MP and mayor spar over sternwheeler

MP Ryan Leef is setting the record straight about federal cuts that will see guided tours stopped at the SS Klondike after remarks Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis made Monday night.

MP Ryan Leef is setting the record straight about federal cuts that will see guided tours stopped at the SS Klondike after remarks Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis made Monday night.

At city council, Curtis called the cuts “unforgiveable.”

Whitehorse will suffer if the city doesn’t do something to protect this historic site, he said after Coun. John Streicker asked what the city was doing to address the situation. Cutting funding for the site is “too big of an issue for all of us not to address it,” said Curtis.

He said he planned to bring forward a motion at the council meeting this coming Monday to support people and organizations working to ensure that tours at the site continue, he said.

“The federal government has to get off their asses and deal with this,” Curtis said at the meeting.

Leef has responded by saying that Curtis should have contacted him before accusing his office of inaction.

“He’s completely false. The only inaction here is his inaction in calling my office,” he said Thursday morning from Ottawa.

Not only were the mayor’s remarks unprofessional, they were also just plain wrong, he said.

Leef’s office has informed the federal government about Yukoners’ concerns and is offering solutions, he said. “We’ve been actively involved in this file for a year now, pushing for this,” he said.

He had a previously scheduled meeting with Parks Canada CEO Alan Latourelle this week, said Leef. And he’s had continuous contact with the local office. He’s also spoken with various stakeholders, including Premier Darrell Pasloski, territorial ministers, Klondike MLA Sandy Silver, Dawson City Mayor Wayne Potoroka and the tourism and business community, he said.

The Whitehorse mayor’s proposed motion would only be beneficial, he said.

“Another motion would only support the efforts we’re already making, but he may be a day late and a dollar short in delivering that because the work has been ongoing for an entire year now, and nothing that he has said has spurred us on any harder or any further because we’ve already been going with our foot to the mat on this for a long, long time.”

A formal announcement about what will happen should be made in February, said Leef. Yukoners have made several suggestions about what to do to make sure services at the historic sites remain, he said. These range from staying with the current plan to have unguided tours at the SS Klondike, to hiring contract tour guides or to returning to the way things were in the past.

Blake Rogers, executive director of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, said he spoke with Leef last week. The organization has “tried to keep continual contact since May,” he said.

The cuts were a mistake, he said. And they’re not as far along in coming up with solutions as they should be, he said. But he’s “cautiously optimistic” about what’s being proposed.

Leef couldn’t say what the announcement will be, he said.

But it won’t include something Curtis mentioned Monday night.

At the council meeting, Curtis said plans to move artifacts from the SS Klondike to the MacBride Museum of Yukon History were “totally unacceptable.”

But that isn’t one of the plans at all, said Anne Morin, field superintendent for Parks Canada in the Yukon.

Curtis did not talk with Parks Canada before that council meeting, he said. His remarks about the artifacts were based on speculation, he said. The people he’d spoken with said they had had a hard time getting information from Parks Canada, so he chose not to contact the agency directly, he said.

Curtis hasn’t met with Leef yet since he became mayor in October, but he would like to, he said.

Leef agrees. If the city wants to be involved in coming up with solutions, “he just needs to sit down and have a discussion,” he said.

Also on Monday night, Curtis said seeing the sternwheeler without the Christmas lights lit up “breaks my heart.” But the decision to turn on the lights is made by Yukon Electric, said company spokesperson Laura Carlson. It has been too cold to have the lights on, she said. They may be turned on next week, but it all depends on the weather, she said.

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