Monday, April 27, 1992 - 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.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I would ask Members to join me in welcoming 20 secondaire students and two teachers from lEcole Roche-Belle in St. Foy, Quebec. They are here on an exchange with the French immersion students at Jeckell School and will be here for approximately one week. They will experience a little of the Yukon culture during that period, and then our Yukon students will be going to Quebec in two weeks time. I would like all Members to join me in welcoming them to our Assembly.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I, too, would like to call the attention of Members to the presence in the gallery of Chief Paul Birckel of the Champagne/Aishihik First Nation, and Roger Gruben, the chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, and ask Members to make them feel welcome.
Speaker: Are there any Returns OR Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I have for tabling the full text of a letter faxed to me at the number listed for the Legislative Assembly office, for which I am advised included a cover sheet addressed to me requesting that the letter be forwarded to me immediately. Frankly, that fax machine was moved to the Yukon Party office and inadvertently it got into the hands of the Opposition. The copy filed by the Member for Hootalinqua on Thursday appears to have been incomplete and I want the record to reflect the full text of that letter.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 6: Money message
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I wish to inform the House that the Commissioner, in his capacity as Lieutenant-Governor, has provided a money message for Bill No. 6, entitled Workers Compensation Act, and that I am now transmitting the message to the Clerk to be attached to Bill No. 6.
Bill No. 4: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Ms. Joe: I move that Bill No. 4, entitled Victim Services Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 4, entitled Victim Services Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 4 agreed to
Bill No. 75: Introduction and First Reading
Hon. Ms. Joe: I move that Bill No. 75, An Act to Amend the Territorial Court Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 75, entitled An Act to Amend the Territorial Court Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 75 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Notices of Motion.
NOTICES OF MOTION
Mr. Lang: I give notice of motion
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Yukon territorial government and/or the Yukon Development Corporation or any other government department should not grant any further financial commitments to the Taga Ku project without debating the terms and conditions in the Yukon Legislative Assembly, prior to any agreements being entered into between the parties.
Further, I give notice of motion
THAT it is the opinion of this House that in the event that the House is not in session and the Government of Yukon proposes to grant further financial assistance to Curragh Resources, that the House should be reconvened to debate the terms and conditions regarding such assistance, prior to any agreement between the parties being entered into.
Mr. Phelps: I give notice of the following motion
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the present Access to Information Act is inadequate and that the act should be amended to:
(1) narrow the present exceptions to the publics right to access information;
(2) place the onus of proof on the Government of Yukon where it alleges that the information sought falls within an exception to the publics right to access information; and
(3) provide for a less expensive appeal process.
Mr. Phillips: I give notice of motion:
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Government of Yukon should establish an Ombudsperson office whose primary function would be to protect the individual against the power of the state.
Mr. Brewster: I give notice of motion
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Government of the Yukon should establish a policy regarding compensation to private property owners for damage done by imported animals such as bison and elk.
I give notice of motion
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Government of the Yukon should increase the time for meeting the requirements for improving agricultural land leases for title, from five years to seven years, including a 90-day extension.
I give notice of motion
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the recently released Kluane National Park Reserve Management Plan is in direct opposition to Motion No. 25 that was unanimously agreed to by the Yukon Legislative Assembly on April 27, 1988; and
THAT the Government of Yukon should urge the federal government to allow controlled road access into Kluane National Reserve Park.
I give notice
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Government of Yukon should ensure that all new conservation officers be trained in public relations prior to field assignment.
Speaker: Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Meetings on the Canadian Constitution
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I rise this afternoon to report to the Members of the House on discussions aimed at resolving the current constitution difficulties facing Canada.
As all Members are acutely aware, this is a troubled time for our country. In the interests of a strong, unified Canada, we must respond to the constitutional concerns of Quebec. The need to do so is made all the more urgent by the pending constitutional referendum in which citizens of that province will be asked, in some fashion, to choose Canada or choose independence.
At the same time, there is a need to address other issues: the legitimate concerns of aboriginal peoples, the feelings of alienation in Atlantic and Western regions of the country, and the desire of the north for a greater role in national decision making.
We also want to ensure our constitution reflects our values and aspirations as Canadians and allows for the smooth functioning of our country for the betterment of all its citizens.
Recently, constitutional discussions have entered a new phase. Ministers responsible for constitutional affairs and leaders of the four national aboriginal organizations are now involved in a series of meetings aimed at developing a constitutional package that responds to Quebecs needs and aspirations as well as those of other regions of the country and other Canadians.
To support this process, officials from each jurisdiction and the national aboriginal organizations are holding a series of parallel meetings. Four working groups have been set up to work on the major areas under discussion: institutional reform; aboriginal concern; the constitutional preamble and Charter of Rights; and the division of powers. These groups are working through the issues and constitutional proposals, and forwarding the results for discussion and decisions by Ministers and aboriginal leaders.
The schedule of meetings is ambitious - six ministerial meetings in roughly two months. These will lead to a First Ministers conference, held during the week of May 25.
While the schedule is ambitious, few would doubt the importance of these deliberations to the unity of Canada. We made progress in Halifax on the recognition of aboriginal peoples inherent right to self-government within Canada, an issue of considerable importance to the Yukon.
Discussions this week will focus on reform of the Senate, the Supreme Court, the social charter and economic union provisions, as well as the constitutional amending formula.
The Yukon is a full participant in these discussions. It is a right for which this government has fought hard. Now that we have secured a seat at the national constitutional table, it is incumbent on us to exercise this right and participate in these meetings. In this way, we demonstrate what we have long maintained: the north makes a vital contribution to constitutional decision making and to Canada.
At the same time, I have responsibilities to this House, responsibilities I take very seriously. In order to balance these duties with the need to participate in important constitutional discussions, I plan to attend only every other ministerial meeting scheduled. I have specifically asked that issues of particular concern to the Yukon be scheduled for discussion at meetings I am able to attend.
I will participate in the meeting scheduled for Edmonton this week, and I will speak on behalf of Yukon citizens on issues of concern to them, most particularly the constitutional amending formula. As this government has consistently argued, the amending formula cannot shut the door on the north. It cannot allow other jurisdictions a say over as vital an issue to our political future when the Yukon itself has no such guarantee. It cannot give one or more provinces a veto over the Yukon becoming a province when Yukon citizens decide this is what we want.
The federal government and the territory in question alone should negotiate and agree on the entry of new provinces into confederation. This is the Canadian practice. This is the rule that has governed the creation of every other Canadian province. This is the rule that should continue to apply.
The decision on provincehood most properly lies with the people it directly affects, to be made when they believe the time is right.
As I have indicated, I will be speaking forcefully on this issue during the meetings in Edmonton. I look forward to fruitful discussions on it and the other issues on the agenda. If hon. Members wish, I will report to the Assembly after each of the ministerial meetings I attend.
Mr. Lang: I want to make it very clear from this side that we do support a presence by the Government of Yukon at these particular meetings. Nobody will argue that this is a very important time in the history of our country, and I think it is absolutely essential that all regions and all areas of our country be represented at these talks.
I have some observations on the ministerial statement that has been presented today. We would appreciate very much the government tabling its position as far as the Senate and Supreme Court are concerned, as well as its ideas as to what a social charter and economic union should provide, as far as a constitutional change is concerned. As far as the constitutional amending formula is concerned, I think it is safe to say, contrary to public opinion at times, that this is an area of commonality among all Members of this House, no matter what political alliance they may have. I think it is important that we do have the right to take our rightful place in Confederation when that time comes, understanding, at some given time, that perhaps there may be some concerns being expressed by the provinces if we are going to adversely affect them, primarily from an economic point of view.
I want to register one area of concern. What the Government Leader has indicated to us today is that he is going to be away from this session, probably for over one-half of the sitting days in the period to theend of May. In fact, his schedule indicates that he will be away for the balance of this week, as well as most of, if not the whole week of, May 11, and possibly the week of May 18 or 25, or both. I want to say this, as a Member of this House: it seems to me that we are continuously meeting later and later in the spring for our spring session, and I contend that we do not have to be doing this. We should be meeting earlier in the year and ensure that whatever is being presented to the House is presented in a timely manner and the scrutiny that is required is done.
As the side opposite realizes, we have made some observations outside of this House at the beginning of the session that we felt it was becoming later and later, to the detriment of the public that we serve. So I want to register that observation, as a sitting Member of the House.
Mr. Nordling: I have no problems with the ministerial statement and the Government Leader attending the meetings on behalf of Yukoners. It was only when I got to the last line that I became a little concerned - the last line being, if hon. Members wish, I will report to the Assembly after each of the ministerial meetings I attend. I am surprised that the Government Leader, with all his experience, does not know that the whole Legislature is the Government of Yukon - it is not just him and his chosen few - and it is his job to report back to us in the Legislature here. Of course we expect a report, and as my colleague from Porter Creek East has said, the Government Leader is going to miss a large portion of this legislative sitting and it is also his job to be here and to be accountable to the people of the Yukon through the Legislative Assembly.
My concern is that he is so busy he has forgotten what his job is. I say that because, just recently, there was a constituency survey sent out and one of the questions the Government Leader asked of the public was, Do you think it is important for the Yukons Premier to speak up for Yukon peoples right to determine their own future? To answer that question for the Government Leader: yes, it is important to speak up for the Yukon peoples right to determine their own future; and it is important that the Government Leader come back and report to the Yukon people through the Legislature when he has spoken up for us at the constitutional meetings.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I thank the Members opposite for their observations and the support, no matter how qualified it may have seemed, for our participation at these important meetings.
In response to the concern about the questions of policy of some of the matters under review raised by the Leader of the Opposition - the Senate and the Supreme Court were mentioned by him, in particular - I would be more than happy to report to the Member on the positions we have taken on these topics. He will know that we are sometimes asked as a government to do some quite exotic things. For example, as a government and as a people, as I read the Beaudoin-Dobbie report, for example, it is suggested that we should have in our Senate representation a gender parity and aboriginal representation but we would be limited to one senator. I am not quite sure how we can do that, and I will want to seek the advice of the House on that question.
On the question of the timing of the sessions, as the Member knows - particularly with this one, of course - we have some extremely important legislation that we hope to bring before this sitting and obviously some considerations about that have governed the calling of this sitting.
The Member for Porter Creek West has, in the past, indicated some ambivalence about some of our ministerial statements to this House and that is the reason for the final sentence in the report. I am happy to report, in any way the House wants, but I take it, even though he did it in a somewhat backhanded way, he does wish me to make some regular ministerial statements upon returning from these meetings. I will happy to do that.
Speaker: Before proceeding to Question Period, the Chair would like to make a statement about events that took place in Question Period on Thursday, April 23, 1992.
The Member for Whitehorse Riverdale South, in questions to the Minister of Economic Development, alleged that the Minister had a conflict of interest in certain dealings involving the Chateau Jomini in Faro. A review of parliamentary authorities and precedents indicates that such an accusation should be ruled out of order because it is unparliamentary language. Annotation 316, in the Fifth Edition of Beauchesne, states that: [A] Member, while speaking, must not make a personal charge against a Member.
Also, a former Speaker of the House of Commons, Roland Michener, made a ruling in 1959 which is now relied upon by the House of Commons in such matters. In it, he stated: Simple justice requires that no honourable Member should have to submit to investigation of his conduct by the House or a committee until he has been charged with an offence.
The proper procedure for charging a Member with an offence is to move a substantive motion containing the charge and a proposal for dealing with it. For such a motion to be in order, it must charge a Member with conduct which amounts to a breach of privilege, or which disqualifies the Member from sitting in the House, or which amounts to contempt of the House. It is possible that having a conflict of interest that may lead to some personal gain could be viewed as a contempt of the House. If the Speaker finds such a motion to be in order, the practice is to give the motion priority and to have it debated as soon as possible.
In summary, the Chair would ask that Members be careful not to make personal charges against other Members during Question Period or in debate. Members should recognize that making such charges involves the use of unparliamentary language and is, therefore, out of order. In the event that a Member decides to pursue a personal charge against another Member, which is a very serious matter, it must be done through a substantive motion.
This, then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Taga Ku convention centre project, YDC involvement
Mr. Lang: I would like to draw the Members attention to an issue that is very much in the news today, and has been on a continuous basis: the question of the Yukon Development Corporation and the financing of the Taga Ku hotel. It looks to me like this project is turning into another Watson Lake sawmill fiasco or a repeat of the MV Anna Maria fiasco, where the government committed a certain amount of dollars and then from that point on had to continuously put in taxpayers money to try and bail itself out, as well as the proponents. The question that has to be asked today is: why are we in the situation that we are in?
On April 25, 1990, the government called for tenders for an office accommodation and a convention centre, under the auspices of the Government Leader when he was with the Yukon Development Corporation, in conjunction with the Department of Government Services.
It was made very clear in this document, on pages 12 and 13, that any successful tender had to clearly demonstrate, and I quote, that they had access to finances to build the hotel/convention centre. That obviously is not the case.
I have a question for the Government Leader. In view of the fact that a clear tender was put out to the general public and to the private sector, why were the terms and conditions of this document not followed?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: In establishing an agreement with the Taga Ku proponents, the government did follow the terms of the original tender agreement with respect to the agreement to lease space for government offices. As I mentioned last fall in this Legislature, the government signed an agreement to lease space - not the lease agreement itself - which stipulated that in order for the Government of Yukon to take possession of office space in the new facilities, there would have to be signs of construction for the hotel and convention centre as well.
Mr. Lang: Perhaps the Government Leader could answer this as he was in charge of the Yukon Development Corporation when this particular project was brought forward to the public. One of the commitments made in this document was that the bidder had to demonstrate that they had access to the funding required to meet the development and initial operating costs of the project. Yesterday we heard from proponents of the...
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please get to the supplementary question.
Mr. Lang: ... that financing was never secured for this particular project.
I have a question for the Government Leader, who was responsible at the onset of this project. Why was this project allowed to proceed, in view of the fact that the terms and conditions for the financing of part of the tendering procedure were not adhered to?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Perhaps I can shed some light on the Members question.
In respect to the commitment for financing of the project, which was not only contained in the tender documents for office space, but was also contained in documents relating to the financing that was provided to the Champagne/Aishihik Band by the Yukon Development Corporation, there was a clear requirement for financing to be in place. That commitment was provided by the proponents of the project at the time of any financing advance.
In short, the government did receive a commitment, an understanding, an assurance, that the project financing was in place.
As Members learned last Friday from the proponents, who held a press conference to advise the public, financing fell apart, and they are now in the process of refinancing the project.
Mr. Lang: Obviously, the financing was not in place. Yet the Yukon Development Corporation advanced $2 million to that project, without the tendering procedures being adhered to. I realize the Government Leader does not want to cut the cake on this one, and I can understand why.
My question is now to the poor gentleman who has to take the rap for this. Why were the terms and conditions of the initial tendering document not adhered to, primarily those on pages 12 and 13? Any other tenderer would have had to adhere to these conditions.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: The Member is placing his question in the context of the space tendering documents. I do not have those documents in front of me, and I do not know the precise details surrounding the clause to which the Member is referring. I do not know whether or not the level of financial commitment called for in the tendering documents has been achieved at this point or not.
The Member knows that you reach different levels of commitment relating to space in a contract with a proponent. I simply say to the Member that I will take notice on the question, because I do not know the details.
Question re: Taga Ku convention centre project, YDC involvement
Mr. Lang: That was why I was directing my question to the Minister directly responsible for the project in its initial stages - the Government Leader - because he should be able to answer those questions.
Last week, it was exposed that the deputy minister of Economic Development moved the motion to access the second $1 million for this project, then went elsewhere for employment with the proponents of the hotel.
It has further come to our attention that, for the first $1 million allocated to this project, there was no credit check done prior to the authorization of that money.
I have a question for anyone on that side who was here when this happened. Why was the first $1 million allocated without doing a credit check, which is normal practice when you are lending taxpayers dollars?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Just to clarify an early point in the Members preamble, at the time that the office space tender was put forward, I was the Minister responsible for Government Services, which put out that tender, not the Government Leader.
To get to the question at hand, the Member realizes that the original commitment, and the subsequent release of financing, in all stages thereof, was on the basis of a loan to Champagne/Aishihik, secured by land claims. The Member also knows that decision was made by the board of directors of the Yukon Development Corporation at all times.
The Member also knows that the corporation religiously completed the appropriate research and documentation related to that financing. That is in place.
The Member asks why a credit check was not done. It would appear to me that, clearly, the appropriate research was done, the appropriate advice was given, and a decision was made. I would have to take notice on a specific detail of a credit check, if the Member would clarify on whom.
Mr. Lang: It has further come to our attention that, after the $1 million was allocated for this particular project, the Yukon Development Corporation then did a credit check. The result of that check was that the Texan financial institution that was going to provide this financial assistance was very limited in its assets and was not very well known in the financial community.
Would the Minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation table in this House the results of the belated credit check?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Again, the Member, I believe, has a motion, or perhaps it is the other Conservative party that has the motion, for the production of papers on this matter, at which time I am sure we will debate quite fully the whole issue surrounding documents.
The Member knows also that in corporate dealings many documents are not available for public scrutiny; others are, and I cannot, on my feet, advise the Member precisely what documentation may be available, within the parameters of confidential exclusion, to be tabled. Again, I can only take notice of the specific question he raises, but I certainly know from my own personal recollection that there were massive documents tendered surrounding the deal, numerous instruments, legal and otherwise, provided, and considerable research and other documentation that surround this project. Again, I would have to take notice and determine whether or not any specific information that the Member raises is available.
Mr. Lang: It is incredible how the publics right to know does not come into this. We have $7.6 million outstanding in rental commitments; we have $2 million through the Yukon Development Corporation and we have the proponents now coming for multi-millions more. I want to know from the Minister why a credit check was done after the first $1 million was allocated to this project and not before. Why was the credit check not done when it was supposed to be done?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: We all, in this House, know the track record of Members opposite making allegations of fact. The Member is asking a question of why something was not done when we have no knowledge of whether his assertion is accurate at all.
It remains to be noted for the record that the original contribution by the Yukon Development Corporation was in the form of a loan to the Champagne/Aishihik First Nation. That loan was secured by the land claim settlement. That is secure financing. We did not participate directly in the project. It is not our project. The project is another matter, and the Member can step outside Question Period and speak directly to the members who are in the gallery and raise questions pertaining to the project itself - the proponents last Friday announced to the public details surrounding that project.
Question re: Curragh loan
Mrs. Firth: My question is for the Government Leader with respect to the Curragh aid package. We have tabled a production of papers motion in this Legislature, asking for the agreement between the Government of Yukon and Clifford Frame and Curragh Resources. I would like to ask the Minister responsible if, and when, we will be receiving a copy of that agreement.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: The subject is down for debate today which, at second reading, may have some bearing on the questions that can be asked at this stage. I understand from our House Leader that the Member opposite, along with several other Members, has requested either certain documents or the presence of senior representatives of the company at the Committee-stage deliberation on that legislation. I can only say at this point that I am going to be trying everything I can to respond to the Members request and, yes, there will be some documents that we can make available. We are also endeavouring to make sure, if we can, that a senior officer of the company involved will be present for Committee-stage deliberations at some point in those deliberations.
Mrs. Firth: I get suspicious when the Government Leader says some documents. I think it is in the best interests of all Yukoners if we have tabled here in the House the complete agreement so that we can see what we are dealing with. Is the Minister saying that he is not prepared to give us a complete agreement? Could he perhaps be specific as to when we will be receiving it since he is going to be away for the rest of the week, as we would like some opportunity to review it before we do get into debate. Also, I would like him to elaborate on the aspect of the representatives of Curragh Resources who are going to be appearing before the House.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: It seems to me that there are at least three questions there. Let me try to deal with each of them in turn. I was careful in the way that I answered the first question because we had just gone through a series of questions where someone was seriously asking for a copy of someone elses credit rating, something that I do not think would normally be tabled in any Legislature in the English-speaking world, as far as I know. I intend to provide the Member with as much information as possible about the agreements, and indeed the substance of the agreements, at the earliest possible opportunity.
The second question had to do with when it will be made available. Again, I just answered that: as soon as I have all of the relevant documents in my possession, signed and ready for tabling.
The third question, I think, asked who we might expect to appear before the House. My specific request is that either Mr. Clifford Frame, the chairman of the board, or Mr. Collin Benner, president of the company, should come, if one can, to be here to speak on behalf of the company as a witness before the Committee, if that is agreeable to the House.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to know more specifically from the Government Leader when we might expect to debate this important issue. I know he said that he would get the agreement signed as soon as possible. He is away this week, back next week and away the week after. Could he give us a more specific time line?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: As I understand it, it is scheduled for second reading debate today. The Member is presumably asking when we will go into Committee. Obviously, the ideal time to do it is when I am here, since I am responsible for the legislation and when the representative from Curragh can also be here.
The Member said that I am away next week. I do not think that is the case. Obviously, if a senior representative from Curragh could be here next week, that would be a good time. It is subject to other discussions about House business of which I am not part. My interest would be to do it as soon as possible. The sooner we can get a representative from Curragh before the Committee, that would be as soon as I would like to do it.
Question re: Taga Ku convention centre project, tender specifications
Mr. Phelps: I have some questions with respect to the Taga Ku Development proposal. It has to do with the invitation to tender and what has subsequently transpired. I am not sure which Minister I should ask. Perhaps they can play hot potato with it and decide who is going to answer between themselves, as this seems to be their practice these days.
The original tendering document was entitled Invitation to Tender: Office Accommodation in a Convention Centre. In that document, it was made very clear that the following points defined a mandatory minimum standard for the convention centre portion of the facility. It goes on to say that it must have a hall that can accommodate 700 people in a theatre-style setting. At the time that this was up for invitational tender, the competing proponents that did not get this tender, I understand, proposed a seating capacity in a theater for some 850 people.
Can the appropriate Minister confirm that, now, the plans for the Taga Ku project call for substantially fewer numbers than the minimum 700 seating capacity called for in the tender? Is that a fact? Would I be correct in saying that it is either 500 or 550 in the current one?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I do not want to compete with my colleague behind me to answer this question, because I would not want to leave anybody with the impression that we did not have the information at our fingertips. There has been no formal request to the Department of Government Services to change the terms and conditions respecting the size of the convention centre under the final offer-to-lease agreement.
We are still intending to see a proposal that contains the same basic conditions that were applied in the original tender for office space.
Mr. Phelps: I will ask a short question, and they can jump up all the more quickly.
In the event that the proponents come forward with a plan that calls for less than the mandatory minimums called for in section 3.6 of the original tender documents, will this government allow the proposal to proceed?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: That is a hypothetical question, obviously, and the Member even crafted it to sound like one. Our intention is to live by the original tender for office space. We have received no official request, and I have received no request of any kind, to change the basic package of office space and convention centre.
While I cannot commit absolutely to anything that may or may not happen in the future, I will tell the Member now that it would be my intention to adhere to the original tender agreement, because that would be the fair thing to do.
Mr. Phelps: The same tender document calls for a substantial foyer in the convention centre facilities, which must be adjacent to the above facilities to allow for small parade exhibits and convention organizing activities to occur concurrently.
Is it the Ministers position that this will be a mandatory minimum with respect to the project as it goes ahead?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I would save the Member from standing up and listing off each one, which I know he probably intends to do. I will save him the trouble, because I do know there are other Members with other important questions who want to ask them today.
