Tuesday, May 1, 1990 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Webster: I have for tabling the Government of Yukons position on the proposed Chilkoot Trail National Historic Park.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Land claims
Mr. Phelps: I have some questions for the Minister responsible for land claims. We now have a final umbrella agreement and my questions have to do with the process from here on in. As I understand it, the next step will be the band-by-band final negotiations. My first question has to do with representation at those talks by non beneficiaries, who will be affected by the specific kind of negotiating that will take place. Will each community have representatives at the negotiations, which concern the respective community and the area surrounding it?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I thank the Leader of the Official Opposition for the question. The policy of this government and the policy that has been agreed to by the three parties to the negotiations has been articulated before in this House. With the consent of the local band, the local municipal council may be present at the table so long as it is understood very clearly that there will not be a fourth party to the negotiations and that any municipal representative present at the negotiations will be part of the Yukon government delegation.
In the situations where the band, for whatever reason, does not consent to the participation of the local municipality in the negotiations, this government has given an undertaking that our negotiators will provide regular briefings to the local municipal body, similar to those we will provide to other interest groups that have reason to be concerned about some matter or other under negotiation.
I do not want to try your patience, but the last point is a very important one with respect to land. As we have indicated before, any land selections that are tabled in this process will be made public and there will be sufficient opportunity for public comment prior to the actual selection being negotiated.
Mr. Phelps: Is there any policy with regard to how many representatives will be allowed from a particular community?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: No. As far as I know this question has not been raised. The negotiators are less and less inclined to have large numbers who are not negotiators at the table. It is contemplated that in most cases we are talking about a person, and perhaps in some cases two, but we have found, as I am sure the Leader of the Leader of the Official Opposition did, that the number of the people at the table increases exponentially the amount of time it takes to get agreements on some things.
Mr. Phelps: I am well aware of that problem, but it is important that there be a voice, it seems to me, at this stage of the negotiations. Who will pay for representatives from the communities? How will they be reimbursed?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: It is our view that if a representative is sent by the community to the negotiations in that community on the First Nations settlement, the costs will be borne by that community. It should be noted on that count that we have, through the Department of Community and Transportation Services, made generous provisions to assist the communities, both by way of a contribution to the Association of Yukon Communities and also by the recruitment of a person agreeable to the association whose job it will be to brief and inform it about the progress of talks.
Question re: Land claims
Mr. Phelps: My next question has to do with the rural areas where many Yukon residents live. Hootalinqua, for example, was the third largest riding in terms of numbers of voters in the last election, and there is no form of local government. The people of Hootalinqua are not represented in any way by the Association of Yukon Communities although there are a number of areas seeking hamlet status.
I would like to know if rural areas such as the areas that make up Hootalinqua will have a representation at all in the band-by-band final agreements. Has such negotiations been contemplated in negotiations?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Of course the people are represented by the Government of the Yukon. I would hope the Leader of the Official Opposition would not be questioning our role or responsibility in that question. I understand, though, his question as it may deal with a neighborhood or concerns about a district being adequately aired or represented in the talks. We have not adopted a definitive position on this. We would still require the consent of the band to have an extra person at the table. All I can say is this: because there are great problems with the legitimacy of anybody who claims to be representing a neighborhood or area, if a formal representation came from, for example, the Leader of the Official Opposition in the absence of any municipal government to be the medium between the talks and his constituents, I would be prepared to have our negotiators sit down and think through a way to do that effectively.
I may have been slightly in error in a previous answer, so I would like to mention that I understand the Department of Community and Transportation Services has made arrangements to subsidize the attendance of municipal representatives at the table where that takes place.
Mr. Phelps: The issue of the rural areas is a complex one; there are no easy answers to it. I would submit that, in the case of Hootalinqua, you have two areas that are pushing right now for hamlet status, so there are obviously some people involved in those talks who might be contacted. In the case of Carcross, I am not sure how that is to be handled. We understood, when the Minister and Mr. Stuart came and gave a briefing to the community, that there was going to be some representation possible from the community club. There are community clubs in both Tagish and Marsh Lake, so perhaps brief discussions could be had to see if there would be appropriate input. It is a problem, of course, because the very local kind of selections and so on can, at times, be quite contentious if there has been no consultation.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I understand very well the point made by the Leader of the Opposition, and I think he would understand that of course it is one thing to guarantee to brief groups like community clubs that will have an interest, or for the community club to provide a forum for a briefing. I think it is quite another thing on an issue as complicated as this to suggest that the community club, which is constituted for one purpose, can suddenly adequately perhaps carry out another purpose: perhaps be a bargaining agent or an acceptable observer for all people concerned in an area. In this matter, we will have to make, I suspect, arrangements that are specific to each First Nation traditional area because it will depend, on large part, on the willingness of the First Nation to have, if you like, strangers at the table. If they are accommodating on that account, then of course we can work it out. If they are not, then we will have to do what we suggested as a second alternative: provide a guarantee that our negotiators will provide briefings to community groups, to interest groups, as the negotiations go on.
Mr. Phelps: I might suggest that at times it is quite valuable to have one or two representatives from the community area involved, who have a good knowledge about the land and so on, to come - not to the negotiating meetings - and look at the negotiating position on which land is going to be offered or under discussion, to make comments on potential conflicts and so on.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: We would take that as given. The process we would want to observe is that once the land selections are tabled, and then made public, we would want to regularize and firmly establish in our negotiating process a system of soliciting that kind of knowledge and input from the community. We cannot presume, and our negotiators cannot presume, to have that kind of intimate knowledge about every community. I do not want our negotiators to presume they have that kind of knowledge. I do want them to take into account the view of the community.
We expect, of course, that this will be difficult because there will be cases where there are conflicting opinions within a community about the legitimacy of some claim or the veracity of some statement about the history of some particular piece of land. That is one of several difficulties that will be attended to at this very important stage of the claims when a lot of the abstract of the general principles we have been negotiating so far will be made manifest and concrete. I know how Yukoners are, if nothing else, concrete thinkers and they will respond very quickly and very strenuously by giving their opinions on various proposals in the community. We want to take those into account when we are at the table.
Question re: Land claims
Mr. Phelps: My next question has to do with the overall process. Am I correct in my understanding that the final agreements with the First Nations as completed will not be finalized and put into law until all the First Nations have completed final agreements? Is that a correct interpretation?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: It has been my understanding, subject to correction, that the drafting work would proceed, perhaps even before ratification but certainly following ratification. I have always been told that the federal law would proceed, if you like, in tandem with the process towards concluding the first of the First Nation final agreements, which would then be appended to that settlement legislation.
I do not know what information the Leader of the Official Opposition has that causes him to ask that question, but I would certainly want to check what the federal intentions are in that respect because it has been my understanding that the legislation - which was originally supposed to go to parliament this fall and we are obviously a bit behind schedule this fall - would go to Parliament and would receive passage so that as soon as we have our First Nation final agreement it could be a companion piece.
Mr. Phelps: From the way it was worded, the opposite seemed to be what was contained in the ministerial statement the other day. So I am clear and so Yukoners are clear, you could have two First Nations complete their final agreements, and their agreements could be entrenched in law and in the Constitution, whether or not there was a long delay after that before other bands came on board.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: My assumption is that we would have settlement legislation and, as they are arrived at, the First Nations agreements would be appended and would have section 35 protection. If the negotiating schedule was such that we had a group that reached agreement early, and another group that was later, the beneficiaries of the first group would not have to wait until the latter group reached their agreements before they could start to take advantage of the arrangements.
Mr. Phelps: My final supplementary has to do with ratification. Do we have anything more definite on the ratification process for the First Nations? What does the Minister see as the ratification process for YTG?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: There are really two questions there, and I will deal with them separately. First, I can add nothing to the public statements of the Council for Yukon Indians about the ratification process. I believe they will be making their own announcements about that, following their own internal deliberations. As far as I know, no date has been set. It will become public knowledge when a date has been set.
On the second point, as the Member opposite will know, the Yukon government was the first party to ratify the framework agreement. There was some disagreement among the parties about the method of communicating the content of that agreement to the public. For this agreement, we are going to try and work with the other two parties, to the maximum extent possible, to have an agreeable package of information, some parts of which I have described earlier: the actual agreements themselves, plain English versions of the agreements, and so forth.
It is our view that there should be sufficient time for Yukon citizens to have seen, read and discussed the content of those agreements before this Cabinet proceeded to ratification.
Question re: Contracts, fuel
Mrs. Firth: My question is for the Minister of Government Services with respect to the fuel contract. I want to caution the Minister that I worked for a long time on this issue. I have done a lot of research and I am very familiar with all the details of the issue.
The first question I have for the Minister has to do with the legislative return he tabled yesterday, which lists the three major oil companies that bid on the contract. Only two of the original bidders were involved in the swap and I would like to know why all the companies were not treated equally and made aware of the governments changes to the contract for the deliver of the fuel?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: The answer, I believe, is obvious. The two suppliers that were approached were the two low bidders for those two respective communities. With their agreement, the swap was entered into. It is a fairly common practice when any activity is taking place on a contract that you go to the lowest bidders. In this case, they corresponded to the two communities and it would be a logical extension of the action.
Mrs. Firth: The issue here is fair and equitable treatment of people. My second question is in regard to other communities. Two other communities made a similar request for the local delivery of fuel. One was Watson Lake and the other was Ross River - your riding, Mr. Speaker. Yet the government denied the local fuel delivery and the same privileges to those two communities. I would like to know why all the communities were not dealt with in a fair and equitable manner?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I have to tell the Member that I am not aware of any request from the other two communities the Member cites. I am only familiar with the communities involved in the detail provided through the legislative return, which are the Mayo/Keno/Elsa and Haines Junction areas. The legislative return details the facts surrounding the matter and it was this governments position and desire that in the case of the Mayo/Keno/Elsa area a consistent fuel supply be provided to the community. If this action had not been entered into, the community may well have been without a supply of fuel. In a small community, that can be an onerous problem. This action was fairly consistent with our approach to the preservation of services in communities and support for local businesses thereby.
Mrs. Firth: Again, in reference to the legislative return and what has happened in this House in the last couple of days in respect to the information that the Minister has brought to the House, he has stood up and given the public and us, as legislators, wrong and misleading information that was the whole defence of the argument for the rationale of the government making this move. The Minister knows of what I am speaking: his reference to the fact that the letter came from the municipal council. He did not do that just once; he did not do it twice; he did it at least six times.
I would like to ask the Minister why he presented us with that wrong and misleading information six times?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I resent the fact that the Member is suggesting that I deliberately provided misleading information. I think the Member is in fact guilty of that charge herself. If the Member would...
Point of Order
Mrs. Firth: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Order. Point of order to the Member for Whitehorse Riverdale South.
Mrs. Firth: I do not recall using the word deliberate at all, or intentional, so I would like caution the Minister to be very careful with the charges that he makes in defence of his argument. I simply stated, Mr. Speaker, that the information was wrong and misleading.
Speaker: Order please. I find that there is no point of order but just a dispute between two Members, but I would caution Members to please use parliamentary language.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I respect your ruling on the matter. The fact remains that the Member alleged that I provided misleading information and I resent that.
