Wednesday, May 13, 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.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I have for tabling the full debate on Bill No. 103 from the last sitting, which is almost identical to Bill 101 on todays Order Paper, just in case the media do not want to spend the afternoon listening to recycled old arguments.
Hon. Ms. Joe: I have for tabling the reports on regulations.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Notices of Motion.
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Yukon First Nations: RCMP policing conference
Hon. Ms. Joe: I rise to inform Members of this House that the Selkirk First Nation and the RCMP will co-host a policing conference in Fort Selkirk June 1 and 2.
This is a significant event. It recognizes the need to turn an adversarial relationship into one that emphasizes cooperation and understanding.
It is no secret in this country that aboriginal people and the RCMP have often been at odds. The RCMP have a sworn duty to aid in the administration of justice, while aboriginal people contend the justice system fails to meet their needs. In the Yukon, aboriginal people make up 60 to 70 percent of our prison population at any given time. Not surprisingly, aboriginal people believe they are caught in a never-ending cycle of frustration, arrest and incarceration - a cycle, I might add, the RCMP finds equally distressing.
That is why this conference is so important. First, it gives both sides a chance to share their experiences, concerns and values. Second, it allows people to participate as partners in justice.
Because it is this governments policy to invest in healthy communities in new and meaningful ways, I am looking forward to attending the conference. The organizers expect between 80 and 100 delegates. These include many Yukon First Nation elders, chiefs, women representatives, CYI officials, native courtworkers and RCMP officers.
The Solicitor Generals office in Vancouver and the Aboriginal Policing Directorate in Ottawa will also send delegates.
The conference has three main purposes: the first is to foster better relations between First Nations and the RCMP. This is very important because self-government, through the settlement of land claims, will bring about changes to the justice system. Some changes have started already, such as sentencing circles that stress healing and restoration rather than punishment and incarceration. Whatever the changes, they will demand new sensitivities and trust. Both start with better relations.
The second purpose is to look at the needs of community-based policing programs. Our present police system responds to complaints. Community-based policing emphasises the identification of problems through community consultation. In that way, the underlying causes can be addressed. This method is much more in touch with aboriginal tradition and custom.
The third purpose is to establish new ways to further the safety and well-being of communities. I am especially looking forward to this discussion and exchange of ideas. I believe the collective wisdom coming from the experiences of all delegates will result in many positive and innovative suggestions.
I note the conference is taking place at a time when certain events are forcing us to take a hard look at ourselves. The trial of those accused at Oka, the recent riots in Los Angeles and the troubles in Toronto and Montreal remind us that injustice carries a heavy price. Unless we are willing to pay that price, any effort that encourages understanding and respect in the face of intolerance and suspicion must be actively supported. This is fundamental to any healthy community. In short, I believe the policing conference, co-hosted by the Selkirk First Nation and the RCMP, is a major step in a direction marked by healing, restoration and harmony.
Mr. Phillips: We on this side support the idea of such a conference and commend the RCMP and the Selkirk First Nation for their endeavours to establish the conference. I do have some questions I would like answered by the Minister. Again, we support the idea of the conference being held in an outlying community, but Fort Selkirk is a community that is not accessible by road; it is only accessible by boat or by airplane. With 80-100 people, it is going to be an extremely expensive conference to operate. It could have been held, I suppose, in Pelly or Carmacks or one of the other outlying communities and been quite successful. There are no telephones in Fort Selkirk that I know of, no electricity that I know of, no catering facilities, or that kind of thing, to feed that number of delegates, so it is going to be an extremely expensive proposition to hold the conference in Fort Selkirk. But, I guess, if you have millions of dollars to throw around, you can go to these out-of-the-way areas to do these kinds of things.
I would like to ask the Minister what the Government of Yukons financial contribution is going to be to such a conference. Are the RCMP and Fort Selkirk First Nation paying for this themselves? It seems to me that during times of tight budgets and restraints experienced by most of these organizations, they would have thought of a more efficient way to do it. I know that it is an historical area and it is important to recognize that, but we are also dealing with the taxpayers dollars. To have everyone fly in or boat in to this area and accommodate 80-100 people in a remote area like Fort Selkirk is going to be extremely expensive. I would like to know from the Minister who is paying for the total conference, and what the total cost of the conference is expected to be.
Mrs. Firth: We support the principle of this initiative and feel that it is time such a conference took place.
I have a comment to make with respect to the attitude of the conference. Although we cannot expect people to forget the past, I hope that the agenda for the conference and the direction and focus of the conference is looking more toward the future, as opposed to discussing only what has happened in the past. I look forward to some positive, constructive discussions about solutions and how this is going to work in the future. I am sure that the delegates will be looking for that kind of input as well.
I would like to make a comment about the positive attitude that we have noticed among the RCMP that we have visited in the communities. While going around door-knocking and visiting Yukoners, we have also visited the RCMP detachments and spoken to the RCMP in the communities. They seem to have a very open attitude and genuinely want to be part of the community and learn about the different kinds of justice systems. We have to compliment the RCMP for truly wanting to be part of that change, and recognizing that there has to be some change within the system.
With respect to the justice system itself, we cannot ignore the difficulty with alcohol and whether or not the government is addressing and dealing with alcohol problems. We feel that there has to be a two-pronged attack here. Policing is one form of attack and prevention is another. We are looking forward to seeing what comes from the conference in the form of suggestions with respect to dealing with the alcohol problems.
I look forward to hearing the results of the conference. I hope the Minister will be coming back and reporting to us with respect to recommendations that may have come forward at the conference.
Perhaps the Minister can give us some information this afternoon as to what the exact expectations are regarding recommendations. Is there going to be something officially tabled at the conference for discussion in public, or at least in the field of the delivery of these kinds of services, so everyone can have access to it who was not at the conference?
Hon Mrs. Joe: The Member for Riverdale North made some comments as to why the conference is being held at Fort Selkirk, as Fort Selkirk is an isolated community. The Member also questioned what the cost is going to be to hold the conference at Fort Selkirk.
In answer to all of those questions in regard to the conference being held at Fort Selkirk, after the last aboriginal policing conference that was held in Whitehorse, there were other meetings dealing with the RCMP. There was a decision made a few months ago to decide where the next conference was going to be. Fort Selkirk seemed to be the place that was decided upon.
The arrangements are being made by the RCMP and the Fort Selkirk Band. All of the arrangements for transportation to that conference are being made through those two bodies. The RCMP will be taking some people to Fort Selkirk by plane. Also, river transportation will be made available to get to that site. I am not anticipating that it will cost the government anything extra for me to be at that conference. I will be taking my own tent, food and other items. I do not think that we are looking at anything elaborate. This is a time to do things out in the open without any interference by phones and other things. It gives us a chance for us to do things without interruptions.
With regard to the total cost, I will be happy to come back with that information and I do not expect that it is going to be costing a great deal of money.
The Member for Riverdale South talked about looking forward to the future and not dealing so much with what has happened in the past. I agree. We have spent a lot of time doing that. The recognition that there have been problems in the past has led us to look to the future to the kind of changes we want to make. Those changes are being made right across the country. They are very difficult. A lot of old traditional methods of dealing with justice are changing. They are changing more specifically here in the Yukon to meet the needs of individuals - not only aboriginal people, but others as well.
The plan is to look at what is happening and how we can improve on what is happening already. The Member for Riverdale South has mentioned the openness of the RCMP. That is a fact. In my travels around the communities, I certainly do meet with the members of the RCMP, because I am responsible for Justice in the Yukon. We have a lot of long discussions with regard to where we are going and the kind of changes we have to make. They are very open and forward looking. I really think that changes are well on their way and that within five years we will see a great difference here in the Yukon.
There is a problem with alcohol, as is mentioned by the Member for Riverdale South. I do not know whether or not the Member is aware that most things that are organized by aboriginal groups now do not involve alcohol, such as receptions and banquets. There is a realization that it causes problems. We are very serious about looking at the problems alcohol has created and how we are going to change that, and many other things, as well.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Totem Oil, loan to by YDC
Mr. Lang: It is safe to say that the Government of Yukon surpassed everyones expectations yesterday with their announcement that the taxpayers investment policy is now designed to subsidize loans to American companies based in the United States.
What we witnessed yesterday defies all logic. The Yukon electrical consumers dollars will now be made available, and made use of, to promote cross-border shopping, as well as to subsidize it at a time when all provincial and federal governments are promoting buy Canadian and save Canadian jobs.
I assume the Minister of Economic Development is now the Minister of International Trade. Could the Minister tell the people of the Yukon why his government is putting money into an investment that can only be classified, in the crassest terms, as government-subsidized, government-supported, cross-border shopping?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I thank the Member for his recognition of this government performing at high expectation.
Let us clarify what has taken place. A loan was granted to Totem Oil for the purpose of purchasing a fuel terminal. The purpose is to reduce fuel supply costs to the territory and make a public use facility available to all Yukon people, whether retailers, wholesalers or individual consumers. There is no subsidy. It is a business arrangement. It is a commercial-rate loan for the purpose of purchasing a facility, and it is secured by that facility. It is a safe, strategic investment for all the Yukon for the purpose of lowering fuel prices.
Mr. Lang: Just to correct the record, we talked about $3 million. It is $3 million U.S., which probably equates to about $3.7 million Canadian from the electrical consumers of Yukon.
In the Whitehorse Star last night, a page starts out with: Government lends U.S. firm $3 million to buy fuel terminal. On page 10, an ad by the Government of Canada states, When you buy Canadian, there is a payback - Canada, buy into it. In view of the new international investment policy the electrical consumers of Yukon have now launched themselves into, could the Minister tell the House how many Canadian jobs are going to be lost in our local petroleum industry?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Let me correct the Members preamble, which he has now stated twice. This will not have any negative impact on electrical rates whatsoever. There is no relationship between a loan of money, secured from a bank and provided to an entrepreneur for the purchase of an asset, and any electrical rate in the territory - other than, perhaps, to help lower them.
With respect to the issue of buying Canadian - the Lilles report made it very clear that our cheapest source of fuel supply has to be up the coast; it has to be through the port of Skagway. In the absence of a public facility at Skagway, Haines was the next best alternative. The source of petroleum products for the Yukon, for the most part, comes from Seattle. The current suppliers to the territory buy their petroleum products on the spot market in Seattle. Nothing has changed in terms of the status quo, except that we are going to get it cheaper.
Mr. Lang: The question that begs to be asked is: if it is such a good, sound investment for the electrical consumer of the Yukon to lend $3.6 million Canadian to an American company located in our neighbouring state...
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please get to the supplementary question.
Mr. Lang: ...could the Minister tell the House why they did not just go to a local banking institution for the loan, as opposed to looking to the electrical consumer?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Again, the Member is perpetrating a very erroneous suggestion. The electrical consumers of the territory, if anything, will benefit from this particular deal.
The issue should not be one of loaning money to an American company that is already based in the Yukon. This is not an American versus Canadian issue; this is a northern issue. This is an issue about a company already present in the territory, committed to reducing fuel supply costs. This is a commitment that this government has undertaken over the years to help to do something about. The bottom line is simply that we have provided financial assistance to purchase an asset that is available to all Yukon suppliers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers to bring down fuel prices in the territory. In the process, we have opened up the competitive marketplace, which did not exist before, and we have helped create a level playing field. I think that is good economics, good business and good for the consumers of the territory.
Question re: Totem Oil, loan to by YDC
Mr. Lang: The announcement that the Minister made yesterday is only 24 hours old and I have to say, as an MLA, that I have had more calls on this issue in the last number of hours than I have had in a long, long time. I realize that the side opposite does not want to listen to the public, but I should point out that the people who are calling me are not necessarily anti-American but they do resent their dollars - especially from their electrical rates - being lent to an American-based company in the United States.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: On a point of order.
Speaker: Order please. Point of order to the Minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: For the third time today, and probably for the one-hundredth time during this session, Members opposite are associating electrical rates to a loan that is procured by money from the bank and flowed to an entrepreneur. I question the Member to try and associate electrical rates to this loan.
Mr. Lang: On the same point of order, Mr. Speaker.
I would like to ask the Minister why he does not bring a bill into...
Speaker: Order please.
Mr. Lang: ...this House so that we can vote for the money?
Speaker: Order please. Order please.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Lang: Instead of bypassing this...
Hon. Mr. Byblow: What does that have to do with it?
Speaker: Order please. Order please.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: What does that have to do with electrical rates?
Mr. Lang: Because if it comes before the House, it is not coming out of the Yukon Development Corporations rates, which is the energy consumers money.
Speaker: Order please. I would like to speak on the point of order. I find there is no point of order, but only a conflict in view between Members.
Mr. Lang: We are in a lot of trouble. The Minister does not even know where the money is coming from.
I want to ask the Minister how he can reconcile taking our money - the electrical consumers money - and lending it to a business located in another country, when his leader, during an election campaign, stated as follows: Expenditures that benefit Yukoners should be enhanced; expenditures outside Yukon should be curtailed. Why does he think that he has the mandate to take the electrical consumers dollars and lend them to -
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please get to the supplementary question.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Let me clarify, for the record, the nature of the funds involved in this transaction. Yukon Development Corporation has gone to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, has arranged the money, has allowed it to flow through an operating agreement to Totem Oil at commercial rates of return. That investment has secured a public use facility available to all people in the territory; it has assured a retail outlet in Whitehorse; it has ensured that fuel prices in the territory will come down. They will come down to the benefit of $13 million in the course of one year - $13 million that is going to be contained in the Yukon; that is going to be recycled in the Yukon; that is going to be spent on other things in the Yukon, and which will encourage other investments and other developments.
Speaker: Order please. Will the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I simply put to Members: is $13 million in savings a bad investment?
Mr. Lang: The Minister did not answer my question. During the election campaign, Mr. Penikett stated that expenditures that benefit Yukoners should be enhanced and expenditures outside Yukon should be curtailed. Could the Minister - he is obviously very well-versed on the subject - tell us if he did an impact study on the decision that he made and, if so, how that decision would affect local jobs.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: During the course of the last year, while Yukon Development Corporation officials and staff representatives from Economic Development were in discussions with the industry, and specifically Totem Oil, about this particular arrangement, we did a number of analyses and studies.
Clearly, this arrangement should not have any impact whatsoever on the job climate in the territory. In fact, if anything, there is going to be an increase in employment by virtue of Totem locating a head office here and opening a retail outlet.
Canadian truckers are still going to transport the same fuel that is going through that terminal now. We expect that, in terms of the general profile of the marketplace, employment should not change.
Mr. Lang: I do not understand how you could have done a study and not asked anyone in the business, other than those with whom you are dealing, without finding out what the effect would be. Perhaps I am wrong, but I would think that would have been the way to do business.
I want to ask the Minister: will he table those particular studies and reassure the House that none of the studies will be altered prior to tabling, similar to the agreement he promised to table yesterday, which he is obviously going to go through and change before making it available to the Members.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I will have to take notice on that and get back to the Member. I do want to remind the Member that what we indicated in yesterdays announcement - namely, that in the course of a year, there will be savings of $13 million - is no small matter. This amount of money buys a lot of jobs. We have prevented $13 million from flowing out of the territory into other countries and other jurisdictions. To me that is a good investment; it encourages the competitive marketplace that I am sure that all Members opposite support and believe in. At the same time we have the type of benefits about fuel supply for the territory that could not have been arranged by a bank, should it have been that type of loan.
Question re: Totem Oil, loan to from YDC
Mrs. Firth: My question is to the same Minister regarding the same subject matter. Could the Minister explain, very briefly and very clearly, exactly what the relationship is between Delta Western of Seattle and Totem Oil of Haines, Alaska.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I smile gently because I am sure I cannot provide the kind of detail the Member wants. In terms of the arrangement that we are involved in, which is strictly a loan to Totem Oil for the purchase of a terminal facility in Haines - which is secured by that facility - there is no relationship with Delta Western. However, I can tell the Member that, prior to us signing off Monday night, Delta Western and Totem Oil had a joint-venture owner relationship of that facility.
Essentially, what has occurred is that Totem Oil now owns that facility, with the assistance of this loan.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell us who built the facility in Haines and what it cost?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I will take notice on the question in order to provide accurate detail.
Mrs. Firth: I do not understand why the Minister cannot answer these questions. I think he should have this information. I have it; I do not know why the Minister does not.
I would like to ask the Minister how this whole project was financed in the context of the Ministers information today. Why did the Yukon Development Corporation have to go to CIBC and secure the loan and not Totem Oil? If Totem Oil had good security, why could they not get the loan at a commercial rate, without the assistance of the Yukon Development Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: The proponents of Totem Oil could have gone to the bank. They could have got the money from the bank, but, from our view, that would not have secured the kind of benefits we were able to negotiate.
The fact is, by our involvement in providing the loan, we were able to create a public use facility in Haines, available to all suppliers, all wholesalers and all consumers. We were able to encourage and ensure that a retail outlet would be provided in Whitehorse.
The bottom line is that we were able to ensure that prices did go down, that the cost-based philosophy, which would be the basis upon which costs were determined at the facility, would be controlled, as opposed to the philosophy of charging what the market will bear.
It was in our strategic interest to -
Speaker: Order please. Will the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: It was in our strategic interest to discuss their proposal when they came to us approximately a year ago.
Question re: Totem Oil, loan to by YDC
Mr. Lang: It is important to follow this up a little further, in view of the question that has been asked about the cost of the facility. Similar to my colleague, the Member for Riverdale South, I do not understand why the Minister would not have that information, in view of the fact that the electrical consumer, by guarantee or otherwise, has made such a significant commitment to this.
The figures that I have are that it cost the first company $1.2 million to build that facility. Will the Minister confirm that?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: No, I cannot confirm that. I anticipate what the Member is leading up to, and I can tell him that the facility is worth well in excess of $3 million. Our $3 million loan, secured against that facility, is a safe security. The asset, which is an environmentally sound, state-of-the-art facility, is a very marketable asset, should anything go wrong with this particular deal. It is an asset that is worth in excess of the loan security against it.
Mr. Lang: My information is that the marketable asset the Minister referred to was looked at by a number of other commercial ventures. The decision by those particular companies was not to proceed with the purchase. Can the Minister confirm that other companies were looking at purchasing it, but felt it was not viable and, therefore, did not purchase it?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I cannot confirm the extent to which other interested parties may have looked at the facility, because it is not my business to investigate that aspect. My concern is for the public of the Yukon; to bring to consumers a benefit that far exceeds the $3 million we invested.
It should be noted that the proponents of the facility have advised me that they have major suppliers committed to using the facility, which assures the economics of the facility and translates into the fuel savings that will flow into our territory.
Mr. Lang: The Minister says that the Yukon Development Corporation - the electrical consumer, obviously - has guaranteed or otherwise this $3 million loan. I am told that that particular bulk facility is presently being used by more than one company for the purposes of getting fuel. Is that not correct?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: As the Member well anticipates, there is a cost-based approach to the use of the facility, which in effect means that to utilize the facility the user will be charged exactly what it costs to use it. It is not a market-based approach; it is a cost-based approach. That is the fundamental principle that is going to be able to drive prices down. That is the fundamental principle underlying a competitive marketplace. It is critical to creating a level playing field for all members of the industry that utilize that facility and generate the same savings as we are proposing to all Yukon consumers.
Question re: Totem Oil, loan to by YDC
Mr. Phelps: I want to follow up with our international financier, Robert Campeau of the Yukon, who runs around giving loans to people south of the border who do not really need them at all.
We have heard a lot about how sound and safe this loan is, and how the Minister simply went into the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, borrowed some money and gave the money directly to Totem Oil.
If that is the case, the money was so easy to get and it was such a safe investment, why did Totem Oil bother dealing with the government at all?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I cannot answer on behalf of Totem Oil. I would honestly suggest - and I do not say this to be facetious or cynical - the Member would get the best answer by putting it to the proponent.
I believe that Totem Oil wanted to deal with us because they were already here; they saw the benefit of involvement with the Yukon marketplace. They saw this government, over several years, addressing the issue of high fuel prices. They simply approached us with a proposal to acquire a facility that would generate a host of benefits to the Yukon. To me, nothing could have fallen into place better than what did.
Mr. Phelps: The Minister sounds like Robert Campeau just after he had taken over all of those big expensive stores in New York. He had big champagne parties before the fall.
I do not think that the Minister understands the question, but I will try again.
If this is a safe deal and there is no problem with the same interest rate, which is the same as any other commercial lender would get, why on earth would Totem Oil want to make concessions to the government, when obviously, they could have gone to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce themselves?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: The Member is asking the question again. I cannot tell him anything more than the facts as I have relayed them to Members. Totem Oil approached us approximately one year ago saying that they were interested in acquiring this facility. They indicated to us that they could assist us in our efforts to reduce fuel prices in the territory - a general benefit to all consumers. Their philosophy of a cost-based approach intrigued us because that was a fundamental principle that would make this deal work. Based on volumes and economics, we continued discussions; the discussions concluded on Monday.
