Government’s cost estimate for Whistle Bend facility ‘hogwash,’ says NDP

After repeated questions from the opposition parties, the Yukon government has said it will cost $28 million per year to operate the 150-bed Whistle Bend continuing care facility.

After repeated questions from the opposition parties, the Yukon government has said it will cost $28 million per year to operate the 150-bed Whistle Bend continuing care facility.

But the NDP and Liberals aren’t convinced by the government’s numbers.

In the legislative assembly on Thursday, Health Minister Mike Nixon said operations and maintenance of the new centre will cost about $500 per bed per day, similar to existing costs at the Copper Ridge facility.

In comparison, Nixon said it currently costs the government about $2,462 per day for each person waiting for long-term care at the Whitehorse General Hospital.

The first phase of the Whistle Bend facility will contain 150 beds, though the centre has been designed so that it could be expanded to 300 beds in the future. Construction of the first phase is expected to cost about $147 million, and excavation is to start next week.

“If we get to a point in time, which I suspect we will, where we need to expand that facility to the 300 beds, then of course we should see those O&M costs drop somewhat,” Nixon told the News on Thursday.

Nixon’s $28-million estimate came after he failed to provide any numbers when NDP MLA Lois Moorcroft asked for operations and maintenance costs during question period on Wednesday.

“We don’t have an answer for the member opposite today, but I can tell the member opposite and assure Yukoners that the department is working very diligently on the programming that will be offered in the continuing care facility and the dollars that are needed on a more definitive basis to provide those services,” he told the legislative assembly.

Moorcroft suggested that Nixon either “doesn’t know the O&M costs or he refuses to tell Yukoners – neither is acceptable.”

But on Thursday, Nixon showed up with a $28-million estimate and a new explanation.

“For the member opposite to assert that we didn’t have the information and that we don’t have that information is incorrect,” he said. “I just didn’t have it at my fingertips yesterday.”

Nixon said the $28-million figure is included in the budget projections for 2018-19.

“Yesterday I didn’t have the budget down at my desk, and even if I had … I wouldn’t have been able to flip to the page quick enough to answer the question,” he told the News.

But if he had, he wouldn’t have found that number listed anywhere. This year’s budget includes an overall operations and maintenance projection of about $1 billion for 2018-19, but no breakdown for specific projects.

“From what I understand, there’s not an exact $28-million line item,” cabinet spokesperson Dan Macdonald told the News in an email.

In an interview on Thursday, Moorcroft was clear about her thoughts on the estimate.

“That was hogwash,” she said. “I think that they’re scrambling to produce a number because the pressure is mounting from the opposition.”

Moorcroft said Nixon hasn’t provided any evidence to show that the estimate is accurate. She said the government shouldn’t start construction on a project without knowing what it will cost to operate it.

“They shouldn’t be proceeding with a $150-million project before they’re aware of what the implications are.”

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver had a similar take on the situation.

“Where did this estimate come from? How did we get this number?” he asked. “I’m convinced the minister has no clue how much this will cost.”

Silver also questioned the government about operations and maintenance costs for the Whistle Bend facility on Wednesday. He referred to a 2013 auditor general’s report on the construction of new hospitals in Dawson City and Watson Lake. The report criticized the government for designing and building the hospitals without knowing the operating costs.

“It’s obvious that the Yukon Party is more concerned about the upcoming election and getting construction going than it is about following the advice from the auditor general,” Silver told the assembly.

Premier Darrell Pasloski has previously accused the NDP and Liberals of wanting to scrap the Whistle Bend facility, and he took a similar tack in response to questioning on Wednesday.

“What we actually have heard again is what we have heard many times – that the opposition would cancel this project,” he told the assembly.

Neither the NDP nor the Liberals have said they would cancel the construction.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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