The Member did not say at the same time that she suggested I provided misleading information, that my statements also included the qualification that I was working from the best of my recollection. Hansard will show that. Hansard will also show that I stand to be corrected, and I have corrected the information by the legislative return, so it is erroneous to suggest that anything was done deliberately in any effort to mislead.
The fact of the matter is that the information provided through the legislative return details the facts surrounding the swap that took place in the Mayo/Elsa/Keno region and the Haines Junction region. The information was provided through the legislative return of what written representation was made. In addition, the legislative return details the other representation that was made and it is not unkind for this government to take into account the request of a community to ensure that they have an adequate fuel supply, given the special circumstances that arose in the Mayo/Keno/Elsa area with the shutdown of the Elsa mine.
Question re: Contracts, fuel
Mrs. Firth: At least the Minister of Justice stands up and corrects herself when she brings wrong information into the House. She does not try to put it through in a legislative return.
Point of Order
Hon. Mr. Penikett: On a point of order.
Speaker: Point of order to the hon. Premier.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Once again the Member is engaged in a slur of another Member of this House. In parliamentary terms it makes no difference whatsoever in providing accurate information whether the Member provides it by way of a legislative return or orally. In terms of the content of the information and the veracity of that information in this House, or the legitimacy of that information, it makes no difference whatsoever. To suggest that the Minister, who was working from memory, then provided an accurate statement of the facts apart from research, and had provided those in a legislative return, that somehow that was unsavory or unsatisfactory is completely out of order.
Mrs. Firth: On the point of order.
I am not suggesting anything, or slurring anyone. I am going from Hansard, from the written word in Hansard. Now Hansard indicates that the only thing the Minister could remember, because he said it six times, was that the letter had come from the municipal council. He said that six times in two days. It was all the other things he could not remember: who the letter was addressed to, when it was mailed, but the one thing he was consistent on was the incorrect fact, the wrong fact, that the letter had come from the municipal council. There is no point of order on a slur. I am operating strictly from facts.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: On the point of order. The Member is not correctly, or accurately, or honestly quoting from Hansard. Every reference to the letter I made was qualified by my ability to recollect to the best of my knowledge. At the same time, I also said that I stood to be corrected. I said that in every one of those six references that the Member may be citing. Prior to that it was qualified by my ability to remember and my ability to work from that memory, and the qualification that I could stand to be corrected. I think the Member is misrepresenting the facts when she suggests there was something scurrilous about my answering the question on where the source of representation came from.
Mr. Lang: I want to refer to the Government Leader, who raised the point of order, that there is no point of order. There may be a difference of opinion between the two Members. There is no weight to the inference that the Minister of Health and Human Resources has put into the debate that is going on between the two Members. As a Member of this House who listened to the debate yesterday, I recall hearing, at least five or six times, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services clearly saying where he had received the request from. He did not hesitate to say it once; he said it six times.
I would submit there is no point of order. Let us get on with the business of the House, as opposed to having a filibuster.
Speaker: After all this discussion, I find there is no point of order. I would caution the Members that, during Question Period, we have a certain amount of time, and you are using up your own time. Please only raise issues.
Mrs. Firth: I do not believe I had an opportunity to start my question, so I would like to ask for a new question.
Question re: Contracts, fuel
Mrs. Firth: This political interference by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Government Services of manipulating contracts has not only undermined the principle that the low bidder gets the contract, but it has resulted in lost confidence and trust by the public and by the contractors, in that they are not being treated fairly.
How can the Minister of Government Services justify this kind of action to the public?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: The Member is dead wrong. There is no undermining of the confidence or integrity of the tendering system. I have had no representation from the Contractors Association on this issue, with whom I meet regularly. If anything, I have accolades of support for taking into account the serious situation facing a community in the Yukon, where this government took steps to ensure that a fuel supply remained in the community.
That is not undermining the integrity of the tendering system. We approached the two low bidders to see if they would be prepared to engage in a swap. By full agreement, those contractors agreed to do that.
This government recognized that there was more than just an anomaly in that community; there is a problem, and we are addressing that problem now prior to the next tendering of fuel contracts for regions around the Yukon. That is not an inappropriate action to take on behalf of the community, and it does not undermine the integrity of the tendering system or has it had any objection from the contracting community.
If the Member is telling me that what we did was wrong and that she would have done differently, then she would have allowed a fuel supplier in a community to go under when something as simple as a swap could have been done. She should stand up and tell me that she would have done that.
Speaker: Order, please. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Mrs. Firth: The contracting industry did not know anything about this issue. It was kept very quiet, except for the people who were involved. If this issue had happened once and then they had changed it, it would be a different story. After the first year, the Minister had the chance to recommend a policy change. If the government policy was to spend more money to buy locally, then so be it. But they did not. They were not ...
Speaker: Order, please. Will the Member please get to the supplementary question.
Mrs. Firth: Yes, I will. They did not change it. They were not honest and up front with it. They did it all over again. I would like to ask the Minister why he did not change the policy after the first year. Why did it have to go to a second year and now, after we have raised the issue to the public, they are going to change the policy. Why did they not do it after the first year?
Now, after we raised it, they are changing the policy.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Again, the Member opposite is making assertions that are dead wrong. We have been working on a restructuring for the fuel contracts for the past six months - long before the Member registered a problem in the area. The fact that there was a problem of tendering two years ago was an unusual anomaly, we believed. The fact that it happened again made me realize that something had to be restructured to ensure that local suppliers could remain in communities and provide fuel supply to those communities, which is critical to the vitality and health of the community. That is where we are coming from. Because it is a bidding process and based on principles of competition, it ought not to have had that anomaly happen twice. It did, so we began to do something about it long before the Member raised it in this House.
I am not sure what the Member is trying to tell me. It reminds me of a historical situation where Marie Antoinette told the people...
Speaker: Order please. Will the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Yes, I am concluding my answer by telling the Member that her position reminds me of a historical situation where Marie Antoinette told the public...
Speaker: Order, please. Will the Member please conclude his answer.
Mr. Lang: It is very clear in the rules that the Minister is supposed to give a brief reply to the question. He is not supposed to stand here and give a speech, and we have listened to three of them in the last 10 minutes.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I do not believe the Member has a point of order. I will conclude my answer. I was saying that the action engaged by the government was expressed... The Member has asked a question and I am attempting to answer it.
Point of order
Mr. Lang: Point of order.
Speaker: Order please. Point of order to the Member for Whitehorse Porter Creek East.
Mr. Lang: The Minister abused the rules. Rule No. 9 is very clear, A reply to a question should be as brief as possible, relevant to the question asked and should not provoke debate. He breached every principle in that particular rule. I would rule that there is a point of order, and I think the Minister should be taken to task.
Speaker: On the point of order, I find there is a point of order, and I would like to remind both sides of Rule No. 7, that a brief, one-sentence preamble is allowed in the case of main questions. Also, Rule No. 9 states that a reply to a question should be as brief as possible and relevant to the question asked. I have noticed for the past few days now that there are fewer and fewer questions. Today we have had only five questions, so it is up to you people how you are going to handle that. Time is ticking away, so if you are going to handle Question Period in this way, it is up to you. I am warning both sides: you are going to be cut off if I feel that you are abusing the rules.
Mrs. Firth: I believe I got called another name there: Marie Antoinette. I did not get the full story. Maybe I could just refresh the Members minds. They have called me Marie Antoinette, Tokyo Rose and McCarthy.
This is my question for the Minister: this political maneuvering has resulted in an additional cost to the taxpayers of $20,000 for the first year and over $20,000 the second year. How is the Minister going to justify that expense to the Yukon taxpayer?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: The Member raised the suggestion that I called her Marie Antoinette. That is not correct; I said her posturing reminds me of Marie Antoinette, who told the public, Let the people eat cake. Two hundred years later, the Member opposite is telling the public, Let the public freeze.
The Member is alleging that there is no justification for the expenditure of public funds and I challenge that statement. We preserved a fuel supply to a group of rural communities - that is the justification - a fuel supply that is year-round, a fuel supply that allows residents of those communities to have fuel supplied on an as-needed basis, where you do not have to wait for an appropriate eight-hour trip from Whitehorse from a supplier, or where you have to wait for two weeks before you can get fuel supplied. Those are the grounds; those are justifications: the preservation of the health of a community, the preservation of a year-round fuel supply.
Question re: Tagish Kwan Corporation
Mr. Nordling: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development with respect to the Tagish Kwan Corporation. My question is a follow-up to a question I asked yesterday. I want to assure the Minister of the Yukon Housing Corporation that this is not a question about the Centennial Street Project, it is a question to the Minister of Economic Development, who is also the Minister of Finance, about the money of the taxpayer. The rumour persists that Tagish Kwan is bankrupt and the government may lose the whole $400,000 loan.
What, if anything, has the government done or is doing to assure that this loan will be repaid?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The loan, like any other loan, is a loan we are interested in recovering. At the same time, we understand that the Tagish Kwan Corporation is undergoing a restructuring and we have no reason to believe at this point that our loan will not be recovered. We will be monitoring the situation closely, but the bridging loan we provided once before was secured against the building on Centennial Street. Consequently, we feel quite confident that no matter what course of action is taken in the future we will still recover the $400,000.
Mr. Nordling: When will we know what the result is, and if the reorganization is not successful will the government still stand to recover the money?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We will take whatever action is required no matter what happens to secure recovery of the loan that we have provided, just as we do in all like situations.
Mr. Nordling: At present there is no work being done at all that I can see on the Centennial Street project. When will the government know the result? If no work continues on that project is the loan of the government still secure?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I understand from the Minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation that the agreement to purchase the Centennial Street project expires on May 3, I believe.
Irrespective of what may happen in the future the government will take whatever action it can to secure its $400,000 to the Tagish Kwan Corporation. It is secured against the building, and the Member will note it is a brand new apartment building on Centennial Street.
Speaker: Time for Question Period has now lapsed.
We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Speaker: Motions respecting Committee Reports.
MOTIONS RESPECTING COMMITTEE REPORTS
Motion Respecting Committee Reports No. 3
Clerk: Item No. 2, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. McDonald.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Chair of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges
THAT the First Report of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges, presented to the House on April 24, 1990, be concurred in; and
THAT the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly be amended to reflect the report.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As Members will recall, the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges was ordered by a motion of the Legislation on April 24, 1989, to do a review and, then, to report on the general Standing Orders of the Assembly, as well as the rules of Question Period.
Despite difficulties with scheduling, the Committee did meet four times during the past year. At the first meeting, it identified a number of issues it wished to cover during the review, then directed the Clerk of the Committee to canvass all Members of the Assembly to discuss the issues identified in Committee and, ultimately, to report back to the Committee the views of the Members of the House.
The Clerk was also directed to prepare a report for the Committee on the practices respecting these issues in other Canadian jurisdictions. Following the Clerks report of his consultation with the Members and its cross-Canada review, the Committee then narrowed the subjects down to those in the report, finally tabled now in the House.
The issues included the drafting of petitions, the use of division bells in Committee of the Whole, and the giving of notice of business on Private Members Day, which is each Wednesday.
