beaver Creek would fundamentally disagree with the Minister.
Of course this all took place shortly after the Minister told Yukoners that he would consider letting the highway revert to a gravel road and that standards would go down as a result. Let’s not forget it was also this Highways Minister that suggested when it comes to highway safety, Yukoners will have to get used to lower standards. No wonder the Yukon Liberal government cut the highway maintenance budget by $2.5 million this year, and no wonder we are hearing from more and more road contractors telling us there is not enough work.
Perhaps it is just a coincidence that the Liberals had no problem asking the federal government for highway money in Liberal ridings but when it came time to asking for money that would benefit the North Alaska Highway – a Yukon Party riding – they stuck their heads in the sand and refused.
The fact of the matter is that the North Alaska Highway benefits all Yukoners, not just those who live in the communities along the road. The economic impact and spin-off from its tourist traffic is a huge benefit to our territory.
Despite their words this week, the Liberals’ poor track record on standing up for the Shakwak will unfortunately have negative effects for this road and those who rely on it. That said, I do hope that the Liberals do eventually see the light and begin to make the Shakwak corridor and highway safety a priority in Yukon.