Question re: F.H. Collins Secondary School reconstruction - November 5, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question about the new F.H. Collins Secondary School. When the government of Yukon decided to award the contract for construction of this school to an Alberta company, the minister said at that time — and I quote: “The final objective here was to tender a project that would create local jobs and promote economic activity.” Local companies told me at the time that they were quite worried with the decision to go with an outside contractor and that would probably result with very few local people getting hired. I did write the minister this fall to see if those concerns from those local companies had materialized.

Can the minister confirm that to date there have been only 29 Yukoners working on-site at the F.H. Collins replacement project?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko:           I thank the member opposite for this question. I was waiting for this question. Of course the Yukon government is pleased with the construction progress on the new F.H. Collins School. I was through there a couple of days ago. Things are coming along greatly. It is an affordable design for a modern facility that meets LEED silver standards and our efficiency standards. Construction started earlier this year and is well underway —you can see that. The project is on budget and on track for completion in the fall of 2015. We’re confident that we’re going to build a world-class facility that meets the current and long-term needs of our school community in a fiscally responsible manner.

The member opposite asked me about the jobs — this project provides the community with an efficient and technologically ready facility to accommodate current and future teaching trends. Several local contractors are working there as we speak and so far the project has created up to 33 new jobs, of which 29 are Yukoners.

Mr. Silver:   When I shared that number with one of the local unions they described it as absurdly low for a project of this size. We know that the total budget for this project is $51 million. That includes millions of dollars for a design that was never used and then years of delay on top of that. We do know as well that promises to create local jobs have not necessarily been fulfilled.

The minister himself has admitted that only 29 local workers are at the F.H. Collins replacement project since the work began — as of the letter he sent me. We know, for example, that there will be no apprentice Yukon carpenters. We also know that a majority of the individuals who attended a job fair for this project in the spring have never been hired.

Does the Minister of Highways and Public Works think that creating only 29 jobs for Yukoners on a project of this magnitude is good fiscal management?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko:           It is a little disappointing to hear the numbers from the member opposite. There are Yukoners working there. Our focus is to manage our capital projects responsibly, plan government space efficiently and maintain our buildings adequately. Managing and maintaining our buildings and budgets are priorities for this government. It’s a balancing act and we are responsible for making sure that we use available funds in our most effective way and responsible way as possible. Sometimes this means making some difficult decisions. I know the member opposite would have loved to have seen the old school and wasn’t happy with the decision we made, but that’s the decision we made on this side.

We have over 12 capital projects underway in various stages of completion. We have successfully promoted economic activity here, kept our local suppliers and contractors busy and created local jobs. We have much to be proud of with our capital project tendering.

This government continues to make the Yukon — through creating jobs — the best place in Canada to live, work, play and raise a family, and I’m pretty proud of that.

Mr. Silver:   I totally agree. These numbers are disappointing. They’re not my numbers; they’re his numbers. The government didn’t think that there was a Yukon company that was qualified as the general contractor for the F.H. Collins school project. That’s why the tender was written to basically exclude local companies — or at least to target specific Outside companies.

The consequences of that decision are now finally being realized. There are very few jobs for Yukoners on this project. Instead, the Government of Yukon has spent $50 million toward this project and they are putting Albertans and British Columbians and others to work. The profits from the job are heading outside the territory to general contractors and their headquarters in Alberta.

Can the minister tell the House how much of that $50 million price tag has gone outside of the territory?

Hon. Mr. Istchenko:           You know, the Government of Yukon takes procurement very seriously. We are modernizing how we pick our goods and services to make this government’s contracting procedures fair, consistent and accessible for all Yukon businesses. We are responding to the input we hear from our contractors and suppliers and we are simplifying our procurement processes so that it is easier to do business with this government. We are working on providing supplier development services to local businesses. There was some stuff going on in the fall when it comes to this.

We have 12 capital projects underway at various stages — Yukoners are working. I stated 29 of the 33 jobs — that is, 88 percent of the jobs — have Yukoners working there. This government continues to make the Yukon the best place to live, work, play and raise a family in Canada.

On this Veterans’ Week, Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank a veteran for the freedoms I have to stand in this Assembly and answer this question.