In regard to the petitions, a number of Members of the Committee were of the view that the rules respecting petitions were too technical and restrictive. As a result, after some discussion, the Committee recommended amendment to the Standing Order, which will do the following: the first is to remove the requirement that petitions be dated; the second allows petitions to request expenditures; the third allows petitions to raise matters that have been delegated to other bodies by the Yukon Legislative Assembly, including Crown corporations.
The second issue being addressed by the Committee is a question of whether or not the rules should be amended to allow division bells to be rung in Committee of the Whole. This discussion was subject to some dispute during Committee proceedings. The decision was taken that Standing Orders should be changed to permit Members to request that bells be rung when a count is to take place.
The use of the bells is to be undertaken under the following conditions: firstly, that votes in Committee of the Whole should still be a count and not a required vote, meaning a standing count; secondly, there should be a five-minute limit to the period the bells could be rung; thirdly, that House Leaders, or acting House Leaders could tell the Chair that it is appropriate to take a vote prior to the expiration of the five minutes, even if all Members are present.
The reason for the change is that important decisions respecting the matters before the Committee should not be subject to the momentary absence of a few Members. The important matters that the House considers, including the budget of the government, and every piece of legislation, are given detailed consideration in Committee. It is a majority view of the Committee Members that decisions on these matters should not be made by accident. There should be some assurance that these decisions reflect the desires of all elected Members.
The final point that the Committee reviewed was the requirements that will be put in place regarding the provision of notice of House business. It was determined after a great deal of discussion that major changes are not required. The only amendment being suggested now is that there should be a requirement that the usual practice of arranging the business of Private Members Day should be determined, at the very latest, on the preceding sitting day. The effect of the rule change will be to have the order of Wednesdays private Members business established on the immediately-preceding Tuesday. Doing this will assure that all Members will have at least one day in which to prepare themselves for the debates that take place on Wednesday.
There were other matters covered in the report, and for some magic reason there was a decision not to change the guidelines for Question Period.
Secondly, the Committee is recommending that the Clerk be authorized to make minor editing changes in the Standing Orders. What I mean by minor editing changes are that the changes should cover matters such as the ruling of language that is not gender neutral, and also to make corrections to out-of-date sectional references and to introduce plain English to replace some of the archaic phraseology found in the rules.
The Clerk is consequently to prepare a consolidation of the Standing Orders, which includes these minor editing changes and is to table them through you to the House.
In summary, I would like to thank all Committee Members for the work they have put into this, sometimes at inconvenient times, and for the diligence they applied to the tasks at hand. It is my pleasure then to introduce the first report of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges.
Mr. Lang: I would like to begin by thanking the Clerk and staff for the work they have done on our behalf. It is very onerous at times, and comparing our rules to other jurisdictions I am sure gets very tedious at times. I just want to let them know that we appreciate the time and effort they put into it on our behalf.
To my recollection, this is the first time I have ever risen in the House to speak on the Committee report on rules and disagreed with the report. The rules are generally made through the debate in the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges, the give and take, and generally by consensus if there are any rules changes.
In this particular case, there has been a significant change that the Minister referred to in his presentation but definitely did not highlight. What we see as major changes are the changes in Committee and the method of voting. The Minister referred very briefly to the question of the ringing of division bells in Committee. As you know, that has not been the practice of our House in the past. It was always thought that, with the ability of all Members to speak on any given issues, one did not have to ring the bells to bring Members to a vote because if a decision was being made and if by some coincidence, especially on the government side, all the Members were not in, any Member has the ability to rise on the given issue and speak for as long as he or she wants. During that period of time the necessary membership for the purposes of the vote can be brought back into the House.
I know the side opposite are saying that the reasoning for this amendment is to avoid what they refer to as an amendment by ambush if they do not have Members in the House, but as I said earlier, there are always methods of getting the Members in. That is the responsibility of the party whip.
Our opposition to this particular change is very clear. With the requirement of the ringing of the bells for five minutes prior to a vote if called upon, what we are going to see, perhaps not in the course of this session, but perhaps in the next session in Committee of the Whole, is less and less of the front bench in the legislative chamber. It would be a reason for a Member to absent themselves as they are only a stairwell away and they can stay in their office because of their ministerial duties, claim they are busy and if they need them we can ring the bells.
What it is going to eventually deteriorate into is going to reflect, very much, a disrespect for the legislative process and for the very basic principle of Parliament. I think it is a wrong move by the government as far as their legislative responsibility is concerned.
Over the course of the last number of years, we have seen a steady disrespect for this House. I do not think at times it is intentional but it is becoming more and more evident that what we do in these chambers is not seen as important as perhaps it should, in the governments eyes. Perhaps, I guess, the front bench has been there a long time and they find this is an inconvenience.
I speak of the conscious decision made by the side opposite to combine the two budgets into one budget session. Over a 10-year period we had a common precedent that had been accepted by this House, where there was a capital budget session for sure in the fall, and a further budget session in the spring for operation and maintenance. That did a number of things, if you recall. It ensured that the capital budget was passed early, to give as much lead time to primarily Government Services to do the necessarily planning, engineering, architectural work and to get the plans out. Just as important, it gave the Legislature the right to scrutinize the budget on two separate occasions, as far as the financial management of the government is concerned. Now, with the decision that was made by the side opposite, we are in a situation where we are debating the budget and that is it. The government only comes under scrutiny once a year, as opposed to twice. That in itself was an abrogation, in my view, of the responsibilities that Members have to this House and the important part that we play in respect to the checks and balances within the administration, vis-a-vis the legislation process.
Also, it is interesting to note that we have seen a very major change in the whole complexion of the Public Accounts Committee since the last election. We now have a government Member who is the Chair, as opposed to what the rule was prior to that, where the Leader of the Opposition was the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. That did not meet the agenda of the side opposite and that decision was made; subsequently, we had a Public Accounts Committee which, thus far, as I can see, is basically giving lip service to the government. Once again, although one would see it as a minor change in the format of how we conduct our business in our House, yet it is another change.
Only time will tell, but I can envisage in the next two years that we are going to probably go to one session, as time goes on. Once again, as far as the legislative chambers and the inconvenience it causes Members opposite, it becomes more and more of a disrespect for our parliamentary and legislative responsibilities.
I want to make one other point about going to the one-budget session. This was another area of concern to us when the decision was made to take the capital and operation and maintenance budgets together in one session. The ultimate end to that is that there are only 16 Members in this House. When it all comes together in one session, because of the limited number of Members, the budget may not be scrutinized to the extent that it should be. It is the human side of running the House. People get tired. After four weeks, we know how cantankerous Members get.
The Minister says, On the first day. No, we try to give it a day or two. The reality of the situation is the human side of the ability of individuals to scrutinize the budget in a very thorough manner. That is sad, because it is the taxpayers who are cheated. There may be some short-term political advantage, but perhaps we are then losing sight of why we are here. We are not here to serve the government; we are here to serve the public of the Yukon Territory.
As far as what has happened here in the House and how things have changed, we have seen motions unanimously passed in this House. For example, there was the motion about access into Kluane National Park. All Members took a position on that issue. Six months later, we find there is a radical change by the side opposite, unbeknownst to the general public. The impression was left that there was unanimous support for that motion.
We have had three or four motions like that. The Minister of Renewable Resources should not feel singled out. All Members have been involved in various motions. This is not a frontal attack on the Member for Klondike. I would be the last to mention The Magic and The Mystery in a debate like this.
I mentioned another area earlier, and that is the argument given by the side opposite when they said that amendments to legislation should not be made by accident. That argument does not hold water. If anybody has watched the proceedings in this House, there are various ways in which debate can be delayed or adjourned, or any number of things, in order to delay and get Members in the House.
It is a sad day for the territory. It is not going to make or break today, tomorrow or the government. The government should re-examine its position on the question of the ringing of division bells within Committee of the Whole.
It was not anything any Members on this side asked for. Obviously the Members on the other side were intent on bulldozing it through. We now have it in Committee of the Whole and it is going to be voted on.
I want to conclude by saying that this is the first time, to my knowledge, that Members of the House have stood up and said they were going to vote against a report presented by the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges. Once again I harken to the Government Leader and his dedication and humble disposition at all given times to the very humbling experience of being a parliamentarian in this House. Unbeknownst to him, I think it is safe to say we are once again showing disrespect to the proceedings of the House. As time goes on, I will be very surprised if we see the front bench in Committee of the Whole once they get accustomed to the easy running up and down the stairwells when called upon by the party whip. We will be voting against the motion.
Hon. Mr. Webster: It is my first time to speak on a report dealing with the rules of the business of this House.
Following the Member opposite I want to come out in complete favour of the recommendations of the report. I can find some good reasons in support of these recommended changes.
I want to start off where the Member opposite finished off on the subject of Members of this House showing disrespect. He cited a couple of examples in which I was involved. I want to remind the Member for Porter Creek East that it was not me last week who introduced a petition in this House that was claimed to have been signed by 204 people, and read a long message into the record that, in the end, was only signed by two people.
The Member opposite says we have other options to the ringing of bells for five minutes to bring Members to the floor for a vote. One suggestion was that Members could speak as long as he or she wanted, which would encourage filibustering. That is an excellent reason to put forward for not introducing this other option - trying to encourage filibustering and more waste of time in this House.
He also predicts that he will see less and less of the front bench because Ministers will be up in their offices working away. Well, that is true. From time to time, Ministers will be working in their offices. Normally we bring our work down here. Upon occasion it is necessary for MLAs to meet with people. Following a very busy morning schedule throughout the week, which I think most Members are aware of, often you have to meet with people in your office. You have to occasionally be briefed by departmental officials on issues of responsibility and issues that may come up.
In my case, for example: on agriculture, big game, trapping, parks and campgrounds, fishing, forestry, land use planning, the environment, tourism marketing, tourism development, heritage or Yukon Liquor Corporation responsibilities. I like to be briefed on these issues so that I can address the questions that may arise in the House. Occasionally, it is necessary to meet with clients. I like to be accessible to them on matters relating to my responsibilities such as agriculture, trapping, parks and campgrounds, forestry, environment, land use planning, tourism, marketing and development and heritage. This week, for example, I will be meeting with the chairs of the Yukon Wildlife Management Board and with the snowmobile club to talk about their concerns with the Chilkoot Trail National Historic Park. Occasionally, there are times one has to break away from a busy schedule to meet with department officials and clients.
Another case that is quite common to me, as a representative of a rural community, is that often I have constituents coming to town on short notice and only for a short period of time and they call me with a concern and want to meet with me right away. I want to be accessible to them as well. Sometimes the press wants to talk to us, especially after a Minister makes a statement in the House. Sometimes we break as long as 45 minutes following Question Period so that the Minister can conduct a press conference on the statement.
It is also necessary at times that the Minister represent the government on official business. Tomorrow night, for example, I have been asked to attend a banquet and a meeting and make a speech to representatives involved in the Tourism North agreement. The Minister of Tourism from British Columbia will be there and the Commissioner of Economic Development from Alaska will be there. Occasionally, I like to excuse myself so that I can represent the people of the Yukon at these functions. However, when I asked this morning for the Members opposite to pair with me, I was turned down.
I bring these examples to your attention to show that every now and then it is warranted and I can justify my absence from this House for a short period of time to do these things. I do not think my presence in this House during debate in Committee of the Whole is always absolutely necessary.
