Yukon Premier Sandy Silver after the announcement of the 2018-19 budget at legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 1. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Sandy Silver doesn’t let the details get in the way of a good photo op

How hard is it for the government to answer a simple question? Very, apparently

Sandy Silver’s government will be supporting the Challenge Disability Resource Group’s badly-needed affordable housing complex proposed for downtown Whitehorse. That much we’ve known for a week.

After that, the specifics remain up in the air.

“Can he tell us how much money is in this year’s budget for the Challenge housing project?” asked Yukon Party MLA Brad Cathers in the house March 8.

You might expect the premier to answer with a number. No.

“We are working actively right now with Challenge, and we are very excited with the commitment to support Challenge and make this project extremely successful,” the premier said, going on for another 109 words that don’t contain any figure, but at least offer that the government is working on finalizing an agreement with Challenge.

Silver did manage, on his second attempt, to inform the public that the government will spend $6 million on the project. Maybe? Or it might be $6.6 million. The premier also left open the possibility the amount could be less than $6 million. Who can say? And anyway, it’s unkind for Cathers to ask for specifics that aren’t in the premier’s briefing book.

Except that Silver made a big show last week of handing over some new work boots to Challenge executive director Jillian Hardie, in a stage-managed twist on the tradition of the finance minister’s new budget day shoes.

“With our housing money in the 2018/19 budget we look forward to supporting their cornerstone project,” whoever runs Silver’s Twitter account tweeted.

Given how much Silver ballyhooed his own initiative, it’s reasonable for the public to expect the premier to have a grasp of basic facts about the project. One would assume that one of his well-paid advisors would have whispered a figure in the premier’s ear at some point.

But as it turns out, the emperor has no shoes. There is in fact no line item money for Challenge in the 2018-19 budget. The government instead promised some nebulous form of “support” for Challenge’s worthwhile project.

One spokesperson with Health and Social Services initially told the News there was no money for the project in the budget. Then she said she couldn’t rule out money for the project in the budget.

Then cabinet spokesperson Sunny Patch told us there was “support” for the project in the budget but could not provide a specific dollar figure. She did say the government will find the money somewhere in the budget.

Which line item exactly? Ha ha ha. Who knows. Numerous well-educated and well-paid adults, who are responsible for this sort of thing, either don’t know or won’t say. Neither is acceptable.

We could go on. If Challenge does indeed get $6 million — or $6.6 million, again, it’s really rude to keep asking for specifics about this — what does that do to the territory’s projected $4.5 million deficit? Will the deficit increase? Or will the government cut spending elsewhere?

The government’s own budget documents lay out $6 million for affordable housing for the entire territory. Is the government spending all of its affordable housing money on Challenge? It’s very unfair to ask such rude questions, when our government is clearly providing such visionary leadership going forward.

Moreover, the deadline to close the land deal is March 26, something Silver mentioned in the house. Perhaps Challenge would like to know soon how much of the $7-million price tag it will have to raise elsewhere? If the premier knows this is important, why not just say publicly how much his government plans to contribute?

None of this is Challenge’s fault. The building, located on Main Street, will bring nearly 50 new housing units, 42 of them affordable, onto the market. That’s good for residents in search of housing, the construction industry and downtown retailers. The government should fund this project.

This is public money. The government should be able to clearly answer basic questions about it in under a week.

Contact Chris Windeyer at editor@yukon-news.com

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