Question re: Emergency medical services building - December 2, 2013

Hansard, December 2, 2013

Mr. Silver:   All this sitting, I have been asking questions about the government’s overspending on capital projects. We know $6 million has been squandered on F.H. Collins. The rural hospitals were both millions of dollars overbudget and the $30-million Dawson waste-water treatment plant that isn’t even running properly yet are just a few examples of that.

Let’s add to that project list the recently opened ambulance station on Two Mile Hill. That project, Mr. Speaker, was budgeted at $7.3 million and it came in at around $8.1 million. At only 10 percent over the budget, it hardly ranks at the top of the Yukon Party’s list of capital project mismanagement; however, it is $800,000 over what the government promised just 18 months ago.

Can the government explain why this project was 10-percent, or $800,000, overbudget?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      Once again we see the Liberal leader coming in, as he does consistently, with assertions that do not line up with the facts. I would remind the member that in fact most of the capital projects come in on time and on budget. There are cases such as this where there are adjustments made. In the case of the emergency response centre, there were additional items added, including equipment, within final construction that led to an adjustment to that budget.

That budget — contrary to what the member asserted — was managed quite well. I thank all the staff who worked on it for their excellent work in building the new emergency response centre, which will improve health care response times to the rural areas of Whitehorse. I know that is another thing that the member voted against, just like the investments in health care in his own riding.

Mr. Silver:   I would thank the minister if he could give me a list of these cost overruns. That would be great.

The ground floor on this facility is mostly taken up by ambulance bays, and the upstairs is supposed to house a new emergency communications centre, or a new dispatch headquarters. Unfortunately, that upstairs space is still largely vacant and dispatch is still being handled through the old station in Riverdale.

Can the minister explain why the transfer of the dispatch facility has yet to occur?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      The new emergency response centre is the result of a commitment we made to develop a second ambulance station in Whitehorse — one that was more centralized. It will improve, and has improved, response times to rural areas of Whitehorse and the Whitehorse periphery. Operationally combined, the two stations maintain the current response times in Riverdale and downtown and improve response times in other areas of Whitehorse.

In terms of the facility that was created within the emergency response centre that could potentially be a call centre, that was developed as a result of discussions with the RCMP about combining dispatch. Those discussions are still ongoing and we do expect them to likely result in some changes and improvements to dispatch. At this point, however, until that work is completed, dispatch will not be moving up the hill. It would have some negative operational impacts if we were to immediately move that up the hill before that work is concluded with the RCMP.

Mr. Silver:   I would appreciate if we could find out when that work with the RCMP will be completed.

The lower part of the building is designed for ambulance bays. Unfortunately, the way the building is set up, there isn’t enough space to match the number of staff to the number of bays. It would have been a good idea to actually talk to the people who work there before the design of the build came in.

We know that the building is 10-percent overbudget. We know that the lower part doesn’t have enough room for ambulance attendants who work there. We still don’t know why the dispatch function has not been transferred to this brand new facility. For now it remains at the old station in Riverdale.

Why has this not been transferred? When will it be transferred? Finally, will there be more money needed to complete this transfer?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      Again it’s unfortunate — the approach we see from the Liberal Leader — that he has an aversion to the facts in his questions and prefers to cast things in the most negative light he possibly can manage to portray them, but he ignores the facts when the facts contradict his nice, little line of rhetoric.

If the member had listened to my response rather than heckling, the member would have heard the fact that, indeed, the adjustment made to the final budget for the emergency response centre was based on additional items that were included in the final stage of design. In fact, staff did a good job of managing that project on budget. In fact, I would point out, as I did to the member before, that we’re not going to move dispatch up the hill immediately because there are discussions ongoing with the RCMP. My focus, as minister, and the direction I’ve given to the department is we have to be certain that, if and when dispatch is moved up the hill, it has positive impacts on operations, and that we have, with the RCMP, fully worked out whether any adjustments will occur, ensure that we are maintaining strong response capacity, and that we have positive results as a result of any adjustments made to dispatch.