I would suggest that, considering the comments from the Members opposite, their absence from this House is not at all missed, but it is not necessary on many occasions in debate of the Committee of the Whole that all Members be here. This is recognized in legislatures throughout the country, particularly in budget debates, where other legislatures have finance committees to do that very thing. Those budgets are not scrutinized in a Committee of the Whole session, which requires the attendance of all Members.
For that and many other reasons, I am fully in favour of the recommendations coming out of the Committee, particularly the one of ringing of bells, and fully support the report.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I am pleased to contribute a few words to this discussion, especially since this is not the first time I have spoken about rules in this House. I have been around long enough to remember that this is not the first time I have spoken about the rules and had a disagreement with the government about them. That wonderfully convenient memory of the Member for Porter Creek East is a fallible instrument, I have to tell you.
Almost every parliament in the Commonwealth makes arrangements to provide for debate and the proper airing of the public business. Almost every Parliament in the Commonwealth amends its rules from time to time, to make them relevant to the day.
It is perfectly correct that the first duty of Members of this House is to this House, whether they are Ministers or not. It is also true that Ministers, especially, have many other duties. Ministers have departments to lead. As the Member for Klondike says, they have briefings to receive, instructions to give to the department and communications that must be carried out between this government and other governments.
Last week during Committee of the Whole, when I was on my feet with a bill I was sponsoring, a fairly important foreign visitor arrived unexpectedly. As is properly my duty, I was obliged to break and to meet him. I appreciated the courtesy of the Leader of the Official Opposition in allowing for a recess in order for me to do that. I well know that, had the House been in a surly mood - and I have seen this House in that kind of a mood - I might well have been impeded in the discharge of my duties, which I am also elected to carry out.
The Member says the rule change that is being proposed in respect to ringing the bells in Committee is, somehow, unprecedented and unnecessary. It is not unprecedented. Most legislatures now either stack the votes at the end of Committee, or provide some means to give notice to Members, because they recognize that not just Ministers, but ordinary Members, in most legislatures now, have so many demands on their time that they cannot be reasonably expected to spend 100 percent of their time on the floor of the Chamber. I suspect the attendance in this House is not only far better than it is in any other legislature in the country, but is likely to remain so for all sorts of reasons, which I could speak to at length, but will not.
It is a matter of record that during the long and endless debate on the human rights legislation - from first introduction of the bill to its final passage took over a year - that at one moment I stepped out from the Committee into the washroom, went to the washroom and then was ambushed by a group of reporters, and during the time I was being tackled by reporters, the government lost an amendment to that human rights legislation.
I would respectfully suggest that that kind of legislative accident is an irresponsible way to deal with the public business. It is ludicrous for a government to perhaps lose a vote on some line in the budget simply because some Member was in the washroom or on the telephone or cornered by a reporter - absolutely ludicrous.
As the Member for Klondike pointed out, the Member for Porter Creek East suggested that a filibuster is somehow the magic solution to all of these problems: if someone just gets up and speaks nonsense and holds the floor, then that would solve the problem. That, I would suspect, from the point of view of any sensible person, is an entirely unsatisfactory solution. The fact of the matter is that giving five minutes notice of a vote in Committee by virtue of ringing the bells is a sensible, practical arrangement, which deals with the reality of this Legislature in 1990. It deals with the fact that Ministers have many demands on their time and much as they want to be here, so that they will not miss a single word said by the Member opposite, there will be times when we will be called away, whether it be because of a phone call from a federal Minister or, as the Member for Klondike says, a rural constituent coming in and demanding to see their Member, who also happened to be a Minister, or some small crisis in a department that demands the attention of a Minister. All of these, I suspect, are valid reasons for Members to absent themselves briefly from the House during a debate and should not cost the government a vote on some important matter.
The Member across the road - the Member for Porter Creek East, the Member with the convenient memory - says that decisions have always been made by consensus about the rules. Well, how soon they forget.
I was elected to this House in 1978 and was very fortunate, as the lone Member of the New Democratic Party at the time, to be elected to the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges of this House. I still remember my first experience with that Rules Committee - the Rules Committee that always operated by consensus. After a long time without having taken a break, I decided to take a weeks holiday - I think it was in February of 1979. I went to the Conservative Chair of that Committee and said, I am going to take a week off. Will that be any problem? Can you assure me that there will not be any meetings of the Committee while I am away? Well, it is a matter of record that that Conservative Chair said, No problem. There will be no meetings of the Committee while you are away.
Guess what happened? While I was away a meeting of the Committee was called. Suddenly, when I came back the consensus we had reached prior to my departure was subsequently completely fractured. Quite, I am sure, by coincidence, all sorts of rules that affected single Members, Members of one-Member caucuses, were suddenly changed. Suddenly there were new rules proposed, such as the rule that would require a second in order to present a motion to this House - a very interesting bit of history - so that I would no longer be able to move motions, as a single Member of a party, nor would the Member for Faro, nor the Member for Campbell at that time. That was done after the Conservative Chair of the Committee had promised me there would not be a meeting.
The convenient recollection of the history of the Legislature by the Member opposite does not surprise me, but it does disappoint me. The Member opposite suggests that somehow the fact that there is now a government Member in the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee betrays an ancient rule that the job should go to the Leader of the Official Opposition. That is not the motion we are debating today, but it is a matter of record, as I understand it, that no Member of the Opposition who was on the Committee would accept nomination for the Chair. That is why we have a government Member.
It is a misstatement of the record to say that the job has always gone to the Leader of the Official Opposition. I became Chair of that Committee when the Leader of the Official Opposition was the hon. Member for Riverdale South, Mr. McKay, leader of the Liberal Party.
The suggestion that on debate on motions on bills and budgets that somehow Ministers will neglect those votes is one that disturbs me because I sat here in this House during a time when the party opposite had a huge majority. There were many times when Mr. Byblow and I remember there being one or two Conservative Ministers here on the front bench because their majority permitted that. Again that is an example of a convenient memory.
I will make a representation that the change we are talking about is a very modest change and is one that does no damage whatsoever to the democratic principles of the House; in fact, it respects them. It respects the right of giving reasonable notice to a Member of a vote, which is something provided for in almost every parliament.
The ability for a Member to speak and to vote is very important. I do not want to go on at length about this but the Member opposite has again stated for the record a number of observations about a number of other matters that are incorrect. He suggested this House, under the leadership of this government, had ignored certain motions of the House. It is interesting to look at the record on that case because there have been times when it has been alleged that opinions expressed by this House are somehow constituted as House orders when they are not.
We have nothing but respect for the opinions in this House. I would like to remind the Member opposite that I can remember motions, too. I remember one concerning a certain company named White Pass that unanimously passed this House. Yet, the government, on its own, without advising the House, completely ignored it. That was what the Conservative government did on a matter of great importance.
On the question of petitions, I must personally say I am not enthusiastic about the proposals put by the Members of the Opposition in respect to petitions, but I do respect the consensus traditions of this Committee. Even though I have a lot of problems with the amendments to petitions proposed by the Leader of the Official Opposition, it is proper to make reasonable accommodations for the requests of both sides. I am going to be supporting this package of changes, because it respects the fact, in this report, that there are provisions here that both the Opposition and the government have requested. It is quite inappropriate for the Members opposite to say, we are going to vote for the provisions we like, but we are going to oppose reasonable requests from the government.
The provisions about notice of House business have been spoken to well by the Member for Mayo, the Government House Leader. In respect to the question of the language and rules, and the tidying up of the rules, I appreciate the instruction that is proposed to be given for the Clerk, and I support it, but I suspect there is a lot more than could be done in these rules.
Mr. Speaker, the former Member for Watson Lake, your predecessor in the constituency of Campbell, Mr. Porter, used to complain about rules written in Shakespearian, or antique, English. I believe it would be a great day in this Parliament, as it would in all the provinces in the land, to see all our rules written in plain English. Any movement in that direction is commendable.
I will be supporting this motion.
Mr. Phillips: Initially, I was not going to speak to this motion, but I feel it is necessary to rise and respond to some of the comments made by some of the Members opposite. I found it rather interesting in listening to the Member for Porter Creek East when he raised the issue and a concern we have about Members feeling that being in the House is a bit of an inconvenience, and they want to spend less time in the House and more time in their offices, or on trips, or doing other things. The Minister of Tourism rose to his feet right after the Member for Porter Creek East spoke, and confirmed everything the Member for Porter Creek East said. I was quite surprised the Member spoke that way.
He also raised the issue of pairing. I find that a rather weak argument. If the Member would look around himself right now, and look at all his other caucus Members and count, he would find there is no need for one Member of that side of the House to pair with a Member from this side of the House if they want to go to a conference or are going to be out of the House for a short period of time. They have the numbers, and they have a majority government. They have the numbers to win votes, in most cases. I think that argument of pairing is rather weak.
When they are in their offices, they are not very far away, or if they happen to step out to meet with someone or to take an urgent message. It also should be known that every Minister has a sound system in their office, and he or she can monitor what is happening in the House by just turning on an FM radio. Most of them do that. If it is necessary for them to be back in the House, they can be here in a hurry. It is a shallow excuse that they have to spend more time in their offices.
We are a very small jurisdiction. Most Yukoners expect all of us to be in this House when we are in session. After listening to the Minister of Tourism, it confirms to me that the side opposite feels it is a real inconvenience to be here representing the people who elected us, and I am disappointed in the position taken by the side opposite. We are not the House of Commons or some large provincial government as in the imagination of the so-called Premier. I think most Yukoners believe that when we are in session, we should all be here taking part in the debate. I find the arguments of the side opposite just another excuse to not spend any time in the House. I think if they had their choice, they would do away with this part of being government because it appears to be a great inconvenience to them to have to be here and answer to the general public.
Mrs. Firth: I rise today to respond to the First Report of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges, particularly to express some concerns about the recommendations of that report. I guess the controversial section, according to the majority of the Members, is the one of the ringing of the division bells in the Committee of the Whole. It is always a concern to me when I get the feeling that the Members who have been elected by the public to represent a certain constituency are anxious to get out of the Legislature or are expressing some feeling of inconvenience about having to sit here and debate issues of public importance or interest.
Our first duty as legislators in serving our constituents is being here in the Legislative Assembly, making representations on their behalf, on behalf of people who perhaps do not feel free to speak out for themselves.
The Minister of Tourism has had his say. He alluded that it was an inconvenience for him to be here, and he had more important things to do, such as go to meetings and banquets, but our first duty to our constituents is to be here in the Legislative Assembly.
The Member for the riding of Klondike may be able to make all those representations in one day or two days or whatever, but I think that most of us need more time to make the representations on behalf of our constituents. I remember, as a government Member, as a Cabinet Minister, how hard we had to work and how long the days are and how busy one can be, so I can have some empathy for the very busy lives that the front bench has and the long hours that they have to put in, but that was their choice. It was their choice to run for office and to take the job, so the complaints or the hard feelings are falling on deaf ears.
