Prime Minister sparks confusion with his comment regarding a new bridge in Dawson City

    The George Black Ferry crosses the Yukon River in the summer months. (Photo, Government of Yukon)

    Trudeau listed the potential bridge in response to a question about the Government of Canada's support of road infrastructure, surprising the Government of Yukon, Yukon Party MLAs, and Mayor of Dawson City.

    A single comment from Ottawa has surprised Yukon politicians.

    During question period in the House of Commons Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was defending comments that federal Minster of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault had made in the Montreal Gazette on Tuesday. Trudeau claimed that the Government of Canada is not changing its approach to investing in roads, using examples of projects receiving funding from the National Trade Corridors Fund.

    “Our approach to infrastructure continues to be one of investing in the future for Canadians,” said Trudeau. “Through the National Trade Corridors Fund alone, we’re building projects like a new bridge over the Yukon River in Dawson City, new interchanges on Highway 101 and 103 in Nova Scotia, and twinning the TransCanada Highway in parts of Newfoundland.”

    When the $135 million funding was initially announced for the North Klondike Highway Strategic Upgrades in 2021, there was no mention of a new bridge over the Yukon River in Dawson.

    In an email response to CHON-FM, a spokesperson from the Government of Yukon Cabinet Office said that the Prime Minister’s comments may have been in reference to the Nisutlin Bay Bridge project, rather than a new bridge in Dawson City. However, the wording of a “new bridge” is inconsistent with the nature of replacing the Nisutlin Bay Bridge, not to mention the sheer distance between locations.

    An emailed statement from the Prime Minister’s office clarified that the $135 million provided to the Yukon Government in 2021 did include funds for a new bridge in Dawson City. That statement went on to say that the Yukon Government requested to use the funding for the Dawson City bridge to rebuild the Nisutlin Bay Bridge in 2022.

    Yukon Party Highways and Public Works Critic Stacey Hassard has spoken out about the existing Nisutlin Bay Bridge several times, with concerns about the project running late and over budget. He says that the amount of funding that the National Trade Corridors Fund would contribute to a Dawson City Bridge isn’t nearly enough to cover the cost.

    “In that submission, they’re talking about 110 kilometres of upgrades, plus a bridge,” said Hassard in a phone interview. “So, you know, $135 million isn’t even close to being enough to do all of that work.”

    “Again, it’s just poor planning and poor information.”

    Public consultation on a river crossing in Dawson was completed and shared on January 12. The What We Heard Report included comments from Dawson City residents both in favour and against a permanent river crossing for various reasons. In a media release from the Yukon Party, Porter Creek North MLA Geraldine Van Bibber wondered if that input was considered.

    City of Dawson Mayor Bill Kendrick was caught by surprise by the Prime Minister’s comment, but remains optimistic about the possibility of a new bridge.

    “I think there’s long been an aspiration to have a bridge,” said Kendrick in a phone interview. “And I think if money grew on trees, I think we’d be growing those trees by now.”

    “I think one day it will happen, and I just, again, want to thank the Prime Minister for drawing attention to the idea of a new bridge in Dawson City to cross the Yukon River.”

    Comments were not immediately available from Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation or Minister for Highways and Public Works Nils Clarke.

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