Cardiff questions off balance sheet accounting

The NDP's Steve Cardiff wants to know why the Yukon Party government is shifting so many public works projects off the government's books.

The NDP’s Steve Cardiff wants to know why the Yukon Party government is shifting so many public works projects off the government’s books.

The Yukon Hospital Corporation is overseeing the construction of hospitals in Dawson City and Watson Lake and of a medical residence in Whitehorse. This work is expected to total around $67 million.

Because the work is done by the Crown corporation, and is largely financed by bank loans, this spending spree won’t drag the government’s spending into a deficit.

“We know the premier has gone this route to avoid having a deficit on the books and be in violation of the Taxpayer Protection Act, which would force an election call,” Cardiff said in the legislature on Tuesday.

“Why did the government not give any consideration to Yukon’s financial future as it made announcement after announcement of big-ticket projects?”

“When the bills come due, the Crown corporations are saddled with debts and our surplus is spent, to whom will the premier turn to pay the bills?”

Big questions also remain about how the Yukon plans to pay for its $71-million share of the Mayo B hydro-electric expansion, said Cardiff.

Ottawa will pay for half the project, and the Na Cho Nyak Dun have been lined up as partners with a quarter-share in the project. But it’s unclear how the territory plans to finance the remainder.

Premier Dennis Fentie didn’t explain why the hospital corporation has gotten into the construction business. But he did say that the five-megawatt expansion of the Mayo dam is the least costly choice available to the government.

By 2012, the territory’s demand for electricity is expected to grow by 25 per cent. Without additional hydro capacity, this thirst for power would require Yukon Energy to burn an additional $27 million in diesel annually, said Fentie.

“This is an investment today to ensure we don’t mortgage the future and waste millions of dollars on a fuel that will also increase our carbon footprint in this territory,” he said.

“This government is investing today to ensure Yukon’s future.”

Premier won’t be

tried for contempt

The legislature won’t debate whether Premier Dennis Fentie lied about plans to privatize Yukon Energy.

Speaker Ted Staffen made the decision Thursday of last week, after considering Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell’s request that Fentie be found in contempt of the House for making a

“deliberely misleading” statement in April that the territory had never considered privatizing the public utility.

Documents later surfaced that flatly contradict Fentie. They show that the territory had considered a bid by Alberta-based ATCO to merge Yukon Energy’s assets with its own to form a new company that would be controlled by ATCO.

Fentie continues to deny that this proposal involved privatization. Others disagree, including Brad Cathers, Fentie’s former Energy minister, who quit over the ensuing scandal.

But Mitchell’s request, made with a rarely used question of privilege, failed to meet the high threshold of evidence required, said Staffen.

Documentation and the testimony of others are not enough to find an MLA in contempt. Fentie would have had to self-incriminate himself by making contradictory statements in the legislature. And Fentie has been consistent in his denial that Yukon Energy’s privatization had been considered.

Nor is there proof that Fentie intended to deceive, said Staffen. In theory, MLAs are expected to think the best of one another in the legislature. This means that when Fentie says he never misled, he is supposed to be taken at his word.

Children’s receiving home on track

A new children’s receiving home for Whitehorse is on budget and on schedule, Health Minister Glenn Hart said on Tuesday.

The $1.5-million structure, which will house six boys who have been removed from their families because of abuse or neglect, should be ready to move into by autumn of 2010, Hart said.

The current receiving home is in shoddy shape, which is why i t’s being replaced, Hart said.

The building’s wooden frame is found on the corner of Fifth and Hanson. Between six to 10 workers are on site while work is underway. Once closed in, up to 20 workers will be on site.

Most of the project’s funds come from Ottawa’s stimulus spending.

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