NDP hammers government for operating costs of Whistle Bend continuing care centre

The NDP is insisting that something's fishy about the Yukon government's estimate of what it will cost to run the Whistle Bend continuing care facility. But the government maintains it's done nothing wrong.

The NDP is insisting that something’s fishy about the Yukon government’s estimate of what it will cost to run the Whistle Bend continuing care facility.

But the government maintains it’s done nothing wrong.

In the legislative assembly last week, Health Minister Mike Nixon said the government has estimated it will cost about $28 million per year to operate and maintain the Whistle Bend centre. That number, which works out to about $500 per bed per day, is based on the current operating costs of Copper Ridge Place, another long-term care facility in Whitehorse.

But NDP MLA Lois Moorcroft said it doesn’t make sense to assume it will cost the same amount to run the two facilities. She pointed out that the Whistle Bend centre will provide services that Copper Ridge Place does not.

“What you need to note here is that the Copper Ridge facility does not have a palliative care ward. It doesn’t have a mental health ward,” she said. “Those costs (for the Whistle Bend facility) won’t be the same as $500 a day. Those costs will be more than $500 a day.”

On Monday in the legislature, Nixon appeared to back off the $28-million estimate, saying the government simply has “an idea of the order of magnitude of the cost.”

“We do not have an approved budget yet for the O&M costs for running the new Whistle Bend continuing care facility,” he said. “That’s a couple of years out.”

But Moorcroft said that Yukon’s management board requires an operations and maintenance estimate prior to approving the budget for a capital project, so the government should have more than an idea of what the cost will be.

According to Yukon’s financial administration manual, “For each project, departments are required to include in the plan such things as … the total estimated capital cost of the project and the financial and human resources required to complete the project, including the resulting O&M impact of the project.”

Highways and Public Works Minister Scott Kent told the News that an operations estimate was included in the submission to the management board for the Whistle Bend facility. But he didn’t confirm whether that figure was $28 million – the estimate that Nixon mentioned in the legislative assembly.

Moorcroft has tabled a motion asking the government to release the estimate in the management board submission.

But cabinet spokesperson Dan Macdonald said that management board submissions are confidential, and the NDP knows it.

“That’s why they’re saying ‘Release it,’ because they know it’s privileged information,” he said.

Premier Darrell Pasloski also lashed out when Moorcroft questioned whether the government followed the financial administration manual requirements during question period.

“I am very disappointed that again we hear the opposition blaming and accusing government employees of doing something improper or, in this case, illegal,” he said.

Moorcroft is also arguing that Yukon government contracts issued to a B.C. Crown corporation should have produced a detailed operations and maintenance estimate.

Partnerships BC was awarded two contracts, totalling $875,000, to provide advice about procurement for the Whistle Bend project.

Kent said the corporation helped the Yukon government save money on the project.

“We started this project with $158 million in the budget and it’s now $146.6 (million),” he said. “Obviously part of that is due to the work and the support that Partnerships BC provided for us.”

Moorcroft pointed to a document available on the Partnerships BC website, which outlines the different cost analyses the corporation offers, including operations and maintenance estimates.

“Will the minister of Highways and Public Works stand up and tell the Yukon public whether Partnerships BC’s $875,000 procurement study produced the O&M costs to operate Whistle Bend with its full suite of services and not a rough estimate based on Copper Ridge?” she asked in the legislature on Tuesday.

Kent did not answer her, but he later told the News that Partnerships BC would typically calculate operating costs only for public private partnerships, when a contractor is hired to manage the operations. In this case, the government is managing operations itself, so that calculation wasn’t necessary.

“We didn’t have them consider the operations and maintenance piece. We just looked for procurement advice,” he said. “It was up to government to do the modelling and the O&M estimates.”

Still, the opposition parties seem determined to figure out what those estimates are. Both Moorcroft and Liberal Leader Sandy Silver have now tabled motions calling on the government to release detailed estimates of the operating costs.

“I don’t want to speculate. I really don’t know whether the government is holding back on the information … or whether they have failed to produce a number,” Moorcroft said. “We would encourage them to be open and to come clean with the information. … The government should be showing us the math.”

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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