Thursday, May 21, 1992 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Speaker: I would like to draw Members attention to the presence in the gallery of a group of returning officers and assistant returning officers from all Yukon electoral districts. They are in Whitehorse to attend a workshop, scheduled several months ago, on elections administration. I would ask all Members to join me in welcoming them to the Assembly.
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I have for tabling the Annual Report of the Government of Yukon.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have for tabling the Yukon Training Strategy.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I have for tabling a legislative return.
Hon. Ms. Hayden: I have for tabling a legislative return.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
Are there any Introduction of Bills?
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Yukon Training Strategy: Investing in People
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I am pleased to announce in this House today the release of the new Yukon Training Strategy. As you may recall, I explained to the Legislature last fall why the Yukon Training Strategy of 1986 needed to be reviewed and updated. Yukons training environment has changed over these past years as a result of a number of initiatives, including the Education Act, the College Act, the Yukon Conservation Strategy, the Kwiya Report, and land claims negotiations, to name a few. As well, many of the training needs identified in the original strategy have been met and a new strategy would have to respond to the needs of a changing workplace.
Since tabling the draft revised Yukon Training Strategy before you last fall, extensive consultation was conducted throughout the territory with business, labour, First Nations, educators, community and other interest groups.
The feedback we received from the Yukon public was most encouraging. Training was clearly an important issue with Yukon people, and their comments helped to refine the strategy to better address their needs.
The new Yukon Training Strategy remains consistent with the Yukon Economic Strategy. It emphasizes the need to develop training programs to meet the economic goals of the territory. It will devise ways to acknowledge skills acquired in the workplace and count these as part of a persons formal training.
The following principles are incorporated in the new strategy:
Entrance requirements for training programs should be flexible; however, high graduation standards should be maintained;
The path to achieving occupational and training objectives can be different both in approach and time to accommodate different aptitudes;
People may enter and leave the training system at various points and will be credited for the skills they have attained during that time;
Training will be open to all Yukon people regardless of age, gender, race, ethnic origin, disability, geographic location, lifestyle choice or educational attainment level; and
Training shall be adapted to meet local needs, yet be compatible with training available elsewhere.
As part of the overall strategy, the Yukon government is committed to develop specific strategies, in consultation with the affected groups. These substrategies, so to speak, are to focus on the following priorities in the Yukon:
Meeting the needs of Yukon First Nations, particularly in the implementation of land claims;
Improving the participation of women in the labour force;
Increasing training and employment access for people with disabilities;
Developing literacy skills; and
Increasing partnerships with the private sector.
An example of a specific strategy developed under the framework of the Yukon Training Strategy is in the area of public sector training. It will provide a mechanism where First Nations, municipal and other government and non-government agencies will be able to share in the various public sector training opportunities offered throughout the territory.
Another focus of the training strategy is the development of trade skills in the Yukon. Here, the government is committed to improve and expand apprenticeship participation throughout the territory. This will be accomplished by implementing apprenticeship initiatives within the governments own operations and by encouraging the employment of apprentices in the private sector.
The Yukon Training Strategy reaffirms Yukon Colleges leadership role in providing post-secondary education and the delivery of training programs in the Yukon. Governments primary responsibility is for workforce development and training that will enhance economic and community development.
The new Yukon Training Strategy provides a solid framework for improving the skills of the people in the Yukon workforce and will help to open more opportunities for them. It will guide the development of programs and services throughout the territory into the 21st century.
It is important to note, however, that this strategy is not a static document. The training culture it fosters will be an ever-evolving one and, as with the strategy, always ready to adapt to the changing demands of the workplace. Expenditures on education, training and retraining in the public and private sector are not simply expenses, but investments in people.
Mr. Devries: The Yukon Party is pleased to see that we finally got a copy of the new Yukon Training Strategy. I am inclined to say that it had better be good, because we have had several ministerial statements in the past leading up to this release.
I look forward to responding to further news releases and ministerial statements as this government puts its money where its mouth is, as various programs are developed and implemented as a direct result of this training strategy.
The Minister mentioned several important initiatives, which I agree with, but I wish to reserve judgment on the training strategy itself until I have had a chance to review it.
If this training strategy meets the expectations of this ministerial statement, it will certainly be a step in the right direction; however, I am seeking assurances from the Minister that, in the future, it does not take funding from the public school system which develops the foundation that this strategy is built upon.
Mrs. Firth: I have been communicating with the Minister for some time now with respect to the training strategy. The particular interest I have with respect to the announcement that the Minister has made today is more in the way of answers to some questions that I have.
In these communications, I kept referring to the strategy as a program. The Minister said that it was not a program, as such, with specific funding attached; rather, it was a plan. I am interested in the document that the Minister has tabled today. I hope that it will give us a better idea of exactly what that plan is.
We are supportive of the concept of additional training, but I have to get some clarification from the Minister as to what the relationship between the college and the training strategy is going to be.
We understand that the college is requesting more funding in the amount of $3 million to $4 million per year. In communications that I have received from the Minister, the government has already committed and identified $4.4 million worth of funds toward the Yukon Training Strategy and that included the $3.25 million to the First Nations training program, once the land claims legislation is tabled.
The Watson Lake training project received half a million dollars, and that is the only plan that was done in conjunction with the college.
The Faro training trust fund, which was with Curragh Inc. and the United Steelworkers, received $200,000.
The Northern Carpenters and Allied Workers training trust fund received $280,000 and the Plumbers and Sheet Metal Workers training trust fund received $200,000, with the union apparently contributing $80,000 of its own.
The contributions to the trust funds came to over $4 million, and that is quite a sizable amount of money - along with what the college is asking for - for a training strategy plan that does not really have a budget attached to it.
If the Minister could clarify for us exactly what the governments financial commitment is to this whole program, I think that it would help most of us and give us a better understanding of the exact direction the government is going to take.
I, have always been, of course, a strong proponent of a cooperative relationship between the private sector and our educational facilities with respect to training and re-training young people. I am glad to see that there is some participation with respect to the private sector in ensuring that the Yukon people who are looking for jobs and additional training are able to get it in that type of environment.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I do acknowledge the comments made by the Members opposite as being valuable, in part. I would indicate to the Member for Watson Lake that he may have been hearing several statements about this training strategy in the Legislature; however, if they were spoken, they were not spoken by me.
In November, I announced that we were undertaking public consultation on a new strategy. I announced the principles of such a strategy, which are largely unchanged, that we intended to pursue. Those principles are sound and have been supported by the general public, as well as the college and education communities.
I feel fairly confident that the underpinning upon which we are now going to be proceeding with respect to not only new programming, but new approaches to old programming, is going to be one that is supported by the general public.
With respect to the comments about putting money where ones mouth is, that is always a reasonable assertion to make. However, I would remind the Member that the financial resources that have been put into the public school system, advanced education and training have multiplied many times in the last few years. As the Member has not criticized those expenditures, I am certain he would acknowledge the very substantial support that has already been given to the public school system, the college community and the various training programs.
I should qualify my statements. The training strategy is not necessarily any particular program. There are programs identified in the strategy that will be emanating from the basic principles that are outlined. However, it is largely a new approach to the way training is done. That new approach is rather dramatic, but it is consistent with the college program plans that have already been established by the college board. We have developed a good symbiotic relationship between the government and the college, and that will continue.
With respect to some of the funding items the Member for Riverdale South mentioned, I would point out that there is a $3,250,000 commitment under the umbrella final agreement of the Yukon land claim for training. To date, we have committed $1.2 million of that commitment toward the land claim training trust fund.
There are various other training trusts, but there are many other things that the government is doing; I will not take this time to repeat them all, but there are many other things that are not only sympathetic, but also in concert with the thrust of the training strategy. I will take the opportunity at some later time to expound upon the private sector relationship with respect to the apprenticeship and journeyman level community. There are many things that can be said and I will take the opportunity when I am afforded the time to explain things further.
Speaker: This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Land claims
Mr. Lang: I would like to direct a question to the Government Leader. It has to do with the public announcement yesterday that the land claims talks are in jeopardy. I notice that in the article in the newspaper that the Government Leader was, and I quote; unavailable for comment, despite repeated telephone inquiries, which I find kind of surprising in view of the fact that we are dealing with the Public Government Act. One of the principles of this act is that government should discharge its duties to the people of the Yukon in a fair and responsive manner.
At any rate, I would like to know if he could confirm to this House whether or not the reason there has been a misunderstanding or disagreement at the table is due to the clause contained in the model self-government agreement that gives First Nation laws more clout than territorial and federal laws that now generally apply.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: First of all, to my knowledge, there was no public announcement yesterday that the land claim negotiations were in jeopardy. The Member must be reading something into statements made by principals that I am not.
That deals with the preamble. With regard to the substance of the question, the concern in negotiations is over a clause in the self-government agreement that the federal government had initialed off and agreed to in November, and which had been the subject of extensive discussion in the Council for Yukon Indians ratification vote in December. The clause was critical to the Council for Yukon Indians, and helped form the basis on which they ratified the agreement.
Subsequently, as I understand the facts, the federal Department of Justice raised concerns about the language in the clause and has recently sought changes to it that are unacceptable to the Council for Yukon Indians.
I can further report to the House, as I understand it, that negotiators are attempting to resolve the differences on this question today.
Mr. Lang: Following a little further regarding the clause in question, my understanding is that, the way it is presently written, if there is a question as to which law will stand, for example, between a First Nation law and the Government of the Yukon Territory, the First Nation law would supersede the laws passed in this House. Can the Minister tell this House whether or not his government agrees with that?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I have to explain to the Member first that he has, of course, grotesquely over-simplified the issue because, as his colleague, the Member for Hootalinqua, will tell him, the issue is far more complicated than that. As I have explained to the House before, under the self-government agreement that was negotiated for the Yukon, all of the laws of the Yukon Territory continue to apply until a First Nation exercises its jurisdiction by the passage of legislation applying to its members on its land and they draw down a power that they have under the self-government agreement. At that point in time, the First Nation law supersedes, in respect of that matter, whatever territorial law may have been in effect with regard to First Nation citizens on First Nation land. Without such a provision, of course, self-government would be meaningless and that is precisely why the idea is so important to First Nations.
Mr. Lang: I take it then that the government has indicated that it agrees with that principle. I would ask the Minister this: in view of the fact that our calendar of business has, in most part, been presented, and in view of the fact that in the Speech from the Throne the government indicated that we would be dealing with the Indian land claims legislation during the course of this sitting, can the Minister tell us whether or not legislation is going to be presented to this House prior to recess?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: First of all, again I have to apologize for doing so but I have to respond to the Members preamble. I want to take care to make it understood that I agreed with the principle as I explained it, not as the Member opposite explained it; there is a big difference. Secondly, the question of the intent of the government to introduce legislation to give effect to the land claim and self-governing agreements is firm; it would be my hope that we could still introduce the legislation in this sitting. But, to cite the obvious, if the current problem is not resolved and we do not have agreements finalized, then of course I will not be able to do so.
Question re: Land claims
Mr. Lang: In the same area but on a different principle, my next question has to do with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and how it would apply to the Indian people here in the Yukon. On May 19, the Government Leader arrived back home and made a statement to the House, and I quote: Ministers and aboriginal leaders also agree that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms should apply to aboriginal governments.
I was very surprised to wake up today to find out that there are a number of qualifiers to that statement. My understanding from the national news is that some exemptions were agreed to, as well as a notwithstanding clause for First Nations to opt out of how the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would apply to their citizens.
I would like to know what other exemptions were agreed to during these discussions, and did the Government Leader agree with the concept that a notwithstanding clause would apply to the Indian people of the territory if it were to be applied?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Let me explain, again, what I tried to make clear in my ministerial statement the other day.
First of all, the Charter of Rights now contains references to aboriginal rights and also equality provisions; they are both in the Charter. It is often said the Charter applies only to individual rights, but it also includes references to collective rights, such as aboriginal rights. Different sections of the Charter have to be read and understood with each other.
I also explained that, unless and until aboriginal self-government is entrenched in the Constitution, it is our understanding that the Charter would apply to the self-government agreements in the Yukon.
If entrenchment occurs, then that would have changed the situation. As I reported to the Member, following the meetings in Vancouver last week, there was agreement at that table that the Charter would apply. The Member refers to a news story -which I also heard this morning - however, I did not hear it exactly the way the Member opposite did, so I will have to explain my understanding. Further to the discussions last week, aboriginal organizations - principally the Assembly of First Nations - have sought, now that the Charter question is recognized, to exercise the notwithstanding clause in order to have their own laws prevail in some circumstances. This is an ability that the provinces and the territories enjoy. As the Member knows, the notwithstanding clause is a -
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I will try to do so, but this is a complicated question and I cannot do it in one or two sentences.
The notwithstanding clause has one advantage, notwithstanding its controversy which allows the primacy of parliamentary or legislative bodies over the courts. The notwithstanding clause has not been used often, but the most notorious case was use by Quebec to strike down the decision of the Supreme Court with respect to minority language rights. I expect discussions on this question to continue this week and on to the conclusion. I do not believe there is an agreement by all the parties on this question yet.
Mr. Lang: I want to make it very clear that I am affronted by the attitude of the Minister across the way. Every time we ask a question, specifically on this subject, he says that it is too complicated for us poor simpletons to understand. I want to say to the Government Leader that -
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Point of order to the Hon. Premier.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I get a little tired of the Member misrepresenting what I say. I did not say that it was too complicated for him to understand. I said that it was too complicated to explain in a sentence or two. That was a reference and apology to you, about the limited time that you have given -
Speaker: Order please. I find there is no point of order.
Mr. Lang: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Speaker: Point of order to the Opposition Leader.
