Question re: Affordable Housing - October 27, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Premier. Many Yukoners have lost confidence in the minister responsible for Yukon Housing Corporation. Here is what the Yukon Chamber of Commerce had to say about the dealings with the minister: The decision to scrap the plans for 75 affordable housing units in Whitehorse could — and I quote: “erode the trust” in the request for proposals process. Here is a quote from the chair of the Chamber of Commerce — and I quote: “You really run the risk of having businesses ask the question of whether these government RFPs are worth bidding. What does it mean if they can simply overturn them? That’s not dealing in good faith.”

Does the Premier agree with the criticism from the chamber, or with his minister who says everything is fine on the affordable housing issue?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      It should come as no surprise to this House again that the Liberal Leader chooses to spin the facts in a manner that do not reflect reality. I would remind the member that we do appreciate that the chair of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce did express concern both on behalf of his organization and the company that he is president of and who did bid in that process. We have continued through the housing action plan and through discussions as recently as this morning involving stakeholders, including both chambers of commerce, to talk about the future needs within the housing spectrum. As I emphasized to all who participated this morning, the remaining amount of money is relatively small. We are committed to making investments.

We also recognize that there are areas that require further, ongoing dialogue and are committed to working with all the stakeholders to hear their input and to discuss future actions.

Mr. Silver:   The point is the business community has lost faith in the minister. Here’s more from the business community: “Why would I waste my time and my money knowing that somebody is going to change their mind after all this process is completed?” “We entered into these things with the understanding and the assumption that this is going to happen. If someone had said, ‘Well, we’re not quite sure this is going to go ahead’ ... I would have never submitted in the first place.”

This is from another one of the developers who did respond to the RFP.

Once again, Mr. Speaker, why does the Premier continue to back this minister, instead of the territory’s business community?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      What the member is failing to reflect in his comments is, of course, a developer who went through the process and thought they were going to get a multi-million-dollar grant would be disappointed that Management Board made the decision not to approve any projects in Whitehorse. But again, as I’ve stated on a number of occasions, the decision made by this government is based primarily on the fact that the rental market had shifted significantly from a vacancy rate of 1.5 percent in March of 2013 to a vacancy rate in April of this year — as per the release in the summer of that data — of 7.1-percent vacancy rate in the rental market, and the vacancy rate in the duplex rental market — 13.9 percent.

Those people who own duplexes are Yukoners who depend on that income to continue to be able to pay their mortgages in many cases. This government will stand on the side of those Yukon homeowners and we will continue to recognize the importance of not undermining their investment and putting them and their families in financial peril.

Mr. Silver:   The minister’s stats are disturbing. He is comparing oranges to apples and he knows that.

Mr. Speaker, it is very clear that the business community has no confidence in this minister and it is clear that the Premier intends to ignore the business community and defend the indefensible. It is also clear that housing advocates have no confidence in this minister either. The cancellation of the latest housing initiative resulted in quite a storm of criticism in many NGOs in this field.

In late June, the minister stepped in and cancelled the affordable housing project after saying for months that it wasn’t going to be a political decision. Just days later, in early June, the Premier made the following statement — and I quote: “Western premiers recognize that access to stable and affordable housing is fundamental to a strong economy and to the health and well-being of western Canadians.”

Mr. Speaker, why is the Premier letting the minister do anything but use this money for affordable housing?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     What the member of the Liberal Party is really upset about is the $100 million that this government has spent since 2008 on housing in this territory. That is really what this minister is upset about. Of course, we can talk about things such as Whistle Bend and the expansion of lots you are able to buy at the counter — as we have done in many of the other communities, Mr. Speaker.

But we know what the member opposite’s record is on each one of those investments. The Liberal Leader voted against them — as he did on the hospital in Dawson City, as he did on McDonald Lodge that we are building right now. The Liberal Leader voted against them.

Of course, we have done things, such as the down payment assistance program as well, that have moved a lot of people out of rental housing and allowed them to be able to invest in their own equity and their own home. We continue to invest in home owners’ repairs — the investments that we have made in Kaushee’s Place, with Options for Independence to house adults who are living with FASD, the many senior housing projects that we’ve done throughout this territory, and youth shelters as well.

I am very proud of the record of this government in what we have done in terms of land and housing availability. We have more work to do and we will continue to do it.