Cue the James Bond theme. Opening scene: a Challenger executive jet descends rapidly towards a small and distant airport, across a vast expanse of snowy mountains and frozen taiga.
Inside the jet: A bored-looking woman in a power suit and horn-rim glasses surveys her cringing minions with disdain, then peers out the window. “Is the safe house ready?” she asks.
Eager to please, a minion leans forward. “Oh yes, minister. It’s on top of a sporting goods store, and there’s even a Starbucks down the street.”
Perhaps I’m looking forward too much to Skyfall, the new Bond film. But this scene was the first image that came to mind when I heard the federal government had reinvested its savings from sacking the tour guides on the SS Klondike in constructing a new ministerial safe house in the Hougen’s Centre.
According to documents obtained by the Yukon News, installing the new federal BVL (“Bond Villain Lair”) in the Hougen’s Centre cost $826,926.40. What renovations could have cost almost a million bucks? Is there a tank of piranhas, or perhaps given our location, angry grayling, over which captured environmentalists can be suspended? Do the angry grayling have lasers on their heads, like Doctor Evil wanted in one of the Austin Powers films?
Or perhaps one of those Bond villain boardroom tables where annoying stakeholders can be dropped into pools of lava at the press of a button? And if so, where do they keep the lava if Coast Mountain is right underneath?
The building is thickly insulated, supposedly to LEED standards. Is that to save energy or, as they say in the CIA, because in a LEED-insulated building no one can hear you scream?
The annual operating costs of the BVL are $304,105.73. This includes $14,000 per month in rent, plus extras. Maybe they have a budget for the care and feeding of long-haired albino cats for visiting ministers to stroke at meetings.
In case you haven’t heard already, the BVL’s official cover story is that it is the new Whitehorse office for Leona Aglukkaq, Conservative political minister for the North, and her local political assistant, former Yukon Party MLA Ted Staffen. As political minister, Aglukkaq co-ordinates patronage, federal projects and various Conservative underlings in our region.
The office is supposed to be a secure and convenient office for Aglukkaq and other ministers to use when visiting the territory’s capital. It’s apparently too declasse to use the federal building across the street or, as ministers did in simpler times, the Westmark coffee shop for their briefings and coffee breaks.
According to contractor legend in town, the office has been fitted to full federal Bond-villain standards. Apparently, the plumber who installed the toilets had to have a security clearance. And I don’t even know who you would call in Whitehorse to get a retina scanner installed properly.
Let’s put those set up costs of $826,926.40 in perspective. They could have built two entire houses for that sum, instead of renovating an office in an existing building. Even worse, the rent is $14,000 per month. Most people debate about whether to rent or buy their house. It’s as if the feds decided to do both.
Think how many families could be provided with social housing for $14,000 per month.
Then there’s the larger question about why we need a fully-staffed BVL with a local political assistant. We already have a member of Parliament and a senator, both with their own expense budgets.
I suppose the Prime Minister’s Office needs to know what their MP is doing in the Yukon. And their senator. The MP can tell them what the Senator is up to, and vice versa. But the MP knows the senator is watching him. And the senator knows the MP knows the senator knows the MP is watching him.
So maybe PMO does need BVL staff to make sure both are spying on each other. But now that the MP and the senator know that the BVL is watching them, will a fourth office be needed?
One wonders why PMO even needs to have our MP watched. Ryan Leef appears extremely docile. Take this recent question he posed in Parliament, as noted deadpan in the Whitehorse Star: “Under the leadership of this prime minister, I have seen our government’s unprecedented commitment to Canada’s North, creating jobs and economic opportunities. Can the minister please tell the House what the government is doing to further streamline regulatory processes in the North?”
After feigning surprise for a few seconds, the minister then read his PMO talking points into the microphone.
In its turn, PMO is rewarding Leef for his behaviour. They have sent him on recent junkets to London, Washington, Finland and even a fisheries committee outing to West Virginia. One wonders what Newfoundland fishing communities thought of having the Yukon MP represent their interests in landlocked West Virginia.
How should this film end? A Hollywood writer would surely have the grayling feasting on a few Conservative politicians before the credits rolled. As for me, I just think the person who approved the BVL budget of $826,926.40 should be reprimanded, and that the annual budget of $304,105.73 should be redirected to rehiring the laid-off guides on the SS Klondike and reopening the federal tax office in Whitehorse.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.