Mr. Lang: On the same point of order, I was referring to what the Government Leader portrays in this House. In my previous questions, he also said that it was too complicated to really tell us what it was all about.
Speaker: I find there is no point of order, but a dispute between two Members.
Mr. Lang: I would like to ask a further question of the Minister. I hope that he can answer it in the simplest terms to us poor citizens here.
Can the Minister explicitly tell us what the governments position on exempting or supporting the notwithstanding clause is, as far as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the native people of the territory?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I do not yet know the precise question, yet, but - without the Member condescending to me again - let me explain to him that it is not a simple question.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms affirms that there are both aboriginal rights and equality rights; they have to be seen together. It is not about choosing one or the other; the Charter protects both and we support both.
As to the question about the use of the notwithstanding clause and in what circumstances it is to be used, I have not seen the precise language of the proposal that was made in Montreal, nor have I seen the text. Therefore, I cannot comment on the precise proposal that was made, and which the Member is addressing in response to a news story this morning. I apologize to the Member, but I cannot answer that.
Mr. Lang: I have to express a very deep concern about this trend toward exempting certain Canadians from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially the native women in Canada, and specifically, the Yukon.
As the Minister knows, there are some very deep concerns about...
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please get to the supplementary question.
Mr. Lang: ... the concept of a notwithstanding clause applying in this case. I want to know, and it should not come as any surprise to the government, what the governments position is on a notwithstanding clause applying to the Charter, as far as it applies to aboriginal rights.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Let me explain to the Member again. This government supports the equal rights provisions of the Charter. Men and women are equal. Aboriginal men and aboriginal women are equal, and we support that. This government also supports aboriginal rights, the collective rights of aboriginal people and the right to self-government, the inherent right to self-government and the obligation of governments to negotiate self-government agreements.
In respect to the notwithstanding clause, which is not a simple question, many people who advocate minority rights in this country are concerned about the use of the notwithstanding clause. But, as someone who believes in the supremacy of Parliament, not the supremacy of the courts in the matter of citizens rights, I happen to support the use of the notwithstanding clause, in exceptional circumstances, by Parliaments.
As to the proposed precise use of the notwithstanding clause by First Nations, I have not yet seen the specific proposal made in Montreal and referred to in the news this morning, and therefore I cannot comment.
Question re: School principals, hiring of
Mrs. Firth: My question is for the Minister of Education regarding the hiring of principals. There has been quite a shift in the hiring of principals by school councils. A concern has been brought to my attention by at least three people who have been involved in this hiring process. The concern is that the people who are applying for the jobs as principals are being labelled politically. It has resulted in quite a confrontational hiring process and has become quite frustrating for some of the school councils.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not he is aware of this? I gather by the look of surprise on his face that he is not.
Has he heard about this?
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I have not heard about anything like what the Member has mentioned specifically, in her reference to people being labelled politically.
I do know that there are a number of recruitment actions for principals, both in Whitehorse and around the territory. I do know that the school councils are prime movers in the selection of the new principals. I have not heard any allegations of political manoeuvering. I hope the Member is not referring to anything involving the actions of the department. I really do not believe that to be the case and I would need proof on that score. Perhaps the Member could explain a little further what she is referring to.
Mrs. Firth: There are no allegations concerning the department; however, it is a very serious issue. What is happening is that school councils are getting into debates about whether applicants support one political party or another. It is the applicants who are being labelled. It has resulted in tears and frustration and quite confrontational debates with respect to the hiring of the principals-
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member please get to the supplementary question.
Mrs. Firth: I was just about to, Mr. Speaker. I would like to ask the Minister if there is anything he can do about this. Perhaps he could check into it and report back.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: I will certainly check into it. Labelling people for their partisan political beliefs, and assuming that that is going to be an appropriate qualification for being the principal of any school, is completely and utterly inappropriate behaviour.
I am not in a position to control what school council members say or think. However, in my view, the political affiliation of any particular person should play no role whatsoever in their employment prospects with this government or with any school.
I will look into the situation, and maybe the Member can later indicate to me the specifics she may have in mind so I can focus the investigation in this particular situation.
Mrs. Firth: It is very important for the system that this not happen. I agree with the Ministers comments that people should not be judged on any political affiliation. However, unfortunately, it seems that this is happening. I cannot focus in on any specific area, because the people who brought this to my attention asked that their names not be given. I can perhaps lead the Minister in the right direction, and I will provide that information for him, since he has made a commitment to check it out and report back to the House.
Question re: Land claims
Mr. Brewster: At a public meeting in Whitehorse, the Government Leader stated that the Yukon government had obtained a legal opinion regarding the application of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the comprehensive land claim umbrella final agreement and the draft Yukon First Nations self-government agreement.
At that meeting, two people requested copies of this legal opinion. Have these copies been sent out yet?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: No. As the Member knows, as a custom, we do not hand out legal opinions. However, the substance of the opinion, which I have already dealt with on several occasions in the House, has been provided to the people who asked for it, as far as I know.
Mr. Brewster: It is my understanding that at least one person has not received a copy.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: If the Member had taken the trouble to phone my office to let me know that, I would have made sure they received the information. On at least three occasions I have talked about it in the House. I believe I have communicated to the Member himself on the subject. I would be happy to do so again.
Mr. Brewster: On March 30, I wrote asking for a copy of this legal agreement. When will I receive my copy?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I apologize to the Member, if the Member did not hear me. I said we never - not this government nor any other government in this country - hand out legal opinions. We have conveyed the substance of the opinion to people. If the Member wants more information about the substance of that legal opinion, further to the answers I have previously given him in question period and in this House with respect to the application of the Charter to self-government powers and First Nations governments, I would be happy to do so.
Question re: Yukon Development Corporation, tabling of various studies
Mr. Phillips: My question is for the Minister in charge of the Yukon Development Corporation. My first question relates to a promise that the Minister made quite some time ago. We asked the Minister at that time if he could table any feasibility studies that were done, either in-house or independently, on the need for a new hotel complex in Whitehorse and the effects that this new hotel would have on the existing hotel businesses. This is in relation to the Taga Ku project. I wonder if the Minister could tell us if he will table those documents on Monday, or how soon will he table them in the House?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: It comes to mind that accommodation needs studies have previously been done and very publicly circulated. I suspect that, in fact, in 1988, when the Tourism department did an accommodation needs study, it was even tabled in this House. I indicated that previously in questioning; I repeat that, but I will provide the Member with an undertaking that if we have more current studies than those that have been publicly provided, I will certainly provide them.
Mr. Phillips: I am sure that the Yukon Development Corporation did some studies to determine whether or not they should loan the money for a new hotel before they actually loaned the money, to ensure that there was a demonstrated need for that. Those are the studies that I am searching for.
As well, several weeks ago the Minister was asked to provide us with feasibility studies, private or in-house, that deal with the economic viability and environmental viability of the Mayo-Dawson transmission line. Will the Minister table those studies on Monday next?
Hon. Mr. Byblow: It would be very helpful to me if the Member could identify precisely what studies he is referring to. The matter of the Mayo-Dawson transmission line is a subject that has been under constant review over the past year or two; it is a matter that has been the subject of some debate in the House. We are assessing the economic viability of that particular project.
Mr. Phillips: We have been asking all along for those economic studies determining the viability of that line. All I am asking the Minister is, since he has studies at hand now, will he table them next Monday?
My third question relates to legal action surrounding the Watson Lake sawmill. The Minister promised to give us a status report on the court cases and the total cost of the fiasco to date. Will the Minister table this on Monday as well? We have been waiting a long time for these studies. It is time for the Minister to do his job and table the studies in the House, as he said he was going to.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: The Member has to remember that part of what he is asking for has already been tabled. With respect to the Watson Lake litigation costs, I previously committed that I would provide an updated status of costs associated with the legal action surrounding that project. I provided that information in complete detail during the last session, last fall. I committed myself to provide an update; it is currently being prepared and, when it is ready, I will table it.
Question re: Alaska Highway maintenance, sloughing along ditches
Mr. Devries: I still have a question for the Minister of highways. We have had an abnormally wet fall and spring, and a strange phenomenon has been taking place along the rebuilt sections of the Alaska Highway, many of which were rebuilt as many as 10 years ago. Many sections of sod have slipped down the banks into the ditches and I would like to know if the Minister has been alerted to this situation.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I appreciate the Members observation. I cannot tell him that I have been alerted to anything that is extraordinary or unusual. I can tell him that our highways crews are constantly on the roads, monitoring conditions of the roads, and if there are any specific sloughing sections, I would appreciate knowing about them just to ensure that our highways crews are looking after things.
Mr. Devries: My feeling is that it is much more than normal and my fear is that some of these sections are quite large and, if we have heavy summer rains or even a heavy localized thunderstorm, tremendous amounts of erosion will develop along the road, plugging ditches and culverts with silt, which could lead to washouts.
I would like to know if the Minister would develop a contingency plan with his department to deal with this, as it is much different from normal runoff problems because it will not be so localized.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I can give the Member every assurance that such contingency plans exist at all times within the highways department, on how to handle emergencies on the highway. I also have every confidence that the highways crews, who have been doing an excellent job of maintaining our highways over the years, will continue to do so. The Member is accurate in his observation that we may have more severe flooding conditions this year than previous, largely because of the heavy rains prior to freeze-up last fall. However, we are certainly aware of the potential for problems; we are monitoring, and I have every confidence we will be able to handle it as we always have.
Mr. Devries: Yesterday, the Minister mentioned in his ministerial statement that they were conducting various roadside seeding projects. I would like the Minister to have his department go back to some of the damaged areas - they are very unsightly - and perhaps re-landscape and seed them to prevent ongoing erosion damage, as well as improve the aesthetic appeal of the high banks.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: I will take the Members suggestion as notice. Certainly the highways department will assess its hydroseeding program in the context of what the Member is describing.
While I am on my feet, perhaps I could beg your indulgence to apologize to the House for my departure, along with the Member for Watson Lake, in order that we may attend a function down the street relating to the geoscience office.
Question re: Shipyard area
Mr. Nordling: Before the Minister goes, I have a quick question for him.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Nordling: It is all right. I can ask the Minister of Justice the question. In fact, she may want to answer it for the Minister. It is with respect to the people living in the Shipyard area.
When the Taga Ku project started, there was a fence built along the middle of the road, limiting access for those people living in the area. I was wondering if the Minister was aware of the problem and whether or not this government could do anything to assist those people.
Hon. Ms. Joe: The situation mentioned by the Member for Porter Creek West came to the forefront last year when the fence went up. It had to go up, of course, because it was ordered by occupational health and safety.
I have been in contact with the people from the Shipyard area as late as this morning. I have asked them to organize a group of people so that I could make government officials available to them. I made that offer at the time of the building of the fence. I have had about three conversations with them. I am confident that a meeting will be organized. I am not organizing it for them. I have asked them to do that and let me know when, and I would make officials available to them.
Mr. Nordling: I am pleased the Minister of Justice looked at this injustice, as perceived by her constituents.
Can this government do anything about the problem? As the Minister said, it arose a year ago, and the people are still concerned. Is there anything that can be done? Do we have the jurisdiction?
Hon. Ms. Joe: A number of years ago, when I was in the Opposition, there was occasion for constituents to come to me with regard to a road closure that was set up by the 20/20 property owner, at that time. I sought advice from the Minister responsible for roads and highways, which happened to be the Member for Porter Creek East, in regard to that area. I received information that, under no act of the government, would it be possible to open that road for certain reasons.
I will meet with them. I will take officials with me, and we will try to find out exactly what it is they want us to do.
Mr. Nordling: It is pretty clear what they want the Minister to do. They want access to their houses. After a year, can the Minister not tell them whether or not this government is in a position to assist them, or is she relying on information received from the Member for Porter Creek East many years ago?
Hon. Ms. Joe: They do have access to their homes now. They can get into those homes from each side of the road. Right now, their concern is about the fence and whether or not it was legal to put it there. At the time of the incident, we brought in the fire department to measure the distance from the road to find out whether or not it was possible for emergency vehicles to get in there. They informed us by letter that it was. We involved the city and a number of other people.
At their request, I am certainly willing to carry it further.
Question re: Access House, contract tender
Mr. Lang: I have received a legislative return from the Minister of Health and Social Services. I want to express my very deep concern with respect to how contracts are being handled within her department. I am talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars.
I am referring specifically to Access House and the fact that this contract for $305,301 - which was terminated with the previous contractor - was not publicly tendered. The contract was not publicly tendered, and we also have a substantial increase of that component of almost $200,000, for a total of $482,000. This contract was just handed over to one particular operator.
Why was that particular service not publicly tendered out when the service was finished with the other contractor?
Hon. Ms. Hayden: I also have some concerns on this issue. I have been, and will be, asking some questions on it. When I obtain the answers, I will be pleased to bring them back to the Member.
Mr. Lang: I am so pleased that the Minister is concerned. It is my understanding that the Minister signed the contract and allowed this contract to be given out without having it go to tender. If the Minister had these concerns, why did she sign the contract?
Hon. Ms. Hayden: As I said, I will be pleased to bring the information back to the Member.
Mr. Lang: We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars. We are talking about bypassing - perhaps legally, but I question morally - the contracting procedures of this government.
Why did the Minister allow that contract to be handed over, and why did she sign it? Now, all of a sudden, two months later, why is the Minister expressing some concerns about it?
Hon. Ms. Hayden: We are indeed talking about a considerable amount of money for any group home that has operated. The difference in contract price that the Member is referring to is somewhere around $20,000, which is not hundreds of thousands of dollars. As I said, I will bring that information back to the Member.
