its time to justify the spending

The cabinet silence is deafening. And it raises some questions. Is the Yukon cabinet tough enough to stand up to Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie? Or…

The cabinet silence is deafening.

And it raises some questions.

Is the Yukon cabinet tough enough to stand up to Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie?

Or are its members there solely to validate Fentie’s expensive whims, pork barrelling and whack-a-mole approach to governance?

These are important questions in light of recent decisions.

With little fanfare, the territory has decided to funnel more than $60 million in capital projects to Fentie’s Watson Lake riding.

That’s a pile of money.

The latest project is construction of a hospital in Watson Lake.

The scheme is an attempt to salvage the partially finished, mouldy shell that was once to be the community’s new multi-level health facility.

The project, some of which was sole sourced — was supposed to cost $5.2 million.

Now, two years after construction began, the government has spent somewhere between $4.1 million and $4.8 million. It is little more than a half-completed shell.

A few weeks ago, the government expanded the project to a full-blown hospital.

By the time the project is planned, executed and furnished, it will probably cost more than $35 million. Perhaps far more.

Is this a good use of territorial funds?

Once, the town of 850 was busy enough to justify the existence of a hospital. These days, that’s a stretch.

Things have improved a bit with the reopening of the NWT’s Cantung mine and the uptick in territorial mineral exploration.

But the town’s a long way from its heyday. The population is half what it was in 1990.

Surrounding mines, like BC’s Cassiar asbestos operation, have long since closed. Forestry is, at best, a cottage industry and the downturn in the US economy threatens to clobber the mineral exploration industry.

In light of all this, is building an expensive hospital in Watson Lake a good idea?

The community is at the fringe of the territory, and seems a poor location to build a rural medical hub.

Dawson City appears to be a far better choice for such a facility — it could service Mayo, Keno, Pelly and Old Crow, though even that is a stretch.

Perhaps there is information — statistics, studies or reports — that would make the case. But the government hasn’t provided them.

Beyond the request for proposals issued by the government, there has been no pubic discussion of this mega project.

Communications people have referred queries to Fentie and the Executive Council Office. Interview requests have been forwarded. No response has been received.

In Whitehorse, there has been a significant push to replace the dilapidated FH Collins High School. The public process has been extensive, complicated, expensive and, so far, inconclusive.

But there has been a process.

In Watson Lake, nothing.

It comes on the heels of a $30-million expenditure on the Robert Campbell Highway, again in Fentie’s riding.

The money is going to a highway that sometimes sees less than one car an hour.

Again, is this a good use of public funds?

We’d like to hear the government’s justifications, but, again, it hasn’t provided any.

There is plenty of need for government investment in Watson Lake.

According to Don Taylor, a former MLA, the town’s water system could not handle a major fire.

The sewer system needs to be replaced.

The education system is wanting.

The town’s area development plan needs to be updated, and a new downtown designed, which would benefit the business community.

None of this basic stuff is being funded, yet more than $60 million is flowing into the region.

Fentie is Finance minister and premier and the Watson Lake MLA.

However, government must keep an eye on the best interests of the Yukon.

Is this massive spending in the region in the wider territory’s interest?

There are many questions. Too many.

It’s time we heard from Highways Minister Archie Lang about the Robert Campbell road improvements.

And from Health Minister Glenn Hart about the hospital.

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