Opposition sees red over cost overruns

Premier Dennis Fentie has authorized an additional $25.6 million in spending this fiscal year, on top of $1.145 billion already budgeted.

Premier Dennis Fentie has authorized an additional $25.6 million in spending this fiscal year, on top of $1.145 billion already budgeted.

The measure comes just one week before Fentie is expected to hand down his 2011 budget. The legislature reconvenes for the spring on Thursday.

“It’s a characteristic Dennis Fentie move. He does this every year,” said the Liberals’ Don Inverarity. He slammed the decision to issue a special warrant rather than wait and have additional spending vetted by MLAs in the legislature, “which is where it should be done.”

The additional spending shows the last territorial budget was unrealistic, said Inverarity. “They’re not believable,” he said.

Health costs are identified as the biggest reason for cost overruns in the special warrant. The Department of Health and Social Services is set to see an additional $11.8 million.

No surprise there. Last week, Fentie warned that health and social assistance costs would require him to dip into the territory’s nearly-depleted savings account.

“It comes down to trust,” said Inverarity. “If you’re going to run a government, you’ve got to be straightforward with people and tell them what’s going on.”

NDP Leader Liz Hanson chimed in, saying “there’s nothing that indicates any strategic approach” to the government’s spending habits.

Over three years, the government has run down its savings from $165 million to $33 million. It’s unclear how much is left – special warrants report new spending, but not new revenues – but Hanson speculated the territory could be left with savings of just $8 million.

The only capital spending identified in the warrant is an additional $3.4 million for the Justice Department’s work on the new Whitehorse Correctional Centre. Yet, despite persistent rumours to the contrary, Justice officials maintain that the new prison is on time and on budget.

The new jail is still expected to cost $66.7 million. And its completion is still slated for the end of 2011.

Roughly $500,000 of Justice’s new funds will go toward the planning and design for a bigger, better drunk tank attached to the new Whitehorse Correctional Centre. This secure assessment centre, which will be staffed by nurses and correctional officers, is expected to open shortly after the rest of the new prison, by mid-2012.

The remainder of the new money is to pay for construction work that is ahead of schedule, said spokesman Dan Cable.

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