The mandatory minimum conditions in the tender documents are conditions we will expect to be respected in the final project in order for us to agree to take the office space, and in the end move in.
Question re: Taga Ku convention centre project, tender specifications
Mr. Phelps: So that we are perfectly clear with regard to the firm position of the Minister. He is then saying again, with regard to the requirement that the convention centre must have a banquet hall with related food service facilities and equipment for seating 500 people for a formal meal, again that would be expected and required as a minimum by the government. Is that true?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Apparently, I am not getting the message across because the Member continues to ask virtually the same question, in virtually the same ways.
I do not have the lease agreement in front of me. If the Member is asking whether or not there are mandatory minimum conditions in the tender documents, yes, there are. Are there mandatory minimum conditions that we will expect to be respected by the office space proponents? Yes, there are, and we would expect that they show up in the final project package in order for us to accept occupancy of the office space.
Mr. Phelps: Can the Minister give us some idea of how long the government is going to wait in order for this project to go ahead?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No decision on that point has been made. Obviously, it would not be realistic to expect that the occupancy date of September would be attainable. However, we will be reviewing our office space requirements for Whitehorse this coming summer, and we will be finalizing our requirements and our position with respect to this matter and other matters, respecting office space, and I will be in a better position to respond to the Members question then.
Mr. Phelps: This was not a proposal to simply provide office space to the government. The Minister who has just responded to my last question knows full well that this was intended as a vehicle for leveraging into existence a convention centre as called for by various independent business groups and other groups in the territory.
How long is the territory going to have to wait before some final decision is made on the go-ahead for the provision of a convention centre?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: With all due respect to the Member who just asked the question, the Member asked about the governments position with respect to the occupancy of office space and asked about it in the context of a tender call for office space, so I was responding to it in that light.
All that I can tell the Member is that the time lines for the project are presumably up to the project proponent.
Whether we will agree to move into office space that would not be on the ground or available to us in the near future, that decision will be made by us in the context of our Whitehorse office space projections this summer.
Question re: Taga Ku convention centre project
Mr. Phillips: I can understand why the Ministers on the other side are passing this hot potato around the front and back bench because it is quite a controversial issue and it is a very unpleasant one for them to deal with.
My question is for whichever Minister over there may feel he is responsible for this issue. It is regarding the Taga Ku project.
It is obvious now that some of the terms and conditions of the original contract regarding the convention centre/office complex proposal were not met. First of all, the proponents were to have had - and there were some must dos in that proposal - their financing in place. This has not been done. In fact, they have admitted, even as late as Friday, that it is still not in place.
Secondly, there is some question about the size of some of the meeting rooms in the facility. The Minister has agreed to get back to the House on this. The third issue is that - and this is quoted right from the tender - the project must be completed and in operation for the 1992 tourist season. Unless we are getting into the ski hill business in that area, the only thing that we have down there right now is a pile of dirt. We have no office complex/convention centre in place for the 1992 tourist season, which is now upon us.
In view of the fact that few of these terms have been met - and there were other bidders on that particular project that were prepared to proceed with the project with very little government assistance - is the Minister considering instructing his officials to retender this particular project?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Member has a very high opinion of himself if he thinks that that particular question would cause the front bench on this side to quake in their shoes.
As I mentioned once before to the Member for Hootalinqua, the occupancy of office space will be determined after a review this summer, respecting all of the Government of Yukons office space requirements in the City of Whitehorse. That will be the decision point at which time we determine whether or not the space will be available to us this year and whether or not there will be a requirement to release a new tender for office space.
Mr. Phillips: I will try another question in the same area.
Earlier, the Minister, in answering a question, told us that he expected the proponents to follow the guidelines as set out in the tender. It says in the tender guidelines, and I quote, the entire facility, apart from the office space - this means the convention centre and the hotel complex - must be completed and in operation for the 1992 tourist season. Can the Minister tell us today if that in fact will be adhered to? Will the entire facility be in operation for the 1992 tourist season?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The answer will have to be no because obviously, unless standards for hotel accommodation have changed dramatically, I do not think what is constituted at the end of the street will count as a reasonable hotel space.
However, when I answered the question with respect to the terms and conditions of the tender call, I did indicate - in the context of the question that was asked, which was with respect to the physical plant - that we were not intending to change the terms and conditions or change the minimum requirements of the tender call. Obviously, the occupancy dates will be slipping and that is the reason why we will be reviewing our office space requirements in the City of Whitehorse this summer to then be in a position to make a decision as to what the government will do next.
Mr. Phillips: One of the other must-do requirements of the tender call was to have the financing in place. The financing is also not in place for this project, even as we speak today. Is the Minister prepared to re-evaluate the whole project and retender the project based on the fact that the proponent has not met up to two of the most major requirements: one, that they finish it on time and, two, that they have their financing in place?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: In the first place, I would not characterise those as the two most significant requirements, but nevertheless the government does intend to review its office space requirements this summer and will determine what course of action the government will take in order to meet its office space obligations so that its service to the public can be maintained.
With respect to the minimum conditions, I have already indicated what I regarded as being the conditions essential to justify the government moving in. As to occupancy dates, those have obviously slipped and we will be reviewing our commitments in light of that fact.
With respect to the assurances that financing should be in place, I believe the Minister responsible for the Development Corporation has indicated that we had understood there were such assurances. We were, in fact, proven wrong in the end; however, that of itself is not, in my view, justification to retender.
Question re: Unemployment statistics
Mr. Nordling: I have a question for the Government Leader. He has said that his governments economic policies have been successful in reducing unemployment in the Yukon. Last week, the Minister of Education said that statistics speak for themselves and that unemployment has declined every year under the NDP government.
I thought I would look at the statistics. I got out the Statistical Review, published by the Executive Council Office; I looked under unemployment to see what it used to be. It said that the Yukons unemployment rate for June 1987, was 10 percent. In June 1986, the unemployment rate was 10 percent. I thought it must have gone down. I pulled out another one of my books and looked at unemployment rates. It said that in June 1988, the unemployment rate was 10 percent. I thought that the Government Leader must know what he is talking about. It must have gone down quite a bit. I pulled out my 1991 edition to see what the June unemployment rate was. I see that the unemployment rate in June 1991, was 10 percent. I thought it must have been much higher in 1984-85. I looked under unemployment and the statistics of June 1984, were 1,340 unemployed. The rate was 10 percent.
I expect the unemployment rate in June 1992, will be 10 percent. Will the Government Leader explain how he can tell Yukoners that the unemployment situation has improved and his programs have been successful?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Yes. I would have to say to the Member opposite that he may be a fan of Mark Twain when it comes to his use of statistics.
I can explain it very simply. When we came into office, the annualized rate of unemployment was between 16 and 17 percent. The annualized rate of unemployment now, this year, will be 10 percent. The annualized rate of unemployment has gone down by the rate of one percent a year for every year we have been in office.
Mr. Nordling: Well, I would like to play the statistics game with the Minister, and I can tell him that back in 1989, under his government, unemployment went up from 10 percent to 15 percent within that year. So, maybe we are all fans of Mark Twain when it comes to statistics here.
I have also looked at another statistic.
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please get to his supplementary question.
Mr. Nordling: The 1985-86 budget estimated that 550 Yukoners would be assisted under the social assistance program. The 1992-93 budget estimated 2,155 Yukoners would be assisted by social assistance. I would like to ask the Government Leader if it is right that over 2,000 Yukoners must depend on charity to eat?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Let me first of all deal with the preamble, since the Member seems to me to be mixing up numbers in his statistics and maybe confusing people, perhaps inadvertently of course, but misleading people who maybe take him seriously.
The seasonal rates of unemployment in an economy like ours vary greatly. Typically, in a resource-based economy that depends on tourism, and an economy with a short construction season, the winter rates of unemployment are very high. Of course, during the summer the unemployment rates come close to the national norms.
The figures that the Member quoted were not annualized rates of unemployment, which are the numbers that I have been using and the fact is, not only has unemployment gone done since this party came into office, but employment has gone up considerably, mainly in the private sector.
Mr. Nordling: I can understand the Government Leader completely avoiding my question.
My question was that during 1985-86, 550 Yukoners were to receive social assistance. In 1992-93, 2,155 were to receive social assistance. My question was: is it correct that over 2,000 Yukoners have to depend on charity to eat?
The O&M budget of this government has doubled from that year: $160 million in 1985-86 to $315 million in 1992-93. I would like the Minister to also tell us how this 100 percent increase in government spending on policies and programs has reduced Yukoners dependence on social assistance?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: The Member is going to have a hard time getting his questions answered if he has preambles that have nothing to do with the eventual question.
First of all, let me briefly address part of his preamble. Obviously, if the federal government does what it has done this past year and is in fact slow in paying out unemployment insurance payments, we find a lot of people ending up coming to YTG for temporary assistance. I think that a lot of those people who have had delayed unemployment insurance premiums would take great offence at the Members description of that as charity.
Secondly, the Member refers to the O&M budget. The Member might also want to know that since 1985, the gross domestic product of the Yukon Territory has doubled from something like $500 million to something like a billion dollars. That, too, has nothing to do with charity.
Since this is Question Period, Mr. Speaker, and not the estimates debate, I am afraid that that is all of the time you will permit me in responding to the Members canards.
Clerk: The time for Question Period has now lapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
ADDRESS IN REPLY TO SPEECH FROM THE THRONE - continued
Clerk: Motion by Ms. Kassi, adjourned debate, Hon. Ms. Joe.
Speaker: The motion before the House is:
THAT the following Address be presented to the Commissioner of the Yukon:
MAY IT PLEASE THE COMMISSIONER:
We, the Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, beg leave to offer our humble thanks for the gracious Speech which you have addressed to the House.
Hon. Ms. Joe: When we adjourned debate on Thursday, I was barely into my speech and, at that time, was responding to some of the things that were said by Members on the other side. I would like to talk about some of those things that were mentioned at that time with regard to Teslin tribal justice. Certain things were mentioned with regard to where we were going in the area of tribal justice in the Yukon. The Member for Riverdale North had mentioned that he was getting really nervous because the government did not have all of the results of what was happening in Teslin, and yet we were implementing it in other areas.
I would like to make it very clear here today that what this government has chosen to do in the last few years was to look at the kinds of things that communities were asking for. We found out in the past that if you go out into a community and plan their programs for them, they do not often work. That has been proven through experience, so what we are doing with regard to tribal justice right now is talking to the communities to try to find out from them the kinds of areas they see as being important to them.
Through our crime prevention funding, we have been able to allocate a lot of funding to other areas such as tribal justice, the block parent program and such areas where the community has an interest and has identified problems. So, it is not a matter of evaluating the tribal justice program, because it is a community initiative and if any evaluation is to be done, it will be done by that community. We realize that many of the things happening in a community are proving to be a success and there are certainly problems in others, but that is always expected when programs are being set up. They are not always perfect, but the statistics of crime in that community prove that whatever the community is doing, it is working because the crime statistics in the Yukon have dropped, I think, by 40 percent and that is quite a big number.
I wanted to make sure I mentioned that. We are not planning the initiatives in the community. It is those individuals in the communities who see the need, identify the kind of problems they have and identify the programs they would like to implement to make sure their concerns are being heard.
I would like to continue with the kind of thing I was talking about the other day with regard to where Justice is going. I talked about the progressive legislation of this government in the past, and how we brought a lot of that legislation out of the dark ages. I speak about the Human Rights Act in that sense.
We talk about the special needs we are dealing with. In September of last year, there was a very successful conference on aboriginal justice, which was co-hosted by this government and the federal government, with the federal Minister, Kim Campbell, and me co-hosting it. At that time, the theme we were focussing on was achieving justice today and tomorrow for Canadas First Nations people.
That conference was a result of lobbying at the ministerial level from across the country with regard to the kind of things we wanted to hear from aboriginal people about the kinds of things they are doing now and the kinds of things we would like to look to in the future.
In response to the conference and the overwhelming call for change, the Department of Justice reviewed its commitment to ensuring that aboriginal approaches reflect culturally relevant responses to crime within the communities. This government recognizes that traditional aboriginal approaches to justice were integrated with community, social, economic and religious institutions. When community expectations were breached, they were dealt with in a way designed to foster social harmony, to heal, to recompense victims and to restore the communities. These practices and values must be re-established.
That message came out loud and clear throughout the conference. The Department of Justice, the RCMP and the individual communities are actively seeking to maintain a balance between community-based programs and secure programs. Their goal is to address the needs of the offender, the victim and the community as a whole.
Three years ago, there was a commitment from the federal level on aboriginal justice across Canada. The changes we are seeing right now within the system, right across the territory at least, are very important, because they are an improvement. There is more consideration given to the kinds of needs the community has. The RCMP in the communities are working very closely with the local people in regard to using their elders, and in regard to looking at the possibility of setting up aboriginal justice programs.
I think there is a far greater difference now, in this day and age, than there was five years ago, because of that commitment from the federal level. It has finally been realized that we did have a real problem within the justice system in dealing with aboriginal people. This has been evident for many years. The Donald Marshall inquiry, the Le Pas, Manitoba inquiry and many other inquires that were done proved that there was a problem within the justice system in dealing with aboriginal people. For the past 20 years we had been telling that to the people who were responsible for justice.
The commitment from the federal level is there. Here in the Yukon, it certainly helps us to do our jobs a little bit better. I commend the RCMP for the involvement that they have with the communities in trying to deal with the justice system in their area of responsibility.
The Department of Justice, in consultation with Yukon communities and the Council for Yukon Indians, has introduced a broad range of socially productive programs. One such program is native spirituality. This program provides for spiritual services and ceremonies to inmates of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, with guidance from elders and spiritual leaders from the surrounding communities. The elders program, which was recently established at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre, allows inmates to receive counselling from elders, thus gaining a greater understanding of their culture and values. The prison-liaison program facilitates necessary and desired learning of aboriginal inmates in keeping with native spiritual traditions and principles, and provides a valuable link between the staff and inmates.
The new beginnings program focuses on specifically designed substance-abuse, behavioral-awareness workshops that provide a positive environment, where inmates are encouraged to make changes in his or her lifestyle that can be drawn from following their release from the institution.
I recently attended an equinox feast at the correctional centre. The people who work with the inmates and the people within the corrections system, work very closely in providing the kind of ceremonial feasts that they have at each turn of the season. I have been fortunate, as other people have, to attend those ceremonies. The involvement of the staff at the correctional centre is to be commended because they make every effort to ensure that the traditional cultural values are included in any programs that they have.
I remember attending one ceremony where the whole community was involved. The food was brought in by the people from the outside and families came in. There was no sense of segregation from what was happening there and the people who care for them on the outside. This was very evident while those ceremonies and celebrations were going on. These kinds of programs are very helpful in the inmates rehabilitation.
I thank all those people from the outside who were involved, and for the foresight of the staff at the correctional centre to take the initiative to work very closely with the inmates and with the people who care for them on the outside. The inmates themselves have been very helpful in establishing the kind of needs they have, and I have met with them as well as with other people.
In August of last year, an aboriginal justice coordinator was hired by the Department of Justice to work closely with Yukon First Nations to initiate discussions and proposals to encourage individual communities to assume responsibility for their justice needs. The position was put in place for the simple reason that we felt we had to have that person coordinate the kind of programs that are needed in the communities and also to find out from those individuals the kind of things that they feel are very important and in which this government should be involved.
In order to assist communities to have input into the justice process, the Department of Justice has devolved a number of programs to First Nations and individual communities. In the fall of 1991, the Northern Tutchone Tribal Council in Mayo, Pelly Crossing and Carmacks requested and received the devolution of one courtworker position to their council. We are presently in negotiation with the Kaska Tribal Council on a similar request.
Kwanlin Dun is now responsible for crime prevention programs and operates a cultural day camp for their youth. We have been involved in crime prevention in the Kwanlin Dun area for quite a while and much work has to be done throughout the community.
First Nations in the communities of Carmacks, Dawson City, Ross River and Old Crow provide for supervision of offenders on probation and parole in those communities.
Building on Teslin tribal justice experience in partnership with the Department of Justice and the judiciary, several First Nations have established, or will soon establish, community sentencing circles. I should mention that the Teslin tribal Council model has been studied across Canada. Some of you may have read the recent article in the Arctic Circle magazine about the Teslin Tribal justice system. As well, the Winnipeg Free Press published an article last week on this program.
Although this communitys initiative is a relatively new development in the delivery of justice in Yukon communities, it has gone a long way to increase involvement, participation and understanding of justice issues.
The priority of sentencing circles is the healing of the community, the victim and the offender, re-integration of the offender into the community, and community control of criminal behaviour.
The fine collection and enforcement program recently introduced in the Department of Justice will ensure that outstanding fines are collected or, if not collectible, a responsible party will arrange to take part in the fine options program and pay their debt off through community service work. This program will also ensure that defaulter will not have to spend time in jail if they are not able to pay their debt. This should relieve some of the overcrowding problems we have experienced in the past at the correctional centre.
Another major project we are undertaking is the construction of the Teslin community correctional facility. The central philosophy will be one of strong emphasis on rehabilitation and culturally relevant programs rather than straight detention. The Teslin facility will be integrated with other related programs in Teslin and will complement the tribal justice infrastructure already in place there.
Constructing the new facility in Teslin is an essential part of this governments decentralization plan. This facility supports the goals of the decentralization policy by stimulating the local economy and providing Yukoners the opportunity to work in their own communities.
There were some questions with regard to the Teslin facility. We were going from here to the possible site of the construction of the building. As you are aware, we attended a meeting with the Teslin community to talk about the facility to find out if the support was there. It was very evident that the support was there. We are looking forward to being involved in the programs that will be developed to go into the facility.
There was some question about where it was going to be and if the community, as a whole, supported it. We are still trying to determine exactly where that building is going to be. We are prepared to, and maybe already have, started the soil testing on some of those sites to find out which one is the most economical and whether or not the soil in the area is suitable. We are anticipating, very shortly, a meeting to determine what legal responsibilities we have with regard to the land in the area where we choose a site.
The Department of Justice, by working with First Nations in the implementation of justice programs and increasing their involvement in the justice system, has made significant progress in the area of aboriginal justice.
This approach to program development recognizes that communities differ in their ability to become involved in the delivery of justice programs. To this end the department has provided financial support to the Selkirk First Nation to research and develop justice systems.
The Teslin Tlingit Tribal Council has also received funding to coordinate crime prevention and the advance of tribal justice initiatives.
The Kwanlin Dun Band has been provided with resources to develop alternative sanctions and to initiate the delivery of probation services by that community.
As I previously announced, the Department of Justice has signed a new 20-year contract with the federal government and the RCMP for policing services in the Yukon. The new agreement maintains the previous 70/30 cost-share arrangement and ensures that the City of Whitehorse does not have to carry an additional financial burden of almost $3 million under a separate agreement. The negotiations as have been reported in the House, have been long, hard and they have come to a conclusion that was agreed to by all parties, but it was not without the strong negotiations of people in my department who continued to pursue the kind of an agreement that would be helpful to us all.
Of course, the Ministers met from time to time, and at the end the final arrangements and agreements were almost in place and - as was mentioned with the input of Commissioner Inkster - in the end we were able to come to an agreement with which we can be pleased with.
I would like to take this moment to compliment the RCMP in their efforts to introduce community-based policing policies in all of the communities in the Yukon.
When I travelled to various communities over the past summer, I was pleased to learn in the communities that I visited how improved relations were between the RCMP and the communities that they policed. I will elaborate a little bit more on that.
It is my understanding that relationships were further improved due to the efforts of the RCMP to ensure that their members are more involved in the communities in which they live.
The Members are taking a real interest, not only in policing the community, but in ensuring that they work together with the schools, bands, elders, municipal governments and social agencies.
Through the anti-drug pace program, the summer student program, Crime Stoppers, victim services and various other community-based initiatives, I am confident that this trend will continue.
In regard to the pace program, this is another program that is in danger of going by the wayside unless further resources can be found to continue with that program.
As you know, right now we are using one member of the RCMP and there is some question as to whether or not we can continue with that program. It is hoped that we will be able to.
The Department of Justice has introduced new legislation this spring, establishing a victim services act. The new act will permit the collection of a victim fine surcharge on territorial offences. The act will also create a fund for the assistance and support of victims.
The act falls in line with changes to the Criminal Code that allowed a surcharge to be attached to fines of a federal offence. This ensures that fines on our territorial offences can have a surcharge added to them, if the judge chooses to do that.
I will also be introducing amendments to the Compensation for Victims of Crime Act. The amendments will improve the effectiveness of the program and help curtail the escalating costs that have been experienced in recent years. This amendment is very timely, considering that the federal Minister of Justice has just announced the federal governments withdrawal from cost-sharing this program.
The government has also expanded victim and witness services. The victim/witness program has recently been expanded to include all circuit court communities. Procedures have been implemented for the filing of victim impact statements. A victim services officer has recently been hired to provide a follow-up service to victims, assist victims in the preparation and filing of victim impact statements, and to work closely with the coordinator of the victims program in the family violence prevention unit.
The Department of Justice has developed a number of initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of family violence throughout the Yukon. As a further step in this process, and in response to challenges from womens and victims groups, the Department of Justice has established a committee to assess the responsiveness of the Yukon courts to family violence. The committee is expected to provide the report in the near future.
There was a press release last Friday from the Council for Yukon Indians in regard to a problem we are facing right now within our department with regard to the lack of consultation. Any time an organization issues a press release in regard to a problem that we are facing in one of our departments in government - and I talk about Justice right now - I take that criticism very seriously. It is my intention to look at the matter, try to find a way to come to some solution with regard to how we are going to deal with that situation. It is very important for me, as the Minister responsible for Justice, to make sure we are hearing what people are saying. If it means looking back at the kind of decisions that were made, which appear to be in isolation according to the press release, then it is a very serious criticism. I intend to find out how we can solve that situation.
When I look back over the seven years that I have served with this government, I am impressed with the many innovative, creative and advanced programs now in place to meet the needs of victims. I am proud to have played, and continue to play, a role in this evolution of the justice system in the Yukon.
When speaking to a reporter on Saturday with regard to our family violence prevention unit, it was very disturbing to realize that not much was known about the evolution of programs for family violence. It was not that long ago when we looked at the rising problem of family violence and at the different programs we had to try to deal with that situation. It was only three years ago when the family violence prevention unit was opened to serve those individuals on the outside who were looking for help from this government, so that was very recent. What we continue to do, and have continued to do throughout those three years, is to improve and expand on the programs we already have.
That is the case with the sex offender treatment program, although people out there are expecting us to hire a person to replace Larry Saidman, who was providing that service. The department is training qualified people to work with those people, so that, rather than having one person, we are expanding it to include many. Whether or not those people have the highly technical training that Larry Saidman had is a question, but we are making sure that a wider range of people are going to be able to take advantage of the counselling and other services that are offered. I will make sure that First Nations will be involved in any future discussions and, as I said, will deal with the criticism that we heard last Friday.
During this sitting of the Legislature, the Department of Justice will also be introducing amendments to the Employment Standards Act. The Members know the history of this. There has been much criticism with respect to the manner in which the consultation has taken place. In November, there were 4,500 workbooks sent out into the communities. I mention this because, when the Member for Riverdale North made his reply to the Speech from the Throne, he mentioned something about my not knowing the problems with the employers. As a result of the process, we did distribute 4,500 workbooks, which talked about the kinds of things that could be included in the new act.