Question re: North to Alaska, omission of Carcross
Mr. Phelps: I have some questions for the Minister for Tourism, to follow up on discussions we had last session with respect to the issue of Carcross being left out of the publication North to Alaska, and the corrective measures that the Minister was going to take to ensure that at least some tourists found their way to Carcross to see the various tourist attractions in Carcross.
I understand there was a separate publication developed as an insert by the Ministers department and we are thankful for that.
However, I am curious as to where matters sit with respect to the suggestion of a kiosk being set up on the Alaska Highway, somewhere south of Jakes Corner.
Hon. Mr. Webster: I want to inform the Member that in addition to the insert that was provided in that brochure to inform visitors of the whereabouts of Carcross and to encourage them to tour the Carcross/Tagish area, we also printed some information on the Carcross area as a supplement to the Whitehorse area map. This map was prepared by PR Services.
With respect to the matter of the kiosk, we did write the people in the area who brought this to our attention. We informed them that it was not the program of the Department of Tourism to provide kiosks in all parts of the territory to alert visitors, but rather there are other government programs available to them, such as going through the community development fund to apply for construction of a kiosk for that purpose.
Mr. Phelps: During last session, there was some discussion about a highway sign to clearly show the alternate route to Carcross/Tagish. The concept was to develop such a sign in conjunction with the business people in the Carcross/Tagish area, and erect a sign at both ends of the Y around Jakes Corner and the Carcross Cutoff.
Can the Minister tell us if that has been done?
Hon. Mr. Webster: I believe that the sign at the Jakes Corner part of the Y has been erected. I am not certain of that, but I know that one has been planned. It was intended to be up in time for the start of the tourism season. I am not quite certain about the status of the sign for the Carcross Cutoff area of the Alaska Highway. I will have to get back to the Member with that information.
Question re: Can-can dancer removal from promotional literature
Mr. Nordling: I also have a question for the Minister of Tourism. I would like to know whether or not he, or his department, is considering removing the can-can dancer from all Yukon government promotional literature.
Hon. Mr. Webster: The short answer is no, but I would be curious to hear from the Member as to why he believes that the can-can dancer perhaps should be removed from promotional literature of the Government of Yukon.
Mr. Nordling: My understanding is that one of the government departments has lobbied the Department of Tourism to have the can-can dancer removed because, I assume, it is sexist. I would just like to know the governments opinion on that and their policy with respect to the use of the can-can dancer.
Hon. Mr. Webster: It comes to mind that I cannot think of very many places where we have actually used a can-can dancer as part of our promotional material and as part of a symbol of the Government of Yukon. So, again, I refer to the Member to help me out on that as well.
Mr. Nordling: Let me make it very simple for the Minister of Tourism. Are we going to see can-can dancers depicted in Yukon government tourism literature or not?
Hon. Mr. Webster: I believe that we already do carry in our tourism brochures, our vacation guide, pictures which show can-can dancers in action. I want to assure the Member that there has been no direction from this Minister to remove such photos from Tourism Yukon brochures.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now lapsed. We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Speaker: Government Bills.
Bill No. 82: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 82, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Penikett.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I move that Bill No. 82, entitled Public Government Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Premier that Bill No. 82, entitled Public Government Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: As the preamble to this bill states, this proposed legislation is about ensuring that government provided to the Yukon citizens is as open, accountable, fair and responsible to their needs as it can be.
The bill is the first of two pieces of legislation we hope to bring to the Legislature to entrench these principles in legal commitments. In the next few months, we hope to bring forward another batch of legislative proposals dealing with some issues, such as electoral financing and some legislation that may result from further consultation on questions such as the ombudsperson matter, on which we did not hear much during our recent public sounding.
The legislation here contains four parts. First, there are some general provisions. Second, a large body of this proposed legislation deals with conflict-of-interest rules for public officials. The third part deals with freedom of information and protection of personal privacy provisions. That is also a large part of this bill. The fourth part is guarantee of political rights and political leave provisions for most public servants, consistent with the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision.
The general provisions of this legislation include commitments to the principles this government has followed in its dealings with Yukon citizens. This commitment gives Yukon citizens, as much as possible, the opportunity to participate in developing legislation and policies that affect their daily lives: a commitment to communicate in plain, non-sexist language for the people of the Yukon; a commitment to have boards and committees that are representative of the Yukons whole population, ensuring a balance of men and women, aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, and rural and urban Yukoners. With the passage of this legislation, these will become statutory obligations.
Part one also contains provisions designed to enhance government accountability and response to public needs and desires. These include the commitment that boards of government corporations will hold annual general meetings that are open to the public, and there will be a requirement for sufficient public notice to enable citizens to attend them.
This is important because, while Ministers are appropriately held accountable for the actions of public bodies like Crown corporations, there are a great many decisions that are made by the boards of these corporations without reference to Cabinet. We think it is entirely appropriate that citizens have the opportunity to question board members directly about decisions and judgments the boards have made on the citizens behalf.
There is a commitment to an open nominating process for boards and committees that is expressed specifically by a statement of the right of any citizen to nominate any other citizen.
There are provisions that are now in practice, but which we propose to put into law, that require the payment of interest on overdue bills. It is now contained in regulations, but we intend to put it into law. This is an important provision for small business communities that have, in the past, complained about the late payment of accounts. This legislation will guarantee that interest will be paid on overdue accounts, so suppliers of goods and services to the government may not suffer as a result of late payment.
Under the general provisions of this legislation, there are also provisions for the holding of referenda when this House determines that it is desirable and necessary to gain an expression of public opinion.
Referenda under this provision will be administered by the chief electoral officer, he will no doubt be pleased to know. To ensure their impartiality, it is proposed that the question could be approved, by a two-thirds vote in this Legislature, and the resolution to give effect to that decision would indicate whether it would be a binding or a non-binding matter.
If I may just express a personal view, as a supporter of parliamentary democracy and as a supporter of the British political tradition as opposed to the American political tradition, I have never been a big fan of referenda, but I willingly admit that there are occasions in the life of a jurisdiction, or indeed in the life of a country, where referenda, or a referendum, may be desirable.
We have included here provisions that would supersede the provisions of the existing Plebiscite Act, which permit only the Cabinet to hold such tests of public opinion without reference to the Legislature.
As well, there are other general provisions to provide for more openness to the Yukon public by requiring the release of more detailed information on government spending on goods and services, and the release of certain research conducted at public expense. These requirements are also consistent with part 3 of this bill, which contains a new freedom of information and protection of personal privacy legislative package.
The second part of this bill deals with conflict of interest. It contains conflict-of-interest provisions governing Members of this House, Cabinet Ministers, public servants, political staff of Ministers and caucuses and board appointees. The legislation is modelled on legislation that has been put in place in other Canadian provinces in the last few years. Members will be aware that this area has been the subject of lively public debate in many Canadian jurisdictions; in fact, public expectations and public standards in this area have been rising considerably, and we hope this legislation is consistent with the best of recent legislation in Canada, designed to ensure that public officials avoid conflicts and the appearance of conflicts between their public duties and their private interests.
This includes provisions for the first time for public servants, political staff and board appointees, as well as strengthening provisions for elected officials. In brief, this part of the legislation defines conflict of interest, and establishes those activities that are conflicts between public duties and private interests. It establishes a six-month cooling-off period for former Ministers and public servants when they leave Cabinet or government services. It prohibits Cabinet Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition - who earns a Cabinet Ministers salary - from carrying on business and other activities that could conflict with their responsibilities to the Yukon public. These provisions would now be in law rather than simply a matter of policy, as has been the case in the past.
It also requires, for the first time, that Cabinet Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition have business interests that could be in conflict held in trust.
The bill also establishes an important new office of the conflicts commissioner, someone who, it is assumed, would be a part-time appointee. This person would be responsible to this House, as an officer of this House. In that capacity, the conflicts commissioner would provide advice to MLAs on avoiding conflicts, and would investigate complaints of conflicts-of-interest. This legislation also maintains a system of public disclosure of MLAs interests; a system that would now be administered by the conflicts commissioner.
The legislation strengthens the current provisions and covers all people in the service of the government to ensure that public officials maintain the trust and the confidence of the people whom they serve.
Part 3 of the legislation deals with freedom of information and the protection of personal privacy. It would repeal the current Access to Information Act, and replace it with provisions that create two distinct rights: the right of the public of access to information held by departments and agencies of the Yukon government and, the right of individuals to the protection of personal information held about them in government records.
This bill meets the basic requirements of sound freedom of information and privacy legislation. Yukon government information would be available to the public and subject to some limited and specific restrictions. Decisions about the release of government information would be subject to a review, independent of government. An independent body can order the release of government information. Privacy of individuals would be protected and a person would have the right to access personal information about him or her held in government records. The provisions designed to protect the privacy of individuals with regard to information in government records include: restriction on the collection, use and disclosure of personal information; the rights of individuals to see personal information about themselves, held in government records, subject to limited and specific exemptions to this rule of access; the right of individuals to request corrections to personal information about themselves in government records; and the right of individuals to have this information protected from disclosure to anyone other than is specifically authorized in this bill.
These provisions are in keeping with the fair data practices developed by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development in the 1970s. For Members information, I would like to state these guidelines, which are: personal information should be collected only if needed for defined, authorized purposes; personal information should be used for the purpose that it was collected and for consistent purposes; personal information should be stored and disposed of in a manner that respects the need to protect the individuals privacy; and, individuals should have the right to access personal information about themselves.
Part 3 also provides for an independent review of decisions made under it, such as the decision to withhold access to government records. This is an important improvement from the current Access to Information Act, which makes courts the only course of action for an independent appeal of government decisions.
People can now avoid the time and expense involved in a court appeal by appealing to an independent information and privacy commissioner, who, like the conflicts commissioner, will be appointed as an officer of the Legislature by a super-majority of Members in this House. I guess this could, theoretically, be the same person as the information commissioner, but that would depend on the wishes of the House.
The commissioner - whom I have said might also fill the role of conflicts commissioner - will act much like an ombudsperson in this respect, with the ability to thoroughly investigate complaints and, if appropriate, recommend the disclosure of government information. If the recommendations are not accepted by the government, people could still apply to the Yukon Supreme Court, which can order the release of the information.
However, there is a very important protection here, which I will say more about later, in that, for the first time in law, the burden of proof on the question of whether or not to disclose information, or the burden of proof in terms of withholding information, will be upon the government and not upon the citizen. I regard this as a major improvement.
The hon. Member for Riverdale South, who was the sponsor of the present legislation, and myself, who was the unsuccessful sponsor of a competing piece of legislation, will know, as will the Member for Hootalinqua, who has taken a great interest in this question, that the law has changed considerably since the 1970s, when the very first Freedom of Information Act came into play. As I understand the situation, the original bill in the United States was a very short passage. It has now been subject to court decisions - dozens and dozens of court decisions, the record of which fills thousands and thousands of pages, all of which interpret the short legislation.
The bill that was presented in 1983 in this House is very much the same way. It is general in terms of its guidelines; so, I confess also, was the bill I presented in the House. Since then, everyone who had anything to do with it, says that the need to protect privacy cannot be satisfied, and the other principle of giving public access to information, by such general provisions. It is necessary that the legislation be very tight and very specific about what can and cannot be available. If it is left to regulations, the wishes of the public will not be satisfied, either on the count of privacy or on the count of public access. So, we hope that the legislation that is on the books now has been improved by tightening up the exemptions that now exist in the Access to Information Act by, as I said, clearly placing the burden of proof on government to show why information can be withheld, and by providing for an independent review of government decisions without requiring recourse to the courts.
Let me say something about that. I do not know how many cases may have gone to the courts. I only know of two for sure. One was brought by me, in respect to a public opinion poll, which was paid for with taxpayers money, and which I thought should have been public property. The government of the day disagreed; I went to court and I lost, because the terms of the legislation under that act were such that allowed the government to declare, I think, almost anything a Cabinet document.
The other case I know about was when the hon. Member for Hootalinqua was concerned about access to certain documents that had been described as commercial confidences, maybe by a third party, but certainly by a Crown agency of this government. I must confess, since the matter is now dealt with and we are bringing in new legislation here, I personally thought that some of the demands were not unreasonable.
Recently, I became a captive of certain legal advice, if I can put it that way. We went to court and, again, the court struck down the applicant and decided in favour of the government, based on the existing legislation, and access to all the documents requested by the Member for Hootalinqua were denied. In both kinds of situations presented in those court cases, this act would produce, I believe, a different decision.
This legislation would mean that both the Member for Hootalinqua and I would have won the cases under this legislation, and I think that is as it should be. I at least think that the result of the courts decision would have been different.
This legislation improves on current legislation by giving individuals an explicit right of access to personal information about themselves in government files and by allowing them to request corrections in those records and by protecting this information from unauthorized collection, use and disclosure. As all Members know, these are important considerations in the computer age and address peoples obvious concerns about unwarranted invasions of their privacy.
This is good legislation, and is consistent with the best of its kind, as it is emerging in the country.
As Members know, we have been looking at the whole problem of access to information for a couple of years. It was something that was mentioned quite often by citizens in our recent consultations; therefore, I am pleased to be able to deal with it in the legislation today.
The fourth part of this act deals with amendments to the Public Service Act. Part 4 of the act amends the Public Service Act to provide most public servants with the ability to take leaves of absence to seek nomination for seats in Legislature, the House of Commons and to be members of these legislative bodies. The amendments also enable public servants, other than deputy heads, to take part in a broader scope of political activities, either on leaves of absence or outside of work hours. They include provisions to ensure that the public responsibilities of government employees do not conflict with any political activities they might undertake. These, coupled with the new conflict-of-interest rules, are designed to maintain a fair, impartial and professional public service.
