Question re: Vacant ambulance station - April 1, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Minister of Community Services. Yesterday, we heard about a new government project that was $700,000 overbudget and today I would like to return to one of the government’s overbudget projects that we’ve talked about before.

Last fall, the minister got out his golden scissors and he cut the ribbon on a new ambulance station at the top of Two Mile Hill. The project came in at 10-percent or $800,000 overbudget, so it hardly ranks on the top of the list of examples of where this government has gone overbudget on a new building. However, it belongs on a long list of projects where extra taxpayer money was required because of the Yukon Party’s mismanagement.

The upstairs part of the building is supposed to house a new emergency communications centre or a new dispatch headquarters. Unfortunately, five months after the grand opening, that upstairs space is still vacant and dispatch is still being handled through the old station in Riverdale. Mr. Speaker, why is this space still vacant five months after the facility was opened?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      It’s unfortunate — the type of narrative received from the Leader of the Liberal Party. In fact, as the Leader of the Liberal Party ought to know, if he went beyond what’s written for him by the backroom boys in the Liberal Party, he would see that most projects are done on time and on budget. It is common with this government, as with all governments across the country — and, in fact, any entity letting contracts — that there is some variance in the original estimates in some cases.

In the case of the emergency response centre, our new ambulance station at the top of Two Mile Hill, that project was completed. We’re very pleased to see it up and running. The space was there to accommodate the potential of moving 911 there and for integrated dispatch, but discussions are currently underway between the Yukon and other agencies regarding this potential. First and foremost, the RCMP are involved in that discussion. While those discussions are underway with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, it would be premature to simply move ambulance dispatch staff up the hill because that would have a negative impact on operations. So that space will continue to remain unoccupied until we have concluded that work with the RCMP, which also involves them.

Mr. Silver:   Premature — I mean, this government has put the horse before the cart on this project. That space is empty because the government went ahead and built the facility without knowing who was going to occupy and dispatch the dispatch centre. Usually you don’t build something for a client until you have a signed agreement in place with that client.

The upstairs dispatch centre at the new EMS building was built with the RCMP in mind and, five months after the official opening, the space remains empty.

This is just another example of poor planning, which this government is now becoming very well known for. Why did the government build the dispatch centre this way, without actually having an agreement in place with the RCMP?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      It is unfortunate that we see yet another area — yet another investment in improving health care for Yukon, that the member has voted against and attempts to characterize in a negative light.

Actually the member is wrong. He did vote against the money for that project. He has voted against expenditures for ambulances. He has voted against money for fire halls and voted against money for fire trucks. The member can choose to be a little selective about his memory, but in fact, Mr. Speaker, the record shows here in Hansard.

I know that the Leader of the Liberal Party is too busy heckling to listen to the response, but I would remind the member that this is an excellent building that has been built. It was deliberately built with the capacity to accommodate an integrated dispatch system, but this does involve discussions and work with the RCMP. We are currently in the process of the two entities working together to determine operational requirements and we do anticipate that this space will be used for integrated dispatch.

We are focused on getting it right, not on making the Leader of the Liberal Party happy, because, quite frankly, if we made him happy, we’d know we were doing it wrong.

Mr. Silver:   That was interesting.

This looks a lot like the Dawson and the Watson Lake hospitals, where the government built the facility first, without knowing how it was going to be used, and now, after the fact, after millions of dollars have been spent, we are left figuring out what to do.

If the government had any idea what it was doing, the agreement with the RCMP would have been signed before they went ahead with the construction. It is my understanding that the upstairs dispatch centre may not have in fact been built to RCMP security standards anyway and that renovations may be required if and when they decide to move in.

Before going into negotiations with the RCMP, it would have been a good idea to actually discuss these possibilities with EMS personnel who currently provide the dispatch services. I’m sure it was news to them that the government was looking to transfer their jobs, and possibly themselves, to another employer.

Will renovations be required to the new building if the RCMP is to move in?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      First of all, I’d like to begin by providing the member with an update on the fact that yet another area he has attacked government on, 911 — and which we have, through the good work of the department as well as Northwestel — has been tested in all Yukon communities. Were it not for the fact that we’ve been informed by the CRTC that we need to go through a regulatory process before activating it, we would currently, right now, have 911 in place in all Yukon communities with an option referred to as “auto select” that would allow you press “1” for police, “2” for ambulance and “3” for fire. We are committed to seeking that regulatory approval.

I’d remind the member that the ambulance station at the top of Two Mile Hill was an important commitment we made, and we are committed to advancing it quickly to improve emergency response times and ambulance response times to Whitehorse and its periphery. We are not prepared to — as the member suggests we should have — wait for longer until now since the agreement is still not concluded with the RCMP. We are not prepared to hold up this project. The room we do anticipate will be used for integrated dispatch — if it is not, we will certainly be able to find other uses for that space.

Again, the emergency response centre is a very positive investment in improving Yukon emergency response. I know the member voted against it, and I hear the Leader of the NDP expressing her displeasure with this positive investment. It doesn’t appear that they support Yukon’s ambulance service. We do.