Because of the response from those individuals out there, and especially from the employers, some of those sections that were included in the workbook were taken right out of the draft act.
When we talked about doing the draft act, we looked at the responses that came in. We thought that we would like to try to take an approach that would be fair to both employer and employee. I believe we put together a draft act at that time that would meet the need, knowing that labour would not be entirely supportive and would feel we had not gone far enough to meet the needs of the worker, and also knowing that the employer would feel we may have gone too far.
We were looking at the act knowing that there would be criticism from both sides. It was evident, this weekend, at the Federation of Labour meeting, that there were resolutions that called for certain things to be included in the draft act, as there were also things called for from the employer.
It calls for things they would like to see either taken out or put in. We will probably have all the time in the world to debate the proposed changes in the House, but the most controversial ones, from all the discussions I have had, are the parental leave and the 24-hour notice for overtime.
I want to make clear here today that we do not require, in every single instance, that there be a 24-hour notice; there is still provision in the act for an employer and an employee, by mutual agreement, to allow a person to work overtime. That provision is still there...
Speaker: Order, please. The Member has three minutes to conclude.
Hon. Ms. Joe: The act is now being reviewed by the Yukon Council on the Economy and Environment, which has representatives from various interest groups. They will report their recommendations back to me in May and I will be introducing the act in the House.
The Employment Standards Act sets the minimum standards - the minimum standards that employers must meet - and it will bring the Yukon in line with legislation passed by the federal government and other governments in Canada.
The Womens Directorate continues to work toward increasing participation by women in decision making, achieving economic quality and improving the quality of life for all Yukon women. The director is presently sponsoring a survey of Yukon women. This territory-wide survey will identify the concerns and priorities of Yukon women and will assist the directorate in strategic planning exercises.
During this session of the Legislature, I will be introducing legislation that will entrench the Yukon Advisory Council on Womens Issues. This is a very important piece of legislation for Yukon women because, in the recession in 1982, the Advisory Council on the Status of Women was the first board to go. This tells me that, prior to 1985, there was no real commitment to equality for women. This act will make that possible.
We continue to be supportive and proactive on issues such as judicial training on the effects of sexual assaults on victims, promoting greater sensitivity to women in courts and ensuring gender parity on benches and juries.
In an effort to heighten public awareness on family violence and violence against women, the Womens Directorate will be expanding the sexual assault awareness campaign from one week to one month, and will be providing grants to community groups to carry out their own public awareness activities.
The directorate will also continue to work with the Department of Education, Industry, Science and Technology and other government groups to continue the Women Do Math conference. This weekend, I attended parts of the Women Do Math conference; there were over 100 young girls who applied to take part in that conference and I am very happy to say that four young mothers from the teen parent program from F.H. Collins were part of that conference. It is really quite encouraging to know that the kind of things we are promoting in the Womens Directorate are being expanded to include those programs that are now in existence to help those young women to look forward to equality in jobs in the workforce in the future.
We are presently ...
Speaker: Order please. Time.
Hon. Ms. Joe: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Nordling: I have a long speech written that compared this throne speech event to the story of the emperor and his new clothes - the Government Leader being the emperor and the speech being his new clothes.
The speech has the other NDP Members, subject to the dictates of the emperor, being required to stand up and say how wonderful he looks in his new clothes. The speech went on to express my concern over the attitude of the NDP government and its supporters, referring to Sid Scramstad, who was quoted in the paper as having congratulated Margaret Joe for not listening to people who are concerned about the Employment Standards Act, because they did not support the NDP.
My speech goes on to express concern about the power shifting from the elected Members to the unelected, unmerited friends and appointees of the NDP. It is a mean and nasty speech, and I am not in a mean and nasty mood, so I am not going to make that speech today. I was reminded that I quoted the Government Leader recently in the House as attributing the remark, if you cannot say anything nice, do not say anything at all to his mother. Because I cannot really say anything nice about this throne speech, I am not going to say much at all.
The one thing I will say is that all cannot be perfect in NDP government land because of the impassioned plea made by the Member for Old Crow that her government, and the Ministers of that government, do more to deal with the terrible problem of alcoholism in the territory, and particularly with respect to aboriginal peoples.
With respect to that portion of her speech, I commend the Member for making it and trying to create some political will on that side of the House to do something about a serious problem, rather than polishing their image and deceiving Yukoners.
I am going to talk briefly about the people of Porter Creek West. As we know, the Electoral Boundaries Commission report is going to be accepted, and there will be new boundaries. A huge chunk of Porter Creek West will be taken away and become part of the Lake Laberge riding. I would like to thank the residents of the whole west side of the Alaska Highway, including Alder and Birch streets, the MacKenzie Trailer Park, Crestview, the MacPherson subdivision and people who live in Hidden Valley and along the Mayo Road at Mile 1.8, who were members of Porter Creek West and who have worked with me, as I have worked with them, for their support in the last six years that I have been their representative. I would like to welcome those people who live on Tamarack Crescent, who will be taken out of Porter Creek East and shifted to the new riding of Porter Creek South.
Porter Creek will be divided north and south, rather than east and west.
I am sure that when the electoral boundaries have been passed, between that time and the next election, there will be some confusion in the minds of people as to who they should and can call as their elected representative.
The riding of Porter Creek West was one of the most vibrant and fastest growing ridings in the territory; it grew to be one of the largest with the buildup of Porter Creek C, new lots being opened up, houses being built and trailers being moved into the Crestview area, and the MacPherson subdivision and the Hidden Valley areas growing substantially.
These people have concerns and they are not any more interested in the rhetoric of a throne speech then are the Members of this House themselves, as evidenced by the number of us who are in here to hear the replies to the throne speech. These are Yukoners who have lives to lead, work to do and problems to take care of. These people depend on us and their government to do something substantial about unemployment.
These people would like to feel free in the Yukon, they would like to have freedom of speech, they would like to see honest, open government and they would like to be treated fairly by their government - by whatever government is in power - and they would like to live in a Yukon where they do not have to fear government bullying.
That is my concern, as that is what we presently have in the Yukon with this government. We have a government that has lost sight of those ideals that they brought to the Yukon as a shining, new government back in 1985. This government was idealistic about being open and honest, that there would be nothing hidden from the public, that they would be responsible and accountable for everything that they did. Well, it is seven years later and what this government has turned into is just what the Government Leader complained about when he was campaigning back in 1984-85, and that is a closed government of mean and nasty people, back stabbing and dirty politics.
The Government Leader accused the previous Conservative government of having lost touch with the people and of being arrogant. That was probably true, but from 1978 to 1985, in those seven years, the Conservative government lost touch, they lost their vision and they lost the direction that they had set out to serve the people of the Yukon. What has now happened is that the NDP is in the same position.
They have lost purpose and it is time for them to go, because they do not stand up on that side of the House now and explain what they are doing. They are not accountable for what they are doing. They stand up in a mean and nasty fashion, yell at the Opposition side and accuse them of being even worse when they were in power.
Well, probably the performance of the previous Conservative government in 1985 was not what it should have been, but certainly the performance of this government to date has not been what it should have been either. I hope that something is done to refocus this government to look after Yukoners instead of looking after themselves.
Hon. Mr. Webster: I would like to start off by offering my congratulations to the Arctic Winter Games host society and all those involved - governments and government organizations, societies, sport and cultural organizations - for hosting a very successful Arctic Winter Games. As a former participant of the Arctic Winter Games - as an athlete, a coach, an organizer and Chef-de-Mission - I can inform you that these games went off very well. An excellent job was done.
I believe these games have raised the profile of Whitehorse and the Yukon, not only in this country but throughout the circumpolar north. The Member for Kluane summed it up very well when he thanked the volunteers who were involved in these games. As he rightfully said, without the volunteers there would be no successes at all. This applies not only to Whitehorse but also to rural Yukon where volunteers successfully hosted the trial events in preparation for the Arctic Winter Games.
Generally speaking, we in the Yukon are blessed with a great number of people who are willing to devote their time, their expertise and their skills to organize such a major event like the Arctic Winter Games, or even smaller events like conferences. I believe that we will see the same success repeated with the Yukon Anniversaries Commission events that will take place this summer. People in all communities of the Yukon have been working hard for over a year now to make this years program a success and I am sure that it will be.
A number of people have alluded to the fact that there is a bill before this House at this time that will redefine the electoral boundaries of the territory. I think everyone has overlooked the big changes that will come to your riding, Mr. Speaker. I do not envy you at all the inclusion of Ross River, Tagish and Teslin. I should remind you not to speed as you tour all the communities in your riding.
My riding in Klondike, as well, will see big changes. I will be losing tens of thousands of square miles. In fact, I will lose a whole island: Herschel Island, our first territorial park. I look at those changes to the riding boundaries, which are significant, and I am reminded about how significant the change is in the riding itself since 1985, when the Yukon New Democratic Party came to government. In these seven years, there has been a dramatic increase in population, something in the neighborhood of 30 percent. As a result, there has been an increase in everything from child care space - which has more than doubled - to a need for increased school space, requiring the construction of a new school. Obviously, there has been an increase in housing, not only by our government through the Yukon Housing Corporation, but also by the Dawson Indian Band, which has been constructing three or four houses a year and apartment buildings.
There have been a number of new facilities or expanded facilities brought on stream. Back in the early days of 1985-86, there was the renovation of the Old Territorial Administration Building, which, of course, is the home of the much-expanded Dawson City Museum and Historical Society. A new womens shelter has appeared in Dawson City, a child care centre and new attractions for tourists, such as the Jack London Centre. There has been a new 13-plex apartment building for single parents constructed.
There are many improvements in my community of Dawson City that have been put in place not only by this government, of course, but also by the City of Dawson, Parks Canada, the Dawson Indian Band and many other organizations with assistance from Government of Yukon programs, such as the heritage properties assistance program and the local employment opportunities program, now known as the community development fund. There are quite a wide variety of organizations, such as some of the churches in town, the Klondike Visitors Association, the Dawson City Music Festival Society, the Canadian Legion and the Dawson Museum and Historical Society.
What has happened, over the last seven years, is that governments, non-government organizations, the private sector and individuals themselves have been working together in partnership to build a better community. It is a community that is a much healthier place today to raise a family and to start or expand a business.
I can only say that I look forward to an even healthier future. I notice onstream for this year that the Yukon Order of Pioneers are working with us to re-establish the Victory Gardens next to the OTAB building. Residents of the Klondike Valley are contributing to the construction of a fire hall for the valley. The Government of Yukon will be building a new liquor store - the Red Feather Saloon in Dawson City - I think, in partnership again, working together, with the improved recreation facilities, and eventually a new health centre will be constructed.
But I do not want to make it seem as though everything is rosy, that everything is wonderful. Certainly, there is one sector of our economy that is not as healthy as we would like to see it. The Member for Kluane made reference to it; that is, of course, the placer mining industry. We notice that a lot of operations are selling equipment this year. But I want to make it clear that this is not the result of a lack of assistance from the Government of Yukon. Rather, I think, that it is a case, very simply, that the ground is running out of gold-bearing materials in the Klondike Valley, the Fortymile and Sixtymile areas, and as a result, operators are going to have to establish themselves in more remote locations, further from infrastructure. Obviously, the price of gold seems to be stuck at $340 per ounce U.S., and is a major factor, as is the value of the Canadian dollar, which is quite high right now.
Unfortunately, all of these factors are beyond our control. The Government of Yukon has, however, over the last six or seven years, had several mining programs put into place. I have mentioned these in my speeches over the years. I just want to remind the Member from Porter Creek East, who says that I have never given a speech on the placer mining industry in this House, that I certainly have, and as far back as September 10, 1987, when I mentioned some of the programs, such as removing the tax on fuel for off-road use, introducing a roads to resources program, now called the RTAP progam, providing assistance to the very popular Dawson City Gold Show and raising the profile of the prospectors assistance program. Each of these programs has gone a long way to promoting the placer mining industry.
I made another speech on this subject on March 24, 1988, and another speech in support of the placer mining industry on January 12, 1989. On October 29, 1990, I spoke on the capital budget of this government, which, in 1989 alone, invested $11.7 million on the Klondike and Campbell Highways, which, of course, are the primary shipping and supply corridors of the Yukon mining industry.
With these programs in place over the last six or seven years, it is difficult to accept a statement made by the Member for Porter Creek East on the subject of placer mining when he said in his speech the other day that the way things are going he thinks that the placer mining industry is a persona non grata here in the territory in so many ways now. He went on to say, and I am quoting here: the placer miners feel the government really does not care whether or not their industry carries on. He said he was speaking to a fellow who came to a meeting held recently in Dawson City and that fellow said he gets so much paperwork yet so little help from the government. I want to remind the Member for Porter Creek East - and I know he said he is only the messenger - that perhaps he should be taking back the message to that individual that, yes, the Government of Yukon has a lot of programs in place designed to help the industry and that, yes, paperwork has to be done. Applications have to be filled in if one wants to apply for upgrading of a mining road or perhaps a new road through the RTAP program - the resource transportation access program. One does have to do some paperwork in keeping track of invoices for gas purchases if one wants to get some rebates on fuel tax for off-road use; and, yes, one might have to deal with paper when filling in applications if one wants assistance to do some prospecting - a program I understand has been very popular over the last six years and this year even more so. It is severely over-subscribed; I think a total of almost 40 people have applied under that program this year. Sixty, I am informed by the Minister responsible for Economic Development.
We, as a government, are trying, and I think with some success, to help the mining industry. Obviously, we are helping some major players in the industry like Curragh; we made significant contributions to open the Sa Dena Hes mine last year; and before us is a bill to loan $5 million to Curragh Resources to help them strip the Grum deposit at Faro. We will continue with existing programs; in addition, I am sure, we will introduce new ones. Under the new terms of the Economic Development Agreement, $9 million will be spent over the next five years specifically in the mining sector.
There were some comments made by the Member for Porter Creek East in his speech with regard to civil servants; specifically, that elite group who are making $80,000 or more a year and from whom - at least the Member from Porter Creek East claims - we are not getting our moneys worth.
I would like to take just a few moments to make a few comments in defence of this elite group making more than $80,000 a year, of which there are four in the Department of Renewable Resources - that is, my department - four employees of a total of 120 employees.
I want to say to the Members opposite who are critical of the civil service that this is an elite group. These four individuals out of 120 are elite in a variety of ways. Elite certainly, with their years of education, their experience in the field, which is extremely high compared with other people in our civil service and as well, with people in the private sector. They are elite in terms of their responsibilities, which, of course, involve managing staff and large budgets, and dealing with some very complex issues. Those responsibilities are quite demanding. In taking a look at the number of accomplishments that they have achieved in carrying out the responsibilities, I would say that they are an elite group, as far as that is concerned.
I want to thank the Member from Porter Creek East, while I am on my feet, for making mention in his speech of some of the accomplishments in the Department of Renewable Resources, particularly those in the area of the environment, such as the work that our department is doing in working on the litter problem, which is another concern of the Member for Riverdale North. I think our government, along with many organizations - First Nations, municipalities, Yukon Conservation Society and all of the communities and MLAs - have been doing a great deal to fight the litter problem and in general make our environment much healthier.
I am thinking of the total number of hours in the process of achieving and attaining these accomplishments - for which, incidentally, these elite employees receive no overtime - it is quite remarkable. Certainly, they are an elite class as far as that goes. I think that when you add it all up, these elite civil servants making more than $80,000 a year earn every penny.
I am quite surprised at the allegations raised by some of the Members opposite, because it is a bit ironic that when they were in government and they were in Cabinet, they establish themselves as an elite group.
You may recall that prior to 1985, the Members on the oppositie side had exclusive use of government cars and expense allowances of $65 a day. It was not good enough for the Members on that side when they were Cabinet ministers to get as a daily expense allowance that which was offered to civil servants, such as the present situation.
They also had the big salary of $22,000 a year, which incidently has not changed since we came into government in 1985. I think that it is ironic that the same people who are making the charges that we have established an elite group of members in the civil service, found themselves in the same position when they were in government.
I would like to move on to the area of finance to take a look at the record of this government over the last several years. I think it is an admirable record. It is one that stands out in the rest of Canada. The Government of Yukon is unique among other governments in this country in several respects when it comes to managing our fiscal affairs.
Since 1985, the Yukon is the only government in the country to actually reduce taxes. Although the liquor tax was raised from 10 to 12 percent and the tax on tobacco was increased in 1985, the monthly medical insurance premiums - a regressive tax - were eliminated in 1987, and the territorial tax on fuel for off-road use was also removed in 1985. We are, as I said, the only government in the country that has actually reduced taxes in the last seven years. I see a nod of approval from the Member for Hootalinqua. I would like to thank him for that acknowledgement.
Even with this reduction of taxes, the Government of Yukon has put forward a balanced budget in each of the last seven years. This is another feature that makes the Government of Yukon unique in Canada, as is the fact that we are the only jurisdiction with an accumulated surplus. What is really important to note is that since 1985, our dependency on the federal government has decreased from 65 percent of our total spending needs to 58 percent. This amounts to a decrease of approximately one percent per year.
In addressing the obvious charges by the opposition that we, the government, can do this because we get a bushel full of money every year from the federal government, I want to remind Members that other governments in this country receive a great deal of money as well. The Northwest Territories receives 80 percent of its funding needs from the federal government and I do not see that particular government in a surplus situation any longer.
It is also important to point out that the Yukon charges for fees and permits and licences, be they for hunting and fishing privileges, campground use, vehicle operations, inspections or whatever, are lower than fees levied in other jurisdictions.
A key point in addition to this is that in each of these areas, Yukoners are getting more for their money. Yukoners are getting better value for their money when they pay those fees and licences. For example, the government has put a lot more money into campground improvements. We have been working with organizations such as the Yukon Fish and Game Association and have done a lot of work in restocking lakes for the benefit of the users and for the fishermen who are paying those annual fees.
Over the years, we have had a fairly sound financial management record. We have certainly been living within our means. I want to assure you that we do intend to pursue this course of sound fiscal management, ensuring that Yukon people continue to receive the benefits, such as the essential health, education and social services, that they need and deserve.
The other day, when the Member for Porter Creek East spoke on this subject, he claimed we were being very politically astute, and that, in many cases, this government has managed to transfer the responsibility of raising taxes to the municipalities. For example, in Dawson City - which just happens to be my community, and which is why I am addressing this particular point - they are facing astronomical increases in their water and sewer bills because of the way the government has taken away the block funding.
He goes on to say, The side opposite will say, We have an increase in block funding. That is not going to fly at all. If one gets into the figures and starts analyzing them, that is not right. It is smoke and mirrors.
He has invited me to get into the area of starting to analyze some of the figures, and he is quite right. I am going to tell him that we have increased capital block funding for the City of Dawson. As a matter of fact, the total comprehensive grant for 1991 was $1,370,666, which includes an amount of $220,834, which constitutes 75 percent of the water and sewer operating deficit.
Therefore, if you remove this particular deficit grant, the total comprehensive grant for 1991 is $1,149,832. For 1992, the total grant is $1,365,129, but this does include 50 percent of the water and sewer operating deficit: $126,072.
Removing that, you come up with a total comprehensive grant for 1992 of $1,239,057. That is a $90,000 increase over the previous year; that is roughly seven percent in the capital block funding for the City of Dawson provided by this government.
The obvious question is why there is a gradual phase-out of the water and sewer deficit grants, as legislated in the Municipal and Communities Infrastructure Grants Act that was passed in this House this time last year. Part of the reason is the fact that, without reducing this grant, over a period of time, to cover the operating deficit incurred by the city, there would be no encouragement for the city to recover any of the costs involved by passing them along to the consumers. Also, there would be no incentive for the City of Dawson to run their system efficiently. Obviously, there would be little emphasis made by consumers to conserve water.
On that first point - encouraging the city to recover more of their costs - presently the residents of the City of Dawson are getting a bargain for their water and sewer. It is presently $35 a month. As recently as 1989, it was under $30 per month. Rates being proposed this year by the City of Dawson recognize that the Government of Yukon is not going to continually provide them with a grant to cover the operating deficit. They are proposing an annual charge of $636 a year, which is $53 a month. That is a large increase from one year to the next. It is time, however, in Yukon - and certainly in Dawson City and Whitehorse - that people do start to pay the true value for the delivery of their water and sewer system. I say that because it may encourage the wise use of our water. In doing so, it may lessen the cost to the municipalities of operating these systems.
I did a little analysis of some of the costs incurred by other communities in the north to operate their water and sewer system. It came as a great surprise to see what is being charged next door in the Northwest Territories and in Alaska as well as in Alberta.
In the City of Fairbanks, for example, they charge $2.90 for every 1,000 gallons of water used and, in addition to that, $3.35 for every 1,000 gallons used in the sewer system. For an average family of three, this amounts to $30 for water and $35 for sewer, per month, for a total of $65 U.S. for water and sewer service.
In the City of Juneau, where they have an unmetered system just like Dawson City, the water and sewer cost is a flat rate of $52 per month - remember, that is U.S. dollars.
In Yellowknife, where some people are on a metered system and some are on a pump-out system: for the metered system they are charged $50 a month to use under 3,200 gallons. For anything over that, they are paying half a cent per gallon, so for someone using about 10,000 gallons a month, the price is about $84, which is about the average use in that community.
It is interesting to note that in Inuvik, where, like the City of Dawson, they have an unmetered water and sewer system, they are charging a flat rate of $55 a month.
We often hear, from the side opposite especially, that changes in this governments fiscal policies are placing a great deal of hardship on the residential users in our communities when it comes to the operation of the water and sewer systems, but I think that at least some communities are starting to realize that they should be paying the true cost of offering that service, and I am with them 100 percent on that score.
I do not want to take up too much time this afternoon as it is getting late. We have more Members to hear from, but I wanted to say in conclusion that I believe that this Government of Yukon has been doing an excellent job - the Member for Riverdale North says, an outstanding job - over the last number of years. It has done a fine balancing act with putting forward social programs as well as stimulating the economy so that we have sustained growth in the Yukon, and doing this all the while with balanced budgets and sound fiscal management. And, I think, as I mentioned when starting off my speech, doing it in cooperation, in partnership, with other governments, non-government organizations and individuals. I think, as a result, we are building a much healthier place in which to live, to raise our families, a better place to work and a better place to retire. I am proud to be part of a progressive and positive government that establishes clear goals for the future and is dedicated to seeing them through so that all of the people in this territory benefit.
Mr. Devries: It has been interesting listening to the debate thus far, and it makes me feel certain that when we form the next government, we will not have to stand up here and whine about what everyone else is doing in order to justify our lack of leadership.
Along with the rest of the House, I would also like to congratulate the Arctic Winter Games staff and volunteers. I also wish to congratulate the Watson Lake junior curling team who were gold medal winners, and one of the members of the wrestling team who was also a gold medal winner, as well as the other athletes for their performance as true champions. Watson Lakers are sure proud of these young people.
Watson Lake, the Gateway City, proudly invites everyone to join us as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Alaska Highway. Watson Lakers are also proud of the new Wye Lake Park, and the Yukon government is one of the many sources of funding that we tapped into to make this dream come true. Likewise, when people see this development in Watson Lake, there are some who wonder where all of the money is coming from for this development, and are critical of the development, as is quite often, with most projects.