We have an operating agreement that I am prepared to table very shortly. We have benefits that will flow directly to Yukon consumers in the form of reduced fuel prices, allowing additional consumer spending in the order of $13 million. Those are no small matters. On top of this, we have a facility anybody can use on a level playing field, on a competitive basis, through a cost-based use arrangement.
Mr. Phelps: The Minister is getting right into the banking business here, making sure that he can lend money to his good friends the Kerkhoffs, the union-busting company that is coming in to build the convention centre - a very safe loan, indeed. Now he is loaning money to a bunch of Americans so that they can come in here on a very safe venture. I guess he had to rush -
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please get to the supplementary question.
Mr. Phelps: I guess he had to rush to see them before the commercial banks got a hold of this news.
Has the Minister ever thought of just setting up a banking company and going into competition? Obviously, he is good at the business.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Most governments in the country - in fact, I suspect all governments in the country, and other countries - do have what amounts to some form of banking. Even in our Department of Economic Development, we have consolidated a number of programs into a business loans program. We provide up to $500,000 loans to many businesses in the territory; for example, hotel businesses and resource-based businesses. The banking business is one that, as a government, we find strategically important to benefit our economy. We have a healthy economy and it has been through no small effort on the part of this government to encourage the kind of economic stimulation that has sustained our health through what is a period of recession in the rest of the country.
Question re: Totem Oil, loan to by YDC
Mr. Lang: The Ministers reply raises another question that is very important to the Legislature and the principle of how the government spends government money.
On the Order Paper, we are presently debating an appropriation to loan to Curragh Resources Inc. $5 million of the taxpayers dollars. Yet, we have the same government announcing a $2 million loan without going through the normal procedures of the Legislature. We are supposed to vote money of that magnitude and have public debate. I should correct myself. We are actually talking in the neighborhood of $3.7 million Canadian.
I want to know why that money was not authorized through the normal procedures in the Legislature? Why is that process being ignored?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Nothing is being ignored here. The loan, in this instance, was a strategic investment by the Yukon Development Corporation. It is fully within the mandate of the Yukon Development Corporation and was a decision taken by the board of directors. The Yukon Development Corporation has lent the money to Totem Oil as a strategic investment. The Curragh loan is a loan from this government, not by the Yukon Development Corporation.
The Members have historically argued with me about arms-length relationship and those kind of things. The bottom line is simply that this is a Yukon Development Corporation board of directors decision on a strategic investment. The Curragh loan is a decision by the Government of Yukon.
Mr. Lang: That defies logic once again. We have a board of directors with a well-known political affiliation. We have a loan that is very important to the territory. The Minister states that the reason it went through the Yukon Development Corporation is because it is a strategic investment. Is the Minister telling us that the loan that he is asking us to approve in this House to Curragh Inc. is not a strategic investment?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: No, I did not say that.
Mr. Lang: I am becoming very concerned. We had a loan of $3.7 million announced yesterday, which did not come through this Legislature for approval. There was $2 million for a hotel two or three weeks ago, which also did not come through this House. There is more money on loans and various projects being ...
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please get to his supplementary question.
Mr. Lang: ... the Yukon Development Corporation. Why is the Minister not coming to this House for the approval of loans of that magnitude and debating the issues on the floor of this House the way they should, and normally would, if they had any respect for this House?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I am in this House, and I am advising Members what the Yukon Development Corporation is doing within its mandate and under the direction of its board of directors.
I am not sure what the Member is putting forward. Is he saying to the House that he is opposed to the savings of the $13 million that this deal precipitates? Is he opposed to the reduction of fuel prices in the territory? Is the Member opposed to more money being spent locally by savings we can generate from the lower cost of importing fuel into the territory? Is the Member opposed -
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I pose those rhetorical questions because I am puzzled by the Members position.
Question re: Totem Oil, loan to by YDC
Mr. Nordling: I am having trouble establishing exactly how the $3 million U.S. loan, at a commercial rate, is going to save Yukoners $13 million in one year. Could the Minister explain how Totem Oil, paying its joint-venture partner $3 million U.S., is going to reduce the cost of operating the terminal by eight cents per litre of fuel handled?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: My only response to the Member is that the saving of $13 million is based on the consumption of Yukoners gasoline, diesel and fuel oil. The volume of consumption by Yukon residents, based on reducing the cost of supplying that consumption by eight cents per litre, translates into $13 million. The facility at Haines is going to be used by anyone at a posted price. The posted price will reflect the actual cost of use of that terminal - the throughput charges for the fuel that flows through it. Those costs, translated into savings for Yukon consumers, total $13 million in the course of a year.
Mr. Nordling: Let us forget the $13 million for a moment, then, and I will try to make it simpler for the Minister. I would like to ask the Minister: is Delta Western gouging its joint-venture partner, Totem Oi,l and Petro-Canada, which use that terminal facility at Haines, Alaska, eight cents a litre for fuel handled there at the present time? Is that what the Minister is doing by giving that loan: preventing an eight cents per litre gouging by Delta Western of its partner and Petro-Can?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: In the first instance, as I indicated earlier, Petro-Canada, I understand, had signed an operating agreement for two years with Totem Oil to utilize that facility. In other words, all the Petro-Can dealers in the territory would have the opportunity to get fuel on this cost-based approach. That is the first issue.
Totem Oil is already in the territory in three gas stations, I understand: Jakes Corner, Stewart Crossing and Haines Junction. I also understand that prices are the lowest in the territory at those outlets; so, already, prior to this deal, which I believe was transacted yesterday, we have had reduced fuel prices utilizing the cost-based approach. Now the entire facility will be cost based.
So, with respect to what may have taken place in the past, I am not prepared to analyze or offer comment. I know that what we are doing now is good; what we are doing now is going to reduce prices, and that is good business.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Nordling: From the Ministers answer, my conclusion is that, yes, Delta is gouging, and two years from now, Totem Oil, an American company, will have a privately owned facility and a bottleneck monopoly in Haines, Alaska, just like White Pass has at Skagway now. What I would like to ask the Minister is: why did the government - Yukon Development Corporation - not loan Petro-Canada $3 million US to purchase that facility so that a Canadian company would have control of it, on the condition that they allow Totem Oil to use it at a reasonable rate?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: The question is purely hypothetical because Petro-Canada may not even have been interested. In any event, they did not come to us with a proposal for offering a fuel supply to the territory with that kind of benefit - Totem Oil did. That is the bottom line. Totem Oil came to us with a proposal to reduce fuel prices. We saw that the proposal would open up the monopoly situation that existed in the Yukon; that would drive down the artificially high prices of fuel in the territory, and we saw it as a good deal. When you see a good deal, on behalf of people of the territory, you jump at it, and you negotiate the best possible terms - and we got them. We have a public use facility that anyone can use, that operates on a cost-based philosophy, and is going to be driving prices down in the territory almost immediately. We have the evidence of that already.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now lapsed. We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
Opposition Private Members Business.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS BUSINESS
BILLS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT BILLS
Bill No. 101: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 101, standing in the name of Mr. Phelps.
Mr. Phelps: I move that Bill No. 101, entitled An Act to Amend the Yukon Development Corporation Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Member for Hootalinqua, that Bill No. 101, entitled An Act to Amend the Yukon Development Corporation Act, be now read a second time.
Mr. Phelps: I am going to have to speak to this bill in principle, because I understand that certain Members on the side opposite are reluctant to vote for this eminently sensible piece of legislation.
I tried to twist their arms in the back rooms, as most politicians do, but I could not get the Members to see the wisdom of what we are proposing in this bill.
I understand that the good international financier across the way - the Robert Campeau of the Yukon - earlier today tabled debate on a bill that contained some similar clauses and took place a year or so ago in these Chambers.
I took it from the remarks made at that time that the good Minister, and his comrades who sit on that side of the House, did not really want to debate this bill and the sordid history of the Yukon Development Corporation once again.
I understand that; it is an understandable feeling and reaction, but I would ask the good Minister to consider an analogy of being in a court of law. The judge and jury are the people and electrical consumers of the Yukon.
When I used to appear in court - and I did quite often, years ago - I would be defending a person charged with some criminal offence. I would appear with my client who, once again, had been found guilty of a certain offence - let us say breaking and entering and committing a theft. I think that is an analogy similar to the case that we have before us, in view of what the Members on the side opposite are doing to the electrical consumers and the money that rightfully belongs to the Yukon Energy Corporation.
I would say it is breaking and entering and theft. Let us say that my client had been convicted, say, five or six times in the course of the previous six years. This often happens in our courts of law. When the prosecutor would come forward to the judge, he would say that the person had committed the same or a similar offence not once, twice or three times, but five times in the last six or seven years. My client would say, Damn, I hate that prosecutor. Do we have to listen to this again? I do not want people to mention my record, how I have done the same thing over and over again and have not learned. The judge and jury are going to take that into account when they deal with me this time. My clients hated it when that happened.
I always genuinely understood why they felt that way. I acted for people who were up for impaired driving seven or eight times within six years. They hated it when the prosecutor would have the nerve to cite the previous convictions of my client, particularly because they knew they would have to go to jail this time. They just hated it when the prosecutor did that, but the prosecutor would do it because the people have a right to know that the current offences, misdeeds, error in the ways of the accused or, in this case, of the good Minister across the floor - the international financier, the Robert Campeau of the Yukon - have happened before. They have been brought to task before. The public has been outraged and passed its judgment, as the court does in these cases, before. They are still making the same mistakes and compounding the situation. That is why we have to raise these things in the Legislature.
I would not have the temerity to bring forward a bill such as this, if, after the last time I was in this House, the Members on the side opposite had seen the error of their ways. I would not raise the issues that must be raised once again if, since the last time I raised some of these subjects, the Members on the opposite side had realized the error of their ways and moved in a new direction in a manner beneficial to society and to consumers of electrical energy in the Yukon and beneficial to the voters.
Like the prosecutor who, I am sure, sometimes feels rather badly that he has to recite the record, I am here before you, unfortunately cast in that rather disliked role.
The bill we are debating today really deals with two issues, one of which has been debated in the past, as well as the issue regarding the appointment of directors to the board of the Yukon Development Corporation. I want to go into the obvious need for having the good sense contained in this bill made into law. I will start with an issue that has been compounded in the last number of months, which is the political interference in the management of the Yukon Development Corporation.
That problem became obvious to virtually every Yukoner last fall, when the president of the corporation, Mr. Jack Cable, stepped down because of the lack of an arms-length relationship between government and the Yukon Development Corporation in its day-to-day corporate affairs. He made that very clear in a public letter.
At that time, I was assured by the Minister - the international financier across the way - that he was busy taking steps to ensure there would be a new policy ensuring an arms-length relationship between the corporation and the government.
But since that time, what happened? Since that time, there was a change in the board of directors and we now have the past president and former NDP MLA continuing as chairman; at the time, we had the existing president of the NDP and an ex-official from the political arm of the Government Leaders office upstairs, both appointed the same day to the board of that corporation.
I want to make a couple of points here. The first point I would like to make is that there is a difference in kind between some boards that get appointed by government, and others. I would like to say that, in the case of the Yukon Development Corporation, ensuring that the board has some extremely high-quality people on it, who understand business and finance and economics, is critical to the success of the corporation. The appointment of directors should not be seen simply as a political plum, and I am frankly a little dismayed that a government would appoint an acting president of the NDP, while he is still sitting as president, to the board.
I understand why the NDP has a terribly hard time getting someone to act as their president. It is tough going around beating the bushes to get people to act as the president of a party, especially if it is the NDP. I understand that, but the Yukon Party is out of power and we have a president. Perhaps the NDP has to set some sort of an example to these folks and say if they become a president of our party, we will make them a member of the board of directors of not only several other boards but of the good old Yukon Development Corporation itself.
I submit to the international financier across the way - my good friend, the Minister in charge and responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation - that he could have accomplished that by waiting for a few months. He could have at least waited until the guy was not acting as president of the party. He could have made it known to whomever they were trying to get to fill his shoes that, Look, we are going to do this for this fellow who is currently the president. If you become president, we will do something like that for you. The proof will be that, a few days after the change, you will see this guy installed as a director of the Yukon Development Corporation. Us country folk would, perhaps, have been fooled by that a little bit, but the Minister did not even do it cleverly this time. He did not trick us hardly at all. I was able to look up the current officers of the NDP party, and there he was, acting in that capacity at the time.
It is an extremely serious issue. There are several issues intertwined in all this, but the main reason for bringing forward this section of the bill is because the Yukon Development Corporation is in desperate need of some guidance. The corporation has a terrible business record. Money - which has really been paid in by electrical consumers throughout the territory - is being squandered right and left.
One can look at the record and at the Watson Lake sawmill and the dismal mistakes that were made there. When you look at something like that, we could say that it is just political rhetoric and ask why we are bringing it up again. We are bringing it up again because the government is not learning from its mistakes. I am absolutely amazed. The same official in the government who was the deputy minister at the time that they bought the sawmill and ran it into the ground is still a senior official in the government, but they have moved him over to land claims to see how he can work his magic there.
This is the same guy who hastily sold the sawmill before the last election to a bunch of people on Howe Street, in Vancouver. Yet, the same players remain, the same mistakes continue and those who suffer are those who have to pay their electric bills, and those who are resident in the Yukon.
For example, look at the loan that the Yukon Development Corporation gave to the Taga Ku convention centre project. Again, that was done with monies that did not have to be voted in these Chambers. The Minister is on record saying that obviously, it was a mistake, it was not a very good venture to be investing these monies in - an investment and encouragement from the government to get a group of people in over their heads on a project that obviously, with the hotel and convention centre, is uneconomic. This was at a time when there was another bid, and had the other bid been chosen the convention centre would be up and running right now.
We have the same outfit pumping money into the renovations at the old Yukon College to make it into office space at a cost that I calculate at double of what new premises, of the same size, would cost. This was done when their own subcommittee and board of directors of Yukon Development Corporation had said not to do it, that it was not economical. The government said do it anyway, this is our will and our company, we do not have to go to the House to debate this. Of course, we got whatever is happening to Chateau Jomini, as well, and so it goes.
Then we come down to the latest deal with the American bunch in Haines: Totem Oil. Now, heres a dilly. I can understand these people getting into these messes, and this bill is to try and insist that they bring people onstream who understand a bit about economics. Consider the latest deal with Totem Oil.
We are told that Totem Oil came to the government to get this loan that had no risk to it and wonderful security. All they had to do was walk over to the bank, get the money and give it to Totem Oil. Somehow or other, Totem Oil has some obligations to this government to behave like a perfect corporate citizen and drive down the prices. They are just doing that because they wanted to have the Yukon Development Corporation give them free advertising for oil in the House, because they did not need them - it was such a good deal and was so risk free.
The suggestion is then made that, somehow or other, this is going to work wonders for the price of oil and gas in the Yukon. They say that Petro-Can is currently using the storage tanks down there and bringing the gas and oil in from Haines. Yet, they had to make this loan in order to trigger the whole beneficial package to Yukoners.
Let me tell the Minister something. Various oil companies have been bringing oil and gas in from Haines for many years. The outfits supplied by Totem Oil in the Yukon - and he has mentioned a few, but not all - have been selling gas at cheaper prices for a long time. Let me tell him that we reviewed precisely what Petro-Can was charging, for example. When the price should have been only one cent more than in Fort St. John, it was nine cents more. Petro-Can is not White Pass, yet that was occurring just one year ago.
Let me tell the Minister that we will be checking the prices on a regular basis, not just this month or next month, but in the years to come. What he has done makes no economic sense whatsoever.
Quite often, when you have oligopolies, for a time, there is price-cutting and heavy advertising so that the players can sort out their appropriate market share, but the prices always float back up. It has always happened in the past, and I am sure that it will always happen in the future. We will see it in the Yukon. I suspect that what has happened is not at all what the Minister is telling us.
Firstly, I suspect that it was impossible for Totem to obtain the money from a bank on their own - impossible because it is not a good investment. I suspect that they saw, in the NDP government in the Yukon, an easy mark because there is an election coming up. One might recall that it was just before the last election when the boys on Howe Street got their talons into the Watson Lake sawmill - just ahead of the election. In fact, it was announced just 30 days before the election, along with the announcement, of course, that the NDP would use the electrical consumers money to lower the rates for awhile and then jack them way up - they forgot to mention that - a couple of years later, and halfway through the mandate. There is no doubt in mind that that is what will happen. I am sure that in the short term we will see some election-type announcements about lower gas prices.
The Minister mentions the need for lower gas prices, but it was interesting to note that in the same study that they refer to - where their person came out saying that the bottleneck in Skagway was the culprit behind the high oil prices in the Yukon - it says that consumers in the Yukon do not really seem to care about the gasoline prices. The evidence is very clear that most people are not shopping around. He was quite dismayed by that fact in his report, and he recommended that the government advertise a lot more so that people knew where the cheapest gasoline prices were.
The Minister cat-called across at me. I think he said that he was to blame - or was it that they were all the same? Anyway, if he was saying that they were all the same, that is just not the case. At the Carcross corner, which is just a stones throw from the city boundary, it is much, much cheaper than prices in town and at Jakes Corner, and so on.
In saying all that, I certainly do not want to suggest for a second that we would not like to see lower gas and oil prices in the Yukon. We would love to see that happen, but we do not think the actions of the government are, in the long run, going to have any cause and effect with respect to that occurrence.
I digress because I want to deal in a serious way in principle with the bill that I am putting forward. I want to say, once again, that it is extremely important that the Yukon Development Corporation be given the benefit of the top possible potential candidates for the job of director of the corporation. When one looks at the current cast, one simply cannot find anybody with lengthy business experience, particularly large businesses, on that board. It is really a shame that we have lost two people from that board: Al Kapty and Tim Koepke - the only two people with real business experience on the previous board - and have replaced them with two political hacks. That is really a shame, but that is what has happened.
I have some idea why the other two stepped down and I have every sympathy with them doing so, just as I understand why Jack Cable stepped down from the presidents position. One way we could attract people of that calibre back to sit on the board of directors would be to try to depoliticize the corporation. There are several ways in which that can be done. One way would be to have the appointments made by the Legislature and not by the government - the Minister and his Cabinet cronies.
That is one of the reasons that this bill, Bill No. 101, has been brought forward.
The second issue is one in which I firmly believe, and that goes back to the same suggestion made in the bill in the previous session, and that is that the objects of the corporation be changed so as to take steps to ensure that any profits of the Yukon Energy Corporation are invested in the development of the energy resource infrastructure or in equalizing or reducing the cost of electrical energy to Yukon consumers.
We know that, in the course of two years, over $16 million in profits were stripped away in dividends from the Yukon Energy Corporation by the Yukon Development Corporation and that those monies - a large part of them - were spent in covering the losses of the Watson Lake sawmill.
We also know that rates have been going up recently. In fact, last year, over the course of 14 months, the rates went up some 30-odd percent to the consumers. Mind you, one can ask the question: when is a rate increase not a rate increase? Well, if you call it a rebate and take away the rebate, that is not an increase. I do not, by that standard, know if my glass is half empty or half full, but I do know that pretty soon I am going to have to ask the good lady to get me another glass.
The 14-percent rebate was tacked back on, then they had a huge increase, and another increase, and there are more hearings coming up quickly. Had this provision been in place from the outset, the Yukon electrical consumer would be much better off then he or she is today.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phelps: All frivolity and whatnot aside, I want to say that I do not think that the games that are being played with the Yukon Development Corporation and the most recent announcement are going to fool the electrical or gasoline consumer for one minute.
I am sure that the majority of Yukoners are well aware of the way in which the corporation has been used as a political tool in the past and how their own money had been used to fool them just before the last election. It is being used again in that manner today.
I would like to summarize by saying that I think that we, in this House, can take some simple steps to make things somewhat better. I recommend this bill in principle to all Members of the House. I feel these are necessary steps to ensure that the best interests of the taxpayers in the Yukon, as well as the rate payers in the Yukon - those who consume electrical energy - will be best protected.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I might invest in that.
As the Member knows, and as all Members know, we debated very much the same amendments about five months ago - December 11, 1991, to be exact. At that time, we called the debate a debate on Bill No. 103.
I took the opportunity - in case Members might have forgotten that we debated the same issue five months ago - to table that debate earlier today. When I went through the 19 pages of debate recorded in Hansard, I came to the realization that the most noteworthy bit of information to come from the side opposite was contained in the very first paragraph of the movers speech. He said, This is one of my favorite subjects.
I also recall that we have been over this ground more times than a prospector looking for the mother lode.
It is my contention that circumstances surrounding the worn out, old arguments about the Watson Lake sawmill, Taga Ku and electrical rates have not changed one iota. Question Period continues on, motion debates carry forward, and proposed amendments to the Yukon Development Corporation Act are recycled through the Legislature on various Wednesdays.
In my view, all these issues have been debated at such length that one could easily say the corporation has been one of the most scrutinized Crown corporations in the world.
The Member for Porter Creek East suggests there is mismanagement, and the mover of the bill tried to suggest that everything the Yukon Development Corporation touches suffers the most undesirable consequences.