These amendments are consistent with the political leave and political rights accorded to teachers in legislation approved by this House two years ago.
In recognizing the political rights of employees other than deputy heads, this legislation is, as I said, consistent with the recent Supreme Court decision that only political activities of senior officials should be constrained.
In summary, I hope this legislation reflects the commitments of this government to accountability, to fairness and to responsiveness of government. It strengthens the basic principles we have followed since being elected and, by putting them in law, I hope it strengthens our commitment and the commitment of all Members in the House to open government and the protection of privacy for our citizens with new access to information and privacy legislation. It also strengthens our commitment to high standards of service to the people of Yukon by public officials, by MLAs, by Ministers, by political staff and by public servants, and it ensures good public government for our citizens. I look forward to fruitful debate on its measures.
Mr. Lang: I want to approach this bill from a number of points of view.
First of all, I want to tell Members that I very seriously considered rising on a point of order and challenging the bill in its entirety. The reason I say that is because I am very concerned that we are dealing with a piece of legislation here that is amending five different pieces of legislation. There are some principles in the bill with which I agree, and others that I would like to discuss and debate to see if some compromises could be made; but I am raising this from a parliamentarians point of view. I was very interested to hear the Government Leader state at the beginning of his second reading debate that he is a very strong supporter of the parliamentary system. If anyone has exposure to the parliamentary system in this House, it has to be the Government Leader, not only in his service on both sides of this House but also in the Parliament of Canada, since he used to be the executive assistant to the then-leader of the NDP.
The point I am making is that we have a bill before us that deals with some very significant principles. For example, we have the question of the right to information portion of the bill, which is very important; we have raised it on a continual basis and the Member who just spoke raised it when he was a Member in the Opposition.
That, in itself, is a bill - a bill that deserves the necessary discussion and debate over the three stages required to go through a parliament.
How does that particular portion of this bill relate to the question of referenda?
I submit to the side opposite that that is a very important principle, as well. It is one that, I feel, deserves consideration on its own merits: the principle itself, and also the details of how it would come into effect.
We have to ask ourselves: how do the conflict-of-interest sections apply to the civil service and have to do with the principle of referenda?
I then come to what I feel is a precedent in this House: the inclusion of the sections that apply to Members of this House. Ever since I have been part of this Legislature, we have always maintained the precedent that the civil service is separate and apart from that of the Legislature, and that the rules that apply to Members of this House are considered and debated in a non-partisan atmosphere by the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges, and then brought forward as a bill to this House, under the auspices of the Yukon Legislative Assembly Act.
Now, all of a sudden, we have a hodge-podge of various pieces of legislation that have all come together under one roof, under the auspices of good government.
If one were to accept the principle that the government has put forward, then I would have to ask, for example, why do we have a separate Highways Act, a separate Dangerous Goods Transportation Act, and a separate Motor Vehicles Act? These acts all apply to the same subject matter. In fact, there is more correlation there than there is with the various subjects included in this bill. Nobody, but nobody, can tell me how the question of conflict of interest, as it applies to the civil service in this government, relates to a referendum, or how it relates to the right to information by citizens.
I submit to the side opposite that, unintentionally or otherwise, they are putting all Members in a very compromising position. We are dealing with distinct principles that have no relationship, and they are asking us to vote through the three stages of the deliberation of the bill in its entirety.
It is ironic that, of all of the jurisdictions in Canada, we would be dealing with a bill presented by a government of the Yukon on such a wide range of different principles that, in some cases, you can argue with justification that there is no correlation between them.
In 1982, our previous Member of Parliament, Erik Nielsen, rang the bells in the Parliament of Canada for 15 days. He was objecting that he and all other Members - not just the Opposition, but the government side as well - were dealing with an energy bill that was so broad and encompassing that it compromised each and every Members rights and privileges to vote on various different principles of the bill, as it was presented in Parliament.
When Mr. Nielsen was in Opposition, he had a rule that he could apply to, and that was the ringing of the bells. We do not have that. I submit to the House that I believe there is some correlation. Ask anybody who has read this legislation what, for an example, the proposed amendments to the Financial Administration Act have to do with referenda or the conflict-of-interest guidelines?
I submit to the Member that he has presented a bill that I think he is trying to put forward as a political document to be used in an election campaign. I mean, who is against good government?
In the course of the Committee of the Whole, I would like discussions with respect to the five or six bills, which should actually have been submitted to our small Parliament for consideration, and that principle of good government. At this time, I do not intend to hold the bill up, but I want to put the government on notice that I am very concerned about the precedent this bill sets in this House.
The next time, it will be an all-inclusive bill under the auspices of good government, and future legislators will be dealing with five, six, eight, or 10 different principles having no relationship to each other, but which the government says are in for the principle of good government.
I now want to speak to a number of areas of the bill.
As I said to begin with, I want to say that there are many principles in the bill that I concur with. In some cases, they are overdue. I do not think it is right that we bring in a bill that is a conglomeration of a lot of pieces of legislation. I believe it makes it more confusing for the public. If that happens, we have not served the public well.
I want to go through the preamble, because I think it is a sad day when we have to come forward with a piece of legislation that incorporates the various principles in this act. It is safe to say that, when we go through the preamble, we can point out, without contradiction, every one of those principles that this government has breached.
I am going to go through the first one. It says, Preamble: Recognizing that the principle of open and accountable government is fundamental in a free and democratic society;.
Let us go back to what the Minister talked about earlier and the approach the Member for Hootalinqua took in trying to get a clear understanding of what happened with the Watson Lake sawmill. The Member for Hootalinqua finally had to go to court. He was turned down by a Minister of this government, and he was turned down by the courts because of the Access to Information Act of the day. We never got the information. To this day, I challenge anybody in this House - the media, the public and any Member on that side of the House - to say what the final cost of the Watson Lake sawmill debacle was. Nobody really knows.
They talk about open and accountable government. Just a number of weeks ago, the Yukon News applied under for access to information, trying to get some facts that related to the infamous political tool of the government, the Yukon Development Corporation. They wanted to know how decisions were made with respect to the allocation of certain public dollars. They were turned down. What a surprise.
Now, we have a bill that says that the government agrees with open and accountable government. It has done a 180 degree turn. There must be an election coming up within the next 12 months.
The next principle says: Recognizing that the government should discharge its duties to the people of the Yukon in a fair and responsive manner;. The fact is that if anyone in any particular organization or individual speaks out against this government, the message is loud and clear: Big Brother does not like it and will come down hard and fast on them. I recall the Government Leaders speech in Dawson City to the Chamber of Commerce, to the small business community. It was made very clear that if one did not play by his rules, one does get to play the game. Perhaps the Minister does not recall reading the speech that perhaps someone else wrote for him, but I was there and I am conveying the impression that everyone, including me, was left with from that speech.
I recall where presidents, specifically, of the chambers of commerce have come out in the last number of years saying they do not agree with a certain policy or action of this government. Going along with the principle that the government should discharge its duties to the people of the Yukon in a fair and responsible manner, I recall the Government Leader attacking not only the organization, but the individual, as well, who had volunteered their time and services to act on behalf of what they felt was a public interest in the territory. That goes along with the principle of discharging its duties to the people of the Yukon in a fair and responsive manner.
Now, we come to the next principle, one which I think all Yukoners would read and become very cynical about. It states Recognizing that the government should consult with the people of the Yukon on policy and legislation that affects them;. We had the hazardous waste management committee, which, I think, spent approximately $300,000 and came to the conclusion that there were certain sites, as it turns out, within the Government Leaders riding. Lo and behold, after all of the consultation and all of the dedication and work that was done, the report was not good enough. Another committee was then struck for further public consultation so that we could come to the recommendations that the Government Leader felt should be in the report.
The Wildlife Management Board is a board to which we allocate thousands and thousands of dollars to deliberate the question of game management - a very serious question of conservation - and is made up of some very dedicated people who spent two years, and many, many days - not just evenings - of their time going out to Haines Junction and such places to discuss the question of the caribou herd and the real problem that that caribou herd was undergoing due to predators. Recommendations were put forward and I would say that the recommendations were pretty much supported by the people directly affected by what is going on with the Aishihik caribou herd. Consultation. Surprise, surprise, surprise; it did not meet with the aspirations of the Government Leader - who happened to be in Ottawa, of course - nor the Minister of Renewable Resources. What happens? We set up another committee. Of course, we do not have a chairperson this time; we have a facilitator - a facilitator. Then, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultation, the news comes out that, guess what, we received a legislative return, I believe, yesterday, that says this new round of consultation is going to cost $75,000.
They talk about consultation. Then we get to the one that put the icing on the cake - the one that I think really brings into question the whole commitment this government has to consultation. For example, they draft the Employment Standards Act and, lo and behold, the Employment Standards Act is put out for public consultation. It gets public debate - very, very highly charged public debate - and recommendations are put forward as a result of that consultation. Then, lo and behold, it goes forward again to another body, the Council on the Economy and the Environment - the one that is at arms length from the government. Now we have recommendations from that body.
The point I am making is that the government side talks about consultation and how they were the ones who invented it, which is not true if one looks through history. If the government is going to consult people and if they are going to go to the effort of hearing other peoples views, then I think two things should happen: they should listen and, if it is a majority will, they should look at incorporating those views - unlike what we have been seeing: if it does not meet the initial position of the government after it has gone out for consultation, they do everything to circumvent the system and send it back out.
I will go to the next principle: Recognizing that in communicating with the people of the Yukon the government should use language that is easily understood;. Nobody would argue that, but when one looks at this piece of legislation - ask somebody who is not familiar with legislation to come in and read this bill and try to relate it to all the other pieces of legislation it refers to - I can say right now that that person is going to be confused.
It is amazing that one of the principles laid out in the bill is not incorporated in the bill itself.
Now, we get to the next one. This is the one that is really of interest. It says, Recognizing that the Yukons public service, boards, committees, foundations and other governmental agencies should be representative of the Yukon population as a whole;. We know about the debates we have had in this House; we know what has happened to the most powerful corporations of this government, especially the one that has been the centre of ongoing controversy - the Yukon Development Corporation. We know exactly what happened. That board spends multi-millions of dollars with no accountability to this House, no requirement to vote those funds, no accountability to stand up to the public and say why they made the decisions and why they have to stand by them.
Unbeknownst to Members on this side, that board was created as a political tool for the government, and that is sad. Once again, we have a principle that is so well written in this piece of legislation, yet the government has breached it many times.
The next one is really interesting. It says, Recognizing that public officials should carry out their public responsibilities in a manner that does not conflict or appear to conflict with their private interests;. That is a principle this government believes in, and they are prepared to stand by it. Just a number of weeks ago, we witnessed the conduct of a public official, which I would consider to be a significant breach had this legislation been passed.
The legislation before us has been designed to try to make every attempt to whitewash the actions of this government over the past number of years. I do not think it is going to fly. Unfortunately, in many quarters, this bill is going to be seen as a crass political move to try to repair some political damage that has occurred within the government. Most of that political damage has been self-inflicted, I might add.
With the passage of this legislation, I do not think the public will feel that the tigers stripes have changed.
This bill is not going to undo the past. Once the public is made aware of what this bill contains, it is going to become more cynical. It is sad, in many ways, that some of this legislation has to come forward. Because one or two situations have offended the public, all of a sudden we have to bring in a whole brand new set of rules. Everyone is tainted - or painted - with the same brush. I think that is too bad.
I feel strongly that the government should review the bill, giving consideration to perhaps dividing it into two or three separate pieces of legislation. As I said at the start of my second reading presentation, I feel that this bill is going to be very confusing to the public. The principles of this bill are so diverse, and it affects so many other pieces of legislation.
I am also concerned that the Minister made no mention of an ombudsperson. This is an area that we are very concerned about. It appears that the Minister feels that he has met the necessity for an ombudsperson with the two positions that he is recommending be presented to the Legislature for deliberation - the commissioner of privacy of information and the commissioner in charge of conflicts.
We on this side feel quite strongly that does not meet what we feel is important to the territory, which is to assist and help those who want to get through the red tape to have their problems dealt with expeditiously, instead of the present situation where they seem to be sent from office to office and never get any results.
Further to that, I want to say that I feel that the act as it applies to the Members in this House, versus the public service, should have been introduced through the Yukon Legislative Assembly. I want to make it very clear that there not necessarily be different rules, but the fact is that there is a difference in the parliamentary system between the public service and the Legislature. There should be a line drawn between them and everybody should be aware that there is a difference.
I am surprised that the Government Leader, with his knowledge of the parliamentary system and his knowledge of the precedent set in this House, would bring in a piece of legislation that is so all encompassing, when he knows that there is a process that is generally adhered to in this House, in years past, if changes are to be made.
I want to make a number of observations that I feel should be made in the context of the specifics of the bill. I do not think that anyone would argue with the requirement for corporations to have a public meeting; in fact, the Workers Compensation Act that we just passed requires that now. It will be a very interesting public meeting that the Yukon Development Corporation will have to have with both the media and the public, where they are going to have to justify a number of the decisions that they have made over the past number of weeks - the multi-millions of dollars that they have invested without the concurrence of this House.
On surveys and public opinion polls, I feel the same as the Government Leader, that they should be made public. I realize that the previous government had a survey done and that it was not made public; quite frankly, I think that it was a mistake and I feel that if we are going to have surveys and opinion polls, there is no reason that this information should not be shared with the public.
On the question of a referendum, I have some reservations. I share, in some part, the observations made by the Government Leader in his opening statement, and I only see the use for that type of vehicle very, very seldom. There are going to have to be some very important issues facing the Yukon before a decision to do that should be made.