I am also pleased to comment on the boundary redistribution. Mr. Speaker, I know that my area will include some of your area, and I am happy to see this, as many of the boys and the people in Upper Liard worked with me at the sawmill, and I feel that I have been in close touch with them even while you were their representative. As well, there are many very vocal people along the highway at the various lodges, so I am really looking forward to working with them.
Like my colleague who spoke before me, we, too, are very concerned about the trans-boundary claims and the potential division that this could cause in southern Yukon if this trans-boundary claim is allowed to set a precedent. Presently, we see the First Nation in our area caught up in the turmoil of how they will elect their leadership and how it should be selected. Once this is resolved, we all look forward to seeing these and the land claims issue resolved so that we can truly begin to work together in a spirit of cooperation, which is to the benefit of our whole community.
The Watson Lake riding is one of the most resource-rich ridings in the Yukon. Some may want to argue with me on that. We have natural gas, minerals, many rivers, and people who believe in the future of the Yukon.
We have a forest industry that has experienced ups and downs, yet has tremendous potential, even though it has been constrained by past mistakes, lack of affordable energy, the uncertainty of a transfer, lack of a consistent policy, and lack of commitment from all levels of government toward the development of a sustainable forest industry.
Once again, this industry is on the verge of being a major player in the economic well-being of Watson Lake.
I am pleased to see the transfer of the Alaska Highway and, like my colleague from Kluane, I will be watching diligently to ensure that the funds transferred are used as they were intended.
In the Yukon, we now have two mines that are incurring increased operational costs at a time when they can ill afford it. Much of this is due to this governments lack of a consistent improvement plan for the South Campbell Highway. This goes for both the Faro and Watson Lake operations. Many of the components for the Faro mine are hauled up the South Campbell. It is much shorter, so they could save money if they could use that route on a regular basis.
I would also like to inform the Minister of Highways that the Alaska Highway is perhaps in the worst condition it has been in for the last four years. I am not blaming him. This is particularly in the Rancheria-Swift River corridor. It is deteriorating daily due to extremely wet conditions and heavy traffic.
I came through there just yesterday, and there are several new kilometres where they have taken the grader blades and graded off the asphalt, because there is no way they could maintain it. Presently, we have approximately 15 ore trucks and an equal number of logging trucks exporting raw logs. You have probably seen them going through your community, Mr. Speaker. They are travelling daily to Skagway.
I am not going to blame anyone for the mess the highway is in. All I want to say is, just fix it.
I would urge the Minister to continue with the effort to put the third uphill passing lanes on the major hills, as was done near Transport and the Rancheria Falls area, also known as Devils Paw Summit. It is very nice, when you come up behind an ore truck going 10 kilometres an hour, to be able to pass him without having to worry about a head-on collision.
In the area of healthy communities, - and I have spoken on this before but, as most of the throne speech was recycled, I am going to recycle a portion of my speech, too - in 1988-89, the Watson Lake alcohol and drug force was established after Bob Craig, manager of Hyland Forest Products, alerted the community to the fact that alcohol and drugs were having a destabilizing effect on the future of this government-funded enterprise.
The positive outcome of this was the Liard Basin Alcohol and Drug Task Force. During the past four years, this organization has become the voice for Watson Lakers.
The government recently announced an alcohol and drug strategy. Well, Watson Lakers are four years ahead of them, and they speak out for Watson Lakes social needs. At the first fund-raising, I recall the Minister of Health proudly announcing that his department was going to give the community a mental health counsellor. There is still no mental health counsellor. The job was finally advertised as a decentralized position. However, the government, and its supposedly well planned decentralization program, cannot find housing for the individual and has to put it off for a while. It took three years to hire someone only to have it rescinded, because there is no housing available. I ask every Member here, is that good government? Meanwhile, the pains, the suffering, the suicides and the attempts at suicide continue. I am not saying they could all be stopped, but there could be counselling.
The alcohol and drug task force worked with the Health and Hope Society to lobby for a safe house or a transition home for abused women and children. It was a long and hard fought battle, and we thank the government and other agencies for their support in getting this project underway and completed.
However, I do put the Minister of Health on notice that the O&M funding to this point is far from adequate, and the mental health counsellor is a very important component in the overall success of this transition home program.
I am pleased to finally see the community health coordinator position being advertised, again. It is being called a decentralized position. It is hoped that there will be a house available or, better yet, someone local will apply for the position and will get it.
Again, we see the government mentioning the extended care facility in Whitehorse. I wish to draw the Government Leaders attention to the Member for Old Crows response, as I share her sentiments on this issue. Our elders do not wish to be taken from their community to live out their last days amid sterile walls and cold gyproc here in Whitehorse.
I recognize and commend the government on the community health coordinator position, but this is only one step in the right direction. I urge this government to recognize the right of someone to age and die with dignity in their own community.
Before I go on, I wish to compliment the Minister of Health and Human Resources. I would single it out as one department where I do not feel intimidated asking for information; as an Opposition MLA, I feel that is very helpful and I commend her for that. As well, I find her department one of the best in keeping me posted on the developments in my community. With some of the other departments, often things happen in ones community and they do not even let us know they are going to happen.
Watson Lake was also given an advanced education counsellor position in the decentralization process. Four months later this person - and this is for the Minister of Education - still has a non-functioning office, a chair, a desk and a telephone. That is all. It is obviously another poorly planned move in decentralization. I suggest this government put the decentralization program on hold and get the process in order before proceeding further.
I also suggest that this government tell the people of the Yukon what they are really doing. A government job created in Watson Lake is not decentralization, in my opinion. I say to the Minister responsible: show me a list that shows the actual 11 people the Watson Lake positions are replacing here in Whitehorse, then I will call it decentralization. If he cannot do that, and I am not saying there is anything wrong with it, then just call it what it is: government growth.
I am happy the government has taken the initiative of loans to mining companies to help meet their energy requirements. I would like to see a copy of the terms and conditions of the program before I give it my wholehearted endorsement, but certainly I feel it is a move in the right direction.
I look forward to the debate on the Economic Development Act and have already been alerted to several potential problems that we will be working to have changed.
Also, in the area of economic development, I could not help but be amused yesterday when the Minister admitted that the Yukon is a tough place to do business and then went through a long list of hand-outs and loans to get businesses going and expand. A few days prior to that ministerial statement, I received a letter from the same Minister endorsing the Employment Standards Act, which we all know has the potential of increasing labour costs to business, making the Yukon an even tougher place to do business.
I will save the balance of my comments on this subject for debate in the House, although I think we should note that, in his response to the throne speech, the Minister of Economic Development was silent on the issue of employment standards. Perhaps he has had a change of opinion on the matter, as he often does.
In his letter to me, the Minister of Economic Development talked about energy rates. He went back five years to indicate that rates were higher at that time than they are now. What about the newcomers to Watson Lake? Last year, between January 1, 1991 and January 1, 1992, they saw a 25 percent increase in their billing. I am sure they can say that seven percent of that is the GST, but that still leaves 18 percent in the Minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporations lap. I have the bills in my briefcase to prove it.
What about the new businesses that got hit with an eight to 12 percent increase in power rates in 1991-92? There were property act increases due to cuts in block funding by this government. I know Mr. Webster just tried to tell us this did not happen. It happened one year and they gave some back again this year. The community was forced to raise its rates.
We have seen a 300 percent increase in electrical permit fees and substantial increases in building permit fees. There have been fishing license increases, vehicle licence fee increases and, on top of that, one only gets one plate now.
I found it interesting that during the last B.C. election, the Government House Leaders colleague, Mr. Harcourt, found about 200 different areas where taxes had been increases in response to Mr. Vander Zalms bragging about there having been no tax increases. Those increases were all through permits and other little biddles and baddles.
Does all this make an attractive investment climate? Does this convince consumers that this is good government? No. I say: Waldo come forth, get your head out of the sand and listen to the people. Maybe things are okay in Faro and Whitehorse. Ask the 100 unemployed in Watson Lake, the same number of unemployed as we had one year ago in January. Ask them what they think when they see the Prince George trucks hauling raw logs from the forest to Skagway. Every load would be capable of keeping one person working for one week if we had local manufacturing, much of which is hindered by the lack of affordable energy. Ask the Gateway Transport and Sa Dena Hes drivers what they think of the road as they haul the ore to Skagway. Ask all these people what they think of this governments economic policy.
This government is out of touch with the people. This governments consultation process is a circus of preconceived NDP ideas and ideals being put before the people, with no intention of changing anything. They just want to be able to say they went through the process. Just look at the questions they sent out recently in the Government Leaders questionnaire. Everything was fabricated so that no matter how you answered the question, the government could look relatively good.
Ask anyone on the street The number one concern is: where is all the money coming from? Where is it going to come from in the future?
Yukoners are a proud people. We are a people proud of what we have accomplished and proud that we have been in charge of our destiny.
In my travels, I have heard that Yukoners no longer feel in charge of their destiny. The old-timers, both native and non-native, agree that things may seem better and that things are better in a sense. You talk to any of them and they say, Give us back old-time Yukon, when Yukoners controlled destiny, rather than government.
On the subject of education: more money is spent per student than in any other jurisdiction in Canada and yet we have one of the highest drop-out rates in the country. According to several, recent newspaper reports, this is not only common to Yukon. In Canada, we have one of the most ineffective education systems in the industrialized world, and Yukon is no exception.
We thank the Minister of Education for our new school, but we can build all the new schools we want, but it is what happens in and outside of these schools that makes the difference. I concur that yes, the department is making attempts to introduce new, innovative ideas and concepts into the curriculum. Some are successful and others are not so successful. We appreciate the training program at the Sa Dena Hes mine and we support the training program at Faro, to a certain extent.
I feel that we have to do more to train our students to be productive and innovative employees and employers in this increasingly competitive workplace.
In closing, I would like to use the words of Premier Frank McKenna, which I took from a recent newspaper article, It is no longer enough to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. We rely too much on selling logs and not enough on cutting them to meet the demanding specifications of foreign markets. In other words, we are missing out.
It is a superior education system and responsible government that sets the example for our students and teaches them responsibility. In my opinion, at this point, we have achieved neither.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I had planned to enter this throne speech debate to speak on behalf of my constituents but, after listening to the Member for Watson Lake, who said some simply astonishing things, I feel bound to respond, in part, to some of them.
The Member began his speech by suggesting that his elevation to a position in Cabinet was imminent and, since he is the critic for Education, he presumably imagines, or expects, that he will shortly become the Minister of Education. He then ended his speech with a fairly wild and loosely argued attack on the Yukons education system.
Let me say only to the Member that I have had the good fortune to have some meetings in Watson Lake in the last few years, and I have absolutely no doubt in my mind, whatsoever, that given a choice between the Member for Watson Lake as the Minister of Education and the Minister they now have, the Member for Mayo, whom the people of Watson Lake would choose. It is not, with respect, the Member for Watson Lake.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Absolutely, let the people decide. In the next election, perhaps the Member for Watson Lake will give me the opportunity to come and debate the question of education with him in Watson Lake. I would look forward to doing that personally.
The Member also mentioned the Wye Lake project, and said that a lot of people are pleased with it. However, he managed to sound like he did not like it, and perhaps thought there was too much money spent on it. According to the people I have talked to in Watson Lake, that is not the majority view.
The Member then went on to mention something about the mining industry, and implied that the Government of the Yukon was responsible for helping to open the two mines - Sa Dena Hes and Faro - but that we were also responsible for adding to their costs and creating an unacceptable cost structure.
Let me remind the Member that when the Faro mine closed it was one of the highest-cost operating lead-zinc mines in the world. It was in the highest quintile of cost operations.
As a result of the agreement that this government helped put in place to bring it back into production, it became one of the second-lowest quintile cost operators in the business and, in fact, this government contributed substantially through investments in a number of areas, including investments in the road system and transportation, in fact, lowering the cost to that company. I would say that, as the Member may know, the investments in transportation made by this government are very, very high. We have more routes per capita than any other jurisdiction that I know of in North America and, indeed, in Canada, we make the highest per capita expenditures on roads of any jurisdiction.
The Member mentioned counselling; he mentioned safe-house funding and then complained that there was little housing. Well, that is obviously because the economy of Watson Lake is improving and there are new jobs, so there is a shortage of housing, and I am sure that the Minister of Health and Social Services will have an opportunity to talk to him further about this. Every community wants counselling services and professional counsellors are still very, very hard to find - not just for northern communities, but for southern communities with many more resources than have we.
Now, the Member advocated, and I wrote it down when he said it, that decentralization should be put on hold. I take it that that is the position of the Yukon Party as stated by the Member for Watson Lake. Since I have had conversations with respect to decentralization in almost every rural community in the last few months, I look forward to offering our policy as an alternative to the one articulated by the Member, because he seemed to indicate quite clearly that it would be the position of the Yukon Party to force public servants to move to communities that they did not want to move to, which has been the prescription for failure of every decentralization policy tried elsewhere in this country. What makes our policy different, what makes our policy work, is that we move positions, and not people. The fact that we move positions and not people makes it no less an exercise in decentralization than the model proposed by the Member opposite. Again, I well know the views of the mayor and council in Watson Lake, but I have also had the opportunity of hearing from many, many people in Watson Lake on this subject and I do not believe that the Member opposite represents the views of his constituency on this question.
The Member said something about employment standards, and it is interesting to speak about employment standards because we all share the concern about the cost for business, but it bothers me that there was not a word by the Member, not a whisper of concern, for low-income workers, most of whom are women and many of whom are only seasonally employed - who have no union, no benefits, no pension, no protection against unjust dismissal and sometimes no protection against unsatisfied wage claims.
The Member is not even the slightest bit concerned with the least powerful - the people in the community who have the least economic muscle of all. That troubles me, because there are a great many such people in our community and they need the protection of good, solid and fair employment standards legislation.
The Member talked about tax increases. The last tax increases brought into this House were ones I had the burden of introducing; they were tax increases on alcohol and tobacco, back in 1985. Offsetting those tax increases were some reductions we made in medicare premiums to reduce the tax burden on citizens.
I will say to the Member that, since in Opposition, the Opposition seemed to oppose both of those initiatives. If he wants to talk taxes, if he wants to compare our record with any Conservative administration - and I assume he is still some kind of conservative - in the country, I would be prepared to do that and I would be prepared to prove to him that the burden of taxation on Yukoners has gone down. Not only that, in the budget consultation I did last year, it became very, very clear to me that people said that rather than raising taxes they believed there ought to be increases in certain kinds of user fees for benefits that were not available to every citizen, but were services provided to a few and many people felt we should be recovering a larger share of the cost of those services.
The Member for Watson Lake - and this may be the second-last word I will say about his speech - said Yukoners are proud people. That is correct. Yukoners are proud people, and one of the things they are proud of is the accomplishments that we in this Legislature and we in this government have been able to make in partnership with them in the last few years.
The Member said he talked to lots of old-time Yukoners who want to go back to the old ways. I know there are some older people of a more conservative bent - and I am not talking about party label now - who feel quite sentimental about the days before aboriginal people could vote, before working people had any say in government policy, before women occupied any positions in the senior management government. A lot of people of that mind would like to go back to the days of good-old-boy government - a closed circle of middle-aged men, largely from the business community. A lot of people like that do not believe that anybody else from any other point of view or any other walk of life has any right to any participation in public life.
This party and this government represents a very, very different point of view - totally contrary to that of the Member - and I believe that the majority of Yukoners support that view, not the one expressed by the Member opposite.
With respect to the throne speech, a number of Members in this debate have commented on what the government is doing and on what the government is not doing. I think that even a quick look at the lists of initiatives in the throne speech would be impressive to any objective observer. These initiatives include: constitutional development; providing a legislative package to try and achieve good government; a provision for more Yukon control over land; initiatives for resource industries to provide energy for themselves; the negotiations on land claims and self claim and the legislation we hope to bring to put effect to that; the new Workers Compensation Act; the Economic Development Act; health transfer; the hospital construction; devolution of the Alaska Highway; Wildlife Act amendments; regulations for beverage containers under the Environment Act; the recycling fund and depots for communities; changes to the Lands Act to the benefit of the agricultural community; the third year of decentralization; the completion of phase 1 of decentralization; the consideration of phase 2; the Curragh loan initiative; housing initiatives in Watson Lake, as a result of the Sa Dena Hes mine; an additional $9 million in the EDA for the mining community; the visitor reception centre - which is much beloved by the Member for Riverdale North;. I suspect that the Member for Riverdale North would probably have complained about the design of the pyramids or the Louvre or St. Pauls Cathedral because they were not just simple little boxes Everyone has their own architectural taste and I guess some people differ from the Member opposite - $9 million in a tourism EDA; cooperative ventures with the tourism industry; arts policy programming; the opening of a new arts centre; health promotion survey; more money in the health investment fund; alcohol and drug strategy; a new detoxification facility; new schools; endowment lands for the Yukon College; co-op program with businesses; Employment Standards Act amendments; more money to eliminate family violence; Yukon Advisory Council on Womens Issues to be legislated for; more housing lots in Granger, the neighborhood I represent; compensation to the victims of crime; a new Victims Services Act; the announcements about the work camp in Mayo; a new correctional facility in Teslin; and a new Yukon training strategy and the development of training trust funds.
I think that is a daunting agenda and it does indicate how much there is for us to do. I think that while a lot has been done, there is still a lot to do.
I have had the advantage, over the last several months, of having many public meetings, both in my constituency and around the territory. I respect the views put forward in this House, including those of the MLA for Watson Lake. They are expressing their perceptions of their constituents opinions about a great number of things.
I do know that there is a feeling that there has been a lot of change in the territory. I also know, however, that many people feel that most of those changes have been for the better. I just look around my own constituency and see how, when I first entered this house, I had one of the first of the country residential subdivisions, Wolf Creek, and I represented, as well, MacRae, Lobird, Kopper King and Takhini Trailer Courts and Northland Trailer Court, which was just in its earlier years, as well as Hillcrest. Since then, there are new neighborhoods in my constituency: Mary Lake, Pine Ridge and McLean Lake. Northland and Takhini Trailer Courts have expanded and, of course, there is the new Granger subdivision and McIntyre community, which was the result of the relocation of Kwanlin Dun.
We have seen many changes, such as the construction of the college in the area I represent and other small, positive changes that I have seen in my years as a MLA.
There are many changes that I have helped bring about. They range from very small but important things like the speed limits in the Hillcrest community, funding for Kaushees Place, bus service to Lobird or mail delivery to Wolf Creek, which was the first rural route - rural route 1 in the Whitehorse area. I helped tenants in the trailer courts form associations to fight unjust rate increases, there was new money allocated for child care, the innovation of home care programs, the new college construction, the legitimization of squatters - very important to people in my constituency - additions to the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre and, as I said before, the Kwanlin Dun relocation.
We are now considering important initiatives toward the reconstruction of Two Mile Hill and the South Access Road, both two important roads to the areas I represent. We are talking about new schools, whether it is the Golden Horn School or the Granger School, and about the visitor reception centre, which the Member does not like.
We are, in this session, talking about the Employment Standards Act, Workers Compensation Act, Economic Development Act, Womens Advisory Council legislation, wildlife habitat protection legislation, government legislation and, I hope, claims legislation, all of which affect my constituency, all of which are important to my constituency.
Mr. Justice Kenneth Lysyk has proposed that my constituency be radically changed and he has proposed names for new constituencies - the names of Granger and McIntyre being two of those names and they are not popular choices in the neighbourhood, since they do not seem to represent a very good description of the proposed constituencies, but we will have a chance to talk about that on another occasion.
As well, we will have a chance to talk about whether or not people will want to continue to move in the direction that we have been going or whether they want to take another direction, whether they want to take a step forward or whether they want to take a step back to the good old days referred to by the Member for Watson Lake.
Members on both sides of the House have told us what they believe their constituents think about many of the developments of our time and about many of the policy initiatives and many of the changes that are going on. Members in this House have told us what they think of the important issues and I would just like to take few minutes, if I may, to convey to Members my own impression about some of those things, as I have listened to Yukoners and met with them in many, many meetings over the last several months.
It is quite clear to me that the completion of the land claims negotiations, the legislating of those agreements and the implementing of the settlements is still very much a major concern for the people in the territory. It may not be the number one concern for everybody, but it is one of the most important concerns for people in the territory.
Another major concern of course is the economy and the economic situation in the territory. It is not that people do not recognize that we have done relatively well, that we have been fairly fortunate in the national recession, but the people do read the national newspapers, they do listen to the national news, they do watch The National and The Journal and they are affected by the anxiety and the uncertainty that besets our national economy.
If you ask most Yukoners about the overall state of the Yukon economy, most of them will say that it is good - not excellent or great, but good.
If you ask people if the Government of the Yukon is doing the right things and taking the right kinds of initiatives with respect to the economy, not everyone will agree, but most people believe the government is doing its best and doing the things it can do within its legislative competence.
If you ask people if they are better off now than they were, or if you ask them about how they are doing, how their family and community are doing, most think they are doing fairly well.
If you ask people if their situation has improved in the last few years, the largest group of people will say it has improved, or it has, at the very least, remained the same. It has not gotten worse, as many Members opposite were saying.
In my meetings over the last several months, I have discovered that there is a lot of quiet support for what the government is doing, that one cannot always just listen to the louder, more negative, voices. Some time ago, I had a meeting in Watson Lake, and it was quite a lively meeting. There were a lot of people there who had very strong views, who were opposed, for example, to the teaching of French in schools, who did not think native languages should be taught to Yukon native people, who were opposed to the improvements we had recently made in terms of medical travel for people needing to go south for certain procedures. There were many of what I would call reactionary views expressed.
I came to the end of the meeting feeling that it had been a very interesting and demanding meeting, but a little disappointed that there seemed to be so little support for the kinds of things that this government, and the national government, were doing to try to make minorities, whether aboriginal, francophone or others, feel more at home in this country.
It was interesting that, as soon as I adjourned the meeting, and some of the more assertive people left, I had a large number of people come up to me, one by one, and express agreement with what I had to say at that meeting, as well as support for what we were doing, and expressed a real appreciation that I had given them an opportunity to hear another point of view other than the one they had been hearing for most of the evening.
In the last few weeks especially, but also in the last months and years, I have learned that people want some very basic things from their government, whether it is the federal or territorial government. What they can expect from the territorial government, and what they want from it, which is the more accessible of the two, is that we do what we reasonably can, in terms of economic development and trying to manage the economic situations that arise, whether it is a crisis, such as that facing Curragh, or the long-term developmental needs of the tourism industry, or the wish of people everywhere to diversify and strengthen community economies, and to represent their interests in the land claims negotiations and national constitutional debates.
They want us to give them information. They want us to be accessible. They want us to be sensitive to the concerns of all the citizens of the territory, not just some groups and some communities. They want everybody to be heard and everybody to have a chance to be heard.
They have come to look upon the Government of the Yukon to provide good education and social services. In fact, everywhere I have been in this territory in the last few months, I have heard people make spontaneous compliments about this governments initiatives in the area of education - whether it is the new Education Act and its programs, or the new schools we are building - and there have been a great many personal compliments to the Member for Mayo, the Minister of Education for the last seven years, for the excellent work he has done in that time.
