Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski found himself before a dozen heckling protesters today as he led the groundbreaking ceremony for the new continuing care facility at Whistle Bend.
The premier, mayor and health minister defended the project while a handful of protesters interrupted speeches with “Move it!” and “You left this too long, that’s why we are in crisis!”
Health Minister Mike Nixon described the new 150-bed facility as “state of the art,” “warm” and welcoming.” He said the seven, three-level residential units slotted for phase one will be connected to a village square complete with a coffee shop, hair salon, therapeutic gym and woodworking shop.
A handful of seniors brought to the event by the Department of Health and Social Services were lined up in the front row. Among the roughly 60 attendees were a dozen protesters holding placards with “Location matters” and “Your mother doesn’t want to live here.”
Sheila Dodd said she is concerned that people who need continuous and long-term beds shouldn’t be “warehoused” in a new neighbourhood so far away from downtown.
Protester Carl Maguire said, “Nobody is gonna be able to find me here. Who is gonna visit me?”
Others worried about the difficulty of reaching downtown by public transportation.
In response, the premier and the mayor said other location options had been explored but were not suitable for the required size of the facility.
Many of the protesters were also upset about the lack of public consultation.
“They have not consulted with Yukon people about what they want as they age,” said Mary Ann Lewis.
“Even this was shrouded,” Dodd said of the event. “Nobody would announce this so that we could all come.”
Opponents have been circulating a petition to stop work on the facility until concerns over consultation and location are addressed.
Pasloski expressed frustration at what he described as “fear mongering” from one opponent with concerns over the fire safety of the building.
Mayor Curtis asked the heckling from other protesters to stop. “Show some respect,” he said.
In his speech, the premier said the $146.6 million project was based on business case assessments. “Arguments for the facility could not be stronger,” he said.
Dr. Wayne MacNicol, chief of medical staff, said he was happy to see the facility break ground, citing the rapid increase in the seniors population that is only set to rise.
But, he said, “a big gap we do still have here is at the intermediate level, what we call assisted living care.”
The facility has become a source of political controversy. During the current sitting of the legislature the NDP have raised concerns over the lack of financial transparency and allegations of a potential underestimation of costs.
Neither opposition party has said they would cancel the facility, although the premier has frequently asserted that they would.
“Some Opposition leaders have indicated that they would cancel this facility,” Pasloski said.
“Cancelling this project would mean lost jobs and lost apprenticeships. Terminating contracts would mean huge, huge financial penalty,” the premier said.
“We are the only party with the vision to see the potential for this Whistle Bend neighbourhood.”
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