spending rules must be shored up

Federal auditor Sheila Fraser’s latest audit of the Yukon’s books is profoundly disturbing.

Federal auditor Sheila Fraser’s latest audit of the Yukon’s books is profoundly disturbing.

It sheds light on how this tiny cash-flush jurisdiction doles out lavish federal transfer payments with, apparently, little care about how the money is being spent or whether it is getting value for money.

It shows how little thought is put into maintaining safe roads and bridges.

It shows how little planning is done running the day-to-day business of government.

And this deals substantial damage to Yukon. More on that in a minute.

Fraser recently probed the books of Highways and Public Works, a department that spends $149 million every year.

Fraser discovered a department out of control.

Projects begin before contracts are signed, placing government at risk.

Not surprisingly, many projects go over budget.

“Most were not completed on time,” said Fraser.

And it isn’t clear why things in the department go awry.


Well, it might be because spending estimates or timelines are wonky, or because officials fail to properly supervise projects once they begin.

The problems aren’t clear because there’s rarely a review once a project is completed.

 “We would have expected the department to follow its own procedures to do the review after completion,” she said. “That hasn’t been done.”

The department doesn’t conduct safety reviews of the roads and bridges it is responsible for.

And it lacks plans to maintain and repair its bridges and roads.

The government owns 129 bridges.

Of those, more than 40 are 40 years old. And 29 of the Yukon’s bridges are in need of repair, according to a report from 2003. (A followup report scheduled to be done in 2004 was never finished.)

More than 60 Yukon bridges have not been properly earthquake proofed.

A review of 100 construction projects overseen by the department were found lacking.

Of 12 construction projects examined, eight went over budget. In seven cases, the cost overruns were so severe that the management board had to review them.

Similar problems crop up in Fraser’s review of the government’s rental practices.

Most of the government leases are issued on a short-term basis and through sole-sourced contracts — again, there’s no long-term plan.

And there has been little thought given about how leasing, building or buying could save the government money, said Fraser.

Of 48 government buildings, 31 are leased. Of 10 leases listed in Fraser’s report, nine have been sole-sourced.

“The only way to test a market is to go out for competitive bids.”

And most leases are for three years, though the majority of the offices have been occupied by government for more than 15 years.

A three-year lease is often the most expensive way to acquire office space, noted Fraser.

Curiously, there’s a government policy that states there is no requirement for a competitive bid process if the lease is for three years or less. The government can simply choose who gets it.

“The government’s frequent use of this provision does not ensure the government … is achieving value for money.”

In total, the government doles out $52 million maintaining, operating and leasing its office space.

But it barely has a handle on what it has, or needs.

The department lacks plans for acquiring office space.

And, most disturbingly, its property management branch doesn’t have a complete list of government offices, or who occupies them.

So some departments have too little space, others have too much.

Fraser’s report focused on Highways and Public Works. We doubt the problem ends there.

But it clearly shows how that department is squandering money.

It should be very embarrassing to the wider civil service and the elected members of all parties — they are ultimately responsible for spending.

The waste Fraser uncovered should undermine public confidence in government — it should effect change.

But that’s unlikely.

The Yukon’s budget is covered by people who don’t live here.

And its citizens are getting wealthy on those transfers, so there’s little desire to rock the boat.

Of course, given the territory’s precarious financial situation — the budget for 30,000 people is a staggering $800 million, of which federal transfers make up $560 million  — there is arguably more responsibility to watch its spending.

Failure to do so could draw unwanted attention — as we’ve seen from Fraser this week.

The bureaucracy’s loose spending practices and lack of political supervision is damaging the territory.

It’s high time things were tightened up. (RM)

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Premier Sandy Silver speaks to media after delivering the budget in the legislature in Whitehorse on March 4. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Territorial budget predicts deficit of $12.7 million, reduced pandemic spending in 2021-2022

If recovery goes well, the territory could end up with a very small surplus.

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25 after two masked men entered a residence, assaulted a man inside with a weapon and departed. (Black Press file)
Two men arrested after Dawson City home invasion

Dawson City RCMP are reporting a break and enter on Feb. 25.… Continue reading

Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn speaks to reporters at a news conference in Whitehorse on Dec. 21, 2017. New ATIPP laws are coming into effect April 1. (Chris Windeyer/Yukon News file)
New access to information laws will take effect April 1

“Our government remains committed to government openness and accountability.”

City council meeting in Whitehorse on Feb. 8. At Whitehorse city council’s March 1 meeting, members were presented with a bylaw that would repeal 10 bylaws deemed to be redundant or out of date. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Out with the old

Council considers repealing outdated bylaws

A bobcat is used to help clear snow in downtown Whitehorse on Nov. 4. According to Environment Canada, the Yukon has experienced record-breaking precipitation this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon will have “delayed spring” after heavy winter snowfall

After record levels of precipitation, cold spring will delay melt

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

A rendering of the Normandy Manor seniors housing facility. (Photo courtesy KBC Developments)
Work on seniors housing project moves forward

Funding announced for Normandy Manor

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

Most Read