Of course, much legislative debate and much media comment focuses on controversy and the negative, but I think the ordinary citizen, the average Yukoner, is not captured by that negativity. In fact, everything I have heard - and not only here - and everything I have read about national polling data indicates that that kind of aggressively partisan, negative and nasty style of politics is increasingly going into disfavour.
If one talks to Yukoners about whether they think the improvements in child care, home care, education, or any of a whole range of a number of other initiatives have improved the life of their families and their communities here in the territory, one will find the vast majority of people respond in the affirmative. They speak very positively.
Contrary to what the Member opposite has said, I think the citizens of the Yukon do think this government has provided strong economic leadership to them in dealing with some tough situations - whether in job creation or in terms of bolstering the economy.
People in the Yukon do believe that self-government for aboriginal people is a good thing and they do believe that aboriginal people do need to have the control and responsibility over their own decisions and over their own communities and their own lands.
They do recognize that this government has provided a strong measure of stability. They do not believe the comments by the Members opposite who suggest that there has been a wholesale, financial mismanagement of the Yukon. In fact, they believe quite the opposite and they recognize that we have had balanced budgets and we have not had tax increases for a number of years.
On a whole range of issues, the people just do not believe the Opposition. It is not only the Opposition that they do not believe, they do not believe politicians as a class and group. People are very skeptical about hyperbole, they are very cynical about exaggeration and they are very, almost sneeringly, contemptuous of certain kinds of grandstanding attacks that have been part of our political culture for a long time.
Most people in the territory recognize that we are reducing our dependence on the federal government, and that is part of the slow and long process of maturation and development of which we are all part.
I do think, and I say this with kindness to the Members opposite, that the public is concerned and confused by the direction of the Opposition. Just today, we heard the Member for Watson Lake indicate some positions on a couple of important policy questions, which are notably different from those made by the leader of his party, and even significantly from the Leader of the Opposition in this House. Yukoners at this stage do not know what party is what as opposition, or who is leading whom. There is some confusion on that score, but that is not my problem, but it is just that in the parliamentary system it does seem to me that if you are going to have a serious, balanced philosophical debate about the direction that you have, we need to know what the alternative is to what we are offering and I do not think that alternative is very clear.
Earlier today Members indicated their ambivalence about my attending national constitutional meetings and speaking up for Yukon in that arena. It is difficult for anyone to be in two places at once and it is difficult for anyone in public life to meet all of the demands on his or her time. Let me say that in terms of that constitutional debate, this may be the last and best chance that we have to undo the damage that was done in the patriation exercise in 1982 and damage that would have be exacerbated by the Meech Lake Accord in 1987.
I make no apologies for this. I have fought very hard to get to that table and get us a seat at that table and a voice in that process.
I have done what I can do, given the constantly changing program schedule of these constitutional meetings, to meet both my obligations in this House and my obligations in that forum. I will not apologize for that, nor will I apologize for speaking loudly and forcefully in that national forum on the future of our country as it goes through this constitutional crisis.
The Member for Riverdale North - about whom one could say many things, but probably the nicest thing one could say is that he has a sense of humour - said something about my not being the most intelligent or knowledgeable person in the Yukon. I would immediately say that that is probably true, but I ought also to say, as Harry Truman said when a similar comment was made about him, that there are millions of people who are probably more intelligent, but unfortunately, none of them are running for president.
We are ordinary Yukoners in this House. Those of us on the government side represent a variety of life experiences in the Yukon. We are people who have worked very, very hard on behalf of this community. I think people know that. We are also people who, as is true of any human beings, have made our share of mistakes and will no doubt make more. People know that as well, but I will be more than happy, when the time comes, to put our record of achievement - the long record of achievement - against the short list of failures, and ask the public to make a judgment on that.
Reference was made by one or two Members to the newsletters and surveys that have gone out, to which people in the hundreds are responding to. There are some very clear messages coming back in response to the questions. I am hearing very strongly that people want this government to carry on with its basic program - its basic agenda - building the economy, settling claims, protecting the environment, and upgrading health and social services. In almost every one of those areas, citizens are asking us to do not less, but more.
If the citizens of this territory have some concerns, and they do, let me say to the Members opposite that we hear them as much as do they. They are communicating them to us. They will also be pleased to know that people are also communicating to us the things they feel we are doing well. That is nice to hear once in a while, as you often feel, in political life, that there are no other messages other than negative ones.
People do want us to continue doing what we are doing. They want us to continue investing in capital projects, infrastructure, roads, schools and community facilities and they want us to continue to proceed with legislation to make this a better place to live.
Somebody, I cannot remember who, said something about this government having no vision. As I take off my glasses and polish them and put them back on, I ask myself what I see. I see the same old faces. I see not one party, however, but two. It is a party divided, a conservative movement in a leadership crisis. They are a group of people who do not know whether to go to the right or the left; nonetheless, we can be sure they will be moving backwards rather than forwards.
I do not make any excessive claims to this, but I think that, in the economic strategy, the conservation strategy, in the Education Act, in the Health Act, the land claims and the self-government initiatives, our vision is a matter of public record. That is our vision. It is a vision I will defend and it is a vision I think this government can be proud of.
Motion re Address in Reply to Speech from the Throne Agreed to
Motion to engross Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne
Hon. Mr. Webster: I move that the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne be engrossed and presented to the Commissioner in his capacity as Lieutenant-Governor.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne be engrossed and presented to the Commissioner in his capacity as Lieutenant-Governor.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: Government Bills.
Bill No. 52: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 52, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Penikett.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I move that Bill No. 52, entitled Faro Mine Loan Act, be read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Premier that Bill No. 52, entitled Faro Mine Loan Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: As all Members know, this bill is required to give legislative sanction to the loan of money to Curragh Resources. This money enables the company to strip overburden from the Grum ore body at Faro and thereby, extend the life of that mine into the next century.
The importance of the Faro mine to Yukons economy is well known to all Members of this House. The mine, directly and indirectly, accounts for almost one-fifth of the gross territorial product, seven percent of our employed workforce and 12 percent of the Yukons total labour income. It does not take much to imagine the consequences of a closure of this mine. Aside from the personal tragedy for the mine workers and their families, almost every person and business in the territory would feel the impact of a shutdown at Faro as the multiplier effect worked through the economy.
We could expect an eventual loss of population. This would have a serious negative impact on our formula financing arrangements because of the population escalator. Although we are gradually reducing our dependence on transfer payments, a large drop in transfer payments as a direct result of people leaving the territory could result in decreased services.
It is no secret to anyone who follows the industry that the mining industry in general, and Curragh in particular, are experiencing difficult times. Depressed metal prices, brought on by the world recession, the high Canadian dollar and high real interest rates, have all put a strain on mine operators. While Curragh Resources has been able to weather the storm, they have done so by using their cash reserves, reserves that would otherwise have been used to strip overburden from the Grum property. Also, the company must hold cash reserves to cover operating losses that may occur before there is a turnaround in the base metal business. At the same time, Curraghs access to loan funding is limited because of the overall depressed state of the industry.
Without the money this bill makes available, the company cannot begin to strip the Grum deposit. If the stripping had not begun by now, there could have been an ore gap at the Faro mine in the latter part of the current year, which could force the mill to close.
If the mill closes, the cashflow required to provide funds for stripping and mining ceases, and the whole operation might have to close, with the consequences I previously mentioned.
Aside from these consequences, there would be additional costs for mothballing the mine and, upon reopening, the startup. Startup costs can be of such magnitude that they could affect the very decision to open.
We examined all these matters closely over the past several months, and concluded that the only sound course of action was the one we decided upon: to loan money to the company to begin stripping. These funds will be matched by Curragh Resources for a total of $10 million being spent on the Grum stripping program.
This $10 million will fund that program for several months, but many millions more will be required to complete the stripping. It is our hope, and our belief, that the market for base metals will pick up over the next several months, and the Canadian dollars strength will ease somewhat. There are already some encouraging signs.
With the anticipated changes in the metals and money markets, Curragh should be able to generate more cash than needs to be devoted to the stripping program, enabling the company to use some of the cash reserves they are presently holding to cover operating losses.
We also believe that our willingness to invest money in the Faro operation will send the appropriate message to the banks and financial markets, thus making it possible for the company to raise money in another manner. Nonetheless, no business transaction is without risk.
I do not wish to mislead Members of the House by saying that this is a guaranteed win-win situation. There is always the possibility of a loss, but we believe it to be remote.
First, we have faith in the mines viability. That is the best security of all. Second, we have made the best arrangements we could secure for the loan of this money. The registered legal security for our loan is the unencumbered portion of Curraghs concentrate inventories and accounts receivables. Under normal circumstances, these far exceed the value of our loan.
We believe in the long-term viability of the Faro mine. We recognize its importance to our economy and to the mines employees and their families. We are determined to see the promise of this mine realized. That is the purpose of the bill, and I commend it for favourable attention.
Mr. Lang: I have a number of observations I would like to put on the record. First of all, I have to express my clear disappointment at the lack of information with respect to the actual agreement and the terms and conditions for the $5 million we are being asked to agree to for the loan. We have two sections in the act, and that is all the information provided to us, other than that provided through the news media. In fact, notice was given by one Member, asking for all the information concerning the proposed loan and the money that has already been authorized through the Executive Council, and by the Executive Council bypassing the Financial Administration Act.
The Government Leader is shaking his head, but there is an Executive Council decision, by regulation, where certain sections of the Financial Administration Act would not apply with respect to the undertaking that is being asked of this House. Basically, therefore, what we are looking at is retroactive legislation, where the decision has been made by the government and now they are coming to the House and asking for our consent.
The concern I have is that the terms and conditions of that agreement still have not been made available to Members. Yet, we are being asked to vote on a very important piece of legislation, as it affects the Yukon in its totality and the taxpayer directly. As the Government Leader has indicated, there is no question that there are risks attached to what is being provided by this piece of legislation.
Prior to going into Committee of the Whole, we expect the information about the agreement that has been entered into, and all the documents that are being entertained by the government, on this agreement. The public has a right to know what those terms and conditions are.
I want to go back to some comments that were made in the Speech from the Throne in respect to the fact that, as these sessions go by, it is becoming more and more difficult to get information from the side opposite. You would have thought, in view of the request being made by Members to authorize $5 million, that all necessary information would have been made available prior to the second reading speech. I do not think it is too much to ask.
I want to go on the record that this side supports the continuation of the community of Faro, as all Members in this House do. The question is: how do we approach supporting such a development, and what would those terms and conditions be?
I want to digress for a minute by saying it is too bad that, not only here, but in other parts of Canada as well, we are at the stage where significant major developments, such as the Faro mine, are facing more and more difficulties. It seems more and more often that the normal banking and lending institutions are bypassed, and we immediately go to the taxpayers of that particular region for assistance.
I am not just saying it is here, but it is in Canada in general. One has to wonder about the viability of any particular development, if the normal lending institutions are not prepared to accept the collateral and potential offered in order to justify the risk capital that has to be put into a development.
That also applies to the hotel complex we talked about earlier today. The same principles apply. How much of an obligation do taxpayers have?
That aside, in view of the situation of Canada and the banking institutions, we recognize that there is going to be a role of the Government of the Yukon with respect to this particular project.
Prior to getting into the specifics of what we do know, I want to point out that, during his presentation, the Government Leader made an admission about how severely the Yukon would be affected if the Faro mine, and the community of Faro, were to close.
We have experienced those closures; we know how serious it is, and we agree that it is very significant. That is why we have been speaking about the importance of other developments to offset situations such as Government Leader describes, for example, the development of Windy Craggy.
The reality of the situation is that they talked about economic diversification in the Speech from the Throne.
The Government Leader just stood up and talked about economic diversification on the one hand, and then just told us the doom-and-gloom story that if we do not lend the $5 million and Faro closes down, the ultimate effect of this is going to be devastating to the community.
That is true, because there is no economic diversification within our economy. We have consistently and regularly brought forward the concern surrounding the financial assistance being made available to us by the Government of Canada and the lack of vision in terms of that investment.
The Minister indicated that further assistance may be required, and that is of concern to us. The Government Leader is shaking his head. I was under the impression that the $5 million that he was asking for was predicated on a number of assumptions affected by the metal market and the mining industry in general. We know, from the information that we have been provided with, once again through the news media, that the project is going to cost as much as $60 million.
Our concern is that what is being requested of the House for this total program does not seem to be answering what the project is going to cost in the long term. We are going to have questions, through the course of debate, about how this $5 million relates to the outstanding balance of $55 million that is required to complete it.
What assurances do we have that, when the Legislature is not in session, the side opposite will not make a multi-million dollar contract and commitment on behalf of the people of the territory without coming to this House to determine the terms and conditions?
You will note on the Order Paper, Mr. Speaker, that we have put a motion on the floor, for debate, in respect of the fact that if more money is to go toward this project, we should be called back in to discuss it and debate it. The terms and conditions should be laid on the table in order that the public understands the undertakings that the Government of Yukon is making on its behalf, if further assistance is required.
The other area of concern that we have is in respect to the long-term viability of the mine and the long-term prospects. We do, similar to the side opposite, have faith in the long-term viability of the mine. At the same time I would expect that it would have done an independent evaluation of the long-term viability of the mine with respect to stripping, and, once the stripping project is completed, where it fits into the international metal market and the long-term commitments of ore are concerned.
The other concern that we have, and where we would want some questions asked as well as answered, is that we understand that not too long ago the proponents of the mine in question made an arrangement for the sale of some assets for a considerable amount of money. In view of that, we want to know how much of that money will be committed toward the stripping project and the long-term viability of the Faro mine. We realize that other assets are owned by the proponents but, at the same time, obviously our major concern is the mines in the Yukon, and primarily the one in Faro. We would like to see information tabled in this House about what is going to happen with that money, which I believe is in the neighbourhood of $60 million, that has been freed up and made available through the sale of those other assets.
The other concern that we have, as I mentioned earlier, is the fact that, I understand, we are dealing with legislation where the money has been committed, the arrangements have been made and therefore, it is effectively retroactive legislation. In other words, we are dealing with a bill after the fact. We are dealing with a situation where, basically, the government has said to come in, rubber stamp it, it is all done, it is finished.
That principle in itself is of concern when we are talking about $5 million. It is not as though Members of this House could not have been called in for a weeks session, if necessary, to deal with this issue alone. It is an issue important enough to the Yukon and the Yukons economic base. That particular issue should warrant scrutiny by the public prior to the allocation of those dollars.
What it says to me is that, once again, the Legislature is becoming irrelevant in the life of this government. In other words, in many cases it is becoming something that they have to put up with; something that they have to deal with. But does it really enter into the scheme of things? No, it does not. The people really do not count, the Legislature does not count and the public forum is an exercise that we must go through at some given time - give the people a peek at what we are doing, but try to get through the work as quickly as we can.
The other concern that we have on this side is that the Minister in his remarks never once mentioned the responsibility of the Government of Canada, as far as that mine is concerned.
We all know from media reports that the Government of Canada was negotiating with the proponents. From all appearances, they pulled out at the last minute and, subsequently, left the Government of the Yukon to work out some arrangements with the mine. The reason I mention this is because the Government of Canada is responsible for resource development in the Yukon. The Government of the Yukon does not have that responsibility. We all know that the Government of Canada still retains that responsibility. I would suggest that is a role and a responsibility of the Government of Canada. I would like to know where they enter into the picture and what commitments they have. For example, if more money is required from the public purse, how would that money be made available by the Government of Canada?
The other point that I wish to make is the question of security that the Minister just mentioned. Obviously, we do not have the terms, or the agreements, or the actual documents of what commitments were made, but he talks about the ore that has been processed and already stockpiled at the dock in Skagway.
What exactly is our security, if the worst case scenario were to happen and we had to fall back and try to collect our $5 million? Why do we not have the first mortgage - if I can use that terminology; I am not sure what type of lien or caveat would be on that particular processed ore? I am assuming it is a mortgage of some kind. Why we do not have the first mortgage?
It is my understanding that the banks have the first mortgage up to 65 percent; therefore, only 35 percent would be made available, as far as the Government of the Yukons collateral is concerned. Does that amount to $5 million? I would like to have in black and white, provided to this House, that that type of security is there and we are adequately covered.
Too often, we seem to enter into arrangements where there is very little, if any, security. Security is often based on what somebody told us. The Watson Lake sawmill is a fine example. We spent multi-millions of dollars, and what did we finally get for security? What was the ultimate end? The light bills in the territory went up. The Government Leader says that they did not go up.
With respect to the Watson Lake sawmill fiasco, why does the Government Leader not just stand up and say it the way it is? The fact is that it was a poor business deal. Why does he not take the onerous responsibility and say that the government made a bad mistake, and it cost the electrical consumer lots of money? There was no money voted here directly for that project, and the Government Leader knows that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Lang: Not telling the truth? The Government Leader had better start telling the truth. He could tell the people exactly where $11 million bucks came from for that project that was never voted through this House for that particular purpose.
I want to go further on the situation on the Faro mine and our commitments the Minister has outlined. I am hoping, during the course of the debate - and a reasoned debate, a logical debate as far as that community is concerned and what our commitments are - that we can get an undertaking from the side opposite that if more monies are required over and above the initial $5 million, the House will be called back in prior to any decisions being made so that there can be a full public disclosure and a full public debate on what further commitments the people of the territory are going to take on.
I hope that will not be necessary. It is my hope that the side opposite can give us the necessary information that we feel comfortable with to support this bill in Committee of the Whole so that we can go out to our constituents and say yes, it was a reasonable approach to a very real problem. We do not want to see that mine close down - I emphasize that - and I do not think any person in political or private life wants to see that happen.
For the purpose of debate here, we need public disclosure and adequate information to make a wise decision as individual Members.
I want to raise another issue if I may, and that is the question that has come to me from a number of people who are in the mining industry from the point of view of working as qualified miners, or that type of thing, and are at present unemployed. The allegations that have been made to me are that here is the Government of Yukon providing a source of capital for the purposes of the program to be undertaken at the Faro mine and yet, at the same time, there are a number of miners, qualified and capable, who seem not to be able to get employment in that area. That is a concern I want to bring to the attention of the side opposite and I hope that, over the course of committee hearings, the Minister can give us some assurances about where and how individuals will get employment as far as the overall project is concerned.
It seems kind of ridiculous to see an unemployment rate of well over 10 percent - I do not believe it to be 10; it is probably well over 10 percent - of qualified and capable individuals. Those who have approached me - and about three of them have approached me at different times over the past couple of weeks - I know to be capable and competent and do bring good value for the dollars they are paid, on an hourly basis if not by piecework, depending on the position they have. I want to convey that concern to the side opposite.
You can see the difficulty we have with respect to the bill before us. The information we have had has been very scanty. It has not been well documented or put forward for our consideration. It is my hope that the side opposite will be tabling those documents here either tonight or in the morning, giving us adequate time to review them to see whether or not they meet the objective we would all like to see; that is, that the mine continue and, at the same time, we have the necessary security and long-term commitments that will not put the taxpayer at undue risk.
Mrs. Firth: I, too, will have many questions for the Minister responsible for giving this loan to Curragh Resources.
I want to express my concern by giving a little bit of background information. I recall writing to the Minister responsible, the Government Leader, back in January, asking about this whole issue. I asked about whether or not Curragh Resources was going to be given any assistance, loan guarantees or whatever. My letter was answered, stating that when the Government Leader felt that it was in the publics best interest and when he had some information and felt it was an appropriate time, he would tell us what was going on.
I wrote back to the Minister with a suggestion. I wrote on February 13, to be exact, suggesting that Mr. Frame appear as a witness before the Legislature, as had happened in 1985, so that we could pose some questions to him and review the situation as an assembly of elected representatives. The public would then have access to the information and we could all make a well-informed decision as to whether or not this was a good idea.
The way the Minister made his presentation this afternoon, indicating to us that this $5 million was going to extend the life of the mine into the next century, was not something I have heard from people I have talked to in Faro and it is not what the Faro officials are saying in the newspaper. They are saying it will extend the life of the mine for three more months. The question is then up in the air again.
I think the Minister is overstating the effect that this $5 million that Yukon taxpayers are going to put out to start this Grum stripping in extending the life of the mine into the next century. After I wrote the letter suggesting that Mr. Frame appear in the Legislative Assembly to answer questions, I received another letter from the Minister, saying he had been having private discussions and would get back to us at an appropriate time. Should an aid package for Curragh be forthcoming, he said we would explore the idea with Mr. Frame.
That was back in February. Today, I asked a question in the House about Mr. Frame appearing, and we still do not have an answer about whether he or his officials will be appearing. The first issue I would like cleared up is whether these people will or will not be appearing and, if not, why not.
The other issue is that I wrote back to the Minister when I received the reply, and after I read the article in the Globe and Mail that made it quite obvious that there were discussions going on and that something was happening, asking for some specific details about the agreement, so we could at least get a hint of what was going on.
All the time, we were asking for information, the Member of Parliament was asking for information from the Government Leader with respect to what this deal was, the media was phoning and asking for information, and there were Members on the other side of the House who were refusing to make any comments about the negotiations. The MLA for the Town of Faro, for example, was refusing to make any comment.
I wanted some basic questions answered, and I have still received no reply from that letter. It is only a month old now. I wrote it to the Minister at the end of March.
I wanted to know about the plan that Curragh had in place to ensure us they could survive and do well. We were asking for the set of conditions that were outlined in the loan guarantee. This was at the time that we were still talking about a loan guarantee, not an outright cash advance of $5 million.
We were asking about reassurances that the project had been completed. We were asking about what procedure was in place to see that the government would take the necessary steps to see that Curragh would do what it said it was going to do.
We asked how Curragh planned to pay back the money and was there a plan in place in the event that something went wrong and what was the fall-back position going to be?
They were reasonable questions, good business investment questions that any banker would ask you if you went to the bank seeking this kind of loan, and I still have not received any reply to that letter or an answer to those questions.
Today, I asked the Government Leader about the agreement itself. We put a motion on the Order Paper asking for the agreement to be tabled. To be frank, I was quite surprised to see that the Minister did not bring in some form of an agreement or some of the agreement concepts and attach them to his piece of legislation. The legislation simply says that we are giving Curragh $5 million and this will enable us to do it under the laws of the Yukon.
I have a lot of questions that I want answered regarding the viability of the project and I think other Yukoners and people that I have talked to in the mining community are interested in that as well.
No one wants to see Curragh shut down, but if it is going to continue requiring support, and we are going to continue to support it with taxpayers money, I think that people have a right to know what the conditions are and to know that there are some safeguards in place.
This venture is different from the last time Cyprus Anvil closed and was opened by Curragh. The stripping of the Grum deposit is different. Almost 10 years have gone by; the whole enterprise can be quite a bit risker. We do not know this for sure, but I am hearing from the mining community that it could be much riskier. It is definitely going to be much more expensive because of the wage increases and the electrical rates. It is not fair to go back and say: well, you know what happened last time, this is the same situation; it just is not so.
I have some specific questions about why it is a loan and not a loan guarantee, and I hope that we can get some answers, perhaps this evening, with respect to that. I think that the Minister has a responsibility to indicate to us some of the processes of this loan; specifically, with respect to the questions that were raised by the Member for Porter Creek East, and whether the Minister is abiding by all of the regulations and clauses in the Financial Administration Act. I am particularly looking to see whether or not the government has any accounting procedures in place to see that the $5 million that we have given to Clifford Frame and Curragh Resources is spent specifically on that stripping program.