As I said, the question of the ombudsperson and the lack of accompanying legislation in this area is of concern to us. I am sure the Member for Hootalinqua will be speaking to that.
The other area I want to speak to is the freedom of information section of the bill, which, as I said earlier, I contend should be a separate piece of legislation and dealt with accordingly.
It is very interesting that in the beginning it says we can have information and then we go through nine pages about why we cannot. There are 70 or 80 sections that tell people why they cannot have information. It really is a contradictory piece of legislation.
There are some improvements from the Access to Information Act. The burden of proof is on the government to justify why it cannot provide information. I think it will be a very interesting debate as we go through the bill section by section. I have some difficulty with accepting some of the sections that specify why we cannot have information.
I just want to conclude by touching on conflict of interest, as it applies to Members and as it applies to the public service. Some Members may recall that, in 1978, there was review of the conflict-of-interest guidelines - quite a substantial one. In fact, there was input that was provided by the Yukon Federation of Labour, the chambers of commerce and numerous other organizations. They were asked how they felt and what should be put into conflict-of-interest legislation. The decision at that time was to agree to open, public disclosure, in order that the broadest range of candidates could consider running for office.
We have to be very careful that we do not get to the point where we are eliminating some people from running for office, as we have such a small community to start with. If we get to the situation where people feel that their privacy and their lives will be adversely affected and they cannot run because of such rules established by this House, then we have done a disservice to the public.
I want to emphasize to the side opposite that I feel any changes to our conflict-of-interest guidelines have to be altered very carefully. I do not think we should be making changes just because one or two individuals have possibly stepped over the line to the point where it is very questionable. I do not think we should necessarily make new laws because of it. I feel that we are going to have to take some considerable time and energy to debate these issues carefully; they are not easy matters to be just glossed over. In some cases, it is too easy for us to look at our own personal case and agree with the change because it is not going to affect us personally; but that is not the point. We are, in most part, talking about other people, perhaps new people, and I think we have to give very serious consideration before making significant changes.
We are looking forward to debating this in Committee of the Whole. I hope the government seriously considers my representations here in that I feel the bill is very diverse in the issues it is dealing with and it has, in some ways, put Members in a situation of compromise - where they may well agree with the concept of referenda but that perhaps there are some areas in the conflict-of-interest section they cannot agree to and, in the end, they have to vote on the bill in its entirety, rather than to the various principles, one by one.
Mrs. Firth: I appreciate the point that the Leader of the Official Opposition has made with respect to the cumbersomeness of the bill and the fact that we have several bills included in one overall bill. I do have to admit, however, that I am more interested in the contents of the bill and the direction that the government is taking with respect to some of the changes that have been asked for by me, as a Member of this House, and, certainly, by the public.
I have to say that the time between the Good Government brochure put out by the government a short time ago - the brochure that people were requested to pick up and comment on - and this legislation being drawn has been quite short, so I am skeptical about how much input the public has had into the direction that the government is taking in this legislation.
I am also skeptical about how long it took to prepare the bill. My impression is that is has been done in a somewhat hurried fashion. Some of the initiatives seem to be last-minute initiatives.
I would like to speak more with respect to the particular areas of the bill. I realize that the government is probably not going to break it up and bring five separate bills into the House, so I do not want to spend a lot of time discussing the merits of doing that. I would have preferred to have seen them in small, separate bills as well and debated each bill on its own merit. I find that I am now in a position of wanting to agree with the whole bill, but I cannot because there are certain aspects of it that I disagree with. Perhaps the government will be open to some suggestions for change.
When I go through the bill, the first observation I make is with respect to the representation on open boards and committees. This is one of the areas that made me suspicious or skeptical that this was rather a last-minute addition to this legislation, and that it came as a result of some of the criticism that the government had been taking with respect to appointments to boards and committees.
It is my personal feeling that it really does not matter what is defined in legislation with respect to boards and committees. The issue here is not the number of men or women, aboriginal or non-aboriginal people, or regional representation appointed. The real issue is the political nature of the appointments. I do not think it really matters what you have written in legislation. The true intention of the government will come through with the political affiliations of the individuals who are appointed to the boards. You cannot stop that with a piece of legislation, unless you have some bizarre clause in place saying that people cannot be appointed if they have ever indicated to anybody in the Yukon what their political affiliation is.
It does not matter who the government is. This kind of legislation is not going to have any control over the political nature of board and committee appointments. It does, however, designate that there has to be some representation on the boards that reflects the community and the population of the Yukon as a whole.
Unlike the other two speakers who have expressed reservations about the issue of referenda, I am more inclined to be a stronger proponent of them. This is what I refer to as the right of initiative. From the legislation, I see that, although it is not the public, directly, that is coming forward with an initiating referendum, they can do it through their MLAs, who can come forward to the Legislature with a motion and initiate some specific resolution that the public would like to see.
I am also in favour of the right of recall. I notice that there is nothing included in this legislation with respect to that. I was not surprised that I did not see it here as it was not really an issue that the government had discussed or expressed an opinion on, one way or another.
I have a motion on the Order Paper that deals with both questions - the right of initiative and the right of recall. The research I have done with respect to the recall initiative has been to consult and acquire information from other jurisdictions, such as Alaska, Washington, and other states where they have the ability to recall Members of the Legislative Assembly.
I do not want the government to feel that I am taking any extreme position on it. If this kind of initiative were to be established here, I could see where we would require specific policies or processes with respect to constituent ability to recall their Member of the Legislative Assembly. There would have to be grounds for recall. It could not be perceived to be frivolous, and you would have to set certain percentages with respect to whether the recall process could proceed and be finalized.
It is just another step. If we were going to proceed with the referendum issue, I would have liked to have seen us proceed with a recall clause as well.
When I look at the legislation, I think it is good that the referendum would be run by the chief electoral officer and, pursuant to the Elections Act, the qualified electorate would be eligible.
The next section I come to in the bill is the conflict-of-interest legislation. As everyone knows, this has been a particular pet peeve of mine for some time. I have a copy of the Conflict of Interest Act from British Columbia. I am of the opinion that this act has been fashioned after the B.C. one, with some modifications for the Yukon, to add our own particular interests. I have a couple of questions that I would like to pose now, and I look forward to the Minister responding to them when he gives his final statement. I notice that occasionally they make reference to agencies under conflict of interest, but I am not clear as to whether the Yukon Housing Corporation, the Yukon Liquor Corporation, the Workers Compensation Board or the Yukon Development Corporation will come under these rules or whether they will be responsible to create their own. I look forward to some clarification with respect to that issue.
Some of the wording is a bit clumsy. The Leader of the Official Opposition made a comment about plain language. That is one of the principles of the bill, but on page 7, clause 14(2) says; A Member, a board appointee, or a public servant shall take all reasonable steps to avoid a conflict of interest or what a reasonably well informed person would reasonably consider to be a conflict of interest. Perhaps we are trying to be too reasonable in that clause, but the language is a bit cumbersome there. There is the odd clause that reads in a similar way.
One of the principles of the conflict-of-interest portion of this bill is the six-month cooling off period that the Government Leader made reference to. I have publicly stated that my preference would have been to see a year-long cooling off period.
I understand the governments concern about people, in some way, not being able to seek employment. I would like to make the suggestion to the Government Leader that perhaps we could look at a six-month cooling-off period for public servants, and maybe make it a year for MLAs, Cabinet Ministers and the Speaker of the House, which is similar to what the Northwest Territories has, I believe.
This is just a suggestion that the Minister may want to consider. We might hear cries of discrimination from people, but I think that we have to look at the political aspect of it. I would prefer a year for everyone, but I do not think that it would, in any way, restrict people from seeking employment.
With respect to the other aspects of the conflict-of-interest legislation, the idea of a conflicts commissioner is good, as is the inquiry process and the penalties clauses, which were all suggestions I had made to the government and were all areas I had indicated that it would be my preference to see included in conflict-of-interest legislation.
I do not share the same concern the Leader of the Official Opposition has about restricting people from running for office. I do not think the legislation is cumbersome. If people want to run for public office, they have enough ability, according to this legislation, to divest themselves of any situations of conflict or business interests.
I think it is a manageable piece of legislation, and it is also something that the public is looking for, where we can give the public some comfort that we are now going to have this in place.
I am not sure how many horses have left the barn prior to this legislation, but I would guess that the objective of the exercise is to not let any more horses out. I am sure there are instances of people gaining employment with the government who would not have been able to, had this legislation been in place.
I see the Government Leader scrunching up his face, but I can give him an example of a deputy minister in Renewable Resources who left the department and, before a six-month period had lapsed, was back chairing the Environment Act public consultation meetings. I do not think that kind of employment would have been allowed under this legislation now before us.
There have also been instances of political appointees leaving and coming back in a consultant capacity, working in the same area they had been in prior to becoming consultants. I think there also may have been the odd lawyer who had been working for the Development Corporation or something, in some capacity, and then left and worked in a consulting capacity. Those are just some examples I have relayed to the government Members before in this House, and publicly as well.
As I have said, I am fairly pleased with the conflict-of-interest legislation and I look forward to going through the clause-by-clause debate with the Minister.
I, too, am concerned about there not being an ombudsperson; that was one of the questions posed in the governments publications when they were seeking public input. I noticed today, the Minister made reference to the information commissioner acting like an ombudsperson. I am a bit skeptical as to whether the role would be served properly that way, and I look forward to the Minister clarifying it for me. My preference would have been to see an ombudsperson position created. I think a lot of people are concerned that government is big and cumbersome and there is a growing feeling that they want some reassurances that they have someone to go to other than their MLA, which gives them a political association - someone in a more neutral capacity they could go to to get help when they had concerns or confrontations with the government.
The access to information portion of this legislation is quite lengthy. As I have already indicated, the access to information that was presented in this Legislature by me, as the Minister, some seven or eight years ago was considered to be fairly progressive legislation for its time. I do not think it is unreasonable that the government look at changing it and tightening up some of the exemptions and exclusions. When I read through all of the clauses, my immediate reaction was that I think we will just have to wait and have this legislation tested to see whether information will be more readily accessible or not.
The real test will be when the media, Opposition Members or members of the public apply for information and are able to get it more easily than under the old legislation.
There is one more concern I have with respect to this legislation, and that is on the leave for the political participation of public servants. It deals specifically with a similar clause that we debated in this Legislature when the Education Act and the Teachers Profession Act were tabled. It was with respect to an employee, who was elected, being granted a leave of absence without pay from the date of the election for one term of office. I have had discussions with some constituents who feel that this is an unfair clause. If a business person, or someone working for a business, wants to leave and run for office, there are no guarantees that they will be able to go back to their position. This is perceived to be a job guarantee that, in the event that they no longer want to be an MLA, their job is held open for them. There is no interruption of superannuation benefits.
When I first ran for office, I was a member of the federal public service. I had no such guarantees, nor did I expect them. I knew that I had to make a choice as to whether or not I was going to run for office and give up that position. In the event that I wanted to go back, I knew I had to start over again. That is what people in business and the private sector do, and it is a more fair way. I would like to ask the Government Leader to examine that again, although I know we were not successful with that clause when the teachers were able to get a similar inclusion in their legislation. However, I will keep trying and ask the Minister to look at it again.
I am looking forward to going through the bill clause by clause. I have some more specific questions that I want to follow up on. I understand that this has been one of the goals of this government. Over the last few years and throne speeches, they have stated that good government and a good government act has been one of their goals. I do not know if the public is going to buy this as a sincere intention for good government. There is a lot of skepticism out there about politics and politicians. There is a lot of frustration. I do not know if tabling this kind of legislation will give comfort to the public that things are going to change for the better.
I think that time will tell. Governments get elected and governments get defeated. Whether or not this piece of legislation is going to assist the government with its image, or with its success at the polls, only time will tell.
Mr. Phelps: I did not think that I should let second reading go by without making a few observations about this bill in principle. I will be fairly brief.
I do share some of the concerns expressed by the Leader of the Official Opposition with respect to having so many different kinds of things lumped under one bill, under the heading Public Government Act. I feel that there is an issue of accessibility here of law and government acts to the general public. The average person on the street ought to be able to fairly easily find the law on important issues, such as access to information, rights to privacy, and so on. I am quite sure that without some help people in the future will have a great deal of difficulty looking these subjects up on their own. I really do feel that the principles contained in this act are sufficiently distinct from one another in various instances that I would have liked to have seen various parts of the act broken down into individual acts.
I do want to say a few words about access to information. In his speech, the Government Leader did mention that he and I shared, and continue to share, a keen interest in the issue of freedom of information. We both went to court and were the only two, I believe, who have availed themselves of that appeal process. We both lost. I want to say that our keen interest in the subject is not only because we are poor losers, but because we do believe in the principle of open government and do want to see citizens having access to information with very limited restrictions in the future.
I have discussed my concerns with respect to the existing legislation in the past, and I have tabled motions in this House on the subject. I have had several discussions with the proponent of this legislation.
With respect to what we have before us, it goes a long, long way toward satisfying the concerns that I have expressed, both publicly and privately, in the past. I have made it very clear that the issues that I was concerned about had to do with the exemptions in the current legislation. I felt that the exemptions from disclosure ought to be as narrow as possible. With rare exception, I feel that this bill goes a long way toward meeting that concern.
I have said that the burden of proof ought to be reversed in new legislation and that the burden of proof that information does fall within an exemption in the bill ought to lie with the government or government agency. This bill meets that concern. I have expressed my view that where access to information is refused, clear and specific reasons ought to be given for the refusal. This bill also goes a long way toward meeting that concern.
In the past, I have said that the appeal procedure ought to be simplified and that the appeal procedure ought be made less costly. Again, this bill goes a long way toward meeting my concerns in that regard.
