Friday, in an affair scripted like a election campaign whistle stop, Prime Minister Stephen Harper inked a $71-million federal grant to help fund the Mayo B project.
Harper’s five-day northern tour ended in the Yukon, and featured a previously announced deal to fund less than half of the $160-million hydro project.
Ottawa’s cash will add a powerhouse to Mayo’s existing Wareham dam and a transmission line connecting the Yukon’s two electrical grids.
After having flown with Harper across the North for several federal funding announcements, a few national reporters said the trip, despite being an annual routine since Harper became prime minister, had a distinct election flavour to it.
“My focus on this project and many others is getting this country successfully through the global recession,” said Harper when pressed on whether his trip was a campaign teaser.
“The emphasis of all parties in the House of Commons should be to ensure we’re working on the economy in the fall,” he said.
The Mayo B money, announced in May, was the first project funded through the $1-billion Green Infrastructure Fund, created in the wake of the global economic slowdown last fall.
Premier Dennis Fentie privately raised the Mayo B project before the recession, said Harper.
“I will it say it over and over again,” he said. “I have not met a single Canadian—a single real person out there—who is telling me we should be fighting an election right now.”
The crowd of 200 cheered loudly.
Yukon Senator Dan Lang, Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Chuck Strahl and multiple Yukon cabinet ministers attended the deal signing, held in the Gold Rush Inn’s Town Hall room.
Members of the Whitehorse Rotary Club, former federal Conservative candidate Darrell Pasloski and several First Nation chiefs attended the event.
Vancouver-based Kiewit Construction is the Yukon Energy Corporation’s first choice to build Mayo B, said corporation president David Morrison, noting five companies tendered bids on the project.
Kiewit’s proposal will now go through a pricing and scheduling evaluation, which is expected to be completed before December, said Morrison.
If Kiewit fails, a proposal by runner-up Ledcor, based in Alberta, will be considered.
Mayo B has to be finished by spring 2012, according to the federal funding contract.
“Between the time frame issue and the price, we should have that information from (Kiewit) late in the fall and, if it meets our criteria for this project, we will then enter into a contract with them,” said Morrison.
Ottawa’s $71 million will cover half of two projects: Mayo’s extra powerhouse and a transmission line between Stewart Crossing and Pelly Crossing, linking the two grids.
Fentie approached Alberta-based ATCO to help fund the rest of the project, said former members of Yukon Energy’s board of directors who resigned over those talks.
Morrison wouldn’t comment on the claim that he told former chair Willard Phelps about Fentie going to ATCO.
“It’s always better having a full board, but we’ve got good board members and we’re talking away,” said Morrison.
Yukon Energy is working with the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun on a project-benefits agreement and an investment deal, said Morrison.
“Na-Cho Nyak Dun have indicated to us that they would like to invest in the project,” he said.
Jerome Babyn, general manager of the ATCO-subsidiary Yukon Electrical Company Limited, also attended Harper’s announcement. He denied allegations made by Phelps and others that ATCO was approached by Fentie to help fund the Mayo B project.
“We haven’t been approached to do that,” said Babyn.
Mayo B is currently being reviewed by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Board. Groundwork and tree clearing began at the Mayo powerhouse site this summer.
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