I am looking forward to the Government Leader responding to that this evening. I know when this government gets money from the federal government, it goes into a general revenue fund and can be spent on anything the government determines it should be spent on. I would like the Minister to give us some reassurance about that.
I want to know where the agreement is. What stage is it at? The Minister said today in Question Period that he had to get all the documents signed and that we may be able to get some of the documentation. The impression I get is that the $5 million has been given to Curragh. I have to assume it has, because the company that is doing the stripping is carrying on operations, paying wages, operating the machines and driving the trucks. Has the cheque already been handed over to Curragh Resources? I would like to know exactly what stage we are at with this arrangement.
I would like to get some indication from the Government Leader why he felt it was so important that this information was kept from the public, from us as Members of the Legislative Assembly and from the Member of Parliament. She, too, was asking for further information about this. Why could we not all have been involved in this decision? Why could we not have been given the information in advance of the Minister sitting down and, in secret, making an arrangement to lend Curragh Resources $5 million.
It is fine to give a big emotional speech about jobs, the town, mine shutdowns and the costs involved to get it running again. None of us disagree with that emotional argument that has been presented, but we have to look at whether or not it is good business sense, as well. If the banks are not prepared to support this initiative, I have to ask why the government is so eager to do it? Perhaps the Government Leader has information available to him that we do not know.
As a Member of this Legislature who represents 1,500 or so people in the territory, I am not able to say whether or not this is a good deal or a bad deal, or a good idea or a bad idea, because we have not been provided with any information on it at all, except that we will have, as security, a pile of rock and ore. I have no idea what that means to us except that, in order to get our money back out of it, we would have to have a market for it and be able to move the ore in order to recover our losses.
I also would like the question answered with respect to where the money is going to come from. Does it just come out of the savings? General revenue? Where has the Government Leader all of a sudden come up with this $5 million from, when I hear every Minister is saying we cannot do this, we do not have enough money; or we cannot do that program, we do not have enough money for it. We have to cut back. So I would like to know where the Minister came up with this $5 million he is able to provide to this company.
I, too, will be looking for some reassurances from the Government Leader that no further loans, loan guarantees or commitments are made without us having a full public accounting, which means coming back to the Legislature and, if the need be, requesting that Mr. Frame or his officials also attend to answer questions.
I would also appreciate getting something from the Minister in writing, short of the agreements, with regard to the recent communication I sent to him a month ago. I would like some answers to those questions.
I was not trying to be obnoxious this afternoon in trying to pin the Minister down as to a time when we are going to debate this. I know the House Leader is having discussions with us about when the Minister is going to be available for us to proceed with this in the Legislature, but I think it would only be fair for him to give us some kind of a more accurate time line as to what we are looking at so that we are not just saying whenever it is convenient for the Minister we will proceed with this particular piece of legislation.
As to the Ministers red herring about whether Mr. Frame can appear or not - it has been a long time since we made that suggestion so, if the government had their agenda well organized, and in light of the Ministers commitments out of the territory, one would think they would have their agenda extremely fine tuned and would be able to give us some indication of where they are going and when they are going there.
I am looking forward to getting some answers to those questions, and I am definitely looking forward to seeing the agreement and perhaps having the officials from Curragh here in the Legislature to answer some questions.
Speaker: The Member will close debate if he now speaks. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I thank the Members opposite for their observations, and I will try to respond to them as briefly and completely as I can.
First of all, let me start off by saying that the only reason the Members of this House do not have the loan agreements tabled on the floor of this House at this moment is because they are not yet signed. I am not going to bring legal drafts before the House; I will bring the final, signed copies for the House. I will do that as soon as they are signed.
The second point is that no money has been disbursed yet under this agreement. This is not an after-the-fact, or retroactive, legislation, as the Member for Porter Creek East says.
Thirdly, under the agreements that were negotiated - and I have said this publicly before, and I am disappointed the Members would doubt my word - every penny of the money has to be spent on the Grum stripping program here in the Yukon Territory.
That is in the agreement and, in fact, we do not disburse the money until we get invoices for the actual expenditures.
The issue at second reading will be quite simple. Do the Members in this House agree in principle with a loan, or not? Are we prepared to authorize this loan to the largest private sector employer in the territory - a loan to keep our only world-class mine in operation? That is the principle Members will be asked to support at second reading. In 1985, we guaranteed loans to open the mine at Faro. I will also remind Members that this company paid back their obligations to us on that occasion ahead of schedule.
On the subject of diversification, I remind the Member for Porter Creek East that, when the old Cyprus Anvil mine closed, it represented over 40 percent of the gross domestic product of the Yukon Territory. Today, the mine represents only 20 percent. It is a very large part of the economy, but it is only half as significant as it used to be. There has been diversification and growth in the Yukon economy.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I apologize, Mr. Speaker. The Member for Riverdale North has something profound to say on the subject.
Mr. Phillips: Just for clarification, the budget was over $400 million. I think it was around $75 or $80 million at that time.
Let us put things in perspective.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Perspective? I think he needs glasses. It does not have anything to do with the point I made about the gross domestic product.
The Member for Porter Creek East made reference to the sale of the Spanish assets and the cash from that sale. It is quite reasonable that questions be put to the officers of the company about the use of those resources. It is public knowledge that assets of Curragh Resources, including the mine at Westray, are for sale, but it is also public knowledge that this is not a great market in which to be trying to sell a mine. In fact, one runs the risk of not being able to cover ones investment, because it is also public knowledge that Curragh Resources, last year, lost something like $100 million, $70 million of which was from mining activities.
I am a little bit annoyed at the Member for Riverdale South implying that I was anything other than quite direct with her today in terms of witnesses before this House. Let me say, again, that the question of senior representatives of Curragh Resources appearing before this House as witnesses when we consider this bill was raised a long time ago with them. A number of Members, not only the Member for Riverdale South, made such a request. I said it was a very reasonable one and, a very long time ago, in discussions with the company, I indicated that this would be one of our requirements.
It is not a question of what is convenient for me. It is a question, though, of making sure that we can get a mutually agreeable time when the chairman of the board or the president of the company, or both, can be in this House. These are people who do business in Asia and Europe. Both of them were recently in the hospital. It is not a question of my convenience. It is a question of us making reasonable arrangements. I have sought, from the beginning of the request, to make those arrangements. I have not been negligent at all on that score.
Secondly, questions about the use of their assets or the management of the companys cash are questions that I cannot answer for the company. These questions should be put to the company, and the company will answer them as best they can. Many of the questions the Members asked should ultimately be questions put to Curragh in this forum.
Members have indicated that some of the questions arose from a Globe and Mail article. The only thing that I can tell you about the Globe and Mail article is that it was totally inaccurate, and it was based on some information contained in the federal blue book, which was stale-dated.
Let me say something about negotiations, because there seem to be some rather important misunderstandings on this subject.
If this government is in negotiations or discussions with a private company, the fact that we are in those discussions, and the information that we have about that companys business, does not automatically become public property. If I can make this analogy - because I think that it is an appropriate one - if the Member for Riverdale South, or the Member for Porter Creek East, or anybody else, comes to the government and applies for a SEAL loan, that is a private matter. If the government does a credit check, that is a private matter. It is not public property.
If the government does an assessment and evaluation of the application in terms of how much of the house the person owns or whether it really needs retrofitting - that is a private matter, but once the government has issued the loan, the fact that a resident of Porter Creek or a resident of Riverdale South has received the loan becomes public information. It will be listed in the public accounts and will be public information, but the private information we obtained during the course of those discussions about the financial affairs of the Member for Riverdale South or the private business of the Member for Porter Creek East is none of the publics business. It should be up to the person themselves to decide whether they want to make it public; it is not the governments obligation to make it public and, in fact, I would argue that no matter how we improve the Access to Information Act, someones private business should remain their private business unless they consent to it being made public.
The information that we can provide about the loan agreements, I think, will be apparent in the actual text of the document. I do apologize to the Members; I would have had the agreements here had they been signed - but I am now asking the House for legal authorization to make this loan, as required under the Financial Administration Act. We can make commitments under that act for any loan - and this speaks to the Members reference to a motion he is bringing forward. Any loan guarantee of such a security would have to be approved by the House.
There are all sorts of things that governments agree to do, but they would have to be sanctioned by the House as a financial measure. As I said, it would have to be sanctioned and, as a matter of fact, in this matter, as I said earlier, no money has been disbursed. The exact nature of the agreement will be clear, and questions Members have about the private business of Curragh Resources can be put to the officer of Curragh Resources. If the officers of Curragh Resources wish to share that information with Members of this House, that is their business and not mine. It is not my obligation, nor my responsibility, to convey someone elses private information.
The Member for Riverdale South has asked about the future of the mine. Well, as everyone knows, the mine runs out of ore from the Faro pit - from the underground ore body - by the end of this year. The Vangorda plateau runs out in 1994.
If the overburden of Grum is not stripped, and it is a relatively rich ore body, the mine will close. It takes $60 million to remove all of the overburden. It was never imagined by anyone that Curragh Resources would not be paying that cost. Their cash position is such that they could not take the risk of starting it without some support. We have made a commitment as a government, subject to the approval of the Legislature, to make a loan that allows the program to start. They have initially committed an equal amount to get the program started. Once the stripping program is underway, as it is, it is our belief that they have every reasonable interest, every business interest, in completing the stripping program and getting to that new ore body and getting that ore into the mill. As I have said before publicly, and this will become clear in the agreements, the security is not rocks, nor is it ore. It is concentrate. There is a difference.
It is concentrate. Our collateral is the unencumbered portion of that concentrate. There is no agreement where we could have taken a position ahead of the banks, to which are owed many millions of dollars by Curragh Resources; but there is an unencumbered portion - I think it is 35 percent - of the concentrates, and that is the security. With the accounts receivable and the concentrates, it will be clear in the agreement that the value of those assets is considerably in excess of the $5 million we are lending, so we have a reasonable degree of confidence in the security.
This initiative is to keep the mine open. It is designed to keep the mine operating and is intended to try and guarantee that there will be no shutdown. It is hoped that the initiative will see the mine operating well into the next decade. It is about the largest private sector employer, and it is about the only world-class mine we have in the Yukon.
The government does intend to provide the information requested by the Members. We do intend to facilitate the appearance of senior officers of the company before Committee of the Whole, so questions can be put to them about their private business. The question today we are asking is, does the House approve this measure in principle?
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 52 agreed to
Speaker: The time being 5:30, this House will recess until 7:30 p.m. this evening.
Bill No. 33: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 33, standing in the name of the Hon. Ms. Joe.
Hon. Ms. Joe: I move that Bill No. 33, entitled Registered Nurses Profession Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 33, entitled Registered Nurses Profession Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Ms. Joe: The Registered Nurses Association were going to make an appearance here tonight. I know they are definitely here in the building because I was speaking to them just before coming in. I know the door is not locked because I had to open it to see if my glasses were still here and they were. I am hoping that they will be walking through that door momentarily.
I used to work in a hospital. In particular, I remember my good friend, the Member for Riverdale South, as one of my colleagues at that time, but that was at a different period of time with different memories. We were all there for the same purpose and that was to care for the people in the hospital. Those were the good old days.
Tonight, I would like to recognize a group of registered nurses. I will introduce one person and that is Paula Bilton, who is the president of the Yukon Registered Nurses Association, and with her some colleagues.
I would also like to note that among them is Ms. Dorothy Sorensen, who used to be my boss on the medical ward back in those old days, and I believe she was also the boss of the Member for Riverdale South.
The Registered Nurses Profession Act will provide for the licensing and self-regulation of registered nurses in the Yukon. The development of the Registered Nurses Profession Act has been a goal of the National/Provincial Nurses Association since the early 1900s.
Trained graduate nurses in each province organized a lobby for their acts. These acts would establish legal status, give guidance to school curriculums and maintain standards for administration, education and disciplinary action.
In 1922, nine provinces had some form of nurse registration. The provincial nurses association was responsible for administration of the act.
Today, all provinces and the Northwest Territories have legislation regulating registered nurses. The majority of nurses working in the Yukon are employed by the federal government and the practice of nursing is controlled through hiring policies. In the past, this was an adequate but not ideal situation.
Working nurses first began lobbying the Yukon government in the early 1980s to pass legislation that would allow them to regulate their own profession. In May 1983, the Yukon Nurses Society approached the Minister of Justice for approval to enact a registered nurses act.
Work began on legislation. However, in 1984, the Yukon Nurses Society indicated to the government that they wished to reconsider the precise direction they wished to take regarding the proposed legislation and would place the matter in abeyance until further notice.
In 1985, the society again started lobbying the government for legislation. In 1986, direction was given by the Minister of Justice to proceed with the drafting of the proposed act. In 1987, Cabinet approved drafting of the legislation.
There were many delays as both the government and the Yukon Nurses Society worked on the legislation. Some of these delays were caused by the pending transfer of the hospital to the territorial government and the contract negotiations between the nurses and the federal government.
The Yukon Nurses Society, with a change in their executive, developed bylaws and a revised draft act, which was approved by the membership at their annual general meeting in 1990. The Department of Justice and the Yukon Nurses Association worked closely to prepare the legislation which you have before you today.
Registered nurses in the Yukon are not anxious to administer their own affairs. This act will establish a method to investigate complaints, to discipline members should it be necessary and to ensure that each member has access to an appeal process.
There are approximately 200 employment opportunities in the field of nursing in the Yukon. In addition to the traditional role of nurses in the hospital, there are many new opportunities for employment in non-government nursing positions. For example, nurses now work in private nursing agencies, the hospice program and medical clinics. There will also be opportunities as Indian bands move to hire nurses to develop programs.
Protection and regulation are needed in these areas. Under the present system, it is up to employers to ensure that the nurses they employ are registered with a provincial or Northwest Territories association. Although they are registered in one of these associations, a nurse working in the Yukon does not have the same support as his or her counterpart who resides and works in that jurisdiction. The Yukon nurse is a member in name only and because of our geographical location, cannot take part in activities of the association.
This act will benefit the people of the Yukon by ensuring that all nurses providing health care are registered. It is very important that their practice is guided by national, provincial and territorial standards.
This legislation will also allow us to develop additional standards that recognize the uniqueness of the Yukon.
With the establishment of the Registered Nurses Profession Act, the Yukon Registered Nurses Association will become the registering body. All nurses engaged in the practice of nursing in the Yukon must be registered and all employers shall hire only active members. All registered nurses can play an active role in the Yukon Registered Nurses Association. Only persons registered under this act may call themselves a registered nurse, or an RN. If disciplinary action is necessary, it will be determined by peers and/or lay people from similar working fields. This will ensure fairness and eliminate bias.
This act would not apply to certified nursing assistants or to the practice of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, optometry or any other health discipline recognized by statute. It also excludes a person who provides care to someone in a private residence, unless that care is being provided as part of their job.
The Registered Nurses Profession Act sets out the responsibilities of a self-regulating profession. These include registration of nurses, administration of the act, development of additions to the code of ethics and standards, approval of schools of nursing and required curriculum, investigation of complaints relating to the professional conduct of their members and taking disciplinary action where necessary.
The association will be responsible for all costs associated with the administration of the act. The Registered Nurses Association has worked very closely with us in developing an act that meets both their needs and the needs of the Yukon public.
The act will help to provide quality health care for all Yukoners through the regulation of nursing. It will mean that professional and ethical standards will be established and administered by nurses themselves rather than by employers.
I am pleased to introduce this act. It has been a long time coming.
Mr. Lang: I would also like to extend our congratulations to the Yukon Registered Nurses Association as well as to the newly elected president, Paula Bilton. I want to congratulate her on the position and job she is taking. Obviously, as time goes on, more and more responsibility is going to evolve to her association. That means a lot of volunteer time by the executive as well as the membership. Nobody should think otherwise, because these things do take time and effort once one takes on the responsibility.
I want to say from this side that we do support the principle of the bill. I also want to compliment the government on the drafting of the bill. It is well drafted, and it is written in a laymans terms.
It is very easy to follow, and the act is going to be a good blueprint for the Registered Nurses Association to follow if they need to look things up.
I should point out that there are areas of differences between this side of the House and the side opposite. The one area where there has been commonality, although it does not make the media or good print, is when it comes to granting authority to professions to regulate themselves, such as the chartered accountants, the legal profession and other associations, when they request that that responsibility be divested to them. It has generally gone through this House with very little debate and by unanimous consent.
There are a couple of points I would like to make on the act and the ramifications of it. Down the road, I would like to see a lot more educational training and upgrading for RNs. I know there has been some work done in providing upgrading courses for registered nurses. I hope this act will put further efforts toward that end, because it is an area where technology is changing on an ongoing basis. I know how difficult it must be for people in that profession to keep their qualifications up as time goes on.
I can speak to that, because there are a number of people in my family in the profession, and one, in particular, who has just finished after going back to university a number of years ago. She was saying how changes had taken place, so that it was beneficial to have the opportunity to go back and get the necessary upgrading. It meant so much to her and her ability to do the job.
I want to conclude by congratulating the association, and we will be giving the bill full support.
Mrs. Firth: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to rise in support of this bill that the Minister of Justice has put forward. I know it has been a long struggle for the nurses of the Yukon to finally establish themselves as an effective association, number one; and number two, to take it one step further and come forward with their own self-regulating and -governing body through their own organization.
I have a bias here because I know that the nursing care and quality of nursing in the Yukon is not going to change with this legislation because it is already about the best one can get anywhere in Canada. I say that with all sincerity. I hear it from constituents who have been in the hospital. I remember what it was like when I used to work there and listen to the comments, and even after 10 years of being away from the hospital I still hear about the quality of the nursing care. So, even though I do have a bit of a bias, I would like to say that for the record.
The legislation, I understand, has been drafted completely with the consultation of the Yukon Registered Nurses Association, and I am particularly interested in seeing the regulations. I understand they are in a draft stage right now.
Just for the information of the individuals who are here tonight to see this bill through second passage in the Legislature, there are three areas of particular interest to me.
The first one deals with the standards for registration and I am particularly interested in the kind of standards we are going to have here in the Yukon for our nurses, relative to other parts of Canada and other parts of the world. It is a fairly tough challenge to determine what the set of standards are going to be here and whether other nurses who are registered in other parts of the world and in other parts of Canada will have their registrations accepted here.
In discussion with the nurses, I understand that the legislation is going to have middle-of-the-road standards and I think that is good. We want to be able to encourage nurses to come to the Yukon, so we do not want to set standards that are extreme, one way or another. We also do not want to sacrifice the quality of nursing care that we presently have.
The second area that I have some questions about and will be looking forward to seeing the regulations on, is with respect to the public inquiries ability. There have been some controversies in the past few years with respect to the nursing care. This act gives the nurses the ability to have their own inquiries. There is going to be some conflict with respect to confidentiality and so on. My hope is that this act does give the nursing association the ability to have inquiries and the ability to be able to launch inquiries without a lot of obstruction from other legislation that we have here in the territory. In other words, I do not want to see their abilities reduced by other legislation that we have, particularly in the health field.
The third area of concern that I have is to do with suspensions. I understand that there is going to be a process in place. That will be another contentious area because peoples livelihoods are at stake and so I am looking forward to seeing how the association has dealt with that.
I look forward to receiving a copy of the regulations. I understand that the association is going to be working on them and that they have specific time lines under which they would like this legislation to come into force and they will be waiting for that specific time.
I wish the association well with their deliberations that are yet to come and they have 100 percent of support with respect to this legislation. We expect the speedy passage of this legislation.
Mr. Nordling: I would also like to go on record for supporting this act. The Registered Nurses Profession Act has been a long time coming and the nurses certainly are a professional body.
They certainly deserve to be self-regulating, as are other professional bodies in the territory. I congratulate them on having the ability to do that now. I also wish them well in the deliberations that will be happening in the near future and the substantial changes that will be taking place in the Yukon over the next several years.
Speaker: The hon. Member will close debate if she now speaks. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Ms. Joe: Just a couple of comments with regard to the responses from the other side of the House. I will be prepared to answer questions they may have in Committee of the Whole.
As we have all said, this is a very important piece of legislation and we are very pleased to be able to bring it here today for debate. It gives me a lot of encouragement to know that we are finally able to get it in place. The only negative thing about it is that it took this long to do it. I am sure that we will be much more knowledgeable about the comings and goings of the Registered Nurses Association in the Yukon. I commend them for their patience in waiting all this time to have an act in place. I will look forward to Committee of the Whole debate.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 33 agreed to
Bill No. 6: Second Reading
Clerk: Second Reading, Bill No. 6, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. McDonald.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I move that Bill No. 6, entitled Workers Compensation Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Government Services that Bill No. 6, entitled Workers Compensation Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Like workers compensation itself, which is based on what is called the historic compromise, this bill balances many interests for the benefit of all. Almost 100 years have passed since the first, as it was called, Workmens Compensation Act was passed in Canada, in Ontario.
While the intent of compensating workers injured on the job was present in that legislation, the historic compromise I have just referred to was not. Aside from the very real concern that compensation levels were limited to a maximum of 50 percent of a workers wages, up to a maximum of one pound per week, employers were not required to insure their risk.
In return, the worker retained the right to sue. There was no protection for a worker who did not receive compensation from their employer. Compensation could be, and was, reduced if it was felt the worker contributed to the accident.
In the Yukon, workers compensation legislation did not materialize until 1917. The need for such a bill had been recognized much earlier than that for mining accidents, as they were not uncommon along the Klondike creeks. However, the disastrous Pueblo copper mine cave-in in 1917, where six Whitehorse area men lost their lives, brought the issue to a head.
The dependents of those miners were not entitled to any compensation, because there was no legislation in place. The plea to the legislators of the day is reflected in the editors comments in the Dawson City News, who said the politicians should legislate for the best interests of the people and not for partisan or individual prestige. It is interesting to note that a person who was instrumental in bringing about Yukons first workers compensation legislation was the grandfather of the Member for Hootalinqua, Willard Phelps.
In the 1917 Workmens Compensation Ordinance, companies were compelled to cover the predetermined costs of compensation in the event that a work-related accident occurred. Married men were entitled to larger benefits than single men and companies with less than five employees were exempted. Although it was a tremendous leap forward, improvement was still needed. For example, the survivors of the 12 Yukon Gold Company employees who died of ptomaine poisoning after an evenings meal at the companys mess house on Hunker Creek were less than happy with the $2,500 settlement, which is all they were entitled to. This, by the way, was considered a legitimate workplace accident.
In the face of Dawsons high cost of living, the settlement was considered a meagre one. Improvements to the Workmens Compensation Ordinance were made gradually over the years. In 1939, recognition was given to conditions other than the more obvious workplace accidents. The ordinance was amended so that compensation would be available for workers suffering from industrial diseases, such as silicosis and lead poisoning.
It was then substantially overhauled in 1953. Employers were now required to insure with private companies to ensure that compensation funds would be available to injured workers. During this period, workmens compensation was administered from outside of the Yukon. Every few years, the Legislature considered the merits of operating a WCB office in the Yukon; however, it was not until 1970 that the first Yukon office was established and 1973 when a government-backed insurance scheme replaced private insurance companies.