I would like to spend some time talking about those things that the Members opposite allege are not being done properly. In their review of the activities of the corporation, Members fail to talk about the old college renovations, for example. No one mentions that the undertaking of that project by the Yukon Development Corporation came in under budget, ahead of schedule, and was a wise investment in a government asset to retain it within the public domain to be utilized by the government on behalf of Yukon people. It was a very successful project.
The Members have not talked about how good a deal the Totem Oil deal is. Members have suggested that it is a bad investment, it is uneconomic, and should not have been done. I want to come back to that. The most erroneous presentation that keeps recurring from Members opposite, that I am beginning to find annoying, is the issue surrounding electrical rates. The mover of the bill amendments gave his very fine oration on how he feels about always having to bring forward matters surrounding the Development Corporation; and, in his legal training, he made an analogy to the court scene of prosecution versus the people. I am not a legal person and I have no particular training in legal matters, such as the Member opposite has, but it seems to me that in the legal system, one is not permitted to try an offender twice for the same offence. Members opposite seem to be attempting to dredge up an alleged offence of years ago and keep trying and re-trying and re-trying the issue in this Legislature, year after year.
Electrical rates fit into that trial so let us take a look at the electrical rates. Let us look at what has occurred since the Yukon Development Corporation took over, through Yukon Energy, the assets of NCPC in 1987. At that time, residential consumers here in Whitehorse paid just over seven cents per kilowatt for electricity. In less than two years, by 1989, those rates were reduced to six and one-half cents per kilowatt; and less than six months later, in 1990, they were reduced by another one-half cent per kilowatt hour. So, in 1990, the cost of electricity was six cents per kilowatt. Compared to two years previous, that is one and one-half cents lower.
That does not seem to me to be an inefficient operation of a utility, or in any way supportive of the argument that rates have drastically increased.
In 1991, there was a rate application for an increase. That increase was an 11 percent increase, spread over two years. In 1991, what you have is a seven and one-half cent cost per kilowatt; in 1982, an eight cent per kilowatt cost. Going back four years, the cost was two cents less than that. That in no way suggests that the rates are drastically increasing, or does it suggest, in any way, that there was some form of mismanagement.
When we analyze electrical rates, what is happening in the marketplace is that we have a lower actual cost, in real dollars, in the rate of electricity today than in 1987. That is what the facts show.
If electrical rates had kept up with the rate of inflation since 1987, and they should have because all of the costs related to generating electricity go up - just like everything else in the marketplace moves upward according to the rate of inflation - electricity should have been at least 20 percent higher. We have, by far, a lower cost for electricity today, than we had in 1987, when you take into account the rate of inflation - and we do not even talk about the goods and services tax.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Byblow: The Member says what about the debt write-off. I am going to get to that.
Members opposite -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Pardon me? The Members opposite refuse to accept that the rate that we pay for our electricity today, in real dollars, is less than what people paid in 1987, but that is a fact. When you take inflation into account -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Byblow: There is no question that my electricity cost as a consumer at one of my two houses has gone up.
As Members know, I have a residence in my riding and I have one here in Whitehorse, given the time that I have to spend here.
Members opposite forget that, barely a year ago, they were the ones who were calling for a massive increase in the generation of electricity. I recall, at one point, Members opposite calling for something like a 40-megawatt dam that should be built at a cost of some $400 million. We can imagine just what that would have done to electricity rates. In all fairness, Members opposite modified their position and they reduced their expectations.
Barely a year ago, also, I heard Members opposite saying that electricity rates were going to go up 100 percent. Again, they modified that in time and said, Well, maybe only 50 percent. They used terminology like whopping and staggering. They admitted, in time, that the 11 percent rate increase over two years was not anywhere near the whopping or staggering or outrageous rate increases that had been predicted by Members opposite.
The truth is that the only increase that has occurred since we took over the utility is that of 11 percent. It is the first rate increase since we took over the utility from NCPC, and the increase is less than the inflation rate for the same period, and far less than the increases that NCPC was anticipating had they retained the utility.
That is not all that Members are saying about electricity rates. Members are also suggesting that everything the Yukon Development Corporation does relates to electricity rates. Members refer to the Watson Lake sawmill. They refer to Taga Ku and they refer to everything as having a relationship to electricity rates. In fact, I recall in a Question Period recently, Members trying to relate telephone rates to Taga Ku. I was waiting for cable TV rates to somehow be related, perhaps, to the Totem Oil deal now.
It just does not work that way. What we have to talk about is exactly the arrangement under which electricity rates are struck, the corporate relationship that exists between the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Development Corporation, and we have to talk about the dividend policy of a corporate entity. Members are, as I said, very familiar with businesses.
I suspect several of them are business people themselves. They know that one expects to generate a rate of return on any investment. That is a standard principle in business ethics. In a utility, because it is generally a monopolistic situation, you have to regulate that utility so you have a regulated rate of return, in order to prevent the gouging that may occur in a monopoly situation.
The Yukon Public Utilities Board regulates the utilities in the Yukon to ensure that the price being charged for electricity is not unfair and truly reflects the cost of generating that electricity. The utilities board allows a rate of return. We have the Yukon Energy Corporation in the Yukon as a utility, and we have the Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd. Both utilities, before the utilities board, present information about what it costs to generate the electricity and provide that service to consumers.
The utilities board then allows a rate of return on the equity portion of their investment by the shareholders in that utility. In the Yukons case, the Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd. is allowed to generate a rate of return of 12.5 percent. The Yukon Energy Corporation has asked for, and received, a rate of return of 12 percent - one-half of a percent less than the privately-owned utility, in this case owned by Alberta Power.
The returns on the investment to the shareholders of those utilities are 12.5 and 12 percent, respectively. The shareholders of the Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd. get a rate of return built into a legitimized cost for service by the utilities board. They receive a rate of 12.5 percent back, which flows to the shareholders.
In the case of the Yukon Energy Corporation, the same principle applies. The Yukon Energy Corporation gets a rate of return of 12 percent. It is allowed to flow back to the shareholders. In this case, the Yukon Energy Corporations shareholder is the Yukon Development Corporation. The Yukon Development Corporation is perfectly entitled to draw a dividend, based on its investment in that utility.
In 1988 and 1989, at a time when there was no recognized need to reinvest any of that return directly into infrastructure or, entirely into infrastructure - I should correct that, because they did invest a substantial portion of their return into infrastructure - they were perfectly entitled to draw a dividend as a corporate entity, as the rules of the marketplace permit; as business principles permit. So, in 1988 and 1989, dividends were drawn off from Yukon Energy Corporation at a time when those revenues were not required for any other purpose; the corporation had a perfectly legitimate opportunity to reinvest that money.
Yukon Development Corporation reinvested a portion of that money in Watson Lake, and the rest is history.
I think that we have been around the mulberry bush and we have been beating on this mother lode a hundred times on this issue. Watson Lake did not go the way it should have. I have accepted that; this government has acknowledged that; the matter has been reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee; and a report was tabled in this House about what went wrong. But Watson Lake was an investment. It was a necessary investment at the time. At that time, Watson Lake was in trouble. The project itself, relating to the sawmill, failed in what we wanted it to do. We have said that publicly many times.
Members opposite keep suggesting that somehow the investment in Watson Lake was a total waste of money; that it should not have been done; that it was a mistake; and that it was somehow tied to electricity rates. Well, there is another side to that story. It has nothing to do with electricity rates. It was a situation where the community was in trouble and there was a necessity for the government to respond to that critical situation in that community, for which I will not make any apologies.
The infrastructure, employment and services that were retained in Watson Lake have preserved it for the opportunity it has today to handle the Sa Dena Hes operation and activity on the Alaska Highway, and to allow it to be a growing and expanding community, instead of destroyed at a time when it was in trouble.
The reasons for the failure were reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee. A full report has been tabled in this House. Yes, there were errors in the management of that sawmill operation. However, Members should not forget that it was a private sector entrepreneur, on contract, running that operation. For that, we could have had it operate better, but we did place some trust in the business management of it. We have accepted the criticisms of the Watson Lake sawmill, and we are developing an investment policy and criteria, and reviewing the Yukon Development Corporations mandate.
The Public Accounts Committee made clear recommendations about those things, and they are occurring.
We did not invest in the sawmill to waste money. Nobody would do that; that would be stupid. We did it to help preserve the economy in Watson Lake, and because we had visions of diversifying the Watson Lake economy through forestry. We had to create jobs. Basically, we wanted to put food on the tables of the people who were living there.
At the time, the people of Watson Lake wanted that help, and they desperately needed that assistance. We responded to that and took action. I do not think we should be in the business of apologizing for wanting to help a community. The fact that the sawmill went sour is unfortunate, and that should never again occur. However, the basic decision to do it was justifiable, wise, and based on professional analysis and advice, but it did not work out.
Surrounding what the bill is purporting to do, we have to recognize that there is sometimes a need to take a risk. The Watson Lake sawmill had a measure of risk; the Totem Oil deal has an element of risk; the Taga Ku project has an element of risk; I suppose Chateau Jomini also has an element of risk. However, Members can be assured that, where there is direct involvement, the numbers have to crunch out, the economies have to be in place, the investment has to be sound, and the benefit to the community has to be measurable.
The Yukon Development Corporation was structured in order to do those very things.
Again, Members suggest that some mismanagement is occurring. The Totem Oil deal is probably a perfect case of a sound investment of immeasurable benefit to the Yukon economy. Investment is within the mandate of the Yukon Development Corporation.
The corporation was created at a time in this House when Members opposite were here and I was not, but it was still a sound decision in order to stimulate economic development, undertake strategic investment, create employment, and speak to the broad economic policy of this government, which is articulated in our Yukon Economic Strategy. It serves that purpose, and it is making wise and sound investment and joint venture decisions, and it continues to respond to the policy objectives of this government.
If there is any major point that I would want to clarify for any record, it is that the energy rates in no way are implicated by the investments of the corporation. I have explained to Members the basis upon which electricity rates are established. I have reminded Members of the regulatory control that occurs through the utilities board to ensure that there is a fair and rational basis for the rates we have. I have pointed out to Members that, in real dollars, we are paying less for electricity today that we were in 1987.
Members opposite, through this bill, are promoting the principle that all of the rate of return allowed by the utility should be reinvested in electrical infrastructure.
In principle, I do not have any major problem with that, but I want to remind Members, as I did last December, that is what we are doing and that is what is occurring right now.
I asked the corporation, and this is tabled in the annual financial reports of the corporation, the extent to which they have reinvested in capital infrastructure for electricity.
In 1988, there was $1.6 million reinvested into upgraded or improved electrical infrastructure.
In 1989, $6.4 million was reinvested into electrical infrastructure around the territory.
Yes, it was also during those two particular years that some of the rate of return was declared a dividend and used for other investment. No one is denying that; that did occur. But, in those two years there was in the order of $8 million reinvested in electrical infrastructure. Yukon Electrical Company Ltd., the sister utility that is in the territory, did not reinvest any of their money back into electrical infrastructure. It is drawn off as a dividend to the shareholders, and that is not a sin; that is the corporate principle of business ethics. That is the manner in which investment gains a return.
I want to carry on. In 1990, $4.7 million was reinvested in electrical infrastructure around the territory by the corporation. In 1991, $11.2 million was reinvested in infrastructure for electricity.
There were line upgrades, equipment improvements, replacement, and baseload and peaking capacity installed. What was invested in covers quite a wide range.
All these reinvestments must be approved by the utilities board. The utilities have to go before the utilities board and explain their capital investment program for the subsequent year. All of that has a relationship to their activities for providing adequate service. In a sense, the utilities board is a watchdog, ensuring that we have adequate and proper service.
Between the time that we bought the facility from NCPC and the end of last year - a four-year period, 1987 to 1991 - just under $25 million was spent on capital upgrading of the utility. In 1992, the current year of operation, the utility estimates that it will spend between $12 million and $15 million. We are talking about a fairly large magnitude of reinvestment of dollars. The kind of dollar investments occurring by the utility now reflect the view that they are now doing what this bill purports should be done.
The bill suggests that funds be reinvested by the corporation into electrical infrastructure. I submit to Members, that is occurring.
The bill goes a few steps further, and I will come to that. The value of the bill, by infringing on the policies of the corporation now and insisting that everything be reinvested into capital infrastructure, whether it needs it or not, does not necessarily constitute a sound business decision.
The Member is correct in that the bill does not only suggest capital infrastructure, but also suggests lowering electrical rates and possible equalization. I want to question that principle with the Member.
Members opposite are the first ones to attack any form of subsidy that may be suggested by this government. That is one point.
There is a view, territorially, that people should more fully pay for the cost of the service they are getting. The Member is suggesting in his bill that if we do have some money in the corporation that is not required for capital upgrading, it should be used to reduce rates. The fact of the matter is that that is fine if there is an extra million dollars or two. If one does not have that money in a subsequent year and there are some other cost increases that occur - and they always do - you then have the impact of a rate shock. What this utility has been able to do is minimize those rate shocks through its policies.
This is a fact; it has been a fact in the last four and one-half years of utility management. Creating a situation where an artificial rate is established and then withdrawn causes an economic handicap.
As I have previously pointed out to Members, the board of the corporation has a current policy of no dividend payment in the foreseeable future. They have directed that the available rate of return funds are reinvested, either into electrical upgrading, electrical technology or into those kinds of activities that will address our electrical needs for the future.
Speaking of electrical needs for the future, I believe that our strategic plan, which was tabled in this House a while back, indicated that during the 1990s, we would require some 16 additional megawatts of power. Naturally therefore, the planning exercise of the utility focused around that long-term need. One major initiative undertaken by the corporation was the demand-side management program - demand-side management meaning, of course, that you institute a consciousness in consumers; you initiate programs that reduce consumption. In other words, because creating new electrical generation costs so much, it makes economic sense to reduce the amount of new generation required. As a rule of thumb, to build one megawatt of power capacity costs somewhere around $5-8 million; therefore, by reducing the consumption by one megawatt, effectively $5-8 million will be saved. So, it made good sense to be very aggressive about reducing the consumption by people, so, by extension, the need to build new capacity is reduced.
We anticipated, in the program we introduced about a year or a year and one-half ago, that we would be able to reduce the amount of new electricity required, some 16 megawatts, by five megawatts. That was the rough calculation. In other words, we would still need 11 megawatts of new capacity. In the last several months, we have been absolutely shocked by what is occurring out in the consumer marketplace. The reduction of consumption by people tells us that we have the potential of reducing that new generating capacity by something like eight megawatts, as opposed to five. Right there, that is over a $20 million saving, so it was a smart move in my estimation for us to very aggressively market reduced consumption and introduce things like the power saver - shower heads, and the like. I understand also that a number of other programs are in store and are expected to be announced in due course.
What this translates into is the expectation in the 1990s of having to create only some eight new megawatts of capacity. Over the past couple of years, nearly $25 million of capital expenditure was invested for some baseload capacity. Members will recall that there was an additional diesel plant put into the Whitehorse-Aishihik-Faro system -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I agree with the Members comment, but I want to come back to the pollution issue.
There is, I believe, a two megawatt plant being put into place in Faro that will be able to help baseload capacity. What this translates into is that our expectation of a need for new capacity for the 1990s is more in the order of two to three megawatts. Those are the facts of the matter. Because of our demand-side management program and because of some of our baseload installations, we are only left with between two and three megawatts of new capacity that we expect to have to put in place for the 1990s.
We cannot anticipate whether or not there are more major mines coming onstream. We are talking to a number of mines - Brewery Creek, Williams Creek, Grew Creek and Mt. Skukum - regarding their needs. We have a fairly good handle on which of these mines may go, and when they are going to go, so we can react very quickly to this.
The point I am making is that demand-side management works, our need for new capacity is actually quite small, and the capital reinvestment by the corporation has been addressing those particular needs.
I think that is something that will be the focus of some public attention in the next month or so, because the utilities will be appearing before the utilities board with their capital plans for the next period of time.
It is of some interest that one of the new hydro developments that is being contemplated is at Drury Creek, which will connect into the Whitehorse-Aishihik-Faro system. It has a two and one-half megawatt potential and, at this stage, will meet the new requirements of the system.
With that kind of general overview of the corporation, clearly, reinvesting in the energy requirements of the territory for the next decade is good management. Combined with the fact that our energy rates have not drastically increased - they have increased significantly less than inflation - also tells me that sound management is governing the direction of that corporation.
The Member spoke at some length about political interference and undertook to recycle some of the Question Period rhetoric about board composition. Allow me to make some comments on that.
I, too, will recycle some of the comments that I have emphasized in the past on this issue. We have achieved what has never been achieved before in our structure of boards and committees in the territory. We have reflected in the composition of those boards and committees the broad cross-section of community interest that is reflective of the Yukon at large. We have brought to those boards a balance of interests and a balance of representation through the people who sit on those boards. We have achieved gender balance and have been able to address rural/urban balance. We have been able to address business and environmental interests. We have been able to address specific community interests. I believe that we have been very successful in achieving the kind of fair representation on boards that more truly reflects the kind of community interest that exists in the Yukon.
The same is true of the Yukon Development Corporation. The Member suggests that there are not business interests on that board; that is not so. At least five of the board members have broad business backgrounds. On that board we have the balance of community interests, business interests, labour interests, rural and urban interests, and we have a gender balance. Those are credible features.
I am beginning to resent the character assassination that Members are undertaking of one particular member. I do not like it.
The Members talk about the terrible record of the Yukon Development Corporation. I have just spent about 40 minutes talking about that record as being one of sound management, stable electrical rates and wise investment. I question why Members are choosing to take arguments they have put forward repeatedly for the past four years, as I remember, and coming back to the House time and time again with the same ones.
Members have said that the Watson Lake sawmill was a bad investment. I have spoken about why that happened. It is something that has now occurred three and five years ago. It has absolutely no bearing on rates. They ignore the old college renovations project: under budget, ahead of schedule, well done and a sound investment.
They refer to the Taga Ku project. The jury is still out on that one. The Taga Ku project has a tremendous potential to address major economic concerns of this community. There is no question that that office space, hotel complex and convention centre project has the potential for immeasurable benefit to Yukon consumers in terms of addressing the tourism market, creating employment, attracting new dollars to this economy, stabilizing the business community and providing office and retail space. The potential for economic value from that project is not something one should treat lightly. One does not reject a $43 million investment.
As I have explained to Members, the proponents of the project have every intention, at some point in the near future, to proceed with it. I cannot speak to the issue on their behalf.
I think our position has been fairly clear on the matter. In order for any additional government assistance to be given to the project, beyond what the Yukon Development Corporation has provided to the Champagne/Aishihik First Nation, it has to be in the form of guaranteed full financing. There has to be irrevocable certainty that the money is there for the project to conclude. That would be sensible; that would be wise. At this point, to say that it was a bad investment, that it should never have been done, and that the economic benefits to the community from the project should be disregarded, is not worthy -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Byblow: The Member says that other guys would already be in operation. Well, I did not hear of a parallel project to the Taga Ku one. If the Member has some proponents who are interested, send them over.
I will not dwell at any great length on Totem Oil, because I do not think that the Members opposite have been able to make an adequate or successful case that what was undertaken here was anything less than sound. The Members opposite supported this government in recognizing that fuel prices in the territory were artificially high, in recognizing Judge Heino Lilles report, which pointed out the stranglehold and monopoly that exists in Skagway; that there was an absence of a free, competitive marketplace.
We have addressed the very problem that existed in the Yukon, where we did not have a real open, competitive marketplace. What we have been able to do is open up that marketplace through the simple agreement of a loan tied to conditions.
However you cut it, you cannot deny that the benefit of $13 million being retained in the Yukon to recycle in our economy, to be used for other economic purposes, economic stimulus, jobs, tourism and industry encouragement and service development, has to be a smart move.
I am quite excited about the potential of what is occurring here. That does not reflect terrible, terrible management; it is smart economics.
I could go on at length talking about the benefits of the Development Corporations efforts in the economy, in electrical rates, in encouraging a more stable environment here in the Yukon.
It comes to mind that the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Development Corporation have done a substantial amount of work in support of the fish hatchery in Whitehorse and developing a salmon hatchery at Mayo. It comes to mind that the corporation is wrapping up a deal with a local entrepreneur to encourage the wood chip market in Whitehorse and area, with the potential for an export market.
The corporation is involved in many other energy initiatives. The simple facts of the matter are that in relation to this bill, the revenues from investments that are being made by the corporation are being reinvested in the Yukon. They are being reinvested to the benefit of the Yukon. They are strategically wise and economically supportable, and they have, if anything, a favourable effect, ultimately, on the rates.
I am not going to be supporting this bill.
I believe that the mandate of the corporation is fairly clear, and I will be bringing something to the House, I hope, before we adjourn if we do not adjourn too soon. I believe the mandate, policy guidelines and decisions of the board of directors are carrying us in very good stead toward fulfilling the original purpose of that corporation.