As far as ringing the bells in Committee of the Whole is concerned, one of the Oppositions opportunities to effect change or have change is during Committee of the Whole, when we can propose amendments to legislation and to have some input into perhaps changing the direction that the government wishes to pursue. The government says, Well, you still can do that but we are going to ring the bells so that we can all be there and we can all vote down any proposal or amendment or suggestion that is brought forward. Well, it is incumbent on those Members to be here anyway. I do not think the Legislature and the House should be making more office time for the Ministers. That is not our job. It is the job of the Ministers to be here in the Legislative Assembly, following their areas, following the proceedings of the Assembly and making representations on behalf of their constituents. It is not our responsibility to make their lives less complicated by providing more office time for them. I cannot agree with the concept of ringing the division bells in Committee of the Whole. It is one of the few opportunities for Opposition to effect change, to make change, and if the government is careless and they do not have their Members present, and they do not have all of their seats filled, then they do that at their own peril.
I can recall when the Members of the government now, particularly the front benches, were Opposition Members, and I do not think they would have ever agreed to this kind of change at that time. That was the time that they were the defenders of the people. It seems that the less contact that they have with people, the better they like it. I have concerns brought forward to me that one cannot even phone a Minister and talk to them here in this government anymore, so I do not know what the Minister of Tourism is talking about, wanting to be in his office more. The media try to call a Minister and they go through an executive assistant and a secretary and a receptionist; they do not even get an opportunity to speak to a Minister any more. They are becoming untouchable people.
The Minister of Government Services is going aaaaw. I would like some of these people to come out and talk to people on the street and see how accessible they are considered to be. Just so Ministers can stay out of the House when we are proceeding through the business of this House, so they can be in their offices, so we have to ring the bells to call them all down here so the Opposition does not pull any fast amendments or changes through, is a principle I just cannot agree with. It is all part of the legislative process, the democratic parry and thrust of debate. I do not think it is necessary that we should have to alert all the Ministers when all they have to do is have an FM radio on and they can hear the proceedings. If they are concerned about the vote or the government falling then they can come back and take their place in the Assembly.
I will not be able to support this particular aspect of the First Report of the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges.
On the other areas that deal with the notice of House business, the review of guidelines for oral Question Period, I believe the Committee recommended that the guidelines not be amended. I am sure that there will be more review of guidelines for Question Period in the future.
On petitions, I understand the Government Leader has some concern about this. He said he did not completely agree with it but he believed in the consensus feeling of the Committee. We, too, believe in that but we have an opportunity to stand and express our points of view in this Legislature and I feel that is what Members have done here today. I hope the Committee does not take offence that there are Members who have different opinions than those the Committee feels are in the best interest of legislative proceedings.
Speaker: The hon. Member will close debate if he now speaks. Does any other hon. Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As the Chair of this Committee, I have to be careful not to respond in too partisan a fashion. I understand I will continue to be chairing this Committee, at least for the foreseeable future, and I will want to be on the best of terms with all the Members.
Nevertheless, I feel obligated to support the report on behalf of the Committee. Ultimately, I will have to be forced into a position of taking issue with the theme some Members expressed: that there is increased disrespect for the House in recent years. This is a patently false, misleading and very dishonest impression some Members are trying to leave. I am saddened by the fact they have tried to make these points in this debate.
There were some comments that there were a number of developments in recent years that caused one to suspect that there was increasing disrespect by some Members in this Legislature for the institution of the Legislature. I find this particularly disturbing, largely because it is not true.
Firstly, there was a claim that, because the government had moved from two budgets to one budget, somehow there was less accountability in this Legislature during the budget process. Last year, we had no less than a budget and three supplementaries to defend, which meant we were defending particular votes upward of four times in the Legislature - the same vote four times in one year. We also managed to sit a very long period of time in the last year. In the last few years, we appear to be sitting many weeks, certainly much longer than we did when I was in Opposition in this Legislature.
The fact we have been sitting longer, and the fact we have been debating the same estimates over and over again, speaks volumes. It is unfair for the one particular Member to suggest this move was one that showed disrespect for the House. I believe the combined budgeting process acceded to Members requests made some time ago that a complete picture of the governments expenditures should be displayed at one time.
The Member for Porter Creek East is indicating he never asked for that. That is quite true. The Member obviously feels quite bruised that what he regarded as being the long-time traditions should not be respected for all time. I regard that as being a particularly arrogant position and, as one Member of this Legislature, I do not agree with it. Consequently, I cannot support him in his frontal assault.
The Member has suggested that other committees, and he cited the Public Accounts Committee, were not doing the job that was expected of them, meaning presumably that the Public Accounts Committee should do a frontal assault on Ministers. I think, as I have indicated before, that is a misunderstanding of what the Committee was created to do and that was a direct result of the mishandling of the Committee by some Members of the day. Consequently, the purpose of the Committee, which was to analyze the administration of government, has now been found again. I am thankful for that.
The Members have suggested that the front bench on the government side finds it is an inconvenience to come into the House and listen to the Members speak. That is nonsense. Obviously, the House has been sitting much longer and the front bench has been in its its place for some time. It is regularly here.
The Members have mentioned that somehow if the opportunity for the Minister or other Members to undertake business with constituents this demonstrates disrespect for the legislative process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Members have said this is a small jurisdiction. It is. Members have mentioned this is a small Cabinet; it is. There are public duties inside and outside of the Legislature. Both are important. It is important to make contact with your constituents. It is important to come and discuss business in the House. Both are important.
We have been sitting longer than we have in the past. We still have public business and we will, as we always have, respect the public business to the letter.
I would answer to those who suggest that a filibuster is in order to get Members into the Legislature by saying that, to me, does not show respect for the traditions of the legislative process, which I believe include careful deliberation and conscious decision making. I do not believe in the approach suggested by the Member for Riverdale South that because the Opposition was not elected by the majority of the public that their only option is to be sneaky in the Legislature.
I do not agree with that. The public elects MLAs to carefully deliberate over matters that are before the Legislature, whether it is a matter presented by the Opposition or by the government, and to make conscious decisions based on the deliberations that have taken place in the Legislature. It is not appropriate to say that filibustering and sneak attacks and being generally sneaky is an appropriate approach. It is not an appropriate approach. It is not civilized and it is not in the parliamentary tradition.
Mr. Speaker, I think, while you are in the Chair, the business of the House is considered important and when there is a vote to be called there is an option to ring division bells if all Members are not present. That says a lot. It means that while you are in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, we regard the business of the House as being solemn and important. I believe that the business of the House while the Chair of Committee is in the Chair is also solemn and equally deserving of the same considerations you now receive when legislative business is being undertaken. As Chair of the Committee, I must say that, while some Members have shown that they dislike this approach and prefer the sneak attack I, for one, prefer careful deliberations, conscious decision making, and I believe that is a civilized record this Legislature should defend in the future. Despite the rather inane heckling from the Opposition side, who have clearly decided to take a partisan approach to this, I am afraid I will be voting in favour of this report. I believe it is a good report and respects the true traditions of this Legislature and, consequently, feel it should be supported.
Motion respecting Committee Reports No. 3 agreed to
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I move that Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I call the Committee to order. We will take a break.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will continue with general debate on Bill No. 77.
Bill No. 77 - Child Care Act - continued
Mr. Lang: All our attention has been centred on the family day homes. To some degree that is sad because there is a broader issue at stake here. It is not just family day homes; it is day care centres and after-school care, and all aspects on the question of day care and the many ways it can be provided.
At the outset, I want to say I am concerned about what I see is a real antipathy from the administration toward family day homes. For one reason or another, there seems to be a distrust. I was very surprised that the Minister was relying on the witness given by one of the panelists who came before us, in respect to what day home operators thought about the legislation. She indicated she had done a phone poll.
I have information contrary to that, but I would have thought that the department would have had a good working relationship with these people and be in a position to say, yes, it may affect this one this way, it may not affect another one this way, or whatever the case may be. The attitude seems to be that if we lose spaces that is too bad and we may be able to pick them up in another area, and perhaps one of the day care centres can expand and benefit from the fact one of the family day homes have shut down or have to take less people. I do not think that is the attitude that should be exhibited by the departmental staff.
I make that observation to the Minister in charge, because if this type of attitude is being projected by the administration, it does not make it a nice place to live. I do not believe the Minister is exhibiting that type of an attitude, but that attitude has been there for a long time. That is sad, because I do not think it has to be. There is a way to enforce the law and regulations in a manner that is generally acceptable. We do not do it through confrontation, nor through fear. There is an approach that can be taken where people can see it is in their best interest, as well as the general publics.
I will get into that because it goes further into another section of the bill and that is where all of a sudden we have a complete reversal. I want to focus our attention on the authority of the director. Under the new legislation, the director has the ability to go in and close down a day care centre or family day home or any type of child care facility. In the old act it was very carefully designed that that would be a very significant action. The director had to go to the board and give very good reasons for such action being taken and the board would issue the order. Why has that process been changed? What reasons have been brought forward to change them?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: First of all, let me say that there is not, from our point of view, an adversarial relationship or posture with respect to family day homes. The Member will have to understand that the situation in respect to family day homes is different depending on whether the family day homes are licensed or not. Licensed family day homes, the ones that are operating in accordance with the law and the existing regulations, do not have any problem with the department and work well with it. There have been problems on occasion with unlicensed family day home situations.
We have quite consciously in the department encouraged the development of family day homes. When there have been complaints they have been investigated by the department in order to find a solution. There was a lot of publicity and a lot of questions in this House because the department had taken a firm stand with one family day home that was operating outside the law.
Two other family day homes have in the past had a larger than normal number of inspections. The reason that happened was due to complaints received by the department on such matters as adequate fire safety standards and so forth. The complaints were always dealt with, when possible, in a confidential manner.
The Member referred to the powers of the director. There are a number of reasons the powers were changed, and I think the change is a real improvement to the current situation, where there is essentially a board of citizens with inspection and supervisory powers, and a process that involves citizens who were not agents of the government, but were appointed people in some difficult procedures, which they were neither by training nor in terms of their role equipped to do. What we now have is a proposal by this law that the director be given certain powers, but that any decision made by the director or by officials can be appealed to the board. The board sits as an appeal body rather than the licensing or enforcement body, which is a role the board feels comfortable with. I think they feel less comfortable with some of the parts of the directors job.
When the consultation was going on there was something like 90 percent agreement by the people consulted with the enforcement procedures proposed in this act. It was felt the director should have the powers necessary to investigate complaints. The powers are consistent with those in other Yukon legislation and in other jurisdictions, including laws that have been passed in this territory going back dozens of years, and including laws passed quite recently - whether you are talking about the Occupational Health and Safety Act or the Pesticides Act or the Historic Resources Act.
The law we have before us is not aimed at achieving punishment or closing up places but aimed at ensuring compliance for all the reasons we talked about. The powers of the director are there to ensure that standards are maintained for licensed services. The appeal procedures to the board increase the accountability of departmental staff and give the operator, or the parent, a different venue in which to air any grievances they have about the application of the regulations. Of course, the director is part of the hierarchy of the Department of Health and Human Resources, ultimately up to a Minister in the department, which provides another level of accountability to the House and to the public.
The powers of the director are not extraordinary, nor are they unlike those provided by legislation to officials of the government in other acts. What is an improvement on the situation in most of the legislation is that there is a public body to which citizens can appeal the decisions of the director.
