Hanson: Yukon government has lots of questions to answer about the Whistle Bend sports complex

Liz Hanson, MLA Whitehorse Centre

In my capacity as the member of the Legislative Assembly for Whitehorse Centre, here are a number of insights that I’d like to add to the discussion about the plan to build an outdoor sports complex in Whistle Bend.

On Monday, I went to the Whitehorse city council meeting to listen to a presentation on a plan to build an outdoor sports complex in Whistle Bend. The project, backed by the Yukon government and by all accounts driven by Premier Darrell Pasloski, was brought to council because the land identified by its backers would have to be re-zoned to build a recreational facility instead of the housing currently called for in the Official Community Plan.

While I listened to the delegation’s presentation, and then the thoughtful and increasingly concerned questions about the transparency of the project’s development, I began to realize that this outdoor sports complex requires a broader public discussion before anyone can make a reasonable decision about its future.

In my capacity as the member of the Legislative Assembly for Whitehorse Centre, here are a number of insights that I’d like to add to the discussion:

a) The process to build this sports complex is cutting important corners.

According to the plan, the Yukon government is pushing a speedy 2016 opening without having consulted the city or residents. For example, the presenters suggested it might help attract the Western Canada Games -- yet council was unaware such a bid was even being considered. And there are still so few people currently living in Whistle Bend that, without more detailed planning, this could become a “white elephant” in the middle of the neighbourhood. The argument that it would benefit a potential nearby school doesn’t hold because for one, there is no imminent plan to build it and second, the complex would be fenced in and run as a user-pay complex -- not a field you could just drop in on to kick a ball around.

b) We don’t know if this project is best use of parks and recreation funds.

Proposed without any demonstrated public or community discussion, the Yukon government plans to spend $8 million to build a sports complex in Whitehorse at a time when the Yukon government hasn’t demonstrated that it’s needed and which options were considered. Conversely, they continue to ignore spaces in the communities (like the Carmacks rink and the long-promised recreation complexes in Dawson and Carcross) that are in dire need of support.

c) The public interest deserves a closer look at how the Yukon government decided another sports complex was warranted.

Whitehorse City Council showed concern that the Yukon government is, as the delegation put it, “driving this project” despite their legitimate questions about sustainable operations and maintenance costs -- among other things. Council were told this facility would be run by a society for $20,000 per year with two part-time staff, an executive director making $5,000 a year, and a vague army of volunteers who would take care of the complex. There are no guarantees that the complex won’t end up being left to the city for operation and maintenance once it’s built.

So, like I said, there are more questions than answers at this stage in the discussion about the proposed outdoor sports complex in Whistle Bend.

My impression was that council was genuinely taken by surprise by the lack of detail or clarity available to them about a project of this size. And it isn’t because they aren’t sympathetic to the importance of fostering recreational sports in Whitehorse, nor is it unfamiliar with the difficulties of running volunteer boards. Council has a wealth of experience on both fronts. As the elected representatives of Whitehorse’s citizens, they’ve raised some serious questions.

I think it would be in the public interest to ask the new community services minister Currie Dixon and the premier how they intend to answer the questions raised at Monday’s meeting -- and when they intend to ask for public input to the expenditure of public money. 

After all, they’re some of the complex’s most enthusiastic supporters.