Mr. Devries: I rise to speak in support of this bill, and I hope we can convince some of the Members opposite that it would be a good idea to support the bill.
I was reluctant to mention the Watson Lake sawmill, but the Minister just kept going back to it and back to it, so I am inclined to say a few things about it. As the Minister well knows, the riding I represent still bears many of the scars of the results of this valiant attempt to get into the sawmill business; at the time, I, myself, thought it was a great idea, too. For the short while when I was superintendent there, I must say that it was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life and it is one of the contributing factors that leads me to stand here and say that government should not get involved in business to the depth it did with the sawmill.
If I am ever asked today what the government attempted to do for Watson Lake, I would say that getting into the sawmill was too big of a project. It would have been much better to go on a smaller scale. Hindsight is always a better viewpoint, and one gets insight into things that one would not have if one had not done it in the first place.
One thing I also learned from that operation is that one cannot make something work that is not supposed to be there.
I think it proved one thing: a sawmill of that size does not fit into the plans that nature has for Watson Lake. There is room for a forest industry in Watson Lake but not on the scale that was attempted by the Yukon Development Corporation.
If we look at what we had when it was over, there is still a question of exactly how much was spent there - anywhere from $12 million to $16 million. It basically cost us another half a million dollars to get rid of it. The asset that was left over by the time it was all over, was another half a million dollar debt.
There is no doubt that the sawmill did put some food on the tables of some people, but this was for a very short period of time. The sawmill also created a major disruption in the life of Watson Lake. Perhaps, if free enterprise had been given the opportunity to take over instead, this major disruption would not have happened in our lives.
When I look at the way in which the Yukon Development Corporation is being operated now, it reminds me of a retired cowboy, and I can relate to that. I am sure my colleague from Kluane can relate to that as well. I used to work in a cow-calf operation. If you keep giving the calf crop to the neighbour - which seems to be what the Yukon Development Corporation is doing at times - pretty soon all the bulls and cows become old and they just cannot do what they are supposed to do anymore. Eventually, you start running out of calves. You have to keep building on your herd to maintain the increased costs as time goes on.
The Minister talks about the potential of the Taga Ku project. The way I understand it, this money was given to the Taga Ku project without really ensuring that the senior financing was in place.
I have had some very in-depth discussions with people who were very involved with the Yukon Development Corporation at the time that idea was first brought up.
The riding I represent has also experienced a 25-percent billing increase in the last year in electrical rates. Again, the Minister will say that it was not as much as it was in 1985 or 1986.
The crux of the thing is that when NCPC was taken over by the Yukon Development Corporation, Yukoners were paying three times too much for their power. They were paying three times as much as a person living in Ontario and getting power from Ontario Hydro at that time.
The mandate of the Yukon Energy Corporation should have been that by 1990, Yukon energy rates were one-half to three-quarters what they were at that time in order to get the economy going and making energy rates more acceptable to Yukoners.
I appreciate the Minister briefing me on the Totem Oil deal yesterday. My phone has also been ringing off the wall this morning while I was trying to prepared this speech. I got a lot of calls from people in rural Yukon. I would like to talk to the Minister about this in greater depth at some other time. The rural Yukoners were asking why this government is investing our tax dollars in an American company; that seems to be the number one objection. The number two objection is that they feel that the majority of the benefits are going to go strictly to the Whitehorse consumers.
Rural Yukon already has higher food prices than has Whitehorse, and Whitehorse has among the highest in Canada. Meanwhile, the Watson Lake grocery store, for example, continues to pay $100,000 annually for electrical energy - about $30 for every hour the store is open. With a four or five percent markup, they have to sell $1200 worth of groceries before they get their $30.
I am sure the Member for Hootalinqua would love to have that power bill at his store.
This $30 is added to the already high transportation costs, taxes and wages. We have potential increased costs as a result of the new labour standards legislation, although I see that it has been watered down considerably.
Who pays for this? The consumer and all the people I have just talked about have to pay for this before they can put food on their plate. It does not matter what wage scale the consumer is in, whether they are on social assistance or a wage earner. All these higher energy rates make it harder for consumers to meet their personal needs, as well as the needs of their family.
We see the government and the Yukon Development Corporation getting involved in another potential bottomless pit. The Minister states that, if something goes wrong, the Yukon Development Corporation has access to a modern, high-tech fuel terminal. If something goes wrong with this project you are going to have exactly the same thing that you had at the Watson Lake sawmill: something that is worth $1.00, and you are out $2 million. Where is the security for the loan when all you have are a bunch of empty tanks and a few rusty pumps sitting in the United States with nothing for them to do?
The Minister says we should see 50 cents per litre gas at the pumps in less than a year. However, there is a hitch to that, provided exchange rates and crude prices stay at present levels.
Since January 1, we have seen crude prices increase by 15 percent, and these prices have not yet reflected on the price of fuel at the pumps, nor has Totem Oil been affected by these prices, as there are always storage facilities at the refineries, et cetera. We are going to see this catch up to us in the next few months, so I question the 50 cents.
Rural Yukoners in my riding ask how this will affect them. These people are at the end of the Totem Oil line, because we are about as far from Haines as you can get in the Yukon, other than Old Crow. However, we are at the beginning of the Fort Nelson-Edmonton southern haul line. The Watson Lake bulk plant and some people down there are saying that, if there are decreased Whitehorse volumes passing through Watson Lake, this could result in an increase in our landed cost. Naturally, as volumes decrease, hauling prices increase due to the lower volume. The purchasing power of the people who are hauling fuel in is lowered, so automatically there is an increase in price due to the lower purchasing power.
I personally hope, and I say this with all sincerity, that the Ministers predictions on this Totem Oil deal take place, but my gut feeling is that things are not going to go so well. A very good example is that all winter Rancheria has been selling gas for a good five cents less than it sold for in Watson Lake, and I have been gassing up there. It just seems to be the trend of Yukoners, and we see it in Watson Lake: people are not always going to the pumps where it is the cheapest. People in the Yukon have real habits. They love to go to the service station they are used to going to - whether it is the girl at the counter or the man at the pumps, I do not know, but we are a very habit-type people.
I still hold the notion that the number one priority of the Yukon Development Corporation should be to provide an affordable, reliable, accessible energy supply. We see the government taking an initiative in this direction with the recent mining energy-assistance program; again, this comes out of economic development, and I still question why the Totem deal was not handled by Economic Development instead of Yukon Development Corporation. I feel that, if Yukon Development Corporation had the opportunity to focus entirely on the energy needs of the Yukon, they would be able to do a much better job.
I also feel that this bill will keep us, the politicians, from meddling in the YDC affairs. By passing this bill, we give the YDC a clear mandate to focus all their energy toward giving us, the Yukon consumers, the maximum potential benefits of our untapped energy resources. If this government wants to invest in other economic projects, there are the other avenues, as we have seen with the Curragh bill.
I wish to reiterate that this government should be listening to the voice of Yukoners. I hear Yukoners all over the territory saying that Yukon Energy should look after Yukons energy needs. Let the Yukon Development Corporation focus on that. That is what we want.
If the government is truly listening to Yukon people, they will vote in favour of this bill. If that is not good enough, then I think that Members opposite should just support this bill to keep everyone from being on the Ministers back all the time.
The Minister keeps talking about rates. Again, I wish to reiterate: the rates were too high in 1987. The Yukon Development Corporations mandate, when it took over NCPC, was to get those rates down so that they would be at acceptable levels for Yukoners. That is what they should be doing.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I would like to say to the Member who has just spoken that if it was simply as easy as supporting an Opposition Members motion for the sole purpose of keeping the Opposition quiet, this would not be a measure that would have great effect. We have discovered that virtually every proposition that we take into the Legislature is criticized by the Opposition. To simply cave in on the basic principle that that would be sufficient to keep the criticism from flowing would, obviously, not be a wise move.
For all the eloquence, craft and the wit in the remarks of the Member for Hootalinqua, I would suggest that he was probably too crafty and wily by half in his analogy of the lawyer presenting a case. He was presenting what I would typically refer to as a case that only a person who knows the craft of the profession would present. He certainly presented only information that would support his case and forgot - perhaps he did not forget, but he certainly ignored - information that might be somewhat damaging to his case.
On the other hand, the Member for Watson Lakes truthfulness and candour was quite disarming.
It is to some of those remarks I would prefer to respond, because they were more heartfelt and less the result of the craft and the wile of a Member of the Legislature who is a lawyer - the kind of thing that was presented by the Member for Hootalinqua.
The Member for Watson Lake indicated that he felt the Watson Lake sawmill project was a valiant attempt at getting the sawmill started and, in his view, a great idea to initially get involved. Then, things went sour and, ultimately, caused consternation in the Town of Watson Lake.
Its speech concluded that, on this basis alone, the government should not get involved in business because, to do so, it may end up in a situation much like the situation in Watson Lake.
With all due respect - and I understand the Members perspective on this point - I must say that I have to disagree with that timid approach. It was not a timid approach that got Curragh Inc. started in Faro; it was not a timid approach that has been moving to improve rural economies to the extent that we have. If one were to simply shy away from any possibility of controversy or failure, we would condemn the territorial economy to the sort of situation that was occurring prior to 1985, where the government decided to do nothing on the economy in ideological terms alone - take no risks and suffer no consequences.
As a government, perhaps they were not suffering much in the way of consequences, but the economy was suffering severe consequences as a result of that inaction. The fact that we have been successfully living with the results of major mines being in operation, both at Faro and Watson Lake, should be testimony to the fact that, sometimes, some risks are worth taking.
If the government does not get involved, in most cases, nobody else will.
It is only we who have faith in ourselves and our communities. We cannot expect large banking organizations to have that faith - they never do. The Member for Watson Lake should know that particularly well because of the lack of support that banks - and even CMHC - have traditionally had in providing housing mortgages to communities like Watson Lake, as simple as that would be. That kind of timid approach will not carry this economy forward at all.
As much as we dislike and try to avoid failed attempts to improve the economic infrastructure in the territory, we cannot afford to shy away from possible controversy in our dealings in this Legislature and our actions as a government.
I realize that the time is getting on. Having listened to the debate this afternoon, and having read in Hansard the debate on Bill No. 103 during the last session, I must say that I find that nothing new has been presented. There is not one single original thought that has been presented to this House. There is not one new insight or witticism. It is all the same, tired stuff. I think it would be appropriate to allow some of the time of this afternoons agenda to be dedicated to the motion that has been put forward by the Independent Alliance, which is a brand new subject. I will see what I can do to assist that motion coming forward for debate. I will get to that in a moment.
The part of the motion that I would like to key in on this afternoon is the section that deals with the appointment process to the boards and committees. A couple of weeks ago, I did not get an opportunity to present my position with respect to the so-called patronage, or gravy-train, for government appointees that Members opposite were promoting. That was a real shame, because there were some grossly hypocritical things being said that were not being countered effectively, in my view.
I wanted to put some things on the record that would help to provide a more balanced perspective when we are talking about the appointment procedures, the appointment process and the results of the appointments before this Legislature.
Both today and a couple of weeks ago, the Members opposite have been saying that what disturbs them the most about the Yukon Development Corporation is the fact that there are a number of people on the Yukon Development Corporations board who are associated with, or who are considered to be openly friendly to the Government of Yukon. This ought not to be a surprise to the Members opposite because the board is, in law, an agent of the government. Clearly, one would expect that there would be some sympathy of view between the board and the government. Nevertheless, the Members opposite have been alleging that the people who have been appointed are firstly - as the Member for Porter Creek East has stated - incompetent, and secondly and jointly, that they are associated with the governing party; consequently, they basically have no right to be on the board, which board should be at arms length from the government.
One would take from that that the Members were speaking, after having been in government for seven years - even the Member for Hootalinqua was Government Leader for a mercifully short time - one would think that the Members opposite would be taking the position that would be consistent with the practice that they were undertaking during the period that they were in government. This would mean, of course, that the boards and committees that they had appointed were constructed of a fine balance of various interests. There would, presumably, be equal numbers of women and men on all boards; there would be a rural/urban balance on the boards; there would be a good political balance; there would be a few New Democrats and a few Progressive Conservatives, as they were called in those days, and some Liberals on the boards.
There would presumably be some aboriginal people, in association with the number of aboriginal people who are represented in this territory, in proportion to those numbers.
One would think that, having had such a profoundly good record, they would be criticizing this government for its record of having a number of New Democrats, or people who are associated with, or friendly to, the government, on their boards.
I briefly mentioned the other day that I had the opportunity to go back to the Boards and Committees Handbook, and refresh my memory of the sound and excellent record of the Progressive Conservative government in 1985, at the time the Member for Hootalinqua was the Government Leader. I wanted to refresh my memory of who had been appointed to what in those days, and to try and see what good practice was all about. After all, if they were criticizing us for what we are doing now, we ought to be emulating what they were doing then, when they actually had the ability to do something themselves.
I was shocked and dumbfounded. I thought there was going to be a good political balance on the board; I thought there was going to be an equal number of men and women on the board; I thought the aboriginal population on the boards and committees was going to be in association with the proportion of native people who live in the territory; I thought the Members opposite would not have dared to appoint party presidents, principal secretaries, ex-Conservative MLAs, Conservative campaign chair persons, ex-Conservative candidates, their own personal staff or party executive members. They would not have done any such thing on those boards.
I thought that would be the case, because they had been sanctimoniously standing in this Legislature and talking about a couple of appointments we had made to the Yukon Development Corporation board, because one of those appointments happened to be the NDP party president. I thought they were delivering this from a position of strength. They were doing no such thing.
The reality is, and I must say this and qualify it somewhat, because I have to admit that I am not perfectly familiar with the Conservative Party membership, so I can only give names of those people whom I know personally to be associated with the Conservative Party, either on the executives or as candidates or MLAs.
On that one snapshot moment, 1985, the Member for Hootalinqua, the Government Leader, the leader of the government - there were no less than three Conservative Party presidents on boards - all of them were chairs of boards. The principal secretary for the Member for Hootalinqua was a chair of a board. This is all at the same time. There were four ex-Conservative Party MLAs on the boards; there were three Conservative campaign chairpersons on the boards; there was a handful of ex-Conservative candidates on the boards; there were political staff of the Executive Council Office on the boards - but that was not difficult in those days, as Members will remember that every policy person in the government was on the Executive Council Office political staff, for a short time at least. There were even Conservative Party member executives on the boards. There was not a single New Democrat chairing any board - not a single one.
I want to make one thing clear: many of the people whom I have just now cited, who were on the boards then, are still on the boards. Some of them are very capable people and those people are still on the boards. The Members opposite are saying that when the New Democrats appoint somebody to the board who is sympathetic with their politics, including a party president - one party president, nothing like the three Conservative Party presidents who were on the boards then - that is sufficient justification for Members opposite to call it patronage, and that that is sufficient justification for Members opposite to criticize this government for appointing people because they are NDP members or are sympathetic with the government, and to say as well that they are consequently incompetent. That is slanderous, to say the least, but of course, being Members of this House, they are living under the cloak of protection by the House.
The reality is that during the last five or six years balance has become the order of the day when it comes to appointments to boards and committees that are the responsibility of the Government of Yukon.
Right now, there are at least 10 territorial boards - they are not committees - that are chaired by prominent Conservatives or Liberals in this territory and we are proud to have them on those boards. I will guarantee you one thing: I will never, ever come into this House and slander their good names, as the Members opposite have tried to slander the names of people who are sympathetic with the government and have volunteered to serve on public boards. I will never slander their names because it is unethical and it is wrong.
Some of those boards being chaired by prominent non-New Democrats - prominent people who associate themselves with Conservatives or Liberals - are Crown corporation boards.
This government has a record that is nothing like the Conservative government that was led by the Member for Hootalinqua. This government is absolutely nothing like it. We have the same or similar number of boards in this territory.
They make it sound as though there is a new industry out there. There were 65 boards when the Conservatives were in government and there are 69 boards now. That is real industry growth.
A substantial number of those boards have a large number of Conservative and Liberals on them, and we are proud to have them. I can guarantee you, that as long as we are in government, there will be political balance on all our boards in years to come, despite the best efforts of the Members opposite.
The Members opposite take great credit for their record. They were virtually all Conservatives. The Member for Porter Creek East even mentioned, in response to a question asked by the Member for Whitehorse West, that the reason why there were so many Conservatives and so few New Democrats on any boards - and virtually every board was either chaired by Conservatives, such as a PC party president or principal secretary or former Conservative MLA - was because it was hard to find somebody who did not hold a Conservative Party card. I do not think the Member was looking hard enough. The next year, they were thrown out of office.
Both in 1985 and today, we have made a conscious effort to ensure that there is a political balance on the boards and that the people appointed are good, capable and meritorious people. The reasons why we have shown concern about the appointment procedure proposed by the Members opposite - that every appointment for boards and committees should come through the Legislature and become a matter for public debate - is because of the vicious personal attacks that they have leveled on the Yukon citizenry and anyone who might be associated with the government. We do not want to put the public, or those individuals, through this. It is certain that they will viciously attack anyone they think might be associated with the government and will say nothing about the two PC party presidents who are still chairing boards. The principal secretary for the Member for Hootalinqua, for example, is still chairing a board. There were four former PC MLAs on boards, two of which still are, such as the PC campaign chairperson. Is this not political patronage? Oink, oink. Give us a rest.
With respect to the Yukon Development Corporation, the people opposite - and I use that term loosely, albeit with respect - are looking for an opportunity to speak. Certainly they will have plenty of opportunity. They have already taken more than a reasonable amount of time expressing their balderdash. They can probably give me a few moments to speak, given that I do not heckle when they are speaking.
One of the issues that has come forward today, which I think is timely and I will respond to briefly, is the issue of the Totem Oil project.
Members opposite expressed surprise at the government initiative that would encourage more competition in the local marketplace, lower fuel prices and open port facilities to all comers. There is nothing new about this particular government initiative.
Five or six years ago when we were negotiating the opening of the Skagway road, I stood in this Legislature on a number of occasions, and very clearly indicated what our policy objectives were going to be within the coming years with respect to improved transportation links with other ports of call.
It was patently obvious to anyone with a brain in their head, that the marine transportation haul route was the cheapest bulk haul route available to the majority of the Yukon market. Further, if we were going to ensure and encourage dynamic economic activity in the Yukon, we would have to ensure that this haul route included road networking, port facilities and the marine transportation link. We had to ensure that all of these routes were not only fully competitive, but that there was an opportunity for a variety of carriers to use them in order to ensure that transportation costs were kept to an absolute minimum.
For the sake of Yukon consumers, we made this policy objective very clear in 1986 and we pursued it in the first instance by opening the Skagway road for year-round transportation.
Subsequently, after the fuel price inquiry, it was again obvious that the Whitehorse-Skagway, and Skagway south marine haul was by far the cheapest transportation route available to Yukoners.
If this route was to be truly cost-competitive, then it had to be run in a competitive environment. Port facilities that were privately owned did not offer that opportunity by themselves, and no other port facility had the same kind of fuel and docking facilities that would allow for appropriate competition with the port of Skagway.
The decision was made at that time that there had to be competition, and the competition had to be open. It had to be available to every comer. That is the reason the initiative was made to consider the port of Haines.
One might ask why we would consider an American port - why do we have to have any dealings with American port facilities? It is pretty obvious that even White Pass, a good Canadian company, must have truck and trade with Americans because they, too, have to go through an American port, and they, too, have to deal with Americans. And they, too, purchase fuel where they can get it the cheapest, which, at times, does include Seattle. Apparently, the criticism of cross-border shopping, in the fuel business, at least, is a long-standing practice in this territory.
The bottom line, then, is that in order to have a truly competitive environment with the lowest possible cost of transportation for Yukon consumers, so that any savings that could be achieved as a result of cheaper transportation routes could be applied back into our local economy, thereby creating more value-added activity in the territory and more jobs in the territory, there had to be some work done to see other facilities developed - if not in Skagway, then in Haines.
The proposal the Member for Faro presented yesterday, which promoted increased competition in the Yukon petroleum market, was done for consumers. It was also done to encourage more economic development in the territory through the springing loose of funds that were otherwise leaking to the head offices of oil companies elsewhere, as well as to ensure that fuel pricing in the territory could be done on a more competitive basis in the future.
A number of Members have pointed out that there is no guarantee, even with the number of people in the marketplace now, that prices will always be truly competitive, and they are probably right about that. It will be competitive for the next two years, because that is the nature of the deal that has been struck with Totem Oil. Subsequent to that, it may not be as competitive.
At least we can say, as a government, that when it comes to developing economic infrastructure to encourage competition, we no longer have a situation where the best of the transportation routes - meaning the marine haul, in terms of cost - is in the hands of only one player in the industry. As good a player as they are, and as long-standing a corporate citizen as they are in the territory, there is no substitute for that competitive environment when it comes to ensuring that there are other transportation opportunities.
Over the next few days, there will be plenty of opportunity to discuss this project further. It certainly appears that there is plenty of interest to understand more of the details. It will be an appreciated opportunity to get a clear indication from Members opposite on whether they support the deal or not. If they do not support the deal, then they, too, will pay the consequences with the voters, come election time.
