The Liberals’ Sandy Silver wants to know why the territory ended up “blowing $1 million” on wildlife culverts for the Grizzly Valley subdivision outside Whitehorse.
In January, this expenditure was singled out in a Maclean’s article entitled, “99 stupid things the government spent your money on.”
Silver elaborated on the theme during question period this week, describing the culverts as “deluxe private wildlife corridors” and comparing them to other items on the national magazine’s list.
“Montreal spent $200,000 on bus station escalators that ran straight into a wall,” said Silver. “Ottawa spent $21,000 on a five-minute, how-to video on how to use bike lanes. Manitoba’s public insurers paid out $41,000 to car thieves who got hurt while committing their crimes.”
Silver asked Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor where she would rank the culverts: “Better than escalators to nowhere, or worse than paying car thieves?”
Taylor responded with questions of her own.
“Why is it that the MLA for Klondike voted against $34.8 million for land development initiatives throughout the Yukon, including planning and construction of residential lots in Carmacks, in his own home community of Dawson City, Mayo, Watson Lake, Whitehorse?” she asked.
Nonsense, replied Silver. Rather than oppose these projects, he’s against “cuts” to departmental spending, he said.
“There have been no cuts,” replied Taylor. “There have just been enhancements and larger investments than ever before.”
That depends on how you look at it. Total spending for Community Services is set to grow by nearly $10 million this year, to $187.2 million for 2012-13.
The department’s operations and maintenance budget would shrink by $1.1 million to $70.4 million. But its capital budget would grow by $11.2 million to $116.9 million.
As for Grizzly Valley’s culverts, Silver estimated they added approximately $35,000 to the price of each of the subdivision’s 30 lots.
The lot prices range from $124,697 to $193,305. Since the lots went up for sale in December, nine have sold.
Meanwhile, moose refuse to use the culverts, said Silver.
“When I read the reports that not a single animal has used these deluxe private wildlife corridors, I went out to see for myself, and sure enough, the tracks show wildlife is pointedly avoiding these culverts,” he said.
“The ungulates walked down the cutline toward the culverts and then deviated from the line and walked across the road. To compare, the City of Ottawa spent about the same amount of money to design a pedestrian bridge over a highway, except there were actually no plans to ever actually build the bridge, and they didn’t even know if it was needed,” said Silver.
“Does the minister think that the $1 million spent on moose culverts, that no moose have used, should put their government on the same list as $1 million spent on designing pedestrian bridges no one is going to build?”
The territory plans to develop 300 residential lots this year, said Taylor, choosing to answer the question she wished she had been asked.
“We do value responsible land development practices, and we believe it is very important to minimize adverse environmental impacts while working to meet the demand for a wide variety of new residential lot options.”
Government forms whistleblower committee
The Yukon Party government is pushing ahead with plans to form a committee to look at creating a whistleblower law despite objections that this is yet another foot-dragging exercise.
The Liberals have refused to participate with the new committee, saying it’s a waste of time and the territory should instead proceed with drafting a whistleblower law.
But the Yukon Party plans to appoint Liberal Leader Darius Elias to the committee anyhow, House leader Brad Cathers announced on Wednesday.
Yukon Party backbencher Patti McLeod will chair the committee. Stacey Hassard and Doug Graham are the government’s other appointees, and Jan Stick will represent the NDP.
Government MLAs haven’t provided any timeline for when they expect the committee to complete its work, or when they hope to see a whistleblower law drafted, despite repeated questions from the NDP.
The Yukon Party has promised to create whistleblower legislation since 2006. Such a law would help protect government workers who speak out against wrongdoing and corruption.
A whistleblowing committee was struck in 2007, but government members blocked the release of its recommendations.
The new committee is being asked to answer nine questions. They include whether a whistleblower law should apply to private businesses as well as public institutions, what type of wrongdoing will be covered and what consequences would exist for maliciously accusing an employer of wrongdoing.
Taylor won’t meddle with McIntyre Creek
The fate of McIntyre Creek lies in the hands of Whitehorse city councillors, not the territorial government, Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor said Wednesday.
Residents seeking to protect the creek tried to do an end-run around council with a petition addressed to territorial MLAs.
But that won’t work, said Taylor.
“The Yukon government respects the city’s jurisdiction in this regard and, as such, will await the outcome of the planning and approval processes,” she said.
City planners want to expand Porter Creek to an area near the creek. They also envision extending Pine Street to cross the creek and connect the new neighbourhood to the Alaska Highway.
Conservationists have fought these plans, arguing that the creek is a valuable wildlife corridor.
A city-commissioned study cast doubt on this claim last fall when it concluded the corridor isn’t suitable for moose and bears. Conservationists countered that the area is still important to birds.
Developers and the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, are calling for the area to be developed to help ease the city’s housing shortage.
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