Yukon unlikely to get federal money for Whistle Bend facility

The Yukon government has released a list of infrastructure projects it has submitted for federal funding, which includes repairs to the Ross River suspension bridge and upgrades to water and wastewater infrastructure in several

The Yukon government has released a list of infrastructure projects it has submitted for federal funding, which includes repairs to the Ross River suspension bridge and upgrades to water and wastewater infrastructure in several Yukon communities.

However, the list doesn’t include several large projects the government has been touting, including the planned fibre-optic line up the Dempster Highway, the Whistle Bend continuing care facility and the Dawson City airport runway. To date, the government has not officially applied for federal funding for those projects.

Community Services Minister Currie Dixon produced the list in the legislative assembly on Wednesday, after Liberal Leader Sandy Silver announced on Tuesday that he planned to table a motion to request the document.

The document lists projects submitted to the New Building Canada Fund, a federal infrastructure fund. Those projects include a request for $2.7 million “to complete the upgrades to the Ross River suspension bridge.”

Another $24 million has been requested for water and wastewater projects in Haines Junction and Mayo, and $3.75 million has been requested for the reconstruction of Sixth Avenue in Whitehorse between Jarvis and Ogilvie streets.

The Department of Highways and Public Works has also asked for $41 million for bridge upgrades.

“These projects are all ready to go,” Dixon told the News. “We’re just waiting for the OK from Canada.”

The federal government has already approved $5.2 million for the construction of a new water treatment plant in Burwash Landing. It is also funding several smaller projects in various communities, including improvements to solid waste facilities in Faro, Watson Lake and Haines Junction.

Still, the list doesn’t include requests for larger projects like the Dempster fibre line or the Whistle Bend continuing care facility, and Dixon said it seems like the Whistle Bend centre won’t get any federal cash.

“We’ve kind of heard informally and it seems to be the case that that project won’t fit in any sort of federal funding envelopes that we can tell,” he said.

Dixon said the Whistle Bend facility wouldn’t have been eligible for New Building Canada funding, as the fund doesn’t cover health-care centres.

“Where would we submit an application?” he asked. “There is no fund that is for this type of thing.”

The Dempster fibre project possibly could have been submitted to the New Building Canada Fund, but Dixon said the Yukon government is hoping that a new pot of money will be created as part of the federal government’s commitment to improve broadband communications.

“We’ve been having discussions with the federal government about how we’d be able to fund that project,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Yukon government made a submission to the House of Commons standing committee on finance, outlining how it would like the federal government to help pay for these larger projects.

According to the document, the government was looking for $109.5 million for the Whistle Bend continuing care facility, $24 million for the fibre project and $64.5 million for a transmission line between Stewart Crossing and Keno City.

“They weren’t applications for funding per se,” Dixon explained. Instead, he said, the Yukon was trying to “influence how the federal government would set up some of these new funds that they had proposed setting up.”

He said the Whistle Bend facility was an example of a project that Ottawa might want to fund as part of its new commitment to social infrastructure. The fibre project was intended to fit into the broadband portfolio, and the Stewart-Keno transmission line was an example of a large-scale green energy project.

But that leaves the Yukon with some uncertainty as to how or when these projects might get funding. Dixon said he sent a letter to Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi regarding the Whistle Bend facility, but he never heard back.

For now, the Yukon government is planning to pay the full construction costs of the Whistle Bend continuing care facility by itself. It has budgeted $67 million for the first part of the construction this year.

“We intend to pay for this,” Premier Darrell Pasloski told the legislative assembly on Tuesday. “If the federal government is interested in partnering because it fits the criteria that they have for one of their new infrastructure funds, then we will welcome that money.”

NDP Opposition Leader Liz Hanson challenged the premier on his submission to the federal government. “If the minister is so confident, why is he asking Canada for $109 million?” she asked.

Regarding the planned fibre-optic line, Dixon said the federal government might provide funding through a new broadband fund, or it might tell the Yukon to apply through the New Building Canada Fund after all.

But he pointed out that the Yukon is eligible for a fixed amount of funding from New Building Canada. If the territory uses that money for larger projects, he said, less will be left over for municipal needs.

This year’s territorial budget includes $500,000 for detailed engineering of the fibre project.

Liberal Leader Sandy Silver said the Yukon needs to be more transparent about its infrastructure requests to the federal government.

“They haven’t been really forthcoming with information about infrastructure requests that they had already made,” he said. “We didn’t get this list until we actually asked for it. … I think there’s lots of room for improvement here.”

To date, the one large infrastructure project the Yukon government has submitted to Ottawa is the Yukon Resource Gateway Project, which includes road upgrades that would benefit the territory’s mining industry. The Yukon is hoping Ottawa will pitch in $250 million for the upgrades.

Contact Maura Forrest at

maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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