The Member for Porter Creek West says that is what it is all about. Well, that is what everything we do in this Legislature is all about. Everything we do. It has nothing to do with buying votes. It has everything to do with good public policy and differences of opinion, standing on principle and being recognized for accomplishments. That is what it is all about, and that is what the next election and every election in the future is going to be based on: accomplishments and failures. Where does one stand? What does one support or not support? That is what the Members opposite are continually presenting to us as the grand equation - to support or not to support things.
We are responsive to the public; we are responsible to the voters, and the voters do care about petroleum prices and diesel prices. If there is something in our power to lower those prices and encourage a competitive environment, I would like to be counted as one person who would advocate that the government try to accomplish that objective. If the Members opposite do not feel that is worthwhile accomplishing, then they should say so up front. It is a clear equation.
A lot has been said about the Yukon Development Corporation and the Watson Lake sawmill and electrical bills and all that sort of thing. The Member for Watson Lake certainly was courageously honest in expressing his own personal views about the Watson Lake sawmill, and I appreciate those views, because I think it is an accurate picture of what a lot of people were thinking when the project went forward. It is clear to me that there is not much more I can add to the debate that would sway people one way or another because, clearly, positions have been taken and no one is likely to be swayed by argument.
However, as I mentioned at the beginning, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this debate has gone on before, only a few short months ago. Members of the Independent Alliance have presented another motion that deserves time and I know that, if this bill is ever called again, the Premier would like to be present to debate it.
Enough people on the opposite benches have taken his name in vain that he should be here to debate the motion.
Consequently, I would like to move for adjournment of debate until such a time as it is called again and people have an opportunity to speak. We can move to something that is new and fresh, presented by the Independent Alliance.
I move the debate be now adjourned.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Government Services that debate be now adjourned.
Motion to adjourn debate agreed to
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Clerk: Motion No. 7, standing in the name of Mr. Nordling.
Motion No. 7
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Member for Whitehorse Porter Creek West
THAT it is the opinion of this House that all profits from the Yukon Liquor Corporation should be used to combat alcohol and drug abuse in the Yukon, in addition to funds presently being allocated for that purpose.
Mr. Nordling: I thank the Member for Mayo for moving us along to this motion that has been on the Order Paper before, but did not get to be debated.
As we have approximately 40 minutes before our time for debate is up, I will not take much time at all. Perhaps other Members who have something to say will do so quickly so that we can vote on this motion. That way, the direction of this Legislature will be given to the government to consider, and I hope it will make a real effort to implement the motion.
The motion requests that profits from the Yukon Liquor Corporation be used, in addition to monies budgeted already, to combat alcohol and drug abuse in the Yukon.
The budget of the Yukon Liquor Corporation indicates a total revenue, broken down into two sections. The first is the corporate net income, which is estimated for 1992-93 to be $3,990,000.
The second portion of the profit from the Liquor Corporation is liquor tax, which is $2,640,000. I am asking that the corporate net income be allocated.
I have no problem with the liquor tax going into the governments general revenues to be used for the good works and the provision of services that people demand and that governments are obligated to provide. But, we have approximately $4 million that is simply net income from liquor sales.
There is no way that we are going to accomplish prohibition in the Yukon, which would do away with the terrible alcohol problem that we are faced with. We have an attempt at that being tried at the present time in Old Crow. I wish them success. In my opinion that success may be achieved in the environment of Old Crow and in that remote location, but it would be absolutely silly to attempt it throughout the Yukon.
We do have alcohol and we recognize the problem. The government takes it upon itself to control the sale of liquor in the territory. As the controlling body of liquor sales in the Yukon, the government also has the responsibility to deal with the problems caused by alcohol.
Alcohol in the Yukon costs us millions and millions of dollars per year in medical bills, the administration of justice, damage to personal property and damage to peoples lives, and there has to be a concerted effort to deal with that problem. We do allocate a considerable amount of money in the territory - and there are programs to deal with this - but what we are doing is essentially holding our own.
We are building a new detox centre - it is not a new de-tox centre, we are replacing the detox centre. Alcohol and Drug Services is presently stuck in the back of the Crossroads building. In my submission, we need millions of dollars worth of facilities to help with these problems. We have been willing - and I do not disagree with it - to spend $10 million for the Arts Centre and the multi-million dollars that we have spent on the college to improve the lives of Yukoners - but the most important thing that needs to be done to improve the lives of Yukoners is to deal with the problem of alcohol and drug abuse.
We need a source of money from this. My suggestion is that it come from the corporate net income of the Yukon Liquor Corporation. That money could be well used to build a residential treatment facility, which would keep Yukoners in the Yukon for treatment. There are many, many Yukoners who must leave the territory for treatment outside in places like Round Lake and Poundmakers, especially the aboriginal peoples. The problem of alcoholism in the territory is big enough to warrant having that type of facility here. It may be a facility to where people could be brought in from the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, and even from Alaska. We could become a centre for dealing with this problem. All it will take is the political will and the money to do it.
The sum of $4 million per year from the Yukon Liquor Corporation would go a tremendous distance toward solving and dealing with those problems for the benefit of Yukoners. We have hundreds of millions of dollars transferred to us from the federal government for other programs. We seem to be able to come up with $5 million to loan to Curragh, Inc. to stabilize and build the economy of the Yukon, and to create a better environment and life for Yukoners; we can come up with $3 million U.S. to loan to an American company to help make life more comfortable for Yukoners; we can invest over $11 million in a sawmill operation in Watson Lake to try to give people jobs and to assist them to feel worthwhile and to build their self-esteem.
There is money for all of those things. My suggestion is - and I would like the Legislature to direct the government to do this, to see if it is possible - to take the corporate net income of the Yukon Liquor Corporation and earmark it for that purpose. I hope that I have the support of all Members on this.
When I first brought the motion forward last December, I noticed that the Member for Whitehorse South Centre and the Member for Old Crow were applauding the initiative. I am not sure whether it was this specific initiative or the initiative to attack and deal with the alcohol and drug problem in the Yukon that they were applauding, but I hope that I have their support in this motion, and that they will approach other Members of their government to try to bring this direction forward as a proposal that will indicate the governments political will and provide substantial funding to attack a substantial problem.
Hon. Ms. Joe: I am also the Minister responsible for the Liquor Corporation, and I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. The Member for Porter Creek West is right in that, when he introduced this motion in the House for the first time, there was some thumping of desks. The concept is certainly not a new one. It is a concept that has been out there for a number of years, and I remember hearing from a former MLA that this would be a good idea. The Member for Porter Creek West has talked about the damage that alcohol has done throughout the Yukon and there is no question in anyones mind that alcohol is the cause of many tragedies in the Yukon.
Throughout the entire court system, the majority of crimes are committed as a result of alcohol abuse; many of our children who are in care are there as a result of alcohol abuse, and many of the women who end up in our safety houses are there as a result of alcohol abuse. Drug and alcohol abuse is rampant in the territory and we are all quite aware of it. We would all like to be able to say that we do have the answers and that the money spent on alcohol should be used for a certain specific purpose.
I have a great deal of difficulty in being responsible for two conflicting departments, one being the Department of Justice, where a lot of our budget is spent on looking after people who come into our care as a result of alcohol abuse - either through the courts or the family violence prevention unit or our other facilities. The money that is being spent and the resources that are available are astronomical and we would certainly like to be able to do things the right way.
The problem that I have in dealing with the conflicting departments is that I understand the difficulties and I understand the money that is going into it; but on the other hand, I am responsible for the corporation and that corporation is there to sell alcohol; it does that, and makes an awful lot of money. I have to be equally aware that those things do happen. Although the government brings in money from the sale of liquor, liquor is also causing many of the problems that I face in my other department.
The idea of dedicating all, or a portion of the money collected by the corporation to finance a specific program or initiative, is not a new one. Currently, it is both the Liquor Act and the Yukon governments conventional budgeting and decision processes that prohibit an affirmative response to the Members motion.
The Liquor Act requires, that, on a monthly basis, the Yukon Liquor Corporation transfer its net revenue to the Yukon consolidated revenue fund. The Member suggests we should use this revenue to promote all of these programs. This revenue is combined with all other budgeted revenue of the government to form the pool of resources it requires to finance the various priorities of the government in a given year. Based upon the level of these resources, government is required to determine the amount that it is able to spend on its various priorities, initiatives and activities.
In the 1990-91 fiscal year, $3.9 million was spent by government and organizations directly on alcohol and drug issues in the Yukon. The Member knows that in our 1992-93 budget, over $4 million will be spent. These are only some direct expenditures. There are numerous indirect expenditures by government, such as: providing counselling; healing circles; aboriginal justice initiatives; new beginnings programs; health promotion; family violence initiatives; and initiatives in schools, such as the PACE program - police assisting community education - sponsored by the RCMP. There are many others that tie into dealing with those people who suffer from alcohol abuse.
It would be wonderful it the government could increase the expenditures on alcohol and drug services by more than 200 percent. It would be equally as wonderful if government could increase its level of service for all of the other programs by the same percentage and amount.
The reality of the situation is, however, that if one wants to increase spending in any particular area, one of two things have to be done: revenues have to be increased to finance the increase or expenditures have to be decreased in one or more other areas. If it was decided that the net income from the Yukon Liquor Corporation were to be fully expended on alcohol and drug services, it would be a difficult decision as to which other programs should receive less financing or which taxes should be increased.
We have many requests from the other side of the House to do numerous things. We also, on this side of the House, are criticized for spending more money. It is very difficult to understand what the side opposite really wants. In the end, it is not a question of whether or not the Liquor Corporations net income should be expended on alcohol and drug services, but whether or not the Member opposite is asking the government to increase taxes. Is the Member opposite asking the government to reduce spending on other programs? I do not know if he is. Perhaps he is looking for a combination of both in order to finance increased expenditures in alcohol and drug services.
The Member knows that we have brought in six budgets with no tax increases. We have not had to cut our social programs, but we certainly have improved on many of them and ensured that alcohol and drug services and other programs have continued on a balanced, cost-shared basis.
Bill No. 44, which was cleared through Committee in this Legislature yesterday, amends the Liquor Act to clearly permit the corporation to make expenditures to promote the reasonable use of alcohol and mitigate the effects of the abuse of liquor. The amendment will allow the corporation to initiate and deliver consumer awareness and support campaigns that have proven to be very effective in other jurisdictions. An example of such a program is the server-intervention program, which trains servers of alcohol their legal liability and responsibility to their patrons. Last year, the corporation launched an FAS/FAE warning label program in August. The Yukon has received much praise from many other jurisdictions in Canada for taking the initiative and going forward with that awareness campaign.
Bill No. 44 will now enable the Liquor Corporation to promote alcohol abuse awareness programs through advertising alerts, television ads, educational programs, consumer awareness and campaigns to support the responsible use of alcohol.
While expenditures made by the corporation in this area will not be in the magnitude of $4 million per year, it is expected that the resources allocated for this purpose will be spent effectively, and will at least, on an interim basis, address in part the concern that the Member has raised.
The Member has talked about the many ways in which we could spend this money that we receive through the sale of liquor in the territory. The Member has talked about such things as a healing centre. I think that a healing centre is something that is needed in the Yukon. The Member for Old Crow and the other Members on this side of the House also support this concept. I think that it is time, because we do have the necessary resources here in the Yukon, that we work toward that kind of a program and offer the same kind of healing resources to those individuals who require it, because in the future we will continue to send our people out to Round Lake Headway House - I think that is the name of it - and Poundmakers, as well as any other facility that is available to them.
It is a great cost to this government, or to the federal government, to do this. We are not able to send as many people out to those facilities as we wish to go through the process of healing and learning about their alcohol abuse.
It is a larger problem than that and I do not know how you deal with packed bars every night. You can drive by bars on the Alaska Highway and see nothing but cars parked at them. I do not know how you deal with those individuals who continue to promote the bars in the Yukon. There is no way that we can prohibit alcohol; we can only work toward trying to improve what we already have in existence.
The Member for Porter Creek West has come up with a possible solution, and that is to use money from the sale of alcohol to do that. As I said, it is a good concept, and people are saying that to me all of the time. But, I think a great deal more has to be thought about in order to look at that concept and there is much more work that has to be done. There is no question that the alcohol problem and alcohol abuse in the territory is a priority with this government, as it was with the former government, and we continue to deliver programs to that effect.
We do not know which programs we have now that are the most effective. We do not know whether or not the Crossroads treatment centre is healing people, or if people continue to go back there for more treatment. I know that has been the case in the past, and we had a revolving door for a lot of the people being sent to Crossroads. They were sent there for many reasons: some because they were facing charges in the courts, and some because they wanted an early release from the corrections facility.
We cannot tell right now. I have seen no review or evaluation done on specific individuals who continue to go through those programs. Are we treating something that is not being done the right way? I know for a fact that many aboriginal people have dealt with their alcohol problems through the healing process - not necessarily sitting around in a circle, but dealing with the problem with the support that has been available to them through other individuals.
I have seen a number of people change their lifestyles a great deal. They are now more responsible in the use of alcohol, or are not using any kind of alcohol at all. Whenever a family member goes through that process, it greatly affects other members of the family, because they work together. If a member in a community has healed themselves through a process, it has a great deal of effect on other people who are close to that person. Over the years, I have seen significant changes in family members - young people I have known for a number of years, who have suffered extreme problems with alcohol abuse and are now helping others through that whole process.
It is not costing millions of dollars to do that. It is something that is being done on their own; it is something I support.
The concept of the motion is good. However, before we decide that the right way to do this is by using the money from the sale of liquor, there are many things we have to take into consideration, and maybe, some time down the road, we will have a plan in place.
There is a small amount of money I can use, through the Yukon Liquor Corporation, to promote certain things. I am not exactly sure what that is going to do. I know we have had calls from Blue Bluffs in Old Crow to provide them with some funding to deal with their people who require some kind of healing, whether it is counselling or taking them into the bush. It is something the judges support. We have had calls from other groups to help them start up or continue a program that they already have that is effective. We do not have enough money to provide all those programs with the financial resources that they need. I would want to be a little bit more informed about what specific programs are needed in the communities. Through that process, we have to look at the programs that are available right now, whether or not they are effective and whether or not there has to be a different way of dealing with the alcohol problem.
Certain things are needed, such as the new detox facility that is being built. I know that sometimes the place is overloaded and they have to refuse some people admittance because there is no room. I continue to be concerned about people whom I see staggering down the street, driving while impaired and forgetting their family responsibilities because of alcohol abuse.
I cannot support the motion in the manner that it is presented, because I think that much work has to be done. We need to know much more about exactly what is needed out there. Spending this money to deal with alcohol problems is a good one, and, in a different time, I might have been able to support it. However, we do not have the kind of information available that we need in order to allow us to simply say we will spend the money on treatment of alcohol abuse. Much more work has to be done in order to make that kind of a decision.
Unfortunately, I cannot support the motion at this time.
Mr. Phillips: I will not be long, but I do have a few words to say about this motion. First of all, the concept is a good one. It is a popular one with the general public, and people feel that, since we make such excessive profits from alcohol sales in the territory and have excessive problems with alcohol abuse, this is a good approach and an avenue we should be exploring.
I have some concerns about the motion. When this money is taken out of the general revenue fund, one has to ask what government programs will be affected. We could suggest a few programs that the government could cut, if they wanted to cut some. A couple of deputy ministers have gone to school, and there are a few other things we could bring up, but we do not want to get into that debate again today. I am sure there are areas where the government could make cuts.
I have to voice some similar concerns to the Minister about taking the money from one program and putting it into the program for controlling alcohol abuse. In my view, the present programs we have in place are not doing an adequate job. There are a lot of problems out there. The problems have not gotten any better in the last few years; they have gotten worse. Obviously, whatever we are doing with the $4 million we are spending, we are not using it in a wise way. Adding another few million dollars to that would not solve the problem.
We have to revisit the whole program of controlling alcohol abuse and addressing it in that manner, so we can spend the money we have more wisely. It is a good idea and it would generate a lot of public support for programs such as this. I could support the concept. I would have liked to have heard from the Member to get more of an idea of how the Member sees this program working, or the extra funds being spent. If another Member of the Independent Alliance is going to speak later, I would appreciate hearing how they are going to address those particular needs.
In the last election of 1989, the Yukon Party talked about increasing the funding for alcohol abuse. We talked about increasing the funding by $2.4 million, over and above the funding allocated at that time.
We had a six-point program where we looked at improving promotion, prevention, treatment and recovery programs to support the struggle to overcome the problems and implement community and development initiatives; increase public understanding of drug and alcohol abuse and its impact on society and the family; identify and alleviate the causes of abuse; and make the fight against abuse a demonstrated priority. Those are general concepts, but if we had something more concrete that we could attach this extra revenue to, it would be supported more by all Members of the House.
I will listen with great interest to the Independent Alliance Members and see if they can give us more substantial reasons why this is a very legitimate program. I do support the objective of the program. I think it is a good objective, but I would like to hear more from the Independent Alliance on how they would see this extra revenue being spent with respect to alcohol abuse and controlling alcohol abuse.
Mr. Brewster: I was not going to get up and talk on this; however, I have listened to this debate and found that I have a couple of things to say.
We continually think that we can vote money in order to get rid of this problem. That is not the answer at all. The money has to be there, but there also has to be a lot of common sense. We have to have more people out working with these people, not in government buildings, and such things as this. You can vote all the money in the world but, unless you get out and understand these people and work with them, you are wasting your time.
Mr. Lang: I want to make a number of observations with respect to the motion before us. I do not think anybody in this House disputes that there is a significant social problem in the territory, whether it be in Whitehorse, Old Crow, Watson Lake or any of the other communities. I think we would all agree that a problem exists. The question is: how do we address that problem?
I share similar concerns, as expressed by the Member for Kluane, on increasing the amount of money without knowing exactly what we are going to do, how we are we going to do it, and how is it going to affect other programs within the budget. If we take from one area, we are going to have to cut in another area, increase taxes, or eliminate a number of other programs. That is the reality.
I would like to follow up a little further on what my good colleague, the MLA for Kluane, talked about, which was the question of just putting money up and saying that is going to solve the problem.
It makes you feel good and everyone can walk out of the room and say, Gee, we just did our job, we just voted an extra million dollars and everything is great. The fact is that there is a social problem that is getting worse, and yet we have been voting more money and providing more programs, either directly or indirectly, to confront that very real social issue out there, of which the Minister of Justice and the Member for Porter Creek West spoke.
I am submitting to the House that maybe it is time for a reassessment of the programs that we have. Instead of saying that we are going to vote more money and add more programming, why do we not look at the programming, from an objective point of view, to see whether or not it is working and why.
It is not only the alcohol and drug programs that we are talking about, there are other aspects of this question. It goes back to the question that we raised in the House the other day. The Member for Porter Creek West raised it: the question of unemployment, or the numbers of people on social assistance.
If you are going to take up drinking alcohol on a continuous basis, that is not an inexpensive sport; it is very expensive. The money has to be coming from somewhere in order for individuals to abuse alcohol in the many ways that it is being abused.
In many cases, of the dollars that are being allocated through a lot of these programs, both federal and territorial, which are eventually going through the system - I might add that these programs are administered at a great deal of expense - eventually a few dollars get through to the recipient.
The fact is, no responsibility or accountability goes along with the money that we, as a society, are providing to help those who are in need of this assistance.
I submit that we also have to look at our social assistance programs, both federal and territorial, and say if a person is going to get X dollars to assist them in their time of need, they should do certain things in order to have it provided to them - in other words, a responsibility and an accountability instead of just having the cheque wind up on somebodys desk or at somebodys home, without there being any accountability.
That, I think, is one of the major problems in society. Politicians and top administrators within government have not had the political fortitude to question the end result, which, in the worst-case scenario, many of these individuals are put into a situation where they get into the social assistance syndrome, receiving these dollars, having all this spare time, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, and what can be expected? Perhaps it is time to look at these things from the perspective of make-work programs. If one looks at the list of those receiving social assistance, I think 44 percent were referred to as single employables.
Why are we not asking them to do something for the money they are receiving from society. It may not be a full day of work, but maybe they could be required to do some public work for a couple or more hours a day, and the balance of the day would be available for them to look for work elsewhere. At least the taxpayer would know they were getting something for the dollars being made available. More importantly, these individuals would be feeling good about themselves; they would know that this is not a free lunch and that they were doing something to earn it. This is not to discount some of the programs we have in place, such as Crossroads, AA - which is not government funded, but is available out there - or some of the Salvation Army programs.
I feel strongly that isolating this particular area and narrowing it down, thinking it will solve all the problems, will not work. There are other variables involved. It is not just a simple social problem that can be met with just putting more money on it.
As my good colleague, the Member for Riverdale North indicated, he is more than prepared to support the principle that the alcohol program be looked at and perhaps expanded, but, at the same time, as he said, we should not be throwing money at it. We have got to know what we are doing with it.
