Johnston’s hot, Fraser’s not

The Yukon Party government is happy to share the floor of the legislature with Canada's governor general. But the auditor general? Not so much. Today, Governor General David Johnston will address the legislative assembly.

The Yukon Party government is happy to share the floor of the legislature with Canada’s governor general. But the auditor general? Not so much.

Today, Governor General David Johnston will address the legislative assembly. It’s the first time this has ever happened, and Yukon’s MLAs agreed to adjourn to make time for Johnston, who took on the job as the Queen’s representative in July.

But when auditor general Sheila Fraser visits next Tuesday, if she appears in the legislative chambers at all, it will be in the visitorse gallery.

The Liberal and NDP opposition wanted Fraser and her staff to appear before MLAs to answer questions in public. But government members refused, according to the opposition.

It’s easy enough to understand why, even if Premier Dennis Fentie offered no intelligible explanation in the legislature yesterday.

Johnston’s job is to be a figurehead, so his speech is expected to be high on pomp and short on criticism.

Sheila Fraser may lack the trappings of royalty, but her appearance will be a more weighty matter. Each year, she scrutinizes a different department of the Yukon government. This year, Health and Social Services is in the spotlight.

Her findings probably won’t be pretty. The department is expected to consume more than $265 million this year – nearly one-quarter of the territory’s total revenues.

This leaves lots of room for waste. And it’s no secret the department has trouble controlling costs. Each year, Health dependably exceeds its budget, requiring the government to top-up its coffers mid-year.

The date of Fraser’s visit has been known to MLAs for several months. Yet government members claimed they were too busy to allow Fraser to interrupt the sitting, according to the opposition.

The Liberals initially wanted the assembly to recess for a day, to allow Fraser to appear before the public accounts committee. Fraser’s staff have frequently made such an appearance. But not this year.

When that option was blocked, the NDP proposed Fraser appear as a witness before the committee of the whole.

Both plans were nixed. Instead, MLAs will call Craig Tuton, chair of the hospital corporation, as a witness on the day Fraser is in town.

It’s unlikely Tuton is busier than Fraser, said the NDP’s Steve Cardiff in an interview.

“The government doesn’t want to give her the opportunity to answer questions from MLAs about what’s in the report,” he said.

The opposition doesn’t know what will be in Fraser’s report. But government MLAs do. Fraser’s office always works with government officials, to allow the territory to prepare a response to her criticisms in advance.

On Tuesday, Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell asked Fentie why the government was preventing Fraser from taking to the legislature floor to explain her findings.

Fentie hit back by accusing the Liberals of wanting to cut health costs at the expense of patient’s lives. “We don’t tell Yukoners, ‘Sorry, you can’t go to see the physician because you have a bad heart, because we have tabled an estimate that says you can’t,’” said Fentie.

Mitchell tried again. Fentie responded by accusing Mitchell of “not doing his job” as chair of the public accounts committee.

“It’s disingenuous,” Mitchell said afterwards in an interview. “It’s a complete roadblock.”

Fraser will speak to reporters on Tuesday. And she will also address MLAs during her visit – behind closed doors.

That’s not good enough, said Mitchell.

“Openness is the first step towards accountability,” he said.

New FH Collins faces delays

The Yukon government’s plans to replace FH Collins High School have been delayed by one year, with an occupancy date pushed back to the autumn of 2013.

As recently as late October, Education Minister Patrick Rouble declared the territory would stick with plans to spend $24.4 million in 2011-12 to get the bulk of the school’s construction done, with ground breaking this spring.

Not any more. The territory’s 2011-12 budget, tabled last week, includes just $2.7 million for the project.

Design work has taken longer than expected, Rouble told the legislature on Monday. In particular, studies must be done to see whether the new school’s proposed ground-heating pump will actually work as intended, sucking latent heat from the earth to help cut utility bills.

And, with tradesmen already in short supply, Rouble suggested that delaying the new school would be doing the construction industry a favour by spacing out lucrative government contracts.

Officials had flagged the FH Collins project’s timeline as overly “aggressive” in late October – around the same time Rouble had vowed that construction was set to rev up this spring.

Project manager Ken Fisher said this year would be spent putting final touches on designs, as well as preparing utility lines and road access. The new school will stand beside the existing one.

The new school is set to cost more than $50 million. At least $1.2 million has been spent to date on the school design and planning.

Future work is now expected to cost $51.3 million. That’s up by $7 million from estimates one year ago.

Sandra Henderson, chair of the school council, learned about the construction delays through a news report.

“We’re disappointed, of course,” she said.

FH Collins was built in 1963. The Yukon Party government has commissioned a raft of studies since 2007 to study how to build a replacement for the existing school.

The Liberals’ Eric Fairclough dismissed Rouble’s explanation for the delays. “Sounds like excuses to me,” he said.

The NDP’s Steve Cardiff had a cooler take. He referred to plans to build Watson Lake’s health centre, which were altered midway through construction.

The shell of the building is now being converted into a hospital, at considerable expense.

“It’s important to get it right the first time,” said Cardiff. “Fast-tracking is not an appropriate way to go on many of these projects.”

Contact John Thompson at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

Local poet Joanna Lilley is photographed at the Beringia Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 20, where she will be hosting a poetry workshop on Jan. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Poetry for the ages

Workshop set for the Yukon Beringia Centre

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Most Read