I certainly support the bill in principle.
I want to go on and express one very deep concern that I do have with this legislation. In this bill we do not have legislation creating an ombudsperson for Yukon. I have given several speeches in these Chambers about my support for such an office in Yukon. I have said, time and time again, that Yukon has a very large government bureaucracy and the impact on the daily lives of average citizens in Yukon is far greater in these circumstances, than it is in the average place in southern provinces.
One can spend some time in cities similar in size to our capital city, in northern British Columbia, Alberta or Saskatchewan, and one of the things that one would notice is that every second car one sees is not a government car. One would seldom see people in an official government capacity in their daily lives in those communities.
But, in the Yukon, because the government is so large and because so much of our economy and so many of our businesses and so many of our jobs are tied directly or indirectly to government, it seems to me that the need for an ombudsperson is somewhat greater than it is in the southern provinces. In fact, all of them have the office of the ombudsperson.
I would venture to say that were such an office created in Yukon, it would be a far busier office than is the Human Rights Commission. It would have far more clients and more files, with a lot of practical day-to-day work to be done. I feel that the Human Rights Commission, although we disagreed with certain aspects of the commission, does provide a very important service in Yukon and I think that the same could be said of the office of the ombudsperson.
I want to say that, in principle, I support all of the individual parts of this act. I repeat that I would rather see some of these broken out into individual acts.
I will speak mainly of my concern about accessibility. Within my practice as a lawyer, when one used to concern oneself with aspects of legal practice in the Yukon and have to refer to the Judicature Ordinance - or act as it is now - one would find all kinds of things in it that the average lawyer, let alone the average citizen, would not expect to find and would not know to look for there. I, once again, share that concern with my colleagues in this place.
Many of the other issues are long overdue and I am pleased to see them come forward. I am sure everyone knows we all support, in principle, these important principles that should underlie any open, democratic government in the free world, so I will be supporting this bill.
Speaker: The hon. Member will close debate if he now speaks. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Let me begin by thanking the Member for Hootalinqua and the Member for Riverdale South for their comments. I would like to respond briefly to each of the Opposition statements, if I may.
I think the comments made by the Member for Hootalinqua were thoroughly constructive and as one of the two losers under the old Access to Information Act, I am pleased to be joined with him in improving the situation. I take it from his comments that he would agree with my statement that we both would have had very different prospects in court with this legislation.
I also tried to explain, and will have to even more so in Committee, that the reason the drafting is so detailed in this one is because if it is not put into law, the choice is to put it in the regulations or to have the judges do it. I think it is far better to put the precise exceptions in law where everyone can see them. Even if the drafting is imperfect from the point of view of someone who is simply a student of English as opposed to a student of law or a scholar, the intent is much more clear in this legislation.
I want to say to the Member for Hootalinqua that I have two comments that I want to make regarding his problems with the substance of the bill. I appreciate the comment about the problem he has with the separate principles. I am not sure I share his belief in the absolute distinctiveness of these principles, because I think they are all issues within the ambit of government. I could make strenuous argument, should Mr. Speaker give me enough time, about the linkages among them. Nonetheless, I respect the concern articulated by the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Member for Hootalinqua. I want to say to him that I am aware of a procedure in the House of Commons when complaints of such a kind have been made about bills, which would permit, upon petition to the Speaker, the Speaker to allow separate votes or the severing of the bill into separate parts. There are four parts to this bill; there are natural divisions there. If the Speaker wanted to agree to separate votes on the four parts of the bill at third reading, speaking as the sponsor of the bill, I would have no objection to that. That might deal with the concern in Committee and we will, no doubt, deal with a whole range of issues.
The Member for Riverdale South was asking me if I would be open to amendments. Clearly, I am. I do not claim that the bill is perfect in any sense.
There has been concern recently about doing state-of-the-art legislation, but we are trying to do state-of-the-art legislation. We have based this on British Columbia and other provinces that have looked at the law recently, both in terms of access to information and in terms of conflict. We are trying to do things that work.
With respect to the ombudsperson question - and I told this to the Member for Hootalinqua in a private conversation - the issue is not a closed one for me. In previous debates, perhaps in response to motions presented by the Member for Hootalinqua, I have said quite clearly that I have two substantial concerns about the ombudsperson role. I count myself as a skeptic, not an opponent. My skepticism has to do with the workload.
The former Leader of the Official Opposition made an argument that this person would be busier than the Human Rights Commission, and that may well be. I happen to know, as an MLA, my caseload is considerably larger than that of the Human Rights Commission. I happen to know that, in many jurisdictions where there is an ombudsperson, many MLAs have a caseload larger than the ombudsperson, with far fewer staff.
As to the efficacy of the role of ombudsperson, who can be more effective in a parliamentary system representing constituents or concerns about bad administration - because that is what we are really talking about in the role of ombudsperson - the legislator or the ombudsperson? I think that is probably an open debate, and it may have much to do with who the incumbent is.
I do know that there is a parliamentary tradition going back 50 to 60 years in this country, and perhaps longer in Britain. When MLAs and MPs started to do what we now call constituency casework, some dissidents at the time believed that it was absolutely unconscionable that MLAs or MPs should be errand boys, as I read in one speech, for their constituents, and that checking into these kinds of things was not their job. Their job was to give great speeches on the floor of whatever legislature they were Members of on the great matters of the day.
Well, I think that the notion of an MLAs job has changed considerably since that time, and I would think that, for most of us, that contact with constituents and representing of constituents in matters where they have grievances or concerns with the government, is probably the busiest part of our job. Given that we, in this Legislature, represent a smaller number of people than do MLAs in most parts of the country, notwithstanding the plain fact that the public sector is large here, this might be an argument that would be of concern about the role of ombudsperson.
Secondly, as I have discussed with the former Leader of the Official Opposition, I have great concerns about administrative costs and structures, given what I have seen elsewhere in the country in such offices. I think that this House, should we ever go that route, should talk about reasonable limits there. As I have tried to do with the conflicts commissioners and information commissioners proposed in this bill, I have suggested that the Members Services Board would have to approve their budgets. In other words, we would have all-party representation, but it would not be a government decision.
There would have to be some prudence by the House in terms of the budgets that are provided for such bodies.
Let me come to the point about why it is not in this bill. Frankly, we invited comment on it and I think we received two substantial submissions - one for, and one against. The one against was actually quite a substantial reasoned argument about why it was not necessarily useful in the Yukon.
We have talked about doing a second stage of legislation here. I think the debate should go on. I would welcome a public debate on it; but, I want it to be made clear to both the Member for Riverdale South and the Member for Hootalinqua that, as the sponsor of this legislation and as the leader of this government, I am not absolutely opposed. I am simply a skeptic who wants to be persuaded that it necessary and useful; that is all. I have not reached the point where I would feel comfortable bring legislation to do that before the House. That is the only point that I would make.
To the Member for Riverdale South, I would say that I appreciate the constructive nature of the comments she made about the contents of the bill. I appreciate her concern, but this is not unique legislation in that respect. I have seen many omnibus bills, or comprehensive bills, before this House that, dare I say it, were worse. I fear, of necessity, particularly in the access to information section, I think there is a need to be as precise as we could be, because that is where the standard of the law is going now: to be quite particular about what the exemptions are, when they should apply, and when they should not. As I said to the Member for Hootalinqua: put it in law, not in regulation. Do not leave it for the courts to decide because then one will have the results that they have in the United States - thousands of thousands of pages of judges decisions. I am no lawyer, but the Member for Hootalinqua told me that that is probably even a tougher thing to have to wade through in trying to determine law. Inevitably, that puts every dispute before the courts. I do not think that is what we want to do here.
The Member for Riverdale South asked if we were open to suggestions for change and I want to say: of course.
The Members also made quite an astute point about representation on boards and committees. When the Member spoke about political balance, she is quite right about the difficulty, but I want to say to the Member that this Member, at least, would not be at all adverse to an amendment that was quite specific about a political balance on boards and committees. But the argument has been made to me, and quite decisively, that even that would not answer the concerns of some people.
I happen to know, because we had someone look at it, that something like 20 percent or fewer people whom we have appointed to boards happen to be supporters of this government. That is a far smaller percentage than the public who supported us. In fact, the vast majority of people whom we have appointed do not seem to have any definable political colour or publicly identified affiliation whatsoever. Maybe that is not surprising; maybe it is just that they are good people.
Of course, I am aware, as I think that the Member indicated, given public cynicism, and given the kind of interest of reporters in conflict or drama, even if we appointed one New Democrat to some board, that would be an issue to reporters. I notice that when we have appointed Tories and Liberals to be chairs of a board, or people who are not New Democrats, Tories, Liberals, Independent Alliance or the Yukon Party - they are just good Yukoners - we never see a story or a headline about that. Perhaps that is the nature of the political culture in Canada. Perhaps in the western world in 1992, you cannot expect fairness or balance in the public discussion of such things.
The Member for Riverdale South spoke about referenda, and in particular, she mentioned the word initiative in respect to a model that we associate mostly with California, where people who have a bit of money can mount an initiative on all sorts of things and have a very long ballot, with dozens of initiatives. I understand in the last California general election, hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on initiatives. There is a real fear by a great number of people that the outcome of many of the initiatives are determined simply by what lobby groups, what interest groups had the most bucks, who could organize the most bucks, what lobby groups, - not public interest groups, private interest groups - and who could get the biggest bang for their buck in terms of television advertising and so forth.
As I said, I am much more a supporter of the British parliamentary tradition than I am the American, in this respect. I believe in the man whom I regard as the last great thinker in the Conservative tradition, Edmund Burke, who argued that legislators are sent to parliamentary bodies to exercise judgment, not to be robots, not to be parrots, but to exercise judgment on behalf of their constituents, and if they fail to demonstrate good judgment, their constituents will judge them on that. That is not to say one should go off into limbo; I believe in continuing to talk to constituents and to consult with them. I would not be happy to see California-style initiatives in Canada; however, our Legislature is pretty small. If someone really wants something to be put under a ballot on this proposal, they can contact an MLA, who could petition the House. It is relatively easy to do. The only test I am suggesting here is that two-thirds of the House have to approve it, so we will not have a flood of them. It should be an exceptional circumstance. It should be a major issue and it should have support on both sides of the House. I do not think there has ever been a government that has had two-thirds of the seats in this House, so far, so my view is that, in such a circumstances, it would have to require some support on both sides of the House for such a measure to get on the ballot, and I think that is not unreasonable.
The Member spoke about a recall petition. I have actually been a bit of a student of this myself, as has the Clerk of our Legislature, who is grinning broadly at this moment because he was once - and he will not mind my saying it - an employee of a party once famous in western Canada which now governs no place in this country, but is still lively in parts of Western Australia.
The founding member of that party was a man named William Aberhart, who was succeeded by a man named Manning, whose son has now started a party. Mr. Aberharts party and Mr. Manning, Sr.s party supported recall petitions, as does the young Mr. Mannings party. It is interesting that Alberta did bring in recall legislation. Of course, the first person who had it used against him was the leader of the party, Mr. Aberhart, when his constituents decided that they did not quite like what he was doing. Mr. Aberharts response to that unwelcome initiative by his constituents was, in fact, to change the law so that the recall petition could be expunged.
The Member may know, also, that there are some places in the British Commonwealth where there is a different kind of recall being talked about. That is the circumstance when Members change parties. It has been suggested that when a Member changes parties, they should be required to resign their seat and stand in a by-election to test the will of the public and see if the public supports the new association of the Member.
The Member did raise the question of statistics and votes, but my fundamental problem with the recall petition is that I think that, in a multi-party system such as we have in Canada and in the Yukon Territory, there is a real problem with recall petitions of the kind that they have in United States. In Arizona, I think 51 percent of the people could recall or petition to recall the governor. I understand that there is something going on in Alaska right now. I will explain what it is. In a multi-party system such as in Canada, a great many people only get elected with 40 percent of the vote. Typically, MPs of all parties in Canada get elected with 40 percent of the vote. It would be an outrage if someone goes through a campaign, is elected in a decent, open election with 40 percent of the vote and then, some weeks later, people who did not vote for that person began a recall petition. Some months later, 51 percent of the people - none of whom voted for this person - could decide to recall that person. It would make nonsense of the parliamentary system.
It is one of those Americanisms, with respect, with which I have a real problem. I would be happy to talk about it more when the Members motion comes forward when we deal with this bill, but I feel very strongly about it.
The Member asked the question about whether or not conflict of interest would apply to Crown corporations. It is my understanding, and it is clearly the intent of our Cabinet, that they should. That is the answer to that question.
She was asking about the wording on the conflict. We tried to use plain English, as much as possible in this technical area, but if the Member can suggest improvements, I would be happy to see them. If she wants to give me prior notice of them, I would be happy to let our lawyers have a look at them. By the time they are moved on the floor of the House, we can probably be ready to respond to the suggestion.
The Member raised a question about the six-month versus one-year cooling off period. The Member talks about hurried legislation. I would like to tell the Member that this Cabinet has been discussing this issue for months. This is a very, very tough issue. The Member made a suggestion about a one-year cooling off period. In the end, we decided that this was just too unfair. We felt that it would be unfair to say to an individual, who may be the sole provider to their family, that they have to wait a whole year before they can work again, or get a job in their chosen profession. It might be the case of an individual whose constituency has declined to re-employ them, or, perhaps the individual has left the public service for one reason or another, and they work in an occupation for which employment can usually only be attained directly or indirectly through the public sector. This individual should not have to wait a whole year before they can work again or get a job in their chosen profession. We felt a one-year cooling-off period would be too onerous a burden to ask someone to bear. A six-month cooling off period provides some detachment and some separation. There might even be circumstances where an individual may not have their finances in good shape, so that individual would certainly suffer in that circumstance, even for six months, but a one-year period is simply too long. I would like to hear more from the Member in debate with respect to this issue, but frankly, that was the decision that we made.