I do not see that many significant steps were taken over the last few years to confront this very real problem. We should be looking at doing a total review of this area, not strictly on an isolated basis where we ask to vote more money just because we happen to have more money in the treasury. If anyone leaves this House feeling better about that, I do not think that you have accomplished anything.
It is safe to say that the one thing that has been done, to some degree, and should be encouraged more is the involvement of the community and family with respect to these individuals who do have a very serious social disease. It is not a funny situation at all. I think we all have friends or relatives who, at one time or another, have been afflicted with alcoholism. I can tell you, firsthand, it is not very funny. It is very serious socially and emotionally for the families involved and that, in turn, translates into the community. It becomes a situation where peoples dignity have been taken away, and they are partially responsible, in that they have put themselves into a situation where they really are not in a position to help themselves.
I say again that, if we are going to be helping these individuals as families, as friends, as government, we must try to instill in them some responsibility. If we review those who have been through the alcohol programs and have eventually managed to overcome their affliction, we will find in most cases that they have taken on some responsibilities because they, themselves, have realized that they had to. In part, if we put more emphasis in that particular area, we would be much better off than we are presently.
Perhaps we could review our programs, in conjunction with the idea expressed by the Member for Porter Creek West, which would speak very well for the Yukon. When was the last real in-depth, objective review done on the results of our programs? How many people were we actually helping? Concern has been expressed in this Legislature. During the time I have been here, there have been very major concerns expressed about the number of individuals who have had to go through the system not once, not twice, but many, many times.
That begs the question: why? If we are providing the service and the programs, then why are we not being successful on at least the first three attempts, recognizing that there is always some social adjustment.
On the question of ear-marking dollars directly for the purpose of a program, I think that it is safe to say that we can agree to it in principle, but the fact and the reality of the situation is that under the Yukon Act you cannot do that. Your money goes to the Yukon consolidated revenue fund and it is a question of whether or not the government has the political will.
I recall that when taxes were put on liquor - back in 1968 or 1970, or somewhere back there - there was a great ballyhoo, and the justification was that the tax from liquor would go toward recreation. In reality, the money went into general revenue and it was a question of the political will of the individuals in this Chamber of the day as to how much was to be voted for what, and it was really primarily decided by the executive wing of the government.
To say that we will balance the proceeds from our liquor receipts with that of our programs is legally not possible. At the same time, we would like to see further emphasis in this area. We feel strongly that we are in a situation here in the Yukon where we do have a problem. In many cases, government intentions are well intended but have not necessarily accomplished the goal or the objectives that have been expressed by the various Ministers of this House, regardless of which government is in power.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: As much as I would like to rush through what is clearly a well-meant motion, I am really worried, given what has been said so far, that Members are going to interpret the position of some Members of this House as being opposed to the principle of the motion.
I am concerned that we may be advocating that an additional expenditure of $4 million, without any program plan or sense of confidence in the existing programs, is something that will make us all feel good about meeting what is obviously a very real problem in our community.
In my community, as well as in some of the communities that I have witnessed in rural Yukon, people are working toward improving the situation with respect to providing more counselling for alcohol and drug abuse. There are a number of programs currently available. Some of these programs are under-utilized. Some of the alcohol and drug workers themselves are under-utilized.
Speaker: The time being 5:30 p.m., the House will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
We will proceed with Government Bills.
Bill No. 13: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 13, standing in the name of the Hon. Ms. Joe.
Hon. Ms. Joe: I move that Bill No. 13, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Minister of Justice that Bill No. 13, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Ms. Joe: The act represents the first major amendments to the Employment Standards Act since it came into effect in January, 1985. The Employment Standards Act sets out the minimum standards for the terms and conditions of employment for thousands of Yukon employees and employers.
It covers such diverse employers as small family operated businesses, large mining operations and municipal governments. Because of this, the act must be broad enough to cover a multitude of workplace situations. At the same time, it must include provisions that deal with issues that are specific to Yukon workplaces.
As I mentioned, the Employment Standards Act first came into effect in 1985. The new act included requirements, such as payment of overtime, general holiday time and vacation pay, which had been part of its predecessor, the Labour Standards Ordinance.
The bill also introduced such measures as maternity leave, equal pay for similar work and notice of termination, or pay in lieu of notice, and set out in a certificate system, both a method of collecting wages and a means of appealing decisions. This new certificate system reduced the need for lengthy and expensive court proceedings.
When these changes were put into effect, an information campaign was implemented to educate both employers and employees as to their legal rights and obligations.
In 1989, a number of amendments to the act were passed. These amendments helped to simplify the wage claim process and to clarify sections that were frequently misinterpreted. There were some new measures introduced, such as those pertaining to associated corporations.
While the 1989 amendments corrected a number of problem areas in the act, their scope was relatively limited. When these amendments were passed in the House, I informed the Members of the House that the department would be conducting a full review of the act in the near future. Since 1989, we have heard from employers and employees alike that parts of the act were either confusing, inflexible or inadequate, given the realities of the Yukon workplace.
As well, developments in other legislation in other jurisdictions and related areas of social policy also pointed out the need for a full review of the Employment Standards Act.
For instance, major changes to the federal Unemployment Insurance Act, in 1990, permitted qualified employees to collect up to 15 weeks of unemployment insurance, while on parental leave. These provisions now apply to male and female, birth and adoptive parents alike.
Under the new Unemployment Insurance Act, employees were able to receive income support to stay at home with their children during restricted time periods, yet they had no legal guarantee under the Employment Standards Act that their jobs would be protected during their absence.
A survey of employment standards legislation across Canada also indicated that for some of the standards the level of protection provided by the Yukons legislation to employees was poor. Specifically, the acts vacation pay and termination provisions were among the lowest in Canada. It also became clear that there were some provisions that would adversely affect employees and that were unique to the Yukon.
For example, the Employment Standards Act contains a provision that could lead to an employee forfeiting one weeks wages for failing to give the required notice of termination. This is not found in employment standards legislation anywhere else in Canada.
All of these factors led to the need for a comprehensive review of the existing Employment Standards Act. A review of the act began with the release of a discussion paper last fall, entitled Reviewing the Ground Rules for the Yukon Workplace.
This discussion paper, in the form of a workbook, was distributed for public comment. The workbook included a summary of the provisions in the current Employment Standards Act, a comparison of our act to other legislation in Canada, and a number of options that could be considered when reviewing the act. We wanted to know what parts of the present act the Yukon public felt needed to be changed and how they felt about the options outlined in the workbook.
Following a review of the comments received on the workbook, draft amendments to the act were distributed to the general public for discussion in late February 1992. The draft amendments were based on the written and oral submissions that were received, and on the opinions which were expressed on the response cards enclosed with the workbook. For example, the workbook discussed options for dealing with pay equity. The responses we received indicated that pay equity should not be included in the Employment Standards Act. We have therefore not included pay equity legislation in the amendments.
As part of the consultation process, the draft amendments were referred to an advisory committee. Its mandate was to review the amendments and to make recommendations to me regarding the shape that the amended act should take. The committee was composed of representatives nominated by employer and employee organizations and was chaired by an official from the Department of Justice. This committee was unable to complete their review of the draft amendments. I would nevertheless like to thank the committee for its efforts. Its members are to be commended for their willingness to take a hard look at how we can make an important piece of legislation reflect not only the needs of the workplace and the marketplace, but also the values inherent in Canadian society.
While the committee had considered a number of key issues, we felt that it was important to ensure that all of the draft amendments were considered in depth by parties outside the government. The draft amendments were referred to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. Business and labour organizations, First Nations, womens organizations and groups concerned with the environment and natural resources are all represented on this advisory body.
The council considered the submissions made by groups and individuals, press clippings and the comments of the advisory committee. It looked at the philosophy of the act and reviewed the amendments on a clause-by-clause basis before it made its recommendations to Cabinet. I would like to thank the councils members for their review of the employment standards amendments. I am pleased that their April 30, 1992 report reflects that they were able to reach consensus on so many issues. Their hard work produced a document whose recommendations form the baseof the draft of the act that is before us today.
The councils report stated that in amending the act, the government must balance the need for fair and reasonable employment standards that parallel those in the rest of Canada, with the demands of current local, regional and global economic conditions. The report cautioned against including leading-edge proposals in the act, due to the fragility of the Yukon economy. The council stressed the need for flexibility in arrangements and benefits, and expressed concerns regarding the dangers of over-regulating. These principles deserved our consideration when drafting this legislation.
The legislation presented here before you today reflects a balance of interests. It is a balance between the rights and needs of employees and the ability of employers to meet those needs. We feel that these amendments are fair and reasonable and will help to provide a more equitable working relationship between employers and employees.
I would now like to discuss some of those amendments in more detail.
A significant number of Yukon employees are employed in positions where their employers base the terms and conditions of their employment on the minimum standards that must be granted according to the law. Some of the amendments, such as the increased vacation leave and pay and increased notice of termination, were proposed with those employees specifically in mind.
The amendments that introduce parental leave will benefit both the employees and their employers. In many Yukon families, both parents work to provide financial support for their households. Parental leave will ensure that they have jobs to return to following that important period during which they stay at home to care for their children. Employers will be assured of retaining experienced employees by having them return to work after such periods of leave. Specific guidelines regarding the leave will help ensure that employers are aware of their options should an employee fail to return from parental leave.
Other amendments, such as provisions for paid time off in lieu of overtime are designed to give employers and employees more flexibility. Overtime hours worked during an employers busy season can be paid out to employees during less busy times of the year. This makes it easier for employers to meet payroll commitments and permits employees to have paid time off. Such amendments change the way employers and employees exercise their legal rights and obligations. Extensions to the time required to pay wages will make it easier for employers to pay employees within the time allotted by law.
Employees will be required to assume more of the onus in acting on their complaints as the time limit for filing wage claims will be reduced from one year to six months.
In a situation which is not an emergency, employees will obtain the right to refuse to work extra hours if their employers have not given them sufficient notice of the requirement to work. While this amendment gives employees new rights, it does not penalize employers whose employees choose to work the extra hours.
Amendments to provisions concerning the fair wage schedule will permit the making of regulations concerning the schedules enforcement and administration. The current section in the act that establishes a fair wage schedule and defines its application has been rewritten to clarify which government construction contracts are subject to the schedule.
Additions have been made to the penalties that can be levied against employers who are convicted of repeat offences under section 96, fair wage rates. This will strengthen the enforcement of the fair wage schedule on government contracts.
In addition to those provisions that have been amended, this legislation Irepeals section 50, which states that employees can forfeit one weeks wages if they fail to give written notice that they are quitting.
They also recommended retaining this provision in the report. They recognized the importance of balancing the penalties imposed on employers who dismiss their employees with the notice provisions relating to employees. They also recognized that there were sections in the act to protect the employee. For example, clause 50 does give the director the discretion to return the wages to the employee under certain circumstances.
Despite these protections, this government is of the opinion that clause 50 is unfair to employees. Employees can ill afford the cost of such a penalty, and this section will, therefore, be repealed. As part of our commitment to being a model employer, we have renewed the section of the act that excluded the Government of the Yukon from the provisions of this act. However, this inclusion will require us to consult with the unions, as well as to review internal policies and procedures and other legislation that affects employees. Therefore, it will not come into effect until January 1, 1995.
These amendments recognize that employers in the Yukon, by and large, are honest citizens who treat their employees fairly; however, protective measures are still necessary.
During the 1991-92 fiscal year, statistics provided by the labour services branch of the Department of Justice, the body that administers the act, show that 243 wage claims were opened, and over $195,000 in wages was collected on behalf of employees. Twenty-two certificates for wages issued against employers were also filed in Yukon Supreme Court during that year.
Unlike the United States, where legislation has set very few standards and has left the majority of working conditions subject to negotiation between the employer and employee, the practice in Canada has been to set standards to cover a much broader range of wages and other issues. This practice reflects a philosophy of taking care of the most vulnerable members of society to the greater benefit of all citizens, rather than one of every one for himself. It recognizes that the employment relationship is not an equal one. Employers hold the power to hire and fire, set wages and determine how and when work will be performed.
Employees bring with them the skills to do that job required by the employer. Without legislated standards, many employees would have no power with which to ask for and receive such basic payments as overtime wages and general holiday pay.
This bill contains an extensive set of amendments and is an ambitious piece of legislation. I feel it will contribute to a more fair and equitable workplace and go a long way toward more clearly defining the rights and obligations of both parties in the partnership that makes up the employment relationship.
Mr. Phillips: I am pleased to be able to rise and speak to this bill at second reading, although I might say that when the bill was tabled yesterday, I did not anticipate having to respond to it so quickly. I will get to that in a few moments.
As we know, the public process that the Minister has told us about here tonight was a matter of very heated discussion last winter. I have been in this Legislature for almost seven years, and it is hard to remember when the public presentation of an issue was so badly handled. Everyone in this House and most Yukoners will admit that we do need good employment legislation to protect the worker. I believe the business community was prepared to take a positive approach in this matter.
Unfortunately, this government did not approach this issue in a responsible way. Let us look at the process from the beginning. The employment standards laws will affect most employees in the Yukon. This Minister, in her wisdom, decided to release the discussion paper right in the middle of December when most employers were up to their necks in the Christmas rush. It is a very difficult time, at that time of year, for employers and even employees to take the time to read this important legislation.
Christmas, whether the Minister knows it or not, is one of the busiest times for employers and employees. The government imposed a very short time for submissions on this new legislation, refusing to give the public more time to look at the proposed changes. I can remember the Minister said that there would be no more time. Then, later, she changed her mind and said that she would accept anything that came in at a later date. Some of the comments that came from the Minister in that process indicated to most people that the Minister was not interested in listening.
The initial discussion paper was, in my view and the view of most business people, the most poorly drafted document I had ever seen. It shows real contempt for how a business would work.
The survey had a loose-goosey questionnaire. It was not necessary to identify yourself as to whether you were a business person or an employee. One person could have filled out a dozen of these questionnaires and sent them in, and maybe some people did.
The business community vigorously protested, and the Minister made statements at her partys convention that she would prevail, no matter what the business community thought. That is a weird form of consultation, but it seems to be the norm for this government, and it is this governments idea of consultation: they listen to those whom they want to listen to.
The Minister says that our employment standards laws are outdated and that we need to improve those standards, and I am not disagreeing with that. What I am concerned about is that the Minister is putting us on the leading edge, and I do not believe that is good for a fledgling economy such as ours.
We are in the process of developing our economy and we should be somewhere in line with the Maritime provinces that are in the same areas, but instead we are on the leading edge of labour legislation.
I think that we should be fair to our employees, while at the same time keeping that same standard of fairness for our employers. After all, without any employers, we are not going to have any employees.
I attended a public meeting at Hellaby Hall hosted by the Minister where many business people expressed concern over the proposed legislation. The Minister brushed off the comments of those business people saying that they were just a bunch of Conservatives. Well, I can tell you something about that meeting: the people attending that meeting were not all Conservatives. They were concerned business people who were worried about how they were going to survive in tough economic times, and some of those business people are experiencing tough economic times, despite what the side opposite thinks. Not all of these people have $100,000 jobs.
The Minister left the meeting, formed a committee. It looked like it was on track for a while; the committee was composed of business and some labour individuals - no private citizens, mind you, just labour people from unions who were on the other side.
The Minister formed the committee, and it was not but a few short days later, about a week later, that the committee broke up because some of the stuff that the Minister had agreed at the meeting would be taken out of the bill was put back into the legislation.
I think that the business people who were at that particular meeting felt that they had been had.
Then, the Minister decided that she did not get what she wanted out of the first committee she formed, so she sent it to another one. They looked around for the one that was most appropriate, and they found one with a former press assistant to the Government Leader, who happened to chair the new Council on the Economy and the Environment. They looked at the committee and found there were not too many people on there who had employees, so they would not be too much of a bother. Therefore, they turned it over to that committee.
I have to give that committee some credit. When I look at the document they produced, they did make some changes. I commend the Minister for accepting some of those changes. However, it is a consensus-forming committee, and that committee could not form a consensus on many items. That is the concern I have.
I have a strong concern about what has happened here. We have one of the most important pieces of legislation to affect business in a long time before us in the House today. This legislation was tabled yesterday afternoon, and this government has insisted that, just over 24 hours later, it wants to push the legislation through second reading, get it in the House and begin discussing it. I believe there are two reasons for that.
One reason is that they did not want to have any business people sitting in the audience today, or anyone else who could actually hear what the Minister was trying to do. So, they ran it through really quickly. I can tell the Minister that I called some businesses today and the Yukon and Whitehorse Chambers of Commerce, as well as TIA Yukon. The only person who had it was the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, and they were going to put it in front of their board on Tuesday morning to examine it.
Here we are, rushing this important piece of legislation through the House to meet the governments agenda. The Yukon Chamber of Commerce has not even seen the legislation yet. It has no idea. The Minister has publicly stated that the Yukon Chamber of Commerce supports the Minister and the legislation.
The Yukon Chamber of Commerce told me today that all they supported was the process, and not necessarily what was in the bill. They thought the process was a good one. I am concerned the Minister is taking that announcement from the Yukon Chamber of Commerce and thinking it is a commendation of her legislation. They have not seen the legislation; hardly anyone in the Yukon has seen the legislation. It is only 26 or 27 hours old.
The other reason I think the Government of the Yukon is going fast with this legislation is because there is nothing on our Order Paper. We are out of work.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Phillips: I asked the Minister today and he said that we had lots of work on the Order Paper. My request was not unreasonable today. Like most important bills that come into this House, we asked for a little time to review it, a little time to let the public who is going to be affected see it; but the Minister said, No darn way. We are going to proceed with this tonight whether you like it or not.
People have examined the principle of the bill.
Hon. Mr. Webster: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Point of order to the Government House Leader.
Hon. Mr. Webster: The Member is speaking nonsense. He fully agreed at a House Leaders meeting this morning at 10 oclock that we would have second reading debate on this bill.
Speaker: Order please. I find that there is no point of order and that it is just a disagreement between two Members.
Mr. Phillips: After I received notice this morning that we were going to proceed with this today, I had an opportunity to call some of the individuals whom this bill will actually affect. That is more than the government did, Mr. Speaker. They did not call anybody because they want this thing to go through as quickly as possible with as little controversy as possible and without bothering anybody.
I called the various chambers and the various business people that this bill would affect, and they said, When was it tabled? Some of the people I spoke with did not even know that it had been tabled. I told them when it was tabled and I told them when we were going to do second reading and they said, Why are they doing that so fast? They asked me if I would ask the government to go slow on it. We are only talking about a number of days. Give us until Tuesday so we can look at the bill. That is not unreasonable with any bill that has been brought into this House. There is not a Member here who can deny that. This is an important bill.
If we have lots of other work to do, like the Minister said, we could be doing that work at this very moment. There is no reason to be debating this bill now. I think that it is ridiculous that we should be going ahead with the bill at this particular time. I am suggesting to all Members of the House that we do the reasonable thing. The Minister said that it is a very important piece of legislation; I cannot agree more. These changes may be totally acceptable to all the groups out there, but let us give them more than 24 hours to look at them.
Motion to adjourn debate proposed
Mr. Phillips: For that reason, I would like to move adjournment of debate on this particular motion.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Opposition House Leader that debate be now adjourned on the bill. Are you agreed? Division has been called.
Speaker: Mr. Clerk, would you please poll the House.
Hon. Ms. Joe: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Webster: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Disagree.
Hon. Ms. Hayden: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Disagree.
Ms. Kassi: Disagree.
Mr. Joe: Disagree.
Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Mr. Phelps: Agree.
Mr. Devries: Agree.
Mr. Brewster: Agree.
Mrs. Firth: Agree.
Mr. Nordling: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are six yea, seven nay.
Speaker: The nays have it. I declare the motion defeated.
Motion to adjourn debate negatived
Mr. Phillips: With all sincerity, I can say that I am really disappointed with that vote and the Members across the floor. I think that the request I made to give another 24 or 48 hours to the business people of this town and the individuals who are concerned about this important piece of legislation a little more time to look at it was not an unfair request. It is obvious now, I think - and it should be obvious to everyone - that this government is going to push this legislation through, no matter what anyone says. No matter what amendments are made, they are going to do it their way and their way only. I suppose that Yukoners are learning that more every day, the way this government operates.
I am just going to touch briefly on some areas of the act that I am concerned about. The first comment I have is that, if you look through the act, there are several references in the act that refer to regulations. Of course, there are no regulations attached to the act. I would like the Minister to table the regulations before we debate the act. I think that it is important that if the Minister is going to pull some of the more controversial areas out of the act, such as family responsibility leave, and not put anything in there about what is going to happen with that, she has a responsibility to bring it in here and not try to put that legislation back into the act through the back door later on by way of an order-in-council.
The 24-hour notice of overtime is left in the act. In a document produced by the Government of Yukon, a comment was made that overtime was simply a demonstration of poor management.
