Question re: Housing programs - October 23, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Premier. It has now been three years since this government has taken office. The entire time, the government has been sitting on these millions of dollars in affordable housing from Ottawa. Plenty of time has passed for the minister responsible to find a way to spend this money and to address the obvious need in our territory and he has failed to do so. This summer a plan the government has been touting for some time was scrapped at the last minute.

My question is to the Premier: How long does he intend to allow the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation to fumble around on this file before replacing him?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     I want to reiterate the comments that the minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation has just made. Certainly there have been a number of changes in that market. We can talk all day long of the accomplishments that we have achieved through housing, through investment in social housing, through the availability of lots, through the support of down payment assistance programs, through the creation of seniors housing — the list goes on and on and on.

We are focused on ensuring that we get great value for every dollar that we do invest, not only in housing, but throughout whatever we do. The reality is, with the member opposite, is that he will find any excuse to essentially vote against all these projects. Certainly some of the projects that he has opposed are in fact in his own community that we’ve had great support, such as the new hospital and new nursing home that we are currently building in the community of Dawson City.

Mr. Silver:   The Premier might think that they’re doing a good job, but many Yukoners do not on this file. One of the central questions involved in this failed process was: Who decided when and where the money was spent? The minister assured Yukoners that it would be the board of the Housing Corporation, free from political interference, making the call. Unfortunately that is not what happened. In the end, a political decision was made by the government and the input of the arm’s-length board was overruled.

In one media interview, the minister said that it was a Management Board decision. However, he told a different story in Faro at the AGM of the Federation of Yukon Municipalities when he told the audience that it was a caucus decision. As noted by many of the attendees, if the government was to blame, the minister sure was interested in spreading that blame around to his colleagues, instead of taking the responsibility for himself.

For the record, can the Premier tell us whose decision was it to cancel this RFP? Was it the Cabinet? Was it the Management Board? Or caucus? Or the minister himself?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      In fact it was a Management Board decision that included, of course, as we do in all major decisions, caucus input prior to Management Board or Cabinet making those decisions. I know the member wasn’t there in Faro, but I think he would find, if he went back to people who were, that most would recognize that what I said at that time is decisions of that magnitude are Cabinet or caucus decisions and never made unilaterally by a minister. Again, it was a Management Board decision, as has been noted and explained by an official from Finance earlier this summer.

Earlier in the spring, at one point, we were of the understanding that it would not require Management Board approval at that final stage. That was based on an incorrect briefing note that was corrected and fully explained by both that official and myself earlier this summer. We appreciate the work done by the Yukon Housing Corporation board. Government reacted and responded to the information we received from stakeholders. We recognized that the housing market was shifting and we acted appropriately.

Mr. Silver:   Mr. Speaker, a briefing note? Seriously?

The last question that I asked in the House last spring was on this affordable housing file. I predicted at that time that the government wasn’t satisfied with the results of this RFP and a political decision would be made to pull the plug and to overrule the housing board. The minister vehemently denied it but, at the end, that’s exactly what happened.

Since that time, the minister has come out with a number of different versions of what happened and, in Faro, he threw his colleagues under the bus while trying to duck the responsibility for his decision. Affordable housing remains a problem in this territory and the minister has demonstrated that he cannot get the job done.

When is the Premier going to ask for the resignation of this minister?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     Mr. Speaker, $100 million in investments since 2008. We have looked across the full spectrum of housing, from emergency shelters right through to home ownership. We continue to work with stakeholders to meet those needs of Yukoners. We have worked with Kaushee’s Place to create Betty’s Haven for women and children fleeing violence — second-stage housing for them. We worked with OFI to create a nation-leading program on support for adults living with FASD.

As I said earlier, our focus is on Yukon families. Yukon is really the best place to live, to work, to play — the best place to raise a family. We are committed to ensuring that we are working for all Yukoners and will continue to do so.