This proposed law is not absolutely rigid. It does suggest to the conflicts commissioner that there may be cases where the individual themselves may seek the advice of the commissioner. In fact, others may seek the advice of the commissioner about a circumstance. As the Leader of the Official Opposition said, we have to anticipate, somewhat, individual circumstances of people who are not yet Members of this Legislature or, perhaps, are not yet members of the public service.
I have spoken about the question of the ombudsperson in response to the Member for Hootalinqua. I have spoken about access to information. I believe the exclusions we have here are quite precise. In response to the Member for Riverdale South, perhaps the most important words in this bill on access to information - which are not in the existing legislation - are that the burden of proof is on the government. As the Member for Hootalinqua knows, that matters a hell of a lot if you ever do go to court or if you have to go before a conflicts commissioner, because it is the government that has to prove why you cannot have this. That is a big, big change.
The Member for Riverdale South spoke about political leave and the unfair burden. I suspect that every Member of this House, who has been a Member of this House for a while and has had a chance to travel in this country or meet legislators and former legislators from other jurisdictions, knows full well that people who, upon losing their seats, sometimes went for years before they got another job. I know people who went for years and literally could not find work; they may have been MPs for one term, with no pension and no benefits, and were not able to get another job in their chosen profession because the government changed and they were a political pariah in that province or that jurisdiction, and were untouchable. They might as well have wandered around with rags and a mark on their forehead because nobody would give them even a look in at a job.
No one should have any illusions that there are no people like that in this country. To build on the point made by the Member for Hootalinqua, in a territory where there are so many talented professional and able people, the type of people we would like to see in this Legislature in an ideal world and who are involved in the public sector, they should not be denied the chance to run.
Someone who is in the practice of law, someone who is in business, someone who runs a construction company, or something like that, can much more easily return to their occupation than can someone in the public sector. Of course, we will debate it further and I welcome that.
The Member for Riverdale South asks if the people will buy it. I do not know. I do not know whether people will buy the arguments of anybody in this House. Maybe everybody is just hopelessly skeptical about everything politicians say. The point for me, though, as someone who moved legislation on this subject 10 years ago, is that, once it passes this House, it will be the law, and once it is the law it does not matter what the Member for Porter Creek East said or what the Member for Whitehorse West said: it is the law. Once it is the law, that becomes the standard, and I think the standard we will have with respect to the matters of concern to the Member for Riverdale South in terms of access to information will be as high as any in the country. I believe it will be one which reporters, in time - yes, it might take time - will come to recognize is a good one; in fact, legislators and citizens who want information will also understand that.
Let me conclude by responding to the Member for Porter Creek East, who spoke first in this debate on behalf of the Opposition. In response to the Member for Hootalinqua, I have mentioned the parliamentary option in terms of severing votes. In response to the Member for Riverdale South, I have also spoken about some of the questions raised by the Member for Porter Creek East. Let me deal quickly with some of his concerns.
He suggests that there should be a difference in legislation between Members of this House and civil servants. Well, I think that the basic principles for public office holders should be the same. That is what the public believes. The public does not make that neat distinction. In terms of the basic conflict, the separation of ones private interests from ones public interests is what they expect from public officials, whether they be public servants, elected officials or political appointees.
The Member suggests that this legislation is akin to the Highways Act, the Dangerous Goods Act and the Motor Vehicles Act. I could point to many pieces of legislation in this House that are, as I said, comprehensive and deal with many different elements, sometimes in a broad field.
The question of precedent has been made. There are lots of precedents for this kind of legislation. I do not want to go on at length about some of the examples, but the Member for Porter Creek East has invited me to do so in Committee, and I will be happy to give some examples and for him to consider the solution to the problem that I suggested to the Member for Hootalinqua.
The Member was kind enough to advertise the principles in the preamble of the bill. I want to say to him that these are principles that this government supports. I am even going to argue with him, although I suspect that I may not persuade him, that these are principles this government has practised. He has used the case of the poor old sawmill in Watson Lake - once again, the Yukon Development Corporation. It does not matter what the topic is. We can be talking about sheep or fish or goats or pigs or chickens or cows or wildlife or lawyers or doctors or Indian chiefs, hotels, workers compensation, whatever - the Member has become a one-note band.
Whatever the topic is, he gets up and says, What about the Watson Lake sawmill?
I have been through the record recently, and I do not think that there is a single subject that I know of that has been more debated and scrutinized in this House in all my years here. There have certainly been many resolutions and discussions on this topic, complete reviews by the Auditor General, thorough examinations by the Public Accounts Committee, and I cannot think of any relevant fact that is not in the public domain.
They were not put there by the Member opposite, because there have been many assertions of fact that most objective people would dispute. However, I believe that all of the relevant facts are there.
The Member spoke about the Yukon News not having access to some information. Maybe there is a problem with the present legislation, which is why we are bringing in this new bill.
The Member opposite did not bring in this bill. We are bringing this bill in as an expression of our principle.
That is not to say that we are going to be opening all the government vaults and saying come and get it, because there are a list of things - Cabinet confidences, personnel files, private information, and so forth - that will not become public and should not become public.
Ministers may have knowledge about private and confidential matters of citizens and knowledge that has come to our attention about investigations that may be carried out. The Minister of Justice may know about some matters the police deal with. These are not matters that should come before the public, except in the normal course of the prosecution of the same.
The Member opposite took issue with the argument that this government was fair and responsible, and he suggested that we did not always listen to his supporters on certain issues. These are people with whom the Member agrees.
When you consult widely, you will hear a wide variety of views. You listen to them all, but that does not mean that you accept the arguments made by the individual, nor can you, because you get conflicting arguments, and government, in the end, has to make a judgment. However, it makes the judgment in knowledge of what people are thinking, whether they are from the business community, or in unions, the womens movement, the environmental movement, the aboriginal community, rural municipalities, or the City Council of Whitehorse. We make better decisions if we know what they are thinking.
I would be more than happy, when the time comes, to compare this governments record on that score, or my record on that score, with the Member opposites record.
He and I have been in the House together for a long time. I remember, since he talked about the hazardous waste management, how that government would have done it. He complains that we had a committee look at it and, after the committee made some recommendations, some citizens - people, homemakers and taxpayers - had concerns about those recommendations. The government then said that it wanted to listen to their concerns. The MLA intervened on their behalf and said that we have not heard enough from these people. The Leader of the Official Opposition feels we should have just rammed, roughshod over their concerns and shoved the committees recommendations down their throats. That is not our way.
Our way is to go and look at it further. The Minister responsible for that decision, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services put personal effort - hours and hours - into meeting with people, to consider other alternatives and talk about a solution that is not going to get the people most affected in the immediate neighborhood angry, upset, estranged and alienated from the government. They should be given some sense that the government is listening and is responsive. I am not ashamed of that at all. I am proud of what we did.
Whatever the final decision is - and I say this to the Member for Hootalinqua, who has taken great delight in the fact that all the potential sites are in my constituency - I hope I will be able to stand here and defend the decision that is made, not only in this House, but also to my constituents. Many of them will not like the decision, whatever it is.
I may nurse a little grudge against the people of Community and Transportation Services who were looking at sites in my constituency without ever telling me, but that is a subject I will deal with later - much later.
The Member talks about consultation and suggests that somehow this government has been lax in making decisions. I sat on that side of the House for seven years and watched that Minister try and make a decision about squatters. He never did - ever. This excellent Minister, the Minister of Education - or the Minister of Community and Transportation Services as he then was - went out and talked to people, to the squatters, the municipal council, all affected interests and wrestled with the problem. He chewed it over; he listened; he talked and spent a lot of time on this issue. He consulted and came out with a solution to a problem which, when I was on municipal council, people often told me could never be solved as it was too difficult.
He consulted - and that is what we have done. Since we have been talking about the Workers Compensation Act recently, I will compare that with the experience of 1983. I remember, in 1983, the government of the day brought in a Workers Compensation Act, a brand new act with major changes, which made the Workers Compensation Board report, not as an independent body, but through an assistant deputy minister in one department. That was done with no consultation whatsoever. None. Not with business or labour.
Consider the employment standards. In 1984, we were catching hell because the good Minister of Justice was going out and talking to the poorest people in the territory - low income people, people who work as chambermaids, people who work at seasonal jobs, people who work at minimum wage, who sometimes do not even get their final paycheques at the end of the season; and I have seen some of those complaints - who in any one year might be owed hundreds of thousands of dollars because they do not get paid by employers and who sometimes are badly dealt by their employers.
This government wants to rectify the law and improve it, and consult with employers. Is it surprising that employers do not completely agree with it? Not at all. Not at all. We went through a consultation exercise in which the president of the Chamber of Commerce sat on the board and walked out of the consultation. What were we supposed to do then? The president of the Chamber of Commerce goes on strike - what are we supposed to do? Just say, Okay, that legislation is over; if the Chamber of Commerce president does not agree with it, we cannot do it. This government represents all the people of the territory, not just the Chamber of Commerce. We will listen to the Chamber of Commerce president if he stays in the room and talks to us; but if he goes home, what can we do? We continued the consultation through the Council on the Economy and the Environment, a broad body that includes representatives of business and labour and a lot of other interests, which may have been why they came to a consensus - a consensus, which we went along with.
That is not what the former government did in 1984 with employment standards. There was no consultation there. When the former government wound up the Yukon Housing Corporation - quite illegally, from what we know - and put it in Lands and Housing with no consultation, no discussion with clients, and maybe not even any discussions with the board, they just wound it up and made it part of the department. The view was expressed by the former Leader of the Opposition: We have democracy once every four years; if people do not like us, they can vote us out. Well, they did not like it, and they did just that.
We believe in consultation as a continuing process. We believe in plain language. We may fail on plain language on that score sometimes, and I look forward to suggestions from Members opposite on where we can improve the language.
I do not care what the Opposition says about public boards, nor do I care what some people in the media say; I am proud of the fact that we have balanced representation on the boards. We have balance in terms of men and women, balance in terms of rural and urban, balance in terms of aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, and balanced, also, politically. If anybody cares to examine the facts, and not everybody does, I think that on the facts we have a record to be proud of and I think that we have a better record than any other jurisdiction in this country.
Let us admit that the question of conflicts can be difficult. Let us admit that not every rule is perfect for every citizen and for every situation. Let us admit that one cannot have a simple, plain standard that anticipates every circumstance. Let us admit that people have different standards and different expectations. I was honoured at one point in my life to work with a man who was a Member of Parliament for decades, who took the view that because his son had got a job with the federal Department of Finance, he could from that day forth not ask a question of the Minister of Finance for fear of either compromising his son or raising questions about his own integrity and his own access to information. I admired and respected this man for that. There are other people who think differently. They think that they can have business dealings in one area, and perhaps be involved in some occupation or some profession and still ask questions and be involved in public debates about those things.
This particular Member of Parliament, Stanley Knowles - I think, a great Canadian - did not believe that. He set a very high standard, and perhaps not everybody can meet that standard.
But, this legislation tries to anticipate a variety of situations. It suggests that what happens with the conflicts commissioner is that a Member files a private statement, the Member goes to the conflict commissioner and gets the advice of the commissioner, if he wants it, the commissioner looks at it and says that is not an arms-length enough trust, or, I think that the dealings that your spouse or your sons are involved with in terms of contracts with the government are going to give you problems if you are not very transparent about what they are; if you do have full disclosure.
I think that this is the way to do it; it is the way other jurisdictions are doing it. It is a sensible and responsible way to do it. It is still, again, according to the principle of full disclosure established in 1978, not a divesture role that we had before: it does not force people to get rid of their assets, it forces them to arrange their affairs in such a way that what they will stand the test of public scrutiny.
We have to understand that, since 1978, we have had some very celebrated and painful cases in the country. We had the case of Sinclair Stevens where, I think, his spouse was his trustee. There were very serious concerns about the appearance of that. The spouse, in her capacity as trustee, had a large loan from the very same government of which that Member was a Minister. I think that maybe the Ministers department might have been, in some way, involved. Whatever the facts were, it looked like hell.
Speaker: Order please. The Member has three minutes to conclude.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: We had the recent case in British Columbia, where the Premier of that province was totally confusing his private dealings and his role as Premier, and Ted Hughes, the conflict commissioner in that province, making an appropriate decision. Public expectations have changed; public standards have changed. We are trying to respond to that with this legislation, and I would hope that all Members can support this legislation in second reading, notwithstanding their concerns about some particulars.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Just before we vote on this particular measure, I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the grade 5 and 6 class from J.V. Clark School in Mayo and their teacher, Brian Shanahan, his assistant, Wendy Andre, and her assistant, Fleur Andre, who is also present. I would ask all Members to welcome them to the Legislature.
Speaker: Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, would you kindly poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Joe: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Webster: Agree.
Hon. Mr. McDonald: Agree.
Hon. Ms. Hayden: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Byblow: Agree.
Ms. Kassi: Agree.
Mr. Lang: Agree, with the reservations we expressed during the second reading presentation.
Mr. Phillips: Agree, ditto.
Mr. Phelps: Agree.
Mr. Devries: Agree.
Mrs. Firth: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 12 yea, nil nay.
Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 82 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Webster: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will call Committee of the Whole to order. We will be discussing Bill No. 52, Faro Mine Loan Act.