Mr. Lang: We are going to get into the clause where we can discuss it further. I would not have any problems with the way it was written, but knowing the situation and what I see occurring, I am very concerned about justice not only being done but perceived to be done. There is nothing worse than an administration that has a vendetta or an obvious dislike for an area it happens to be responsible for; then, I think, justice is not being served. I am giving notice to the administration right now that if I see that happening - and it is my role as a Member of the Opposition - I will guarantee that it will be front-page news, not just for one day, but for a long long time. I am not going to see citizens being persecuted because of that type of perception. I just want to say that it had better be used very judiciously, because if it is not, I will be a phone call away from the Government Leaders office, and I will be a phone call away from the media. It will be front-page news and, if people are not being treated properly, it will be brought out in the public.
Did I hear the Minister correctly? Did he say that the majority of licensed family day homes supported the legislation?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I cited the evidence of Ms. Zenovitch appearing before the Committee in respect to the standards. I believe the information she gave us is a matter of record. The Member asked earlier whether the department had formally consulted, since the consultation meant a new draft of the act. As of yesterday, we had not gone back and consulted people on the points we talked about. The results of the consultation have been reported.
Mr. Lang: There is some confusion here. Could the Minister tell us how many licensed family day homes there are? Is it 12 or 14?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: There are 14, I understand, as of this moment.
Mr. Lang: We will get into it later on in debate, but I just want to make a point. I have a number of letters here. Unfortunately some of the writers do not want their letters tabled, which is their prerogative. At least eight of the 12 licensed day cares would like to see more flexibility in the legislation. Four have indicated that they are not affected, but one or two of them would like to see a little bit more flexibility in the legislation.
I want to point out for the record that this is information I have received. Obviously, this goes back to the point I made. I was really surprised when the Minister could not tell us after the consultation with his administration what kind of support was there, or what kind of reflection was there for positive change from his administration.
I think it gives some further substantiation to my concern about the obvious division between this type of care giving and the administration.
I have indicated my point on that to the Minister. I do not want to go into it further.
I want to go into the question of day care centres. Does the government have a program where they are either directly or indirectly funding the purchase of day cares?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I had to ask about the question, as I am not quite sure what the Member is getting at. The Member is asking if we have subsidized the acquisition or purchase of day cares. I do not know what the Member is getting at.
As you know, one of the principles in this program is the non profit principle. We have made funding available to non profit child care centres in areas where we would not make them to for-profit ones, except ones previously in operation. There are a number of previously for-profit child cares that are being officially converted into non profit status. Where that has happened, the government has made money available under programs like the capital development program to assist in the conversion.
Mr. Lang: Perhaps the Minister could be a little more specific. I would like to point out that there was a real lull for about three minutes as the Minister was being briefed on this question. When he talks about a conversion from profit to non profit, could he tell us which day cares he is referring to and what kind of money the taxpayers put up on behalf of each type of acquisition? Could he also tell us if they are negotiating with any other profit day care centres and converting them to non profit through the use of taxpayers money?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Let me explain to the Member that federal government cost sharing is only available, I think, under the capital assistance program and is only available to services in non profit child care programs. So we cannot provide the full range of subsidy programs except to non profit centres. There is one child care centre that is in the process of completing the conversion from profit to non profit, and there is another, which I think I cannot name right now, that is contemplating this action. The one that has gone through the conversion process is the Play Care Centre Society that has taken over the business, Carols Play Care, which was previously a profit child care centre.
Mr. Lang: Could the Minister be so gracious to tell the taxpayer how much money they paid to have this conversion done?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I suspect the Member is putting an odious twist on his question, as he is wont to do. He is asking how much it cost the taxpayer to complete this conversion. Let me explain that there are programs available, and I will provide a return for the Member on what contributions this government has made under the capital development program in this process. But, in the same way that he earlier suggested in a rather threatening way, that if we seemed to be harassing the family day homes, we would be on the front pages of the newspaper, both the programs that we are providing to see centres established, converted, meet standards or be properly equipped as well as the regulations that set those standards are done for the principles that are articulated in this act. To respond to the Members point, we will not be harassing anyone, but there will be, according to this act, proper inspection and enforcement of the standards, not in any Stalinist or gestapo way, but one that is geared to the proper concern of the safety of the children.
Mr. Lang: If I sound threatening it is because of past experience. If you will recall the surveillance that took place some time ago, which was a matter of public debate in this House, it did remind you of stories read from states that are less than democratic. We talk about the right of the individual. It is safe to say that, in view of the unfortunate experience that people have had to undergo through what the department did in the past, there is some justification.
I want to go back to the capital development fund. Can the Minister explain fully how this works?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: The Member asks how these capital grants work. I am not quite sure what he is getting at. As with most government programs, especially the enhancement grants, which are designed to improve the centres, or capital development programs, which enable the enhancement and development grant programs to both improve the facilities and to create new ones, the process is that a group or society operating or proposing to operate a child care centre will make an application to the department. The application will be reviewed by officials in the department. If it meets the eligibility criteria, which I am quite happy to table in the House if the Member wishes, subject to the availability of funding, the money will be approved. Normally, a letter of offer then proceeds to the group or organization and if it accepts, the money follows.
Mr. Lang: Is this a grant?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Yes, they are grants.
Mr. Lang: This money is allocated, and it can be used for the acquisition of for-profit day care centres; is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: No, I previously mentioned most of the program money of this kind is not available to for-profit centres. It is only available to non profit centres. If a non profit group is proposing to start, acquire, improve or develop a centre, it may apply for money under this program.
Mr. Lang: Maybe I am playing with words, but one of the variables of the program that is an organization can be created, as long as it is non profit, and it can purchase an existing profit-motivated day care centre; is that correct? I want to get clear in my mind how this works.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Yes. We are not going to provide all the money to purchase it, but they can apply. If a non profit group wants to acquire a business that has previously been a for-profit child care centre, and wants to operate it as non profit and be eligible for the range of programs and qualify under federal, as well as territorial, programs, it can apply for money under programs I have just identified.
Mr. Lang: I want to be more specific for the one that was converted. Was it all YTG money that went into the purchase?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Is the Member asking if we paid for the acquisition?
Mr. Lang: Yes. You bought the building. Somebody got the money from somebody. I appreciate the Minister is a little confused. I am not quite sure what we are doing here, so perhaps I am not framing my questions correctly.
We were informed that what used to be a profit-motivated day care has now been converted to a non profit day care. The Minister told us that for this acquisition there was money granted by YTG. Was it all YTG money? If so, how much?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: No, it was not all YTG money. I felt that was what the Member might be getting at. I have said I will provide the House the amount of money in this particular acquisition that came from the capital programs. Let the Member be assured it was a fraction of the purchase price. In essence, we did not buy the business ourselves.
The key point, which is irrelevant here, is that in the operation of a non profit centre the subsidies that we provide, whether through parent subsidies, or the operating and capital funds available through a number of programs that we offer, the monies we offer are recoverable or eligible for recovery from the federal government. It is interesting that in the case of this facility the recoveries from the federal government will exceed the amount of money we have contributed to the conversion. That is an important consideration for us because the consultations told us very clearly there was a very strong feeling with respect to the provision of this kind of service, public support for the non profit principle, as articulated by the Leader of the Official Opposition yesterday.
Mr. Lang: I am a little surprised. He does have his administration beside him and I would like a straight answer. How much was paid for the conversion?
Surely, the Members opposite have a breakdown of how much direct contribution was made by YTG.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I am told the contribution that YTG made was approximately $48,600. That was specifically for the purchase of equipment and toys for the new facility.
Mr. Lang: Was that existing equipment and toys or are we talking new equipment and new toys?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I missed the question, could the Member repeat it?
Mr. Lang: Is the $48,600 that went into this one acquisition for the purchase of existing equipment and toys or are we talking about new equipment and new toys?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: My understanding is that it was for the purchase of toys and equipment that were in the old facility to be operated by the new non profit operator. That is what the capital contribution from this program was for.
Mr. Lang: What facility are we talking about? We talked about a play care society but what actual day care centre did we purchase?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: This day care was formally called Carols Play Care, as I understand it.
Mr. Lang: We have $48,600 through the one program for the actual acquisition from the individual who owned the property, who would obviously want to sell it. Was there any other money, indirectly or directly, made available by the government for the actual purchase of the property.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: No.
Mr. Lang: Was there federal money made available for such a purchase?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: No.
Mr. Lang: Then I take it the non profit organization borrowed through normal banking channels for the purposes of such an acquisition. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I do not know. No doubt that information would be available to me, but I think that is their private business.
Mr. Lang: The government is also talking about the conversion or acquisition of another for-profit day care centre. Are we in a position now that such a purchase or acquisition is taking place or is in the process of taking place? Is that why the Minister does not feel that he can speak about it in the House?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: No. I am aware only that an operating centre is considering this conversion, not because there is an application for funding - I have received no notice of that - but because we are aware the operators are contemplating it.
Mr. Lang: With these two day care centres obviously being purchased, how many for-profit day care centres will be left operating in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I am advised: four.
Mr. Lang: Is it the long-term objective of the government that these all turn into non profit operating day cares?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: One of the principles of the child care policy is non profit. That is not to say there will not be private profit child care centres, but a number of the programs that we have available to people will not be eligible for profit centres.
Mr. Lang: I want to go to another area of day care centre acquisition. I understand the individual who used to own that centre is now working for the government in the day care administration. Did that position go out for competition?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I am advised that it did.
Mr. Lang: I did not see such a position being advertised. Could the Minister provide me with copies of the advertisements for such a position?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I will take that question as notice.
Mrs. Firth: So I have the process of events correct and in the proper chronological order, the Minister is saying that profit-oriented day cares can now convert to non profit. Carols Play Care was converted from a profit to a non profit child care service, that is now called the Play Care Association. Is that what he referred to it as?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I do not know what the name of the centre is. I do know it is operated by the Play Care Centre Society.
Mrs. Firth: It is now operated by the Play Care Centre Society. This is what I want to get correct in my mind. In order for that conversion to take place, the government granted the society $48,600 for the purchase of capital equipment, toys, and so on.
Could the Minister tell us who the principal owners of that operation are? Who owns the capital facility?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I have no idea, but I will take the question as notice. I do not think it is quite correct: the Member suggests a simple cause and effect between us providing the grant and the conversion. The conversion was planned. There was an application for funding, and a certain sum was approved. That may well happen again, but I would not want to suggest it would only happen where government funding is provided.
Mrs. Firth: Is the Minister saying there is additional funding for the conversion process? I understand there is only one allotment for funding of $48,600 for the capital assistance for the purchase of equipment and toys.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I am advised that the money involved was what was identified earlier in the question from Mr. Lang. The point I was making is that the conversions may happen because it will allow a non profit operator to access program funds, but one should not assume that the conversions happen because there is some direct financial incentive or grant from the government to achieve that conversion.
