Premier Darrell Pasloski stands in the centre of the scandal involving the secretive $750,000 bail-out of Mountain View Golf Course like a golfer stuck in a sand trap. No matter how much his ministerial caddies nudge the ball with their toes and fudge his score card, it’s impossible to remove his own role in this story of public deception and scuzzy backroom deal-making.
As we reported on Wednesday, Pasloski sat on the golf club’s board of directors while this sweetheart deal was being crafted, shortly before he became leader of the Yukon Party. The government of the day knew that the public would balk at so much money being handed to the club, so it hid the transaction by dressing it up as a bogus land purchase.
Someone with nothing to hide would have gotten in front of this story long ago. Pasloski, instead, evidently hoped that nobody would learn of his own involvement. Now that it’s out in the open, he claims that he is sworn to complete secrecy about the matter because of the territory’s conflict-of-interest laws.
Conflict-of-interest laws may forbid Pasloski from influencing cabinet’s current crisis management over the Mountain View mess, because of his own past involvement. In our minds, however, that wouldn’t preclude him from at least publicly disclosing at an earlier point his own role in the golf course’s bail-out.
No matter. A ream of documents tell the real story - one that is totally at odds with the version of events offered by two of Pasloski’s ministers, Brad Cathers and Scott Kent. One can only imagine their misrepresentations are motivated by a desire to protect their boss and their party.
If that was the plan, they only succeeded in making everything look much worse. Not only did the past Yukon Party government dole out tax dollars under trumped-up pretenses, but our current regime sought, and continues to seek, to cover the whole thing up.
You would think that Cathers and Kent could at least pull together a coherent alibi. But their story doesn’t even make sense. At times it contradicts itself, at others it is simply unbelievable or self-evidently untrue.
Both ministers continue to suggest that the land transfer was spurred in part to assist the city with developing Whistle Bend. This is simply untrue, as government documents make clear. The city has also been clear that it has never sought the land in question for Whistle Bend, as they both falsely claim.
As for the land transaction itself - it turns out that the territory paid $750,000 to buy its own land. The golf course had paid just $125 annually to lease the parcel, with the idea of eventually developing it, although it had no immediate plans to do so.
The government went through the charade in order to hide the transfer of tax dollars from public view. A staffer at the time wrote that the arrangement would avoid “a ‘me too’ scenario” and so that “political backlash is minimized.” The government paid $15,000 for a land assessment and development report to make the cover story seem more believable.
Documents show the bail-out was ordered up by the Yukon Party’s resources minister of the day, Archie Lang. He hasn’t returned our calls, but he told the Whitehorse Star, “I don’t have anything new to say about that. Maybe next time I get elected.” In other words: why on earth would a former Yukon Party politician be expected to explain how he spent taxpayers’ money, when he went through all the trouble of hiding it?
Both Cathers and Kent were briefed on this file more than a year ago. Yet last week both ministers insisted that they knew so little about the deal that they couldn’t say whether it was conducted appropriately or not. If anyone believes this, we have a bridge across the Yukon River we’d like to sell them. It’s hard to escape the conclusion both ministers are, in a word, lying.
Yesterday, Cathers conceded the government of the day should have put out a news release, or at least that’s what he would have done. Well, yes. And while it was at it, it shouldn’t have concocted a phony baloney story about why it was giving the money, too.
For the sake of argument, let’s pretend it’s plausible that both ministers somehow lacked details on how this deal went down. Even if Pasloski chose to remain mum, they could have asked Elaine Taylor. She was in cabinet when the deal was struck, and remains so today. Conveniently for all involved, she also refuses to speak to the matter with us.
None of this would have come to public light, had the Yukon Party had its way. The access-to-information request that eventually spilled the beans spent more than a year in bureaucratic limbo. Yukon’s access-to-information commissioner ultimately found the government had no authority to bar access to the records.
Contrast the largesse shown to the golf course with the stinginess that the Yukon Party has shown other non-profits, such as Raven Recycling, which is now largely mothballed for lack of funds. Raven’s cash shortfall seems to have been caused in part by Cathers’s concern that its subsidies be shared equally with a private recycler, P&M, which happens to be owned by the president of the Yukon Party. Are we going to now see the government pay Whitehorse’s private golf course $750,000 in the name of fairness as well?
Or consider Mount Sima, which, after much pleading for a bail-out, eventually received a territorial contribution that was a small fraction of the money given to the golf club. Even then, Cathers insisted that much of this money be matched by other funders. Of course, Sima’s bail-out also received a great deal of public scrutiny, which was completely lacking, by design, in Mountain View’s secret hand-out.
We still remain in the dark about what sort of analysis underpinned the Mountain View bail-out. Our ministers point to the land reports commissioned. That means nothing, however, since the government already owned the land in question, and it’s clear the real reason for the payment was to bail-out the club.
Documents show Mountain View owed about $500,000 at the time. That suggests the club received a windfall of $250,000 from the payment. Other non-profits in the territory must wish they were so well politically connected.