I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. If someone calls in sick or has to go home early in the day and an extra employee must be called in, I cannot for the life of me see how that could be described as poor management. When a client comes to a business at 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and wants a product finished so they can use it on the weekend for their business, and someone has to work a few hours overtime, there is no way that person can be given 24-hours notice for that overtime. The overtime has to be worked or the person will go elsewhere with their business. Yet, there is very little consideration for that.
The Minister has written into the act that there has to be an emergency for the employee to refuse to work, but it is interesting to note that emergency is not defined and that the director will define it. Business people have told me that making a profit in a bad year is an emergency, or making a profit in any year is an emergency. If these people want to have employees work overtime, it is usually so that they can make more money. It is important to give that strong consideration.
The six-percent holiday pay for employees with over five years service is something I believe only Ontario and B.C. have. The Maritime provinces are still at four or five percent. We seem to be wanting to lead the way with six-percent holiday pay. I do not know how many Yukon employees that will affect, because I know that Yukon employers who have had employees for more than five years already do treat them fairly well. In fact, sometimes they pay them more than six-percent holiday pay. They are concerned, however, that they will now be regulated to do it.
Another concern I have had expressed to me by the business community is that the situation in Yukon is often a little different from southern Canada when dealing with employees. There are many businesses in the Yukon that are not necessarily seasonal, but their income is much greater because they depend on seasonal increases for a lot of their business. What they do in the winter months is keep some employees on that they would normally lay off, because they are good employees and they do not want to have to look for more in the following year.
Now that employers are forced to pay six percent holiday pay to long-term employees, some employers have told me that they will have to consider laying people off. The holiday pay will make that difference. In fact, the extra money that they pay them by keeping them on is a lot more than the six percent holiday pay, and that is an arrangement that they have with the employee. That arrangement is now taken out of the hands of the employer and the employee and is legislated by the government.
I think that the change to require a written notice as to when the employee is returning to work is a positive change.
The Minister used the excuse: the deduction of one weeks wages if someone quits. I do not have a big problem with that being changed; it is something that I have not been personally supportive of; however, the Minister points out that it is not done anywhere else in Canada. Yet, when you look at this particular act, there are several things in this act that are new, and that are also not done anywhere else in Canada. The Minister cannot have it both ways.
I have some strong concerns over the act and I will be addressing those concerns when we go through the act clause by clause. I hope that the Minister is going to give us a little more time to go through the act in Committee of the Whole. I hope that the plan of the government is not to deal with this act tonight, and then tomorrow whip right into Committee of the Whole and try to get through by tomorrow afternoon. That simply will not happen.
The feeling here on our side of the House is that we do not want to discuss this act until sometime next week or the following week so that employees and employers can have an opportunity to see what is in the act and make comments before the government runs it through the House.
Mr. Devries: I agree with my colleague from Riverdale. I have been getting much the same feedback from businesses on the highway and in Watson Lake; this is a very important piece of legislation to them. They are not aware of what has been dropped out or what is in it. They would also like to have the opportunity to review this piece of legislation over the weekend before it goes into Committee or before we spend too much time on it.
The Minister talked about how the amended portions of this act clarify some of the items. Just reading it through last night, I still found it very confusing. Unfortunately, I did not have the original act beside it to do some cross-referencing. I also feel that I need more time to go over the whole act to make sure there are no errors in it and to get an understanding of what the various sections mean.
From my experience as a supervisor and a foreman at the ranch, where many of the employees are native, I found one of the most important aspects of their job was flexibility. The last thing these employees would want to be burdened down with was a bunch of rules and regulations pertaining to how much flexibility their boss could give them.
It was the same at the sawmill. A lot of the workers preferred to work 10 or 12 hours a day and, after a couple of weeks, take a week off and do their thing. Quite often, we would have employees show up fairly consistently for three weeks and then, all of a sudden, they would seem to lose interest in their work. It is very important that there be lots of flexibility in labour standards legislation, especially in the north where we have people who like to put in a lot of time during the summer and have the opportunity to do some trapping in the winter.
The minute we, as employers, get bogged down with having to pay overtime after eight hours for some of these things, it does everything to discourage a person from giving these people the opportunities of this flexibility. People might say that you are trying to take advantage of an employee. It is not taking advantage of an employee. It is trying to accommodate the employee, to make his job better so that you can work together and allow that person to continue living his life outside of the workforce and accommodate him as much as possible to meet his needs for time off and things like that are concerned.
I should also mention that I really resent what the Government Leader said. Unfortunately, he is not here tonight. Maybe, I will bring this up again next week when he is here.
In my response to the throne speech, I believe it was, I mentioned the Employment Standards Act. Lo and behold, the Government Leader in his normal way of trying to belittle everything you say, had to jump up and say that I did not care about the poor or the part-time worker, et cetera. Coming from a small community, I do not have to say those things. Everybody in the community knows that I care. Everybody in the community knows that I have three daughters who are getting their education through part-time employment during the summer and things like that. Obviously, it is the Government Leader himself who is out of touch with the people - not the MLA whom he is talking about. I really resent what he said then.
I think back to the time when I was a heavy duty mechanic apprentice, and I was working at a shop in Prince George; it was a good little job, but there were one or two employees who were the disgruntled type - there always tends to be one or two in every workplace - and they attempted to unionize the garage. It was interesting. They came along and told us that if it was unionized we would make more money and we would be able to do this and have that. After we had all signed up to join the union, the following week the manager called us into the office and explained to us that all the little benefits we had were ones he did not really have to give us. We could pull our car into the garage and do some maintenance on it; we could pull the car into the garage and use the steam cleaner to steam off the motor and wash the car. He said if we were going to start playing these types of games with him, if we were going to use a union to get our little extras, then there was no obligation for him to give us his little extras.
I often feel that when a piece of legislation goes beyond the bare minimum, many employees are going to find that some of the employers may develop a similar attitude and that really, in the end, the employees will be the losers.
My personal feeling - and I have worked in the capacity of employer in being a foreman of up to 100 workers at times - is that one of the most important aspects of the job is ones relationship with ones employees. I really question whether having a bunch of levers over ones head to ensure employees get fair this and fair that do anything really for employer/employee relations. If things are given out of the goodness of ones heart and one tries to accommodate some of their needs - if they need a few days off for a funeral or whatever - it means much more to the employee than if he walks up to me with a piece of paper and says, this paper says I have to have these days off for a funeral for my uncle", or my mother, or whatever.
Do not jump to the conclusion that I am saying there is anything wrong with giving them the time off: I am talking about having flexibility in the workplace. My daughters and I have never had to use the Employment Standards Act to get anything I want, although I am a very independent person. If an employer does not like the way I work, I will quit. I have never had to do that. I always feel that I have been a good employee, and I have never been in a situation where I felt I had a bad employer.
The parental leave concerns me. I have a daughter who is a single working mother. Again, she is fortunate that she has the grandparents at home to look after the child most of the time, but, again, she has a good employer. She does not need legislation that tells her when, what or if she can get a day off because her child is sick. That employer appreciates her. She does a good job and the employer wants to keep her as an employee. She does not need a piece of paper to tell her whether or not she can do something.
It is regrettable that there are some employers who are not good. Perhaps we need legislation like this, but let us keep it at a bare minimum. We should give the employer every opportunity to be a good employer.
When I see a situation like the six-percent holiday pay and the employer is forced to reward employees monetarily, I wonder if it is not the government trying to get a tax grab, rather than really having the interests of the employee at heart. If I were a long-term employee, I would prefer to keep the holiday pay at four percent. I think back to the time I was working at the sawmill in Watson Lake. Rather than give us a raise, the employer agreed to fill our furnace tank all the time. He paid for that fuel and wrote it off as a business expense. We did not have to pay income tax. Some people may say that is illegal. I do not know; I do not want to get into that. With high income tax, every non-taxable benefit one can get out of an employer is much better than some monetary gain.
Then, in the notice of termination section I would say that this is small-time Yukon, this is not a place where there are thousands of employees other than in government, and I would think that employees who have worked for an employer for five years or more, or things like that, would have a very close relationship with that employer. I think that the Member from Riverdale North brought that up. You should be able to talk those things over with an employer, and not require a piece of legislation to say that you have to get five weeks notice before being laid off, if you have worked for someone for five years.
Obviously, if that type of situation occurs, I would suspect that if an employer has to lay an employee off due to falling on hard times, I am sure that person could come to some verbal arrangement with this employee and not require a bunch of legislation on how much notice the employee needs before he can be laid off.
In this amended legislation, we are forgetting the northern aspect of life in the Yukon. Life in the Yukon is quite different than in the south. We have a very short working season. The people that work in placer mining prefer to work 12 to 14 hours per day, and be able to do that without having to resort to overtime. They are seasonal employees and their employer has the option of dropping a few gold nuggets in their pocket as they walk off the lot in the fall. If this employer is required to pay these employees overtime then I question whether the employer would still be able to do that.
When talking to some of the lodge owners on the highway, they seem to be the employers who are up in the air about the Employment Standards Act as much as anybody. I am happy to see that the area regarding room and board was pulled out of one section. That was one of the big concerns; they would have had to pay vacation pay on the room and board cost, and it would be an added expense for the lodges.
I know that one lodge has already indicated that it will be shutting down next fall. Part of the reason for that is due to the labour standards legislation where, even under the old act, when they started complaining about the amendments, they found out that they had been operating outside of the parameters of the old act and were forced to put their employees on an hourly, rather than on a monthly, salary due to some technicalities. The employees complained about it, actually more than the employer, because they were happy with the situation they had before. But, this lodge has indicated that it will probably be shutting down next winter. That means that the travelling public is also going to suffer because there will be a 100-mile stretch between Watson Lake and Whitehorse where there will not be any services.
Another thing that I question pertains to some of the so-called improvements in legislation that pertain directly to the natives in the area of time off for potlatches, funerals, et cetera, as well as the area pertaining to parental leave for any employee who has children. When it comes down to the crunch, I really feel that employers are going to be more reluctant to hire people who fall within those categories. Basically, this legislation is going to do more damage than make improvements, insofar as some of those hiring practices go. I do not say this because of my political affiliation or anything. I am trying to be very realistic about this. I have been working with people for most of my life; I have been an employee myself, earning around minimum wage for many years. My wife and kids all work for around the minimum wage, but we are independent. We look after ourselves and this is why I have a little problem in dealing with this philosophy where government has to legislate all of this stuff.
Mrs. Firth: I do not even know where to begin. We will go back to the beginning, when the Minister first decided she was going to embark on this initiative.
There was an editorial written about business rebelling. A line in that editorial said to the Minister that her challenge was to find a balance. I do not know if the Minister honestly feels that she has found that balance or not, but I guess that will remain to be seen when we get further into the debate and are not just debating the principle of the bill, but every clause.
All the issues and concerns have been raised. All the specifics have been mentioned. I agree with the positions that have been put forward in the Chamber and by various individuals with respect to the effect this bill is going to have on their lives, both as employers and employees.
I want to challenge the Minister. A lot of Yukoners would have more comfort and confidence in what the Minister was doing if she could stand up and, in some meaningful way, explain to people that her department, the Cabinet, and she as the Minister, had really done their homework when they drafted these changes to the Employment Standards Act, and that they really understood what impact and effect it was going to have, both on the employees and the employers of the Yukon Territory.
In all the public meetings we have had, all the letters that have gone back and forth, all the consultation, and all the talking, we have never received any clear indication from the Minister that this government actually knows what it is doing with these proposed changes, and can list examples and indications that they really understand the impact these changes are going to have on employees and employers.
At one of the public meetings we got one little hint from an official in the department who had done some calculations. A question was put to the Minister about how this was going to affect the business community and the employers, who were already suffering from extra costs due to the GST, extra costs for operating their businesses due to increases in electrical rates, general increases in operating costs and the impact the general economic downturn was having on the business community. We asked at that meeting if all those other things had been taken into consideration when the government was drawing up the amendments and analyzing what kind of an impact they would have on the business community. That department official said that revised calculations had been done a couple of times. The Minister had thrown out some figures and the business community had thrown out some figures. The revised calculation put the acts extra cost at about one percent of the total cost of doing business. This is the only fact that we have ever received from this government in the form of an explanation that they know what impact this bill is going to have. The public official said one percent without even batting an eye. I could see business people calculating one percent of them doing business and translating it immediately tremendous cost. One business person in the grocery industry even commented that if they are doing well, they net two percent after tax. One percent of the two percent that he was netting was going to go because of the governments proposed changes.
That is all the evidence or facts that we have received; and there was only one fact respecting business. I have not heard anything from this government. I have not heard any evidence as to how these changes in the act are going to affect employees.
I have seen no evidence of the Minister sitting down and having any meaningful discussions with business people and asking them what impact these changes may have on their businesses when it comes to the number of employees or the conditions the employees are going to have to work under. If I was in the Ministers shoes, and I felt that a piece of legislation I was bringing forward was going to cause one person in the Yukon to lose their job, I would have some very serious doubts about coming forward with that legislation.
The Minister said, or an employee to lose their home - an employee cannot keep their home if they do not have a job.
We have been having debates in this House about social assistance. I am talking about employees, because a lot of people have come to see me with concerns about this. The NDP do not have the monopoly on caring about employees and single mothers. I am just asking the Minister if she will hear me out. I have listened to her, and I respect her point of view.
During the last few days in this House, we have been talking about social assistance and the number of people in the Yukon who are on social assistance. We had quite a heated debate in the House about unemployment and the number of people in the Yukon who are collecting unemployment insurance. If I were in the Ministers shoes, the last thing I would want to do would be to contribute to either one of those statistics - either social assistance or unemployment insurance - because of laws that I was bringing forward and could not publicly justify the need for.
That is what is happening here.
The business community has warned the Minister that they may have to lay people off. We have heard representation by the Member for Riverdale North, and I had a business person tell me the same thing today about laying people off as opposed to keeping them employed through the slow months of January and February - that they trade that off for the lesser percentage of holiday pay. Employers are saying they may have to consider laying people off. If what employers are netting after tax is going to be reduced, the first place they are going to look is at the number of employees they have.
They are going to look at laying people off. I know profit is not a very nice word to the Members opposite, but that is how business operates.
I hear the government, day after day, talk about all the jobs that the government creates. I think they throw out that they created 3,000 jobs in one year. Those are short-term, temporary jobs. They are short-term jobs to do community repairs to community centres, to build small building projects, and so on, but they are not permanent, full-time, real jobs. The people who create those kinds of jobs are the businesses and the private sector. They are the people who create the jobs that are long-term, lasting jobs.
I hear the Minister make reference to all the great things the government does to support the business community. I have not seen a lot of evidence of that, other than the loan or grant programs the Minister keeps referring to. There are a lot of people in the business community who do not come to the government for any loans, grants or assistance. Yet they continue to try and build their businesses so that they can employ two or three more people and try to participate in all the activities they are forced into because government sets the trends and style: job security, trips outside, job sharing, and so on. I think we have a lot of good employers in this territory. I cannot understand why the Minister would want to embark on this kind of initiative without talking to those people to find out how they run their businesses.
There is a group called the Womens Business Network, which is made up of businesses that are run by women. Why did the Minister not meet with them and ask for some ideas and input. We have everyone lobbying the Minister to either slow down with this legislation or not proceed with it at this time and give it more discussion. There are the business community, the chambers, the Association for Yukon Communities and a lot of other people out there that the Minister has not reached.
I agree that we should be waiting. We are going to now proceed with second reading because the government wants to discuss the principle. I have made my position very clear from the very beginning. I do not really think that there is any need for any change at this time; I made that position very clear with the Minister.
It is interesting how the government has a way of getting its way by presenting initiatives to people. The government will present 15 undesirable things, hoping that people will accept the five least undesirable. That is what the Minister is doing here. The Minister bombarded the business community and employees with the little propaganda effort called Reviewing the Ground Rules for the Yukon Workplace, and people were in shock when they read it. First of all, the business community did not receive it; it was handed out to employers employees as they were walking out the door of the businesses and that is what happened. The Minister is laughing, but that is what happened.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: The Minister is saying get your facts straight before you speak, for Petes sake.
I had businesses phone me to tell me that there were people handing out these booklets to their employees as they were leaving their place of employment.
That is not consultation. The Minister has to really be serious when she looks at it. The Minister is going to have the last word.
I want to try to stress to the government that when the Minister comes into this Legislature to begin clause-by-clause debate on this bill, I am going to be asking for some specific justification and reasons about why we have to proceed with some of these initiatives, because we were presented with a fact sheet. I just happen to have it here; it is entitled, Labour Services Statistics.
This fact sheet is interesting. A lot of the issues that were on the sheet, where complaints had gone down, were initiatives the government took in this new piece of legislation.
I would like the Minister to be prepared to justify and give examples of misdemeanours and reasons why we need all these clauses and changes. I would also like her to be prepared to give some evidence of what kind of impact these changes are going to have, not only on the businesses and employers, but also on the employees.
I want the Minister to be able to come into the House and give some reassurance to us and to the public that people are not going to lose their jobs because of these new laws and legislative changes she is bringing forward. If we have one more Yukoner unemployed after this bill is passed, then the Minister has done a disservice to Yukoners.
Mr. Brewster: I was not going to get up and speak. I have a bad cold, so you might not hear me; however, I see the Minister is in an owly mood over there. They sit and snicker over there and think it is funny. When we get into Committee of the Whole, I will give them 22 years of the life history of lodges and what this is going to do to them. She is shaking her head again. I know she has worked in lodges all her life and knows all about them. What is going on here is absolutely criminal. When Madam Chair is in the Chair, I have a little more freedom than with you, Mr. Speaker, because you correct us when we go wrong. Madam Chair is a little easier.
I will give them a history and tell them what is going to happen. They might think I do not know what I am talking about, but I have been there for 22 years, and I know these lodge people, and I know what is going to happen. Somebody had better shake their head and not sit around here and think everything is funny, because it is not.
Mr. Lang: I would like to put a few observations on the record. First of all, I want to ask - and I want everyone to be honest - how many MLAs have had constituents come to them and ask for major changes to the Employment Standards Act. I represent a riding with people in it, and I have not have one representation since the changes were made to this act a number of years ago. The Member for Klondike says that I am kidding. I am not kidding.
The Member for Klondike says I am kidding. I am not kidding. The Member for Klondike says, I have had a few. From where did the real need for these changes emanate? The Member for Klondike had a few representations. We have a bill before the House that is going to have substantial consequences for the employers and employees across the territory, to the point where we have the Member for Watson Lake talking about maybe one lodge closing down. The Minister responsible for labour is sitting there sneering, laughing and thinking it is a joke, because she is going to fly to Watson Lake - she is not going to drive there in the middle of the winter.
I was not going to speak to this, but I very much resent that a man, such as the Member for Watson Lake, who represents his area, who has a working mans background, more so than anyone else in this House, who goes out and guides in the summer, who has worked in the sawmills with the native people who we talked about earlier, and the Minister for labour sits there and sneers and makes fun of him. I would suggest that the Minister responsible for this legislation listen very closely to someone such as the Member for Watson Lake.
Quite frankly, I think he had more to contribute to this debate than many others in this House, primarily because of his background and where he comes from. But no, Mr. Speaker, just because he happens to be on this side of the floor and just because he happens to be a man with a working mans background, the Minister responsible for labour takes the opportunity to sneer and think, We will listen to those simpletons. We will push this legislation through and then we can go to the workers and say, Look what we did for you because we are going to the polls in six months.
It does not mean anything to the Minister when the MLA for Watson Lake says that there are some real concerns out there among businesses such as lodges, and whether or not they can live within the confines of the law and still make a living. That is a joke to the Minister responsible for this legislation and to the side opposite.
The Member for Mayo yawns - of course, he has moved to Whitehorse so why would he ever want to go to a lodge.
I think the side opposite had better start paying attention to what is going on out there.
The other thing that I really resent is that we were provided with this legislation yesterday and these people are trying to shove it through in the middle of the night on the following day. What does the House Leader say? He says, Oh, you should have known about this legislation. We have been discussing it for six months. We got the final draft today. In fact, there are people out there who are going to be affected who have not even seen the legislation that we have before us.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Lang: Ten oclock, Mr. Speaker. We are dealing with another issue.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Lang: Do you have a problem? Do you want to talk? Do you have a question?
Hon. Mr. Webster: Thank you, sir, I do not mind if I do.
At 10 oclock this morning when we had the House Leaders meeting, the -
Mr. Lang: On a point of order.
I asked the Minister if he wanted to ask a question.
Hon. Mr. Webster: You invited me to say a few words and I am saying a few words.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Webster: We discussed the business for the day and it was very clear that we were going to have second reading of this particular bill, An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act. There was no objection brought forward at that time from either the House Leader of the Yukon Party or the House Leader for the Independence Alliance.
Mr. Phillips: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Point of order to the Member for Whitehorse Riverdale North.
Mr. Phillips: As a matter of fact, at the House Leaders meeting this morning, I raised the issue of going with this so soon. It is incorrect for the House Leader to say that I did not raise the issue. I think the other House Leader will recognize that I did say something this morning at the House Leaders meeting.