Mrs. Firth: I want to ask the Minister a question about access to programs for funding. There are two things. I want to go back to the grant that was given, the $48,000 capital grant, for the purchase of equipment. Is the Minister concerned that we have paid for that equipment twice? If I am not mistaken, under the previous ownership of that child care facility considerable government assistance had been given to the operator for the purchase of new equipment. Then the government came along and gave a grant to the new operator, Playcare Centre Society, for the purchase of toys and equipment as well. I have a concern that as profit centres convert to non profit centres the government is paying for the toys and equipment in place.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I understand the concern. I hope the Member will understand that the officials of the department are properly sensitive to that question. The money provided for this equipment and these toys was for equipment and toys that had not been previously acquired with the help of government assistance.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister provide us with a list? If the department is obviously sensitive about that it must have made a documented list of what was there and what it is paying for this time?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I take it that is Mr. Phillips question, since he was prompting the Member, but certainly I will endeavor to provide that information in written form for both Members.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister make some comment about the direction the government is taking with respect to its assistance and support of non profit centres versus for-profit centres? The Minister has said profit oriented day care centres and child care services are not going to be able to access program funding, yet the non profit centres will have access to the programs.
I find that a discriminatory process and it surprises me the government would encourage that kind of discriminatory practice. Perhaps the Minister would like to make a comment on that issue.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: First of all, I suspect there may be a philosophical disagreement with us on this question of principle. Yesterday, we were appreciative that the Leader of the Official Opposition indicated his support for this principle.
Funding for non profit child care centres is advocated by child care groups right across the country, and has been advocated here. As I mentioned before, Canada assistance plan funding is available. The funding we provide is only eligible for Canada assistance support if it is non profit.
There are currently four profit centres in Whitehorse. As the strategy recommended, the existing ones are grandparented, in the sense they are eligible for the program funding that is now in place, but the policy is that the new ones coming into existence - and there are some franchise and chain operations that largely operate in the United States that are decidedly for profit - would not be eligible for the subsidy programs we have recently put into place.
Chair: Does this Committee want to take a break? We had a half-hour one last time.
We will take a short recess.
Chair: I will call Committee to order.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to ask the Minister if he could answer the question before the break with respect to the principal owner of capital assets of the now operating Play Care Centre Society.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I said that I will have to take notice of that question and I will return with a response.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to follow up on the practice we see as discriminatory where the government will fund non profit centres through various programs but not the profit centres. The Minister mentioned the four profit centres in Whitehorse that had been grandparented in and were eligible for funding. Is that to go on forever, or is there a time limit on that grandparenting?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: It is our intention to grandparent them as long as they are in business.
Mrs. Firth: So then it is just the new child care centres that are opened. Any child care service that is considered to be profit oriented would not be eligible for any government programming. Is that correct? When I say any government programming I am talking about all the subsidies that are provided.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I would be careful when saying any government programs. It is the parents who have their children in the centre who will be eligible for the subsidies. The centre itself would not be eligible for the capital and operating program.
Mrs. Firth: So that is really not a subsidy to the child care facility, it is a subsidy to the parents utilizing that facility.
I think it is fair to say that most of the family day homes tend to be non profit. Does the Minister not see that this policy is completely against the concept of the family day home since they tend to be, whether philosophically or not, more profit oriented in nature than some of the larger day care centres?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: No. By our government policy and the Canada Assistance Plan, family day homes are considered non profit for funding purposes.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister is saying that all the family day homes are considered to be non profit, even though they are profit oriented in the way they do their work. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: That is correct.
Mr. Lang: A little earlier, the Minister talked about the $48,600 as being a fraction of the total cost of the financing necessary for a conversion from a profit to a non profit day care. Since we had a break, can the Minister tell us exactly how much was spent on the conversion? If he knew $48,600 was just a fraction, he must know what the final bill was.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I do not have the particulars in front of me. When I said the $48,600 was a fraction, I said what I believed was the case. It was a fraction of the original proposed purchase price, which included all the assets of the business. I do not have at hand the information on the actual final arrangements for the business. I know an application was made, and the grant that was given was that $48,600 for toys and equipment that had not previously benefited from government funding.
Mr. Lang: Who would actually approve that $48,600? Would it be the Minister? Who makes the decision on such an allocation of money?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: There is an internal committee, but the ultimate authority on that grant is the director of children and family services. That is the approval level on that.
Mr. Lang: The Minister has to give his authority to such an allocation of dollars, does he not?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I do not believe this requires ministerial authority. I believe it is within the spending authorities of that director.
Mr. Lang: The Minister was obviously made aware that such an allocation was going to be made. Was your opinion sought?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: No, and I am not sure I would want my opinion sought. My view is that if you establish programs, you establish program guidelines, and officials should be able to approve expenditures under programs that have been established under policy, which I have approved, up to the maximum of their particular spending authority in that hierarchy. I may report it in the sense that I would be communicating in this House or to the accounts in estimates, or even with the beneficiaries. It is not my view that ministerial approval should be necessary for such things.
Mr. Lang: Can the Minister give us a list of the dollars that have been allocated directly to this facility over the past two to three years? Could he give us a clearly defined list of what exactly we are purchasing for $48,600? As well, what was purchased with the dollars that were made available to the day care centre when it was privately owned?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I have taken notice of part of the question before. The new part just presented has been taken notice of as well, and I will provide the information as soon as I can.
Mr. Lang: The Minister refers to it as a conversion; I would call it an acquisition. I do not know if it is a play on words. We are talking about two different types of property transfers, and perhaps that is where I have erred in this concept of conversion. Maybe there has not been an actual property transfer.
Does the previous owner still have any association or financial relationship to the actual property, or otherwise, with the non profit organization that has been newly created? Is the property transfer being held in trust, or is there some lease-purchase arrangement? Perhaps the Minister can tell us exactly what has taken place.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I have no knowledge of the arrangements at all, but I can see where the Member is going. I think the Member is inquiring whether the person involved, who is now an employee of this government and this department, has some kind of conflict of interest with respect to this property. I think that is the accusation being made by the Member. I do not know the facts of the situation. I can only assume that now being an employee of the government, the person has no involvement in the business whatsoever.
Mr. Lang: I want to make it very clear I am not making allegations of conflict of interest, but I am trying to find out exactly how the money of taxpayers is spent. In view of what has gone on here, I think it is legitimate to try to find out whether or not there is still an active part being played by the previous owner in the situation that has developed.
Would the Minister undertake to report back and let us know if there is any indirect or direct interest left in this property in view of what has taken place?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Given the existing conflict of interest rules in the government, I am reasonably confident the person who was the former operator of this business and is now a government employee is no longer involved in the operation of that business. I will take the representation of the Member and give him the undertaking that I will try to establish the facts as quickly as I can and report them back to the House.
Mr. Phillips: I would like to go back to an issue that was discussed a few moments ago. It was about the grandfathering-in of the profit centres being eligible for future funding. I have written the Minister letters on this particular issue in regard to the Marantha Playschool, which is in Riverdale South. The owner and operator of that play school is a constituent of mine and has been corresponding with me for some time on this issue.
I would like to appeal to the sense of fairness the Minister has in considering a request made by the owner of that play school. By the correspondence the Minister has received and I have read, it appears the owner talked to the people in the day care department during the month of October, and got caught up in several problems, not necessarily the departments problems, but between the owner of the building she was in and the City of Whitehorse, in some kind of zoning squabble they were having. She did not get a final answer until January. As soon as she got the answer, she pursued her quest to open her day care.
Unfortunately, all her intentions were there. She just missed it by a couple or three weeks. It is unfortunate that happened, but it was not through her fault or neglect. Prior to January 1, the department knew of her intentions to operate this day care. She had made several inquiries and was caught up in a squabble between the landlord and the City of Whitehorse, and could not get the inspectors in to check the building out, and had various other problems dealing with officials and bureaucrats that prevented her from opening the day care.
I think this is the only case like this that has happened. I do not think the Minister has too many other cases on his books. The Minister has the information and the letters, and he is also aware of the concerns expressed by the owner of this day care.
Would the Minister reconsider allowing this particular play school to be grandfathered-in, as others were? The play school had many plans to start before January 1 but, through no fault of their own, was not allowed to do so.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: First of all, my normal understanding of the use of the term grandfathering is to refer to an existing business or situation that has been in place for some time. With respect to zoning matters, grandfathering usually refers to an existing business that does not change its character and has been there a number of years. Therefore, it is able to claim an exemption from some new rule or provision simply because it is a long-standing, well-established operation.
The Members representation is that even though Marantha had been operating as a day care for some time, there were new operators and new owners, and they should be allowed to be grandfathered. Even though they were a new business, they had intentions of establishing before the policy came into effect, although they were not able to do so for whatever reasons.
I will be happy to review the facts of the situation again with my officials, as I have done before. It seems to me that the proposal he is making will really give new meaning to the term grandparenting, but I will receive his representation and take a look at the matter again.
Mr. Phillips: I do not necessarily agree with the definition the Member gave for grandparenting because, in this case, grandfathering means that if you had a day care established before January 1, 1989, you were eligible. So, if you established on December 31, 1988, you were eligible. I am saying this particular person, who established this day care, had approached the department in October with the intention of applying and had all kinds of difficulties with various bureaucrats. Most of the problems were not of her own: the City of Whitehorse and the owners of the building were having the problems. It had nothing to do with her, but she had to sit on the sidelines and wait until they solved their problems. As soon as they did, she made her application.
In this particular case, if we set a date for grandfathering, it is from that date. They do not necessarily have to be in operation for 10 years before that date to meet that, because it did not say that here. It said if you were licensed by January 1, 1989, you qualified. This individual would obviously have had a license before January 1, 1989, if she had not run into all these difficulties.
If the Minister reads the letter and approaches the City of Whitehorse and gets the correspondence involved in this I think the Minister would understand that the difficulties this person ran into were not of her own doing. I would like the Minister to consider the request made by the play school and I look forward to his response.
Mr. Lang: I would like to move on to the after-school program the Minister spoke of. I gather it is in two schools. Can the Minister tell us which two schools? Can he tell us what projections he has as far as costs are concerned and what responsibility the government is taking on to permit facilities to be used for this purpose? Perhaps he can also tell us how many students are attending such a program.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: The Member will understand I have briefings on a large number of questions and this one happened to be at the bottom of the file. I have it on top now.
Two things I will say about school-age programs is that funding is available for non profit groups to start school-age programs. As Members may know there is one program that opened in September of 1989 and takes approximately 36 children from the French immersion program. That program is operated at Whitehorse Elementary School by a parent group, essentially, I understand - a society. It is officially operated by lassociation des Franco-Yukonnais, who are the sponsoring group.
They presently have a pilot program underway to have space available for English-speaking children, and if that proves successful they will take more English-speaking children. There is another group open-day school-age program in the St. Elias Residence in March 1990. They can take approximately 30 children and now have 14 enrolled at present. The situation at present is that if school committees and principals agree, space may be available in some schools for before- and after-school programs for school-age children. The reason many parents find that desirable is that children do not need to be transported from their school and it can be available during school breaks and before and after school, and school holidays. There are no new large costs involved for the taxpayers because they can use existing equipment.
The longstanding policy of the Department of Education is that school facilities can be used as long as there is no extra cost to the department. I assume in those cases it means maintenance or janitorial costs.
The program provides funding to non profit societies to establish school-age programs. Funding to family day homes - operation and maintenance, wage enhancement, and capital to develop programs - could also assist in hiring additional staff if they wish to offer such programs themselves.
Ms. Thompson talked about the possibility of hiring a person who would enable her to take school-age children, if she wished to take them. One staff person would enable her to take up to four or five part-time people on that basis.
