Yukon Party scores own goal with soccer complex snafu

The Yukon government's rationale for wanting to build a new outdoor sports complex in Whitehorse is beginning to sound a little like a Monty Python skit. 

The Yukon government’s rationale for wanting to build a new outdoor sports complex in Whitehorse is beginning to sound a little like a Monty Python skit.

The government has no problem with putting up $7.5 million to build the new complex, which would include two artificial turf soccer fields and a rubber track. Nor does it mind making the unusual promise of financially backstopping the group that would operate the facility, should it be unable to pay the operating costs.

Yet, when government officials are asked why they have allowed the city’s existing multi-use fields to fall into such disrepair that soccer players complain about the ongoing risks of tripping on gopher holes and exposed sprinkler heads, the answer is that there just isn’t enough money.

It turns out that the shoddy shape of Whitehorse’s fields has been raised in recent years by city officials, only to receive this answer. So the problem that the new sports complex is supposed to overcome is actually one that the Yukon Party helped create.

Note that we don’t actually know how much it would cost to fix the needed field repairs to meet the needs of soccer players, because it seems the government never bothered to seriously explore that option. You would think this would be important information to consider before splurging on the Cadillac option proposed by soccer players.

We do know that, for the past three years, the territory has committed a paltry $25,000 to patching up the worst damage on the city’s worn-out fields. When, in 2013, city officials proposed more money be sunk into four of the city’s 14 fields, Yukon government officials pleaded poverty.

You may also hope that plans to build an outdoor sports complex would be crafted only after considering the broader recreational needs of the city. To do that, it would make sense to consult with the municipal officials responsible for operating most recreational facilities. Including the broader public in some way during these talks would also make sense. And surely the territorial cabinet should also consider the broader recreational needs of Yukoners outside the capital.

But, of course, none of that happened. Instead, these plans were crafted behind closed doors and without consultation of municipal politicians or the public, and without bothering to assess whether it was the most cost-effective route. It shouldn’t be surprising that municipal councillors responded by denying the needed zoning change. This was done, in part, out of the reasonable concern that a future government may conclude that any cost overruns should be shouldered by the city. Such recreational stuff is, after all, the municipality’s responsibility, except, suddenly, in the case of soccer.

City officials have posed many legitimate questions about the outdoor sports complex. These questions have, by and large, gone unanswered by our territorial cabinet. This only reinforces the impression that cabinet isn’t interested in putting this project through the sort of critical assessment you would normally expect because they have a hunch it wouldn’t pass it.

Rather than provide this information, Premier Darrell Pasloski has gone on the attack. He’s mused aloud about how nice it would be if the city saw a regime change during the next municipal election, and specifically called out Mayor Dan Curtis for his decision to oppose the plans. This is just another example of how our premier often doesn’t work very well with people who don’t share his own views.

Residents should ask themselves why the government’s plan is being presented as an either-or proposition. Why must soccer players choose between gopher holes or artificial turf?

Why not patch up the bare spots, potholes and gopher holes? Why not improve the sprinkler and drainage systems? Why not build a ring fence around some fields, so that idiots can’t drive on them with their pickup trucks and all-terrain vehicles?

Soccer boosters have asserted that such repairs would be futile, given the territory’s long winters and the amount of use the fields receive. But why would they encourage alternative schemes, when the government has already agreed to their plans to build brand-new fields? At the very least, it would be nice to hear the conclusions of an impartial authority – say, a government official or consultant appointed to study the best options.

Instead, when this government comes across a plan it likes – usually involving building a monument to itself, or appeasing a segment of the voting population deemed important – it tends to run with it, objections and alternatives be damned.

It’s a little hard to discern the logic underpinning what projects end up receiving the government’s blessing. Tough luck if you’re a downhill skier. Good news if you’re a golfer – and, now, the parent of a kid who plays soccer. It’s easy to imagine that somewhere behind the frosted-glass doors of the executive council office, there’s the results of a survey that shows the importance of soccer moms as swing voters in the next territorial election.

It takes a special kind of finesse for our territorial leaders to take plans that, presented in the right light, could appear to be a $7.5-million gift to the City of Whitehorse, and instead turn it into an offensive snub of municipal leaders.

It’s just another case of how the Yukon Party has a knack for kicking the ball in their own net.