A new ordinance was passed that embraced what is now considered the six fundamental principles of workers compensation. These principles were first articulated in 1913. The first principle is that of collective liability. The cost of all work-related accidents are paid out of a central fund created through the payment of assessments by employers. The second principle ensured that benefits payable to injured workers are established and guaranteed in legislation. The third principle is that the compensation system is to be a no-fault system. Benefits are paid in the event of an injury, regardless of how the employer or worker contributed to that injury. The fourth principle is the historic compromise, to which I alluded earlier. In return for guaranteed no-fault benefits, workers give up their right to sue their employers for negligence that may have led to the workplace injury. This is the pivotal principle of the workers compensation system and requires the trust of both employers and employees to work. Without this compromise, the compensation system cannot really be considered a preferable alternative to the courts. The fifth principle requires that workers compensation systems are administered by a board that is independent of government, and thus, the political and partisan vagaries of the day, and which consists or equal representation from industry and labour.
The sixth and last principle, is that the board has exclusive authorities for making compensation decisions. This reduces the potential for delay and, given the no-fault nature of the compensation system, reduces the conflict that inevitably arises in the event of an industrial accident.
Changes came quickly after this pivotal legislation was enacted. Staff was added to the Whitehorse office, joining Dorothy Wadsylynchuk, who moved here from Edmonton to set up the office in 1970 with Pat Cumming and Helen Hunter, and then Kathy Fedorek, Ron Wilson and Brian Booth.
The late Mr. Booth is owed a great deal of thanks from all of us. Mr. Booth was appointed as administrator in 1974 and he oversaw the establishment and growth of a compensation fund, which is one of the most, if not the most financially solid in Canada. Under his leadership, the Yukon Workers Compensation Board grew to become the respected organization it is today.
The Workers Compensation Advisory Board was established in Whitehorse on November 1, 1976. This board acted totally in an advisory capacity until January 1, 1983. Over this period, the Workers Compensation Boards responsibilities for rehabilitation services grew considerably. Legislation was vague in this area but the Workers Compensation Board identified the need to provide vocational and social counselling, vocational evaluation, selective placement in employment and vocational training when suitable placement was not feasible.
I have a few figures to give you as examples of the growth experienced in the Workers Compensation Boards early years. In 1974, there was a total of 1,663 claims on an estimated assessable payroll of about $50 million and some 1,300 employers. It cost $174,000 to administer the workers compensation program. Two years later, claims had dropped to 1,426 while the number of employers had increased to 1,331 and the estimated assessable payroll had climbed to $77 million. The drop in the number of claims to a large part reflected the activities of the Workers Compensation Board inspectors, who are charged with improving workplace safety.
In the intervening years, between 1974 and 1984, changes were made to the level of benefits payable, assessment rates and the classification system used for assessments. The boards policy by the mid-1980s was to fully fund the cost of all accidents in the year that they occur so that there is no unfunded liability related to prior years accidents. This was a prudent choice for the Yukon. Having to meet unfunded liabilities in an economic downturn - which has been known to happen here from time to time - would impose undue hardships on remaining employers.
In 1986, the Workers Compensation Board was in the position to both increase workers benefits and decrease employers assessments, the latter by 22 percent.
Rates were still down from previous years but running at about twice the national average. The WCB consequently increased its efforts to improve workplace safety. It became apparent, however, that legislation, as well the services based on it, needed major changes. The Yukon workplace had changed dramatically since 1973.
We now accept that the risk of disability resulting from our work is of concern to all of us, not just those involved in dangerous occupations. We now know that there are growing numbers of occupational diseases, diseases that disable or even kill hundreds of workers across Canada each year. We now know that it is not just enough to provide financial compensation but there is a social and psychological toll associated with work-related disability, which also much be dealt with.
It is for these reasons that the Workers Compensation Board requested the government to review the Workers Compensation Act. The review had three objectives. The first was to determine if benefits for injured workers and the assessments for employers were fair and if they were adequate for the needs of the 1990s. The second was to find out how open and accessible the workers compensation system is. We wanted workers to tell us how they felt about the processes in place for making a claim and for appealing a decision. The final objective was to determine if the original goals and principles of the workers compensation system were still relevant and, if not, what changes should be made.
Three thousand detailed questionnaires were mailed to Yukon workers and employers. Every effort was made to ensure that people had the opportunity to become informed about the workers compensation system, the options available and the consequences of the choices. All key stakeholders were contacted and interviewed, including a number of Chambers of Commerce, labour organizations, municipalities and First Nations.
WCB staff travelled to each Yukon community to meet with people face to face through open houses, as well as focus discussions with key stakeholders. A toll-free number was established to provide ready access to the Workers Compensation Board for people who had questions or comments.
While the WCB received a great deal of responses to the first round of consultation, it was clear that consensus was not yet possible on a number of issues. These were taken to a five-member drafting committee for further examination and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tom Mickey and Glenis Allen, who represented industry, and Michael Miller and Dan Stewart, who represented labour, for their contribution to developing Bill No. 6.
The drafting committee spent a total of eight days discussing these issues and developing solutions that would satisfy their respective interests. Overall, the committee was successful and its recommendations on these issues form the basis of the draft act.
The second round of consultation then began. The draft act was circulated in early February to key stakeholders and pamphlets summarizing the draft act were distributed to 3,000 employees and employers. The toll-free line was still in operation and WCB staff met with a number of larger employers, some labour organizations, several municipalities and First Nations and health care professionals. As well, open houses and focus meetings were held in Dawson City, Faro, Watson Lake and Whitehorse. Remaining issues identified during this consultation were sent back to the drafting committee for resolution.
The bill before you today contains the many compromises, both historic and contemporary, that successfully balance the interests of the people and organizations it affects.
Bill No. 6, the Workers Compensation Act, will allow us to accomplish many things. Workers compensation will be easier to understand. A great deal of Ieffort was made to write this legislation in plain language. It will be possible for most of us to examine the act and interpret its meaning.
Further to this, the board intends to establish in the near future an office of the workers advisory. This person would help WCB clients find their way through the system should they encounter difficulties. This position is not specified in the act but it flows from its intent to increase workers access to the system.
Bill No. 6 also provides for improved access to information held in Workers Compensation Board files. Workers will have unfettered access to their files and employers will have new rights of access specifically to information in the file that is relevant to an appeal.
Bill No. 6 also goes a long way toward making the decisions of the Workers Compensation Board more accountable. All policies will be made available to the public for its review and reference. This is intended to ensure that the public can be fully aware of the guidelines used by the board in making its decisions. I am equally certain that it will also allow for greater dialogue between the board and its clients, both employees and employers, on the policies themselves.
All compensation decisions, that is decisions related to claims as well as assessments, will be subject to appeal. The bill requires the board to conduct an annual general meeting at which stakeholders will have the opportunity to voice their concerns and provide comment on Workers Compensation Board activities.
Bill No. 6 adopts the notion of work-related disability, and takes into account the changing nature of workplace injuries.
The old reference to workplace accidents was too narrow and restrictive; it failed to acknowledge the variety and scope of illnesses suffered by todays workers.
Bill No. 6 improves benefits for workers and ensures that they and their dependents will be fairly compensated. Injured workers will be able to receive up to a maximum of 75 percent of $50,000. In the past, this limit was 75 percent of $40,000.
Widowed spouses and their children will also receive increased benefits. It is recognized that a sudden increase in assessable payroll could pose difficulties for those businesses that pay salaries greater than $40,000. To address the concerns of those businesses, while still meeting the needs of injured workers, the legislation intends to phase in this new limit gradually over a period of four years.
Bill No. 6 guarantees assistance to workers to help them overcome the effects of any injury and return them to the workforce as quickly as possible.
Rehabilitation is essential in an effective compensation system. Studies have shown that the longer a person is away from work, the less likely that he or she is to return. Rehabilitation programs make good economic sense as they can lead to an overall reduction of compensation costs.
Bill No. 6 strengthens the independence of the Workers Compensation Board. The board will have greater control over the compensation fund, both directly and through its control over the funds and investment policies. This control will be of a prudent if somewhat independent nature, because the board must abide by the provisions of the Trustee Act. This restriction will promote the confidence that employers and employees must have in an independent and very influential board.
The reporting relationships within the board and the compensation system are also clarified.
For example, the president of the Workers Compensation Board will now report directly to the board. As you know, the president presently reports to both the Minister responsible for the Workers Compensation Board, as well as to the board itself.
Bill No. 6, through its recognition of the boards independence, also builds on the sixth principle of workers compensation; that is, that the board shall have exclusive authority for making compensation decisions.
Under the old legislation, the boards basis for making decisions was dictated in the act.
Bill No. 6 will give the board more leeway in setting policies that guide its decisions. This is a reflection of our faith in the boards ability to balance the interests of employers and employees using the good common sense of board members.
It will also ensure that the practices of the board are able to respond to change and remain up to date.
Finally, Bill No. 6 will expand the board to five members, from its present three. A larger board is needed as its jurisdiction will now encompass the responsibilities for occupational health and safety in addition to its present responsibilities. Moving the occupational health and safety branch from the Department of Justice to the Workers Compensation Board will enhance the ability of both organizations to better plan for, coordinate and monitor the problems of workplace safety. The board has both a financial and humanitarian interest in preventing workplace injuries.
Mr. Speaker, you will no doubt be encouraged to learn that Bill No. 6 should not lead to any significant additional costs. Throughout the development of this legislation, we have relied on financial experts to cost out the impact of any and all changes. The boards actuary has advised that, given the very healthy state of the compensation fund, no rise in assessment rates will be required to accommodate these changes.
Bill No. 6 will meet the needs of Yukon employees and employers for many years to come. It holds fast to the six principles of workers compensation, especially the historic compromise of exchanging the right to sue for the right of guaranteed fair benefits.
The process used to develop the Workers Compensation Act is one that reflects and enhances these historical roots of compromise, cooperation and fairness. The changes that have taken place to workers compensation legislation since the turn of the century have reflected Yukon society of the day. It is only fitting that, in these times of greater concern and priority for healthy communities and a sustainable economy, Yukon people are able to work together to enhance a very basic and very critical piece of social legislation.
It was an historic compromise that led to the development and growth of workers compensation boards across the country. A delicate balance is inherent in the system and is very much present in the legislation now before you. I am pleased that Yukon people knowingly and willingly reached the same basic compromises, once again, in developing Bill No. 6.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, you will join with me in thanking the many people who, directly or indirectly, are responsible for this proposed legislation and for maintaining Yukons successful compensation system. The ownership for this legislation properly belongs to the workers and employers of the territory, whose thoughtful contributions made the development of the new Workers Compensation Act possible.
Mr. Brewster: I am always a little concerned when they turn around and give you a complicated bill on Wednesday or Thursday and, next Monday, you are supposed to turn around and come back to the House, talk to it and be sensible.
It gives me great concern. The one area I am very concerned about is the section on the Financial Administration Act, clause 46(5)(b). It says, a Management Board Directive shall not apply to the board unless the Commissioner in Executive Council prescribes that it shall apply.
To me, that makes it very plain that the Cabinet and the Minister for that area can turn around and do pretty well what they want. However, they put this little clause in to try to convince you that this is not true: 46(6) Before the Commissioner in Executive Council makes a regulation under paragraph 5(b), the Minister shall consult with representatives of employers and workers and the board concerning whether a Management Board Directive should be made applicable to the board.
However, after seeing the way the boards have been kicked around down here by the Cabinet, I do not know why anybody should take their word that they would not do it again.
Then, in clause 47(2), The compensation fund shall be invested pursuant to an investment policy approved by the members of the board and approved by the Commissioner in Executive Council.
Once more, the government is getting its hands on this. In clause 47(3), Amendments to the compensation fund investment policy may only be made on the recommendation of the members of the board and with the approval of the Commissioner in Executive Council.
I have been assured that is not what that says. They all tell me that this legislation was written in plain language, and I have asked several people about it, and they think that is what it says.
In fact, I will back up a little further on that to the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce brief presented on November 21, which emphasized that the Workers Compensation Board must remain as an independent entity. They further recommended that the board not increase in size.
In light of the proposed legislation, we wish to elaborate and re-emphasize these two points. The Workers Compensation Board and the administration of the money in the fund must be, and must be perceived to be, outside the authority of influence of the Government of Yukon. We, therefore, specifically recommend that the phrase, ...with the approval of the Minister be deleted from section 49 and elsewhere in the act where ministerial approval might be suggested that such reference be removed.
If we can get an amendment to that, we will not be here all summer; otherwise, we might be here for a long time.
I would also like to point out, in another study that was made on it: An account called the compensation fund shall be established within Yukon consolidated revenue fund, into which all money received by the board shall be credited. They pointed out that that is the way it is now. That is probably quite correct. Here, however, we are making a bill to correct the faults of the old bill. Why was this not corrected? Comments on this one are: This section indicates a joining of the state and the board and handling of administration and board affairs by bodies other than the board itself speaks against the objective of independence. I think we should seriously look at that.
Another thing that bothers me is the lump sum payment for disability. I think it is really high and I hope they have looked at this. I would make the same suggestion as the Chamber of Commerce; it should be somewhere around $50,000 or $60,000.
Also, I am a little concerned about the executives having to come under workers compensation. That, to me, is simply a money grab. Some of them, the director, may not even be around or even in the business, yet they have to pay the compensation. If they can do it voluntarily, then I do not have a problem with it.
Several other businesses have voiced their objection to the filing of safety plans. I understand that has already gone into effect, and I have had several businesses, which were very upset, phone me. Although they had had no accidents or casualties, they were told, when they tried to get their refund, that they had to file a safety plan. If one does not have any problems, they should not have to file a safety plan.
I do not want to say much more on this, as I know some of my other colleagues will be speaking on it, but I would suggest an amendment to take out the part in clause 46. We will be out of here much faster than if we have to fight the government, who are trying to get their hands on this money.
Mrs. Firth: Well, I will have a great number of questions for the Minister during the Committee of the Whole clause-by-clause debate, but perhaps he could answer a few of the questions in his final address to us this evening with respect to the special report that was commissioned by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. I know that the Minister has a copy of that report. I also have a copy and I am sure that the other parties in the Legislature do, too.
Now, this was a special report that was commissioned by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business because they were concerned that they had received the copy of the draft legislation so late. They received it in the third week of March, just days before the deadline for comments, which was March 31. They commissioned an independent study of the provisions by a noted workers compensation board consultant, Mr. Les Liversidge.
The CFIB asked for this commission to be done because they were very concerned about the legislation. They felt there were considerable deficiencies in the draft legislation and have offered recommendations for rectifying them. I would like to see whether the Minister is going to address this report that was done and presented to him and whether he will be taking any of the recommendations of the CFIB. I certainly will be supporting many of them. I would like to know if the Minister is going to be proposing any amendments upon the advice of this association.
When a new bill is drafted from an old bill and we are told that it is to be drafted in plain language so that everyone can understand and interpret it, it gives me a great deal of concern, personally, because it does open it up to a whole different method of interpretation by many different people, and when definitions are reworded it can become a very serious matter.
I want to cite just one example to illustrate to the Minister what I mean. In this new bill, they have changed the definition of disability to a work-related disability and they also have a term for work-related. That is a departure from what other areas of Canada have which, I believe, is a terminology that says injury by accident, which is very specific. I believe that one of the recommendations that the CFIB is making is that we be more specific with respect to what exactly is a work-related disability. Does that mean that it has to be 100 percent work related or is it 75 percent or 80 percent? You just cannot define it.
The Ontario government, which has just made some major changes to their Workers Compensation Act, has a lot of decisions that are becoming quite controversial and quite contentious because of the plain language, changing of definitions and different kinds of interpretation. I believe the report that has been provided to us by the CFIB refers to some of the results having been disastrous. I hope that, as a government, we would not proceed into that same disastrous kind of environment that has been experienced elsewhere in Canada and not learn from that experience, and perhaps modify the legislation that has been brought forward by the Minister.
There is an interesting point in the study that was commissioned, referring to pitting employer against worker. I am quite concerned about that kind of an attitude developing. We already have an employer-employee relationship that is quite controversial with respect to employment standards. As legislators, I think we should be encouraging harmonious relationships between employers and employees, and not bring forward legislation that in any way pits one against the other. I would like to stress to the government that they should be very mindful of the kind of atmosphere they may be creating in the community.
I always have my favourite question to ask about the cost of new legislation. I know that when this new legislation is implemented it is going to cost the workers compensation fund more money. I had written a letter to the Minister, asking about the operation and maintenance costs with respect to the new building.
We know the new building cost $2.6 million, and we know there is going to be a capital cost incurred with respect to the extended care facility rehabilitation centre that the Workers Compensation Board is going to be participating in. With respect to the operation and maintenance costs for the nine new person years that have been established with the restructuring of Workers Compensation functions, which the Workers Compensation Board referred to in its last report, the Minister told me the additional cost for that was in excess of $500,000 a year, which is an additional cost to the workers compensation fund.
This is interesting. I asked the Minister about the operation and maintenance costs, including janitorial, salaries, and so on. He gave it to me based on a per square foot basis. I had to do a little bit of calculating, and I do not think my calculations are out of order. I am quite sure it is accurate. The Minister said that, in 1992, the costs are going to be $12.07 per square foot. That is for almost 20,000 square feet. I calculate that to be almost $240,000.
The Minister was trying to give me a sell job, that it compared favourably to the cost of $24.26 per square foot for the previous space. I believe the previous space was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 3,000 square feet, which came to about $73,000. There is a considerable increase in the cost to maintain the new facility, compared to what the old costs were.
I see the Minister shaking his head. It is something I would like to raise. I would like to know what effect it is going to have financially, because there has already been a lot of concern raised in the House about the stability of the fund and the discretion that can be used with respect to spending the monies of the workers compensation fund. We already know what has happened in other provinces where the government had the ability to get its hands on some very healthy workers compensation funds and deplete them. I would not like to see that happen here, because I, too, agree with the principle that the money is there for the workers in the event of some tragedy, as the Minister referred to earlier this evening.
I would like to get some idea from the Minister. Has he had an actuarial prediction of the additional costs with respect to the indexation and the level of benefits, and so on? Could he give us some information as to what the projections are and how thay are going to affect the fund? I would appreciate that very much.
I would also like to know what the Ministers position is with respect to the suggestion that was made by the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce in its submission respecting the Workers Compensation Act, specifically to do with the ministerial approval. The Member for Kluane has mentioned this already this evening. This is the section where they are suggesting that, with the approval of the Minister be deleted from Section 49 and elsewhere from the act where ministerial approval might be suggested. Everyone I spoke with respecting the changes made to the Workers Compensation Act seemed to feel that this was the one most important issue. People were concerned that the government was going to be able to access the funds to perhaps spend them in other areas, invest them in other areas and use them for other projects, such as other provinces have done. They did not want to see that happen here. They did not care who was the government or what their political stripe was, but they just did not think it was in the best interest of the fund to have that happen. I would like to find out from the Minister exactly what his position is regarding this.
Concern was also expressed about the consultation process. I attended one of these evening sessions - there were two of them, I believe. Instead of having just a general meeting where people could ask questions, they broke the Workers Compensation people into small groups so individuals had to ask questions to the small groups. A lot of people said to me that they felt uncomfortable about this. They would have preferred to have a more open and a freer debate of some kind. They felt like they were being put on the spot or that maybe they did not have their facts straight. I would like to express to the Minister that a lot of people felt uncomfortable about that and I think that may be one reason why a lot of people did not attend these evening sessions. The evening I attended, only a handful of people came. A dozen more turned around and left when they saw the setup of the consultative process. Perhaps the Minister could check into this.
I plan on asking many questions with respect to this legislation. I am particularly interested in the definition section and whether the Minister will be prepared to accept amendments.
I suppose we may as well find out now whether he is or is not prepared to accept amendments or if this is the legislation that they want to proceed with. As I mentioned before, I concur with the comments that have been made by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. This group supports the goals that the authors are seeking, which is the establishment of a fair and equitable and sustainable workers compensation system; however, they were critical of the drafting because it was ambiguous and it lacked some clarity and was open to a lot of different interpretation with respect to entitlement and the operational issues.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business suggested that the proposed changes that were coming to this Workers Compensation Act would form an excellent beginning and should be viewed simply as a catalyst of the debate and dialogue for an improved program. I am fairly sure that the Minister is going to say that all this is fine but that he wants this bill passed in the Legislature now. Perhaps the Minister can indicate to us exactly how open he is going to be with respect to changes and how open they are going to be to recommendations that have been made and proposed changes that I or my colleague for Porter Creek West, or my other colleagues from the other opposition Members, are prepared to make? I believe we have some positive changes to offer.
We look forward to debating this legislation. It is very intimidating to the public because it is such a big bill and a lot of people find it very difficult to understand. I know that I have had constituents come to me and say, Bea, what is this workers compensation thing all about? Is it going to be good for me as a businessperson? Is it going to be bad? Can you help me out with it? I have to have some sympathy for those individuals, because it is kind of an intimidating subject area and I hope that the Minister is prepared to have quite a lengthy debate, so that we can be sure that everyone is gaining a good understanding of exactly what the governments intentions are with respect to this change.
Mr. Lang: I want to begin by making a number of observations with respect to the process, as well as the people involved in the drafting of the legislation.
I want to say at the outset that I appreciate the time and the effort that the Minister has spent on this bill. I know that he has made a personal commitment to try and bring forward a reasonable piece of legislation that balances the needs of the employers and the employee, while at the same time ensuring the health of the fund.
At the same time, I want to also indicate to the side opposite that over the last year we have seen a significant improvement in the running of the Workers Compensation Board and the administration of the board. I think that has to do with the appointment of the president, as well as the board itself.
I have to say, as an MLA who has raised a number of constituency problems with the board, I felt that the individuals whom I brought forward to the board received a very fair hearing, and the time and the effort was put in to ensure that their complaints and observations were seriously considered.
We are dealing with a very important piece of legislation here, and I want to go back in time and correct one thing, from an historical perspective, that the Minister said regarding the health of the fund.
I want to give credit to one individual, who was a colleague of mine, who worked very hard on some substantial changes to the workers compensation fund between 1974 and 1978, and that was the Hon. Flo Whyard.
I recall the anguish and the debate that took place in this House with respect to taking the necessary steps to increase the assessments, so that, over a period of time, the fund would be healthy enough to match our liabilities at any given time. Even if there was a major catastrophe, the workers compensation fund had to be more than capable of handling it.
I think that Flo Whyard deserves a fair amount of credit in conjunction with Mr. Booth and the actuary of the day and all Members of the House, because I recall that debate and it went on for quite a long period of time.
There are some problems with the drafting of the bill. I think my colleague, the Member for Kluane, expressed a number of areas that are of very vital concern to us.
Chief among those concerns is the changing in the wording surrounding the investments of the fund and access to the fund. There is no question, in reading sections 46 and 47, that the Cabinet and the Executive Council Member, under law, is going to become much more involved and have much more authority in respect to the allocation of dollars to this fund.
I believe that is unacceptable. In view of what has taken place on a number of other boards and corporations, why would the government want to become more involved in the allocation and approval stages of investments of these funds? Why? Why try to fix it; it is not broken.