Under these arrangements, it is possible for high school or college students, or neighbours, to be used as staff when they are looking for part-time care. The school spaces are used with the permission of the school committees and principals. Out of concern for the latchkey kid situation, which has been addressed by a couple of the Members in the House, there is an increasing interest in after-school care, whether it is in family day homes or child-care centres, or in programs that are school-based but operated by a non profit society.
Mr. Lang: I asked the Minister how much money we were allocating to this program. Could he be more specific? He never addressed that.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: In terms of the precise dollars, I would have to take that as notice. I am sorry I did not precisely answer his question, but I was trying to indicate the numbers that are now involved and the growth and interest in such programs. I will take that question as notice and come back with the precise answer.
Mr. Lang: The Minister mentioned the St. Elias student residence. Is that not the residence across from the Christ from the King Elementary School?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Yes, it is.
Mr. Lang: Is this facility now being strictly dedicated to a day-care facility?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: The Department of Education has made the basement area in this building available for the school-age program, but not the rest of the building.
Mr. Lang: Is the main floor still used as a student residence?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: That question should probably be directed to the Minister of Education. As I understand it, he has made excellent provision for a replacement of that facility as a residence and would be the person to whom a question about its future should be directed.
Mr. Lang: Who is running the child care service in the basement of this facility?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: This is operated by the Play Care Centre Society.
Mr. Lang: Is that the same society that now has the converted day care centre down the street called the Play Care Centre? I presume that is what it is called.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I am advised that it is the same group, yes.
Mr. Lang: If there is enough government assistance available, I can understand the logic of a non profit organization taking over a facility or acquiring one, but I do not understand why they would now also be running another program at another facility. Can the Minister tell us the reason behind that? Is this organization going to be running a lot of these after-school programs in conjunction with the government?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I do not know what reasons compelled this group to offer this service. There is nothing to prevent a licensed child care centre offering programs in a number of facilities, if they care to operate that way. In theory, they could be running two or three child care centres under the same society. That is possible. They could offer an after-school program operated in a school facility, if that was agreeable to all concerned. They could run a child care centre, as well.
Most of the child care centres in this town used to be parent co-ops. That situation has changed somewhat, and the child care centres offer a wider range of programs now and tend to have more experienced and more professional staff, not just dependent upon a small group of parents and one or two small staff running a facility. The child care centres that have operated for a long time tend to be the ones that offer very good programs.
Mr. Lang: I am not going to question the merits of the program one way or another, because I do not know about it, but I question the logistics of what we are dealing with here because this is news to us.
The Minister should know the answer to this; he has staff here who can tell him if he does not. I am curious as to how the rates compare to those of, for example, family day homes, which provide services to after school children.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Lest I lead anyone astray or offer it on the basis of the fragments of information I have, perhaps it would be better if I researched that question, but I can give the Member some average numbers, which are the best I have available at the moment.
Based on a survey in February 1990, child care centres on average for infants - those under 18 months - were charging $454 a month. Family day homes, on average, were charging $469. For the group aged 18 months to three years - the toddlers - the average fee in a child care centre was $438.33. In a family day home, the average was $394.29. For the group aged from three to five years, the average rate in a child care centre was $391.37. In a family day home, the average was $394.29. For after-school care, the average fee in a child care centre $181.20. In a family day home, the average was $153.
I ask all Members to understand that averages, when you are dealing with a small number of facilities, may tell us less than if we were talking about Canadian or provincial averages.
If the Member is interested, I can provide comparisons with the averages in this survey, which was taken in February of 1990, with the average fees that were identified by the department in 1987.
Mr. Lang: I appreciate the offer, but I do not think that is necessary. From 1987 to 1990 is, in many ways, like comparing apples and oranges, as far as costs and all of those things that are related.
I guess my concern here, in the numbers that have been enumerated, is that we have been told that with the restrictions that are going to be coming in on the family day homes, that in some cases a number of spaces are going to be eliminated.
When Ms. McKeddie was here, I believed her to be very sincere and she is very concerned about what is going to happen because, from her perspective, I gather, costs - due to the obvious restrictions that will come in because of the counting of your own children when you take into account those for the purpose of your total establishment of children - caused her to indicate that she will be shutting her doors, as a day care. I think that is sad if that happens; I really do. I do not think it is necessary, but we can discuss that when we get into the numbers games in clause 7.
My question is this: I want to know what plans the Minister has and what is he going to be able to tell these parents who will no longer have their normal place of day care available to them? What plan is he going to be able to present to the parents, who obviously are still going to need some sort of accommodation. I should point out that I have letters from other operators, as well, that indicate that there are going to be spaces eliminated. I think the Minister has a responsibility, quite frankly, to tell the House and, more importantly, tell those people something, in view of the fact that this is going to eliminate spaces within at least the family day home complement that we have. Could he tell us what advice he would have for those parents?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: First of all, we will be reasserting the fact that, as a result of the programs being offered by the department, the number of spaces in both Whitehorse and the Yukon is increasing significantly. We of course recognize that there is still some demand out there, and we will be doing, through the continuing application of these programs, what we can to meet that demand.
In essence, the Member is asking what will happen when the act is passed?
The response from some situations, like the home run by Ms. McKeddie, where, as I understand the situation, the operation is about to give birth to another child, has two other infants to look after - a real handful in any family - and therefore under our rules would only be able to look after four other young children making a total of six. Her view is that she will not receive enough income from that to continue to operate.
Once the new act is passed, the present licences under the Day Care Act, Clause 16, will be in force until all the facilities are reinspected and issued a licence under the new act. It is the belief of people working in the department that this will provide a grace period for family day homes to comply with the limits in the new legislation.
All other provisions will come into effect shortly after the act is passed. We will be, at that point, sending a letter to all the operators and to a large number of other groups soliciting nominations for the new board, which will be created as a result of this act. We hope the new board will be in place in the near future to assume its responsibilities.
Information will go to the licensed services, parents and the public to explain the new act. There will be notification and assistance to licensed services to comply where changes are needed. There will also likely be a period of time before actual new regulations would come into force. If the Members will just bear with me for a second I will find my notes on that question.
The grace period I was talking about for family day homes to comply with the new numbers in the new legislation following the passage of the act and the proclamation of the act the department, as contemplated at the moment, is three months to provide some transition period.
Mr. Lang: I appreciate the Ministers information on the grace period because that is good information but he has not answered my question. What do these people do when day cares are closing down or having to turn away children because of the new rules? Other than the grace period of three months, is the Minister saying he will be promoting new non profit day cares to come into existence in order to offset this loss of family day-home spaces?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: We have good reason to believe that not only will the non profit child-care spaces be created, but it is quite likely we will see more licensed family day homes come into existence in the future. We will say then what we say now to parents who are often caught in an identical situation to the one that will happen in the act in individual cases: if they have a new child in the family and wish that child to go into a family day home or child-care centre where perhaps an older sibling is being cared for, but find there are no spaces available. the parent will often have to look elsewhere and see if there are other spaces in the neighborhood or make other arrangements with a family day home in the neighborhood. Department officials will then, as they are now, be helpful to any parents who call requesting information about the availability or location of licensed facilities in the neighborhood in which the parent would like the child cared for, whether it is near their place of work or residence.
Mr. Lang: I would like to think both sides of the House are striving for the same objective: not only the quality care we speak of, but just as importantly, to make more spaces available for families. One area we go back to is the family day home. I do not understand why, in a community as small as we are, where we have 14 licensed family day home operators, the department staff has not done an in-depth review individually and collectively with them to find how this act is going to affect them and whether or not it is going to eliminate spaces. I do not understand it. We establish a hot line at probably a great expense to the taxpayer, we do everything we can to try to sway public opinion, but it seems to me logical to sit down with the ones affected. If there is a major issue outlined very vividly, with very deep parental concern, why was there never an in-depth survey done of the day-home operators to find how the act was going to affect them: if spaces were going to be eliminated, how many spaces were going to be eliminated - so the Minister can stand and tell us with a fairly sound background what the effect of the act was going to be?
I have before me, and I am not in the position to table this because I guess some people have a fear of government, or whatever - but they do not want this tabled in the House - some documentation from one particular day home that will only be able to take in four children now because of the act. She cannot take part-time children and will not be able to take after-school children, and will have to look at raising rates, or, conversely, closing down.
This information has been provided to me by a single mother of two who is, in good part, earning her living providing a service for parents who have made the parental choice that she has the capability of taking care of their children during the day. This is a very real story. I have not made this up. This is not a cartoon or from the Readers Digest, this is from Riverdale. It goes on to say if the new act is passed it will drastically change her plans to stay at home and support herself and raise her children. Obviously now, if what we have been told is accurate, we will have a situation where we will have another day care possibly closing down, over and above the one who expressed her views before the House the other day.
We are obviously going to have a situation where the five or six children she is caring for will have to find a place to stay, plus she has two of her own. In this human story I am pointing out to the Members, we are suddenly looking for possibly eight day care centre spaces.
Why has the administration not done a proper survey of those operators who feel they are going to be adversely affected, so we could get a handle on what is going on?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I believe the department has a very good handle on what is going on and do the arithmetic differently from the Member opposite. Let me just review again some of the numbers I have previously gone over in this debate. Since we seem doomed to spend a long time in general debate on these questions, we may as well deal with matters that would normally wait for the clause-by-clause reading.
The Member alleges that the department officials do not know what is going on and do not know the effect of these spaces. One of the problems with knowing the exact number of part-time school-age spaces, through licensed and unlicensed family day homes and child cares right now, is that the present regulations do not require that all facilities account for the number of part-time spaces they have. There is no cap or formal reporting relationship with us, particularly by the unlicensed facilities, of what is available.
We do know that, in licensed facilities, school-age spaces increased by 66 in the last fiscal year. We know there continues to be demand there, and that supply has increased as a result of this governments programs.
The Member was making an argument a moment ago about the effect on spaces. From the information we have in the department, we believe the net probable effect of this legislation and the new standards, which are designed to protect and provide a safe, quality environment, is seven spaces. There are about 16 infant spaces in family day homes right now.
I want to review the total picture and point out that in day care centres, there are 79 infant spaces, as of this morning. There are, as I have said, 16 in family day homes, which is a total of 95. I want to point out, to put it in context, again, because we are not just talking about Big Brother here, with the big stick; we are also talking about the carrot: the programs the department has put in place. As a result of the programs, in 1989-90, the last fiscal year, approximately 46 additional infant spaces were created.
We are talking about, if I can just review that again, an impact, a net reduction of infant spaces of seven, when the programs that the department has put into place have seen an increase of 46 in the last fiscal year. Our belief is that the programs in the department will continue to see an increase of spaces or provide for an increase in spaces this year, which will far more than offset the net loss of seven, which better standards will cause to happen.
The point I want to make is that the combined effect of the programs and the new standards provided in this act is that we will still see an increase in the number of spaces available to meet the needs of parents, preschool-aged children, infants and toddlers.
On that note, I will would like to report progress on Bill No. 77, the Child Care Act.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I move that Mr. Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Ms. Kassi: The Committee of the Whole considered Bill No. 77, the Child Care Act and report progress on same.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:29 p.m.
The following Sessional paper was tabled May 1, 1990:
76. Government position on proposed Chilkoot Trail National Historic Park (Webster)