Speaker: Order please. On the point of order, I find that there is no point of order and that it is a conflict between two Members.
Mr. Lang: Now that we have established the fact that the House Leader and his colleagues over there are trying to push this legislation through as quickly as they can with as little consultation and public information as possible, I say to the side opposite that that is wrong. We have other bills on this Order Paper, work that has to be done; what is the urgency to pass this through as quickly as they possibly can?
The Government House Leader snickers and says he has lots of work; yes, I agree, there are other pieces of legislation we have to deal with. He may be short in a couple of areas, but I suppose it is the Oppositions fault - unless they want to deal with our private Members bill a bit more and discuss other issues that really affect the people of the territory as well.
I ask the Government House Leader: what is the urgency for rushing this through?
The House Leader, the Member for Riverdale North, and the Member for Riverdale South both stated that they would like to have some more time to consider the bill and its implications prior to dealing with it in second reading.
My question quite frankly is: what is the urgency? The only conclusion one can reach is that they want to get it through and they want to get it through fast.
It is purely a fluke if any of the media is even up there. They normally do not come here in the evenings. They work during the day. I notice our Crown corporation is being represented very well up there, and I give them full marks for being here; they must have realized something was going to happen here, unbeknownst to the public, and of which the public should be informed.
Maybe we could get together at three oclock in the morning and hopefully CBC would be sleeping in so that we could deal with it and will not have to tell anybody.
One would have thought that some time would have been given for this document to be circulated to businesses - those dirty rotten people, the employers - and also to employees. This is one of the most controversial bills that has been presented to this House in a long time, yet here we are within less than 24 hours and the Minister is saying we shall deal with it in second reading. Once again, what this represents more than anything else is the way the Members across the floor view the responsibility of the Legislature. I recognize that they feel they are above this; I recognize they feel it is just a duty that they have to come into this House to debate these things, and that it is just a duty for them to sit there and wait until such time as the Opposition gets exhausted and a vote is taken, and the program is pushed through.
More than anything else, the method and manner in which this bill is being programmed through the Legislature represents the arrogance of the side opposite. I do not understand it. No thinking person would say that one of the most controversial pieces of legislation, which was not available when we first came into the session because it was not done, should be pushed through right in the middle or toward the end of the session.
Is that fair? Is it fair to the Members who sit here day after day? A Member very sincerely asked for an adjournment for more time to study the implications of the bill and talk to some constituents about how this will affect the small business community and the employee. We were not even given that courtesy.
The public and I would have to ask why. I realize that the side opposite would feel more secure if they were outside these Chambers. To the Minister responsible for labour, the comments of the Member for Watson Lake, where he indicated that this legislation may cause one or two lodges to close down, is the final straw that broke the camels back. It might not affect the Minister of Justice; with her travel budget, she will not be driving, but flying.
I say to the side opposite that we should be listening to what Members have to say. We should be listening to what people have to say. We discuss in this House, day after day, the question of social assistance. We have just under 2,000 people on social assistance and one of the highest unemployment rates. There are over 3,000 Yukoners out of work, in one way or another. Yet, we have a bill before us that not only does not give us any indication of what the financial consequences of it are going to be to the general economy, but it has been so hastily drafted that the Minister is asking us to leave a lot of its principles to regulation, and she has no regulations to present to us. Why is that?
Why can you not provide for us the various principles that are going to be in the draft regulations so that we can see the implications of what the government is thinking of doing. You are asking in many of these sections for the Members of this House to give their approval to a bill in which, in many areas, the final picture is going to be painted in regulations, not by this House.
The other area that I want to discuss is the area raised by the Member for Watson Lake. Unfortunately, when you deal with this bill, the side opposite wants to say, Oh, you do not care about the employee, all you are worried about is the employer. I happen to represent one of the larger ridings. As does the MLA for Kluane, I have young people going into the workforce looking for seasonal work. My concern is that in many cases in this bill, the more that we put rules into law, the fewer jobs there will be out there for the young people starting out in the workforce.
The Minister responsible for labour sat there earlier when she listened to the well-made speech by the MLA for Watson Lake - that was not only well-documented, but was also given from the heart - and she sneered. Well, I care just as much about the employee, if not moreso, than the Minister of Labour, if you want to get into a shouting match.
I represent people who are presently unemployed. These people are fully qualified miners who cannot get jobs. I recall when the witness was here for Curragh that I did not see the side opposite asking the witness - when we were talking about the Curragh mining loan - what guarantees we were going to receive for local people getting first crack at the jobs. I did not hear that question from the other side of the House. That question came from this side of the House; this heartless side of the House. We are concerned about our constituents who are unemployed.
Then, the Minister of Justice, who is sponsoring this bill, sits there and sneers, as I said - and that is the only word I can use to describe the expression on her face when the MLA for Watson Lake was speaking - sneering. Earlier in the House we were talking about the government providing $3 million of taxpayers money to a company owned outside of this country, operating outside of this country, and with the assets outside of this country - and we are talking about jobs perhaps being done away with here in the Yukon, and the Minister of Justice will sit there and sneer.
I had a call tonight from someone who happens to work in the petroleum industry and was wondering if they were going to have a job. They are going to be very concerned about this bill.
I am saying to the side opposite, let us just take our time; we have time. I do not know, maybe there are some junkets that the side opposite want to go on, but I think that I can safely speak for this side, we are prepared to take the time and effort that is necessary to go through this slowly, methodically and with caution. It is unfortunate that there are not more people in the gallery to watch what is going on over on that side, because they are not going to listen, anyway. They are not here to listen. This is the new government - consultation. If you happen to be an elected Member from a riding and not on the government side, your voice counts for nothing; your ideas count for nothing. However, we will get this thing through the Legislature. We will roll it through because we have a few high-placed people in unions who are pushing it through for us and telling us what to do. I think the public is getting awfully tired of it - awfully tired of it.
I have some very real concerns with the attitude the side opposite has toward seasonal workers.
I can see the ultimate outcome of this will be less overtime for those who are working on seasonal jobs and really depend on the extra hours in order to meet their financial commitments toward the end of the year.
If we do that, what have we accomplished?
Basically, we have taken away the right of a citizen to make a good living, because we are restricting our laws to the point where the employer is not going to offer that overtime.
The Minister responsible for labour may not believe this, but there are a lot of people who work more than eight hours a day. They do that for more than just the financial remuneration. Perhaps they like what they do and, at the same time, they recognize the seasonal time constraints of their jobs. I want to know what the long-term implications are going to be for those employees.
The other very real aspect of this legislation that we have to consider involves the lodges - those terrible people on the highway the Minister of Justice likes to sneer about when the Members for Kluane and Watson Lake bring them to her attention - is the question of leave. All these things affect the operation of these small businesses during the short period of time when they have the ability to make a living. I would submit that if we get too carried away with writing the laws, we could be putting ourselves in a situation where the hiring practices, although not written, will be such that they will be restricted to hiring people who will not be affected by the legislation. What have we accomplished then?
I would look to the side opposite to tell me otherwise and to explain to me otherwise.
I want to go back to my initial comments and my question as to the urgency to push this legislation through. When I started out, I asked a question. The question was very basic: how many MLAs had had direct representation made to them, that there were serious flaws in the Employment Standards Act? I, for one, can raise my hand without fear of anyone telling me that it is not the truth. I have had no one approach me requesting major changes to this legislation. I look across to the side opposite and I have to ask if anyone over there was approached, other than the Member for Klondike who was approached a few times; he said he had been approached a few times. I want to know who has been approached, other than perhaps the executive of the NDP. I want to know if any constituents approached a Member and said that the Employment Standards Act had to be changed. If that has not occurred - and I will bet it did not occur - I have to ask myself why we are rushing this through? I feel very strongly, and I resent very strongly, this rush by the side opposite to push this thing through as rapidly as they possibly can, especially when they are not prepared to give the courtesy to any Member in this House who asks for an adjournment on the bill, asking for more time on it, especially when it was only tabled yesterday. Obviously, there is something in it that we know nothing about.
I feel that the government is being disrespectful in presenting this legislative program this session. The announcement yesterday of a $3.8 million loan to an American firm and the fact that they would not even bring an appropriation vote to this House for a loan is wrong. It is wrong that they did it through the Yukon Development Corporation. Two weeks earlier, this government provided a $2 million loan to a hotel/convention centre that is having major financial difficulties. This, too, is not debated in this House. It is never brought forward to a vote because the Yukon Development Corporation can be used as a pawn and political tool in order to avoid the legislative process.
What is being done here this session is a real disservice to the legislative process.
Mr. Lang: In view of the fact that the side opposite will not be prepared to give the Member for Riverdale North the courtesy of an adjournment, I would move
THAT the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word That and substituting for them the following: Bill No. 13, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Leader of the Official Opposition
THAT the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word That and substituting for them the following: Bill No. 13, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.
Mr. Lang: I am putting this motion forward, because I feel that the government is, on a continuous basis, viewing the Legislature as a necessary evil, as opposed to a body that is supposed to be debating issues in a constructive manner.
I really resent the fact that the most controversial act that has been placed before this House, as far as the public has been concerned, thus far, the side opposite is trying to rush through.
I think that this is unfair to the public, to those who are going to be directly affected: the employee and the employer. These people are not being given enough time to consider the ramifications of a bill that is obviously going to have financial implications in an economy that is suffering from over 11 percent unemployment, which is higher than in the province of British Columbia, which is in turn in a recession.
I say to the side opposite that there has to be some time given to small businesses, such as lodges. The MLA for Kluane spoke about one lodge that was very concerned about the ramifications and whether they can live within the law and give 365-day a year service or whether they will have to close down. The MLA for Kluane not only has legislative experience, but as he indicated, 22 years on the highways with those small businesses that this legislation affects.
The sad thing about this bill is that there may be some consensus on a lot of the issues and there may be a lot of the sections that people agree to, but one of the things that Yukoners will not agree to is the lack of fairness.
When I talk about fairness, I talk about legislation being given the proper time for consideration.
I cannot accept any Member in this House denying the simple request for an adjournment of a day or two days for the purpose of studying a bill that was only put before us yesterday, especially in view of the fact that we have had numerous other issues that we could deal with in this House.
One of the issues that I spoke of earlier was the $3 million international investment that the Minister of Economic Development has launched the Yukon Development Corporation on - I am sorry, I keep referring to $3 million, because that was the initial figure. However, it has been obvious that the Minister did not want to say $3.6 or $3.7 million, and unfortunately, most Yukoners think that it is $3 million Canadian.
The fact is, there are other issues that we have had to deal with in this Legislature. The government itself has spoken of how important this piece of legislation is and, then, gives us less than 27 hours to deal with it. I ask why, and I think it is a legitimate question, especially in view of the fact that it has been so controversial. None of the MLAs have been approached by anyone to make significant changes to the bill, yet the government is bringing it forward. I say to the side opposite that I think my motion is in order, especially in view of the disrespect the Members opposite have shown the House.
I submit that we should perhaps take the summer months to see how this is going to affect those small businesses the Members for Watson Lake and Kluane spoke of. Those are the businesses that are really going to be affected. It could well be that the legislation, and the changes the Minister made to her initial draft, as opposed to what is here, may be acceptable. However, they should at least be given the opportunity to read it and put their views forward, whether it be in the bar, in this House, by telephone or by letter to Members of this House. Because there happens to be a majority on that side of the House, I do not think that it is to our benefit to disregard comments made by Members, such as the Member for Watson Lake. I think they have to be seriously considered.
Therefore, I say to the side opposite that I feel badly that I have to bring this motion forward. However, in view of the disrespect shown by the Members opposite, I do not think that this side, or any sitting Member, has any choice but to vote for the motion I have put forward if they care about the people in the territory, the employees and the employers, and if they have any respect for this House.
The conduct during the drafting of this legislation, the way it has been presented and the way it is being rammed through this House I find unacceptable.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I had not intended to join in the debate today, because I felt it was not necessary to repeat arguments over and over again to be heard. I felt that the Minister of Justice had fairly well expressed the position of the government with respect to the act in general and in principle, and that it would merely be repetitious and redundant to simply repeat what was clearly the position of the government.
I was moved to speak by the Member for Porter Creek East because I so profoundly disagree - and I wish I could use stronger language - with that Members approach and with the hypocrisy that the Member is expressing. I feel I have to speak.
Speaker: Order please. On a point of order to the Leader of the Official Opposition.
Mr. Lang: I would ask the Member to withdraw that statement. That is unparliamentary.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I would be the last one to do something unparliamentary like calling the Member a hypocrite, so I will withdraw the statement.
Mr. Lang: On the same point of order, I think he could do that with some feeling.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I will not join in the point of order. I feel like I want to express more feeling as a result of the Members remarks, but I will keep my cool.
Any time the Members on this side of the House try to manage government business after conducting very extensive public consultations on virtually any bill, we are called arrogant. Any time we tried to encourage a certain order of business when we were in Opposition, we were called, by the Member for Porter Creek East when he was in government, arrogant.
The point of the matter is that the Government of Yukon, through the Department of Justice, has undertaken extensive public consultations with respect to this bill before us.
I know all Members are well aware of what the principles are that are associated with this bill. This is a debate in principle.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. McDonald: One would have thought that after 1,000 years of parliamentary history, that Members opposite would acknowledge the fact that there are parliamentary rules of order that include the common decency to allow the Member who is speaking to be heard.
In this particular case, and for this particular bill, there has been substantial public discussion about the principles underlying the bill itself. They have been well expressed, not only by the government through its documentation, but also at public meetings, some of which were sponsored by this side of the House and some sponsored by the Members opposite. There has been a public review by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, about which they have produced a public document, which again referred to the principles underlying this bill -
Speaker: Order please. I would ask the Member to please speak to the amendment.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: With all due respect, I am speaking to the amendment. The amendment refers to the fact that the Members opposite are asking for more time for debate on the principles of this bill - six months, in fact - when I have just been enunciating clearly that we have been going through extensive discussions already on the principles of this act. I believe I am in order.
The principles have been so clearly articulated in the public - and the concerns as well with respect to some of the original proposals, some of the original items that were presented for public discussion - that virtually every person who has ever had an interest in employment standards has had an opportunity to discuss the issues and to express their concerns.
We are prepared, of course, to debate this bill in Committee for as long as any individual Member in this House wants to debate the bill. If any Member in this House has not by this time captured what the principles are that underlie this bill, then they do not deserve to be a Member in this House, because it has been a major public discussion item for the last three or four months.
The reason I was expressing some concern about some of the comments that were made by the Member for Porter Creek East - and I will keep my language parliamentary - was that in 1984, when there was a presentation for employment standards in this Legislature, the bill was introduced on the Thursday, there were extended sitting hours on the Monday to deal with the bill and the bill was wrapped up at about 11:30 at night.
I wonder why that was. It was rammed right through the House with the willing concurrence of the Member who just spoke and accused this side of the House of being disrespectful.
The Member says he cannot help it if we simply accepted the fact that they were being disrespectful to the other Members of the House. He himself was being disrespectful. We did not accept that fact at all.
Let me point out something else that is fairly obvious and draws a comparison between the two. There was no public consultation then. The Members opposite believed that the only consultation that was appropriate was a 45-day period, in those days, where you actually went out, knocked on doors, shook someones hand, stated you were looking for re-election, have done a great job, and asked if the person has any concerns. Then, they went on to the next house. That is the consultation they were talking about in those days.
The reason there was less controversy in those days was because things were whizzed through this House in record time. There was not even any notice that there was going to be any of these legislative projects coming through the House.
The other day, we were talking about the Workers Compensation Act. There was no consultation on that, either.
This is absolutely germane to the subject. This is absolutely relevant to the ridiculous motion the Members opposite have put forward. The Member for Riverdale North asked for three days to consider the bill in detail. The Member for Porter Creek East asked for six months. That is ridiculous. There is lots of time for consideration. We are talking now about debating the bill in principle. I would contend that every Member in this House knows what this bill is all about in principle.
If there are any concerns about any individual provision in this act, there is all kinds of time to make contact with constituents.
The Member for Porter Creek East made a bet that nobody in this House had any representations from employees about the need to change this bill. He loses that bet right now, because many people have come to me about employment standards, ever since 1984, when some of the provisions put into the act at that time were passed.
The Member also talked about support for the mining community. Let us haul out the credentials of the mining community. Who has spent more time underground than anybody else in this Legislature? The Member for Porter Creek East has a reputation in the Mayo-Elsa-Keno district for his working history, but I will not draw that out now, because that would involve some unparliamentary language, and I do not want to do that.
The Members opposite are concerned about us debating this in principle and they are concerned about us debating this in principle in an evening sitting.
Mr. Lang: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Order, please. On a point of order to the Leader of the Official Opposition.
Mr. Lang: I would submit this to the Member opposite. I am prepared to withdraw my motion if he is prepared to adjourn debate and give us some time to deal with the bill. I do not think that is unreasonable.
I will ask for unanimous consent.
Speaker: I find there is no point of order.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges, which I chair, will have to deal with the issue about points of interruption and rudeness. There is obviously a place in this Legislature for those points.
The Member made a proposition that it was inappropriate to discuss this piece of legislation in an evening sitting. Yet, every time the issue has been raised in this Legislature about whether or not we should continue with evening sittings, that Member in particular has made the very strong presentation that the only time when working people and people who have businesses out there can get in to see this Legislature is during the evening sitting. It is an evening sitting right now.
Without referring to it, or classifying it as anything, let me just say that it is a reversal of position.
As I made mention, we are prepared to debate this legislation. We are prepared to debate this legislation for as long as the Members would like. We are being paid to do that -
Some Hon. Member: Yes, you are.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: We have never, ever -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please let the Minister continue.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. That is really good of you, and it is awfully nice of him, too.
We are prepared to debate this bill, because that is the appropriate thing to do. We are prepared to debate it in great detail. We are here now debating this bill in principle because that is the appropriate thing to do. If Members do not know what the principles of this bill are, then they have some work to do. Now is not the time to do the homework. The time to do the homework was in the last three months when this piece of legislation was out for extensive public debate. Members opposite are very well aware of its provisions.
On a number of occasions, the Members have asked whether or not this bill affects anyone. Well, this bill affects a lot of people. It affects employers, but it particularly affects the people who do not typically organize; who do not typically come forward and feel confident, aggressive, and able to confront power brokers in this community. The people who are most affected by this particular law are, typically, the people who are the quiet members of our society; the people who do not have expensive, well-paid organizations to speak for them, such as any chamber or any federation of labour - these are people who are living on minimum wage, minimum benefits, some are single parents, and we owe it to them - even if we do not hear one representation from any particular person - to protect their interests, because it is the right thing to do.
As much as I respect the Member for Watson Lake, I cannot agree with the proposition that people should be doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. The Member may have a kind heart, and I believe he does, but there are many other people who do not, and we cannot cast the fortunes of poor people to a few employers who may just want to take advantage of them. That is unethical, and that is what this bill is all about.
There is a lot of snickering going on over on the other side and I really resent that, too. I resent it because, clearly, the peoples interests I have just referred to have not once been raised in this debate by the Members opposite. They talk about employers; they talk about employer organizations and they talk about a few employees they have known. I know a lot of employees who are affected by this bill. I know some employees - and I have moved to Whitehorse...
Speaker: Order. Order please. A point of order to the Member for Whitehorse Riverdale North.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. The Member said that no Member on this side spoke about employees. Well, I think the Member for Riverdale South spoke about them; I spoke about them...
Speaker: Order please. Order please. I find there is no point of order.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for interrupting the point of interruption.
It is true that I have moved to Whitehorse, and I have moved into the Member for Porter Creek Easts riding. I want to tell the Member for Porter Creek East that there are people in his riding whom he does not represent, and he is not representing their views in this Legislature, because I know them personally, and I know that they do care about this bill and the principles behind this bill.
If the Member is going to sanctimoniously stand and pretend that he is speaking for everyone in his riding, I can tell him for a fact that he is not. He is not speaking for some of my neighbours, and I live in his riding.
I happen to be speaking for Mayo, and I realize that there are differences of opinion there, but I would never be so arrogant as the Member for Porter Creek East to suggest that I am speaking at any one time for everybody in my riding, unanimously. I am not as arrogant as the Member for Porter Creek.
There are a lot of issues covered in this act that are worth discussing. As the Minister of Justice has indicated, a balance is required, which was also indicated by the Member for Riverdale North.
It is time for us to achieve that balance and ensure that there is a balance. That is our job, now that the discussion has taken place in public. That is our job, and we will be doing this through June, July and through August, if that is necessary.
Speaker: Order please. The time being 9:30 p.m., I declare the debate on the six months hoist amendment adjourned.
Debate on six-months hoist amendment adjourned
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:30 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled Wednesday, May 13, 1992:
Debate on Bill No. 103, An Act to Amend the Yukon Development Corporation Act, - Nov./Dec., 1991 (Byblow)
Report on the Regulations for the period November 7, 1990, to October 25, 1991 (M. Joe)