As my colleague, the Member for Kluane, has said, we are more than prepared to consider a significant amendment to that particular section of the bill, to put the responsibility back to where it was originally vested. That was with the board, rather than with the approval of the Executive Council Member.
He says that is not right. He is going to say that, once the investment policy has been approved, any changes have to be recommended by the members of the board. It is very clear, if you go back prior to that, who has to give out final approval and who has the final authority with respect to the Management Board directives. The drafting of the bill is clear and unequivocal.
The Minister knows how committed the Member for Kluane is to the question of the Workers Compensation Board and the fund and how much work he has done on individual cases. I submit to the Minister that if we can come up with a logical amendment, obviously we will not have that much of a problem with the bill in its totality.
This is very significant. I am very concerned when I see that the investment policy of the workers compensation fund is going to have to meet the approval of the Cabinet as well as the Minister, prior to being implemented. I do not think that the workers of the territory want to put themselves in the position of perhaps investing in such things as the Watson Lake sawmill or the MV Anna Maria or whatever. I do not believe there is any way that any worker or employer wants to put a fund, which is presently healthy, in that type of jeopardy. Our interpretation of this section of the act says that is exactly what it is going to do. I believe that is unacceptable.
They say I am waving around a bogeyman and just conjuring this up in my mind. I recall, in 1984 or 1985, the Leader of the Official Opposition at that time talking about how it would be so nice to get into the compensation fund and invest in local projects. I will not stand here and allow that to happen to a fund that is so important to the individual and the individuals family.
We will be seeking a significant amendment in that area. I am hoping we can get some cooperation from the side opposite in view of the concerns we are expressing.
There is another area I would like to address and that is the appointment of the board. This is, of course, done in conjunction with labour and management with the final discretion of the Executive Council Member in conjunction with Cabinet. The present chairperson of the Workers Compensation Board, in my estimation, has done a good job. He has had some political experience and has, obviously, run for the party opposite in one or two elections.
It is my feeling that if we are going to keep this board at arms length from the government, we should see a situation here similar to that of the Yukon Human Rights Commission, where the appointment has to be approved by the Legislature.
Further to that, while I am talking about the appointment of this particular board, and boards and councils in general, it is my strong belief that for major boards such as this, the Council for the Environment and the Economy and others - the Yukon Development Corporation of course comes to mind - it is time that a standing committee of the House be set up to review appointments prior to them being made, to ensure that the competency of the individuals involved is such that they can serve on these boards and do an adequate job on behalf of the public.
Therefore, we will be also moving a further amendment to ask that the appointment of the board be finally approved by the Legislature.
I am not going to belabour these two major points, but I wanted to point out that we feel they are areas that deserve and justify good debate; at the same time, we are hoping that the side opposite will have an open mind with respect to what we are going to bring forward.
We are pleased to see that within the administration there is going to be what I believe the Minister referred to as a workers advisor for an individual or individuals who have to go through the system. It has been my experience, and I know for sure it has been the MLA for Kluanes experience, as well as others, that an individual who happens to have suffered a disability on the job finds it very difficult in many cases to understand the system, how to work their way through the system and finally get to be heard through the process.
I will say that the Compensation Board itself has tried - and I know they have tried - to be as open and fair as they can. But I am talking about the information that is so vital with respect to the individual, the worker, who does not understand the system and has never been exposed to it before.
We are also very pleased to see that the workers have full access to their files. For the life of me, I cannot understand why that was not the case previously, because it is so essential to the whole process of a fair hearing for everybody involved to ensure that the proper decisions are made. We are definitely very pleased to see that being proceeded with.
The other aspect is that, as the Minister has outlined, he has made the point that the presidents position has been clarified in respect to whom that position reports to. That is essential. Serving two masters on a continuous basis must be very difficult. I am certainly pleased to see that that has been clarified.
I am going to conclude by saying that there are a number of areas we feel are very important in the actual drafting of the bill. One area we will be asking the Minister about is the question of the economic implications of the bill, similar to the concerns expressed by the Member for Riverdale South. We, too, have a concern that we know that the present fund, with the present assessment, will be able to continue to keep the fund in a position where we compare favourably with most places across the country.
To digress a bit, I would refer to the study done by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. When you take a look at what must have taken place with their finding, compared to ours, the concerns we are expressing have some validity. I want to quote from this.
While some systems are actually operating with a surplus of assets over liabilities, others, such as Ontario, presently maintain an unfunded liability in excess of $10 billion, increasing at the rate of more than $100 million a month.
That is why we have concerns about how the dollars being put into this fund are invested, and who is going to do the investing.
I want to conclude by saying we are very concerned about the appearance of the political arm of government becoming much more involved in the fund. We think that is unacceptable. I do not care what government is there, whether it be the present one or others, the fund should be at a clear arms length from government to ensure there is very little, if any, political involvement in the day-to-day administration of the fund and the act.
Mr. Nordling: I am entering this debate on second reading mostly from an historical perspective.
In his opening remarks, the Minister talked about a group of miners who were poisoned back in 1919, and that it was a workplace hazard. One of the workers who was poisoned and died was my grandfather. He died in 1919, leaving behind my grandmother and five children, including my father, who was five months old at the time. I know how difficult it was for my grandmother to raise five children with the level of compensation she received, and having to take in laundry to support and feed the family.
From that point of view alone, I am certainly a proponent and supporter of fair and equitable workers compensation legislation and, especially with respect to compensation for spouses and dependants.
However, I do have concerns with this particular legislation, similar to the concerns expressed by other Members on this side who have already spoken, and we will get into those concerns in greater detail in Committee of the Whole debate on a clause-by-clause basis. The Minister has been taking notes, and I know we are going to have some of our questions answered by him now, with respect to the concerns.
I have one question that I would like the Minister to answer. I will be very blunt, and I hope that he will be too, so we know where we stand when we come to the Committee stage. Is there any point in drafting and proposing amendments to this act, or is it the position of the government that this act will go through as it is?
Speaker: The hon. Member will close debate if he now speaks. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I regard it as being a grievous oversight not to have known that one of the victims of the Hunker Creek poisoning was related to the Member for Porter Creek West, and I apologize to him for that. While I had ensured that there was a considerable review of the history of workers compensation done, we had not noticed that particular event and the significance to the Member, and we properly should have.
To respond to the other so-called correction to the record proposed by the Member for Porter Creek East with respect to the record of Flo Whyard, I can only point out that there were many different Members of the Legislature over the years who all had a hand in designing and focusing workers compensation. I certainly did not mean, by not referring to all of them, that they did not play a significant role in the history of compensation in this territory. Certainly, there are many who came before us, and there are many who will succeed us, in debating this subject area.
Right off the bat, I cannot tell Members that I will or will not be recommending acceptance of any particular amendment because I have not seen the amendments. As soon as we see the amendments, then we will be able to take a reasoned judgment based on the wording and the rationale being proposed by the Members opposite. Certainly, I have always been open to good ideas and certainly, no legislation can do without good ideas.
I must say, however, that the Members have proposed that there should be amendments to a number of areas and to which there will be very stiff resistance on my part. In particular, I will talk about the area of independence of the Workers Compensation Board for a start. I think I will have to respond point by point, because, as the Members took the trouble to identify various issues, I will try to respond to each of them specifically.
As a general proposition, I would like to point out that the legislation that is now before us is substantially different with respect to the concept of independence and the current act, under which we are now currently operating. Under the current act, the board and the Cabinet - and the Cabinets regulation comes first - can design the investment policies for the board. Under the current act, the Cabinet alone can design the investment policy of the board. Under the current act, the Minister may make appropriations out of the fund without ever coming to this Legislature. So, when the Member for Porter Creek East says when it is not broke, do not fix it, one might be inclined to believe that we should simply retain those features - because they have never been used, why change them.
What we have done in this act is to clarify a new and more independent role for this board through the provisions that we have identified here. I will spend some time, perhaps tomorrow or even this evening, talking about the design of the provisions with respect to the investment fund in particular, because I think that those provisions provide for greater security to the fund under the proposed act than under the previous act, and also provide greater security than if the board alone had the right to determine the changes to the investment policy.
I think there is a very clear and cogent argument that can be made to say that in all of our interests in ensuring the security and stability of the fund, the provisions under this proposed act provide the greatest chance of security possible.
Now, I must say that after having spent 8-10 months working with the business and labour community in this territory, only in this Legislature can a submission fired off by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business out of Toronto completely corner the opinions of virtually every Member who has spoken on the opposite side, except for the Member for Porter Creek West, who did not make direct reference to it.
I will be quite frank with the Members. I find many of the suggestions in the CFIBs report to be very regressive and very damaging to the system of modern compensation that Yukoners have become accustomed to.
For example, there is the whole question of the onus on the worker to prove that he or she has had a work-related accident, instead of the current system, where it is assumed the accident has happened in the workplace and that the board, through its investigation, will determine otherwise. The proposal from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is very regressive, and it does not reflect the views of the Yukon business community.
The vast majority of the recommendations put forward by the CFIB were never mentioned by the business community in this territory as being of any concern to them, and I do get the CFIBs questionnaire regularly. They take the trouble to send it out to me, and I thank them for it.
The most recent survey I picked up from the mail today talks about workers compensation in the territory and the concern of members across this country with respect to various issues that come before them. In this particular member survey poll, they talked about total tax burdens, government regulation red tape, the cost of municipal government, workers compensation boards, the shortage of qualified labour, the availability of financing, provincial labour laws, and they asked us what the greatest concern is in the territory.
They identified that there were a number of concerns about tax burdens, regulation, red tape, and all that sort of thing. The thing that was of least concern to the business community in this territory about the current workers compensation system, which has not substantially changed in this act, either in principle or in particulars with respect to assessments, is the Workers Compensation Board. These businesses were speaking for themselves, not through the eyes of some hotshot out of Toronto.
When one considers a comparison of concerns among jurisdictions, Yukon businesses had the least concern of all businesses across this country about their Workers Compensation Board.
Here we have the CFIB asking a Toronto consultant to independently assess the workers compensation system here. There was six to eight months of consultation, briefs from industry and business groups, with input from the drafting committee on two separate occasions - which committee included two people from the business community who are more knowledgeable about workers compensation than virtually anybody in this Chamber.
Also, it went past some internal discussion with the board itself. If, after all that, we can come to a consensus now about how a balance should be struck - I find it absolutely amazing that a Toronto consultant can so captivate the comments of the Members on the Opposition benches.
I will get back to that later. I have a lot to say about that. I find it really quite disturbing in a way.
Let us put it this way. The Members on the opposite benches are suggesting that I am mistaken and that they are vindicated. The person does not come from Toronto but from Ottawa. I must assume that is the preferred location of all wisdom for the Members opposite. What I am saying to you is that the Members opposite are clearly out of touch with the business community - not to put too fine a point on it.
A number of issues were identified that the Members opposite considered worthy of discussion. I will go through some of them one by one.
The Member for Kluane indicated that he found it difficult to respond to the bill at the principle stage, after only having seen it for the first time Wednesday of last week. With all due respect - and I have a lot of respect for the Member for Kluane - I must say, in defence of the process by which this act was developed, that the principles enunciated in this bill were made public three months ago in draft form. The principles in this act have not been changed at all since then. The arguments that flow from the Member for Kluane and, apparently, from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business from, I believe, Toronto, that this act is a rush job and has not been thoroughly considered, are very unfair.
The next point that was made was with regard to the application and Management Board directives. The Member used some colourful language about the potential of Management Board directives manipulating the board and, as the Member for Porter Creek East indicated, this constituted the government having much more authority and becoming much more involved in the operations of the board and why try to fix it when it is not broken - those sorts of comments. Other Members referred to this provision as being a situation where a board was about to be kicked around and an example of government trying to get its hands on the money.
That is all wonderful rhetoric, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the reality facing us today. For those people who believe in the theory if it is not broken, do not fix it, the situation right now is that all Management Board Directives apply to the Workers Compensation Board. The proposal in the act before us is to state that the directives will not apply unless the government consults with industry and labour on a particular directive to determine whether or not it should apply. I consider that preferable, clearer and better for the board than the status quo. I would say that enhances the independence of the board, rather than diminishing it.
Members opposite have talked about the investment fund and that it was preferable, in their view, to have investment fund policies that are completely independent of the government. As I pointed out at the beginning of my remarks, currently, the Cabinet can decide the investment policy of the board, by themselves, without consultation with the board under section 66 of the current act. It happens to be a fact that, since 1973, to my knowledge, the Cabinet has never established the investment policy of the board.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: No, that is not what it says. The Cabinet currently has not designed the investment policies, nor has it ever had any intention to do so. If one were to believe that we should not fix what is not broken, then one could very easily argue that the current provisions should remain. I am not proposing that they remain; I am proposing that the investment policy become more secure than it was before. In this act, I am proposing that only the board may initiate any changes to the investment policy, and that the government Cabinet can only consider changes that have been recommended by the board. I am further proposing that all investments be made in accordance with the provisions of the Trustee Act, which ensures a high level of prudence in making investment decisions.
It is also important to point out what an investment policy actually accomplishes. It sets out the kinds of investments that can be considered for the investment of compensation funds. It does not establish what items may actually be invested in under the fund.
That is something that the managers of the investment fund undertake. If anyone has authority to consider a particular investment, it would be the board, not the Cabinet.
There was a point made - and I am sure it was quoted from the person who has crafted the intervention from the CFIB - that to deposit the funds into the Yukon consolidated revenue fund constitutes a money grab on the part of the government. This could not be further from the truth. Under the current law, all assessments and investment income is collected into a special account within the Yukon consolidated revenue fund. It is protected by law as it is proposed to be protected in the new Workers Compensation Act. I think that the consultant did not understand the situation in the Yukon and consequently, was mistaken in his criticism.
It is a concern that the lump sum payment for full permanent disability at $80,000 is too high. There was a lot of discussion around this point, both in the public and also in the drafting committee. Certainly there was a large number of people who were advocating much higher lump sum payments than $80,000. There were also some who were advocating a lump small that was smaller than $80,000. Eventually, a compromise was determined that $80,000 would be realistic. I would also like to point out - and I will provide the information to Members presently, because I have the information with me and I will pass it out - that the costs associated with increasing the lump sum payment from $40,000 to $80,000 are rather minor. These costs are very easily absorbed by the surplus of the current compensation fund.
I would like to point out one thing to all of those people who may think that $80,000 is too high an amount. If a Member themselves is injured and incapacitated and unable to work forever, and if they feel for one second that $80,000 is fair compensation for the fact that they will be incapacitated forever, then I think that they would be able to put into perspective the size of the $80,000 amount.
There was a concern respecting the coverage of directors. I am certain that is a detail that we can deal with fairly quickly when we are in Committee and when we are at the appropriate sections.
I would like to point out that the intent of the act before us was to try to encourage all those people who are working in the workplace and who are working with hazard with other workers, that they should be covered under this act. It is not appropriate for someone to exempt themselves under the act or to choose not to take coverage under the act. Perhaps in the process of working with others an accident may occur and the person who is not covered under the act may sue the worker, but the worker who is covered under the act cannot sue in return.
This was considered to be an important provision, well considered and, ultimately, supported by the drafting committee.
The Member for Kluane mentioned a concern about the risk reduction merit rebate program and the requirement to file safety plans and the fact that this was a concern to a number of employers. I have some things to say about that when we get into Committee, because I am not totally in disagreement with the Member. It is a complicated area, and I will participate in further discussion with the Member later.
There was a concern expressed by another Member with respect to the change in the definitions of work-related accidents and work-related disabilities.
There is no question that the definition of a work-related accident is very specific. It denotes a situation where something traumatic occurs all at once, and where someone is injured by that occurrence and incapacitated in some way.
The problem with that definition is that it has always been a conundrum for those people who are trying to accept that there are workplace diseases that do not arise from a traumatic incident, but arise over time. Given the fact that there is considerable concern about this particular situation, and given the fact that the workplace is changing, in the sense that there is a greater awareness of occupational diseases and other problems that can occur and can translate into a workplace incapacity, it is important, under the circumstances, to leave the definition broad that the disability must rise from the workplace, but leave to the board, in their best judgment, what constitutes a work-related disability.
There was a concern expressed about how a percentage of disability might be determined. That is a problem that exists, but boards do have policies to help guide their decision with respect to determining how much of an accident or disability is work-related and, consequently, how much they should be compensated.
There was a claim made in the CFIBs documentation that the system could be pitting the employer against the worker. Certainly, if the onus to determine what is a work-related accident is changed to that of the worker, I would suggest that there is a good possibility that the system would become a great deal more fractious.
The concept of a no-fault system is to reduce the possibility of a confrontation between the worker and employer. It always remains the case, however, that both the worker and the employer can appeal decisions. Once there is an appeal, there is the possibility for some confrontation. It is precisely a no-fault system that was designed to ensure that the friction is kept to a minimum.
The Member also requested information with respect to the cost of the act and the costs of the building maintenance and reorganization. It is all in the package that I will be passing around in a few moments. I must say, however, that the information I provided to the Member in the letter with respect to the cost of maintenance was no snow-job.
The Member also expressed a desire that the fund be as stable as possible and that we ensure the costs of the changes are well determined and that an actuarial analysis be undertaken to promote a level of comfort for all Members that the act we have before us is affordable, not only immediately, but over the long term.
I believe that we can do exactly that. I believe we can show Members that this fund is not only the healthiest in the country, but that it will remain so over the next 10 years.
We have, to our credit, policies with respect to how we bank money in the fund. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the costs of all past claims are covered in the year that they occur, which is a very responsible approach to, essentially, save up money for the various reserves in the fund.
We also have an actuary who has done a very good job of making very conservative estimates when determining liabilities; consequently, we have a fund that is not only well-funded, but has a significant surplus. We should be proud of that fact. It is quite unlike Ontario, where they have a 30-year plan to get to where we are now - a savings plan, essentially, because they are underfunded. Clearly, there is a lot we can say there, and there is a lot we can do, to put Members minds at rest with respect to the health of the fund, both now and in the future, with respect to the changes being proposed.
The Member also has some concerns with respect to the consultation process, and, in particular, with respect to the single workshop, which she felt should have been an open debate or forum. There were many different avenues available to anyone who wanted to discuss this act: if they wanted to speak to the board members, they could; if they wanted to speak to me, they could - and we spoke to many people. If they wanted to speak to the staff, they could; if they wanted to submit something in writing, they could do that; if they wanted to do it anonymously, they could do that; if they wanted to phone in, they could do that. If they wanted to learn more about compensation through a detailed analysis of what compensation is all about, they could read the publications that were published by the Workers Compensation Board early last fall; if they wanted to read a condensed version of the act, they could do that; if they wanted to read the highlights of the draft act, they could do that.
There was an attempt to approach this subject from every possible angle and every possible direction during the consultation process and, for the life of me, I simply cannot understand how people would express concerns about this consultation process. As a matter of fact, there were many occasions - including some of the documentation the Members read from in their speeches, because I could identify from where I sit here what the documents were - when various groups did commend the government and the board for the consultation process under which this act was developed. Virtually everywhere the board representatives and staff went to glean information from the public, there was respect and thanks for the process under which this act was developed.
So, I am at a loss to explain the concerns expressed by the Member. When the Member, however, said that the bill was big and intimidating, I agree with her wholeheartedly. This is a complicated bill, as bills go. It is an important bill and it is a comprehensive bill, but I would have to point out that in understanding that fact, the government and the board spent a lot of time in trying to ensure that, as legislation goes, this act was comprehensible, readable and manageable by most of the citizens in this territory. There was a conscious effort to try to take a complicated subject area and to put it into plain English.
At the same time, most of the provisions in this act that directly affect the business community, which is the subject of all of the concerns expressed by the Members opposite, were not changed at all. Revisions were not changed at all, the assessment procedures were not changed, the collection procedures were not changed. The manner in which they were described is made more comprehensible, but the procedures were not changed and there was a very conscious effort to do exactly that in this bill.
There was a request made by the Member for Porter Creek East - a suggestion, a threat or a warning, perhaps I do not know how one would characterize it - that all appointments to the Workers Compensation Board should be approved by the Legislature. I disagree with him. I do not believe that should be the case at all.
The purpose of an arms-length relationship to this board is simply that the government has extended taxation authority through an arms-length body, in order to ensure...
Mr. Lang: The Legislature has..
Hon. Mr. McDonald: The Legislature has extended taxation authority...
Mr. Lang: That is right.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: ...to an arms-length body in order to manage the compensation system.
The system that the Member mentioned with respect to the Human Rights Commission is not a similar system at all. There is an interest by government; there is a reason for the Minister responsible for the Workers Compensation Board to have some input into compensation, because, after all, the government and all Members of the Legislature are elected - things do happen between elections, between times when the act is amended, that are reason for the government to want to influence, in a very general way, through appointments in this act, not like the previous act, to ensure that general priorities of the community of the day are respected.
I would like to point out for the Member for Porter Creek East who has got a furrowed brow right now, that only six or seven years ago.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I would like to point out at this point that the Member opposite, who actually made the comment, tried not only not to make the board more independent, but also tried to fold the board into the Department of Justice. There was a period there, and the Member will admit this in all fairness, where there was a system of collective responsibility. At that time, he was a significant, influential Member on the front bench. What was the Member doing? The Member was promoting a system that not only was contrary to the law, but was completely opposite to what the Member is suggesting we do right now.
For all the Members of the front bench at that time were concerned, the Workers Compensation Board was a useless appendage to the compensation system of the day.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I am telling the truth, and I am sure it is hurting the Member opposite.
Let us talk about the investment fund once again. One of the proposals that was advanced by the Member opposite when the Member was on the front bench was simply that the board was a useless appendage to the operations of the compensation system and that the investment policy should be basically decided by the government and, presumably, even by the bureaucracy, because they had the board reporting to the assistant deputy minister in the Department of Justice.
It is wholly inconsistent and contrary to be suggesting, in a sanctimonious way now, that the government should be extending the independence of the board even further than is being proposed here, which is already a significant departure from current practice.
I am happy to see, however, that the Member was enlightened enough to support the concept of a workers advisor ...
Speaker: The hon. Member has three minutes to conclude.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: ... and to ensure that workers have access to files. The fact that the Member supported the selection of a president by the board exclusively is something I am glad to see he has had a change of heart on, because that is not what they wanted seven years ago. However, it is a position he apparently now supports, and I am happy to hear that.
I am interested in debating this at some length. I am prepared to debate this legislation at some length. In virtually every area, I am more than prepared to consider changes that are well-reasoned. Many of the changes suggested by the Members opposite will not receive much support from this side of the House, unfortunately, because, based on what I have heard so far, there is no rationale for them and, in all conscience, I cannot upset the balance that has been struck through the consultation process, based on the very limited and somewhat irrational approach of some of the Members opposite.
I simply cannot agree to everything, but I will be keeping an open mind, as usual. If Members make a good argument then, of course, the act will be changed.
I would like to thank all the people who had an involvement in developing the act because they did take the time and trouble to investigate very carefully the various provisions to ensure that a balance was struck. I think that they have produced a good product.
Motion on second reading of Bill No. 6 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Webster: 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: The House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:22 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled April 27, 1992:
Letter dated April 21, 1992, from Paul Birckel, Chief of the Champagne and Aishihik Indian Bands to Hon. Maurice Byblow, Minister of Economic Development re possible loan guarantee for Taga Ku project (Byblow)