Bill No 52 - Faro Mine Loan Act
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I have given notice of an amendment that I intend to move in clause 1(1) with respect to the advice given to us by President Benner when he was here before Committee concerning the name of the company.
I would like to briefly review where we were when we went into Committee, and remind Members that this bill will give effect to our agreement to loan monies to Curragh Inc. for the purposes of stripping overburden for the Grum property at Faro.
In my remarks at second reading, I spoke at some length about the importance of this mine to our economy, and about the situation currently facing the company. I will, therefore, not go into these matters in detail again. In any event, Members of this House are already well aware of the issues at hand.
Without this loan, Curragh could not begin the stripping of the Grum ore body. The cash reserves that the company currently enjoys must be retained to carry current operating losses and are not presently available for a capital program of this magnitude.
The $5 million that this government is proposing to loan Curragh, combined with the $5 million that they, themselves, will invest, will permit the stripping program to commence and carry on for approximately three months. Clearly, more money will be required to complete the stripping of Grum. It is fair to ask where the money will come from, as Members of this House have asked.
There are some encouraging signs in world metal prices. Zinc is currently averaging several cents per pound more than anticipated at the beginning of the year.
Secondly, there has been some reduction in the value of the Canadian dollar. It is too early to predict with any certainty whether these two trends will continue, but most forecasters expect they will. If so, Curraghs cashflow will improve significantly, permitting them to begin to finance stripping out of their cash reserves. Recently announced actual results for the company for the first quarter of this year seem to bear out the validity of these predictions.
Thirdly, we anticipate that this loan will be seen by the financial markets as a vote of confidence on behalf of the Legislature and the people of the Yukon in the Faro operation. This may well improve Curraghs access to funds from these markets and permit the Grum stripping program to be financed in a more conventional manner.
The loan we are proposing to make is a call, or demand, loan. This means that we can realize on it at any time. Therefore, there is no fixed repayment schedule for the principal portion of the loan, but interest is payable on a monthly basis. The loan bears interest at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce prime rate plus one-half of one percent. In other words, the rate is one-half a percent higher than the rates at which the territorial government can borrow.
As yet, no monies have been advanced to Curragh. We will make advances based upon invoices presented to us by Curragh for one-half of the expenses incurred in stripping the Grum ore body subsequent to March 30, 1992.
The security for this loan is the residual 35 percent of the value of Curraghs concentrate, inventories and accounts receivable. Under normal circumstances, these values are far in excess of the amount we are loaning.
Curraghs bankers have the right to the first 65 percent of these inventories and receivables. As a further element of the security arrangements we have negotiated with the company, the government can demand that Curragh immediately process the unprocessed stockpile of ore located at the Faro mill site.
We are confident that these security arrangements are more than adequate to protect our investment in the company, and they are, in any event, the best arrangements that we could obtain, given Curraghs highly leveraged financial position.
I will now try and answer any Members question as briefly and succinctly as I can.
Mr. Lang: I do not think the Minister has brought any new information to the House with respect to the situation that Curragh Inc. now faces. The consequences of the tragedy at Westray are obviously going to have some implications. My information is that the $25 million received from the sale of their assets in Europe is going to meet some of the financial demands put upon them because of the situation in Nova Scotia. Can the Minister confirm if that is true?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: The fact is that they received $60 million cash from the unwinding of their involvement in Asturiana de Zinc in Spain.
The Westray mine is also financed largely with federal loan guarantees and provincial loan guarantees. There is a $25 million charge against Curragh if the Westray mine does not reopen. The situation, in the simplest terms, is that, without the $60 million, they would have even less of it available for cashflow for operating purposes. They would have only $35 million available.
If the Westray mine continues under any circumstances, the repayment of the loans against that property would be carried out over a longer term, over the life of the property, I expect.
Mr. Lang: That, of course, leads to another question. When the witness was here on behalf of Curragh, he made it very clear they not only looked at the dollars that were going to be made available through the winding up of their European asset, which was $60 million, but that Westray was a significant asset, as well. That is now not the case. We have a compounding situation here and I would be very surprised if that mine opens again. Therefore, we can assume that the $60 million will be cut down to $35 million, and will be the money available for the day-to-day running of the organization. This will affect the Yukon and Faro in particular.
The Minister indicated a couple of days ago that he may be in contact with some of the major players within that organization. In view of the seriousness of the situation, could he update the House with what information was provided to him and how it is going to affect the Curragh mine?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I think the stated intention of the company is to reopen the mine in Nova Scotia. The stated position of the Premier of Nova Scotia, though, is that that will not happen. In my view, there is going to be a judicial enquiry into the tragedy. The simple and only answer I can give is that, frankly, it is too soon to say; it is too soon yet following the tragedy for us to know with any certainty what is going to happen.
We have seen the impact on the price of Curragh shares - they have dropped in value as a result of the explosion and the deaths there. Obviously, that will have some bearing on a decision to reopen the mine, or otherwise. However, we have been clear from the beginning that the $5 million we proposed to loan and the $5 million Curragh is putting in was enough to start the stripping program. We hope there will be, as the company calls it, private sector solutions to the problem of raising the other money, either from cashflows, improved zinc prices, lower Canadian dollar, et cetera. The company also indicated that they are continuing to have discussions with the federal government.
If I may be permitted to express a political opinion on that, I would be very surprised if, in the wake of the accident, there were any new financial undertakings by the federal government until some findings have been made about the root causes and the responsibility for the accident a few days ago.
Mr. Lang: The Minister did not answer my question. I asked if he had been talking to any of the major players in Curragh in the last day or two with respect to the situation and how it is going to relate to the Yukon. I think that we can make two assumptions, as unfortunate as they might be. I think that we have to look at the worst-case scenario. The Premier and I understand that all Opposition parties are saying that that mine in Nova Scotia should not reopen. With that knowledge, we know that the company is eventually going to be $25 million short of what was stated in this House only two weeks ago, so that leaves $35 million.
The other point that was made by the witness when he was here searching for the additional $50 million was that Curragh was still looking to the federal government for at least a portion, if possible, of the finances that are going to be required for the completion of the stripping project to give the mine its long-term viability. Perhaps the Minister can answer my first question: has the Minister been in touch with any of the major players in the last day or two?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Forgive me, I must be communicating very poorly. I did the answer the question. Yes, we have been in touch. All that I can tell the Member is that the intention of the company, from talking with senior officers of the company, is that they want to reopen the mine.
There is not any more that one can say at this point, because there are -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Penikett: There are all sorts of discussions going on by the federal government. Right now, most of the discussions going on with the federal government are about who knew what about safety problems at Westray, and who was responsible, et cetera. As the Member knows, there will be a judicial inquiry. I do not have any special knowledge about those situations.
The Member is right about the $50 million that is required for the stripping program; but, the $50 million is over the two-year life of the program. As Mr. Benner, I thought, made clear to this House, Curragh is looking for a range of possible solutions to that problem, including the internal capacity of the company, if in fact it gets a break on zinc prices and the Canadian dollar, and if, as a result of our initiative, the lenders take another look at the situation. The sale of Westray was a possibility, but as we discussed in the House, even in the current market, that was not seen as a highly likely proposition.
I believe that the reality of the situation for the company now is that the only long-term potential and only immediate potential that Curragh has for success is with its Yukon assets - the two mines in the Yukon: Faro and Sa Dena Hes. I hope I do not sound macabre when I say this, but I would think that Curragh would have an even greater interest in seeing success in its operations in the Yukon now than it ever did; I think the life of the company depends upon it even more than the Yukon economy depends on it.
My view is that they have every interest, incentive and reason in the world to want to complete the stripping program to get to that new ore body, which Mr. Benner indicated is very high grade and high quality ore, so they can continue the life of the company and get it back into the black.
Mrs. Firth: I have some concerns about the financial position of Curragh, due to the Westray incident. I agree with the Government Leader that Curragh is going to need to keep the Faro mine going.
It is a good question to ask what is favourable now that was not favourable before when they were trying to get a loan. I think that things are even more unfavourable now, in light of what has happened. There are two questions we have to ask. Firstly, how are we going to ensure that our investment is protected? I know the Minister is going to say that it has been protected by having made this agreement and having access to the assets and so on.
In light of the financial position of Curragh Inc. being even shakier, I think the chance of them coming back to the government and looking for further assistance is even greater now than it was before. The witness could not say whether they would or not, but my guess would be that they will be approaching the government again, due to some of the reasons the Minister mentioned: they are going to want to keep that mine open, and the government also wants to keep the mine active, because of the people who are living in Faro.
Is the government currently reviewing this situation? Are they looking at options? Are they looking at long-term plans and options that they may have, and are they looking at fall-back positions? Is the government trying to discuss this in Cabinet, or are they having any discussions or making any decisions with respect to what they may do, in the event that Curragh does come back and what kind of financial position we are in, in the event that they do need more money?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Yes, we are looking at all those situations very carefully. Throughout these discussions, we have made it very clear to the company that, as important as that mine is to us, there are limits to what we, as a territorial government, can do. That is why we are not involved in a more significant undertaking at this time.
After looking at the $60 million return from the sale of the Austriana de Zinc assets, Curragh has, let us say, $71 million. Even if one assumes the worst-case scenario and the Westray mine shuts down, creating a $25 million charge against the Faro mine - they are separate companies, but are obviously linked by the same parent - they will have $46 million. That, plus our $5 million, means they have $51 million. This is most of the money that they need, if they did nothing else, to do the stripping program.
It is our view that, in addition to whatever money the bank is making available, the situation of the company right now makes it imperative that they do the stripping program. Without it, there is only one years worth of life left in the mine at Faro. The mine, the town and the territory would suffer major consequences if it shuts down.
Now, how are we to protect our investment? We believe the best way to protect the very considerable investment we already have in the community is by seeing the stripping program under way and completed, so that they have access to the new ore body as soon as possible, if they can get to it.
As to the question of their coming back: yes, it is possible, but Members have to understand that, in the discussions we have been having, we have had to be clear about what our limits are. We cannot carry a $34 million loan guarantee or anything like that amount, for Curragh. They understand that, and they understand our mutual interest, which is why, even given their tight circumstances, they put in $5 million from their scarce resources and we are loaning $5 million in order to get that program going so that we can actually get on to the next ore body and give the mine new life. Everybody admits this is not sufficient to finish the stripping program; it is only enough to start it. But even given the tragedy at Westray, that horrible event last week, there are, for the company, some good signs in terms of the price of zinc and the Canadian dollar. The indicators on that front are a little better than we and they were anticipating back in January.
That is really the only answer I can give to the Member. Yes, they may be back; yes, they may be back to the federal government, but they certainly have not started to talk to us about anything new yet, because we have not even legislated this arrangement and we have not anticipated any such discussions.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister give us any indication of exactly what the limits are? Can we lend them another $5 million? Can we give them a loan guarantee? Presently, they are working with the federal government. They have gone back to them for another loan guarantee. If they have some success there, I am sure that it will be measured against what the territorial government is prepared to provide. Is there any way that the Minister can tell us that?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Forgive me, but I cannot bargain in public. This is a terrible way to try to do business on something like this. The only way that I can respond publicly now is to say that the $5 million, in May 1992, is our limit.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Government Leader then answer a question about a question I had asked the witness, who said that I would have to pose it to the government: why did the government choose to make a loan, rather than a loan guarantee?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: The risk is the same between the two and, in the end, given the options and given that we were not going to be involved with the federal government in a more complicated financial transaction, this was the simplest and cleanest financial arrangement we can make. This is a demand loan, secured against certain collateral, at a certain interest rate, and rather than going through a loan guarantee, since the risk is identical, we made a loan.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to ask some questions about the recent concerns that have been raised about the mine safety at Curragh.
What is the government doing with respect to some of the comments that have been made regarding the number of warnings and near misses that have been reported lately in the media?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I will not respond directly to questions on mine safety because my colleagues, the Minister of Justice and the Minister responsible for the Workers Compensation Board, have been closely and intimately involved in that subject for a long time. I do not know how expeditiously Members of the House want to deal with this matter, but the question of safety would warrant an appropriately long discussion in this House. I should not lead this discussion, because I am not the Minister responsible.
It would suffice to say that all of us on the front bench and, perhaps, Members on the other side of the House have been involved in discussions about the issue of mine safety. We have taken a number of steps in the last few months to try and improve the situation, and we are doing so now. It would be better for my colleagues, who are directly responsible, to elaborate beyond that.
Mr. Lang: Perhaps if the Member wants to pursue that a little further, it would be fine with me.
I want to get back to the question of security. I want to get some assurances from the Minister that there has been an independent appraisal done, so that whatever risk we do have is minimal. My understanding is that it is secured against the concentrate and that we were told that the $5 million, if the worst-case scenario was to happen and the mine was to shut down, it would simply be a case of finding a market for an equivalent amount of concentrate and we would be paid whatever was owing. I want to get the Government Leader on record. Can he give us every assurance that that is the case and that he is confident in his own mind, through an independent appraisal, that we have the necessary collateral and security to ensure our risk is minimal?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I have it on the authority of the deputy minister of Finance, who has been personally directing our efforts in this regard with respect to the evaluations, assessments and third party assessments.
As of the end of April 1992, the value of the inventory and receivables we have as collateral was $37.6 million. The stockpile of unprocessed ore was valued at $10 million, for a total of $47.6 million, free and clear of any outstanding bank loans against that amount. The value of the collateral for this laon is very substantial.
Mr. Lang: Just so we get it clear on the record, the Minister is assuring the House that our risk is minimal, as far as our loan is concerned. Is that right?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Yes, as far as the loan is concerned. However, I have to be frank with the Member. If the mine closes, the $5 million loan is the least of our problems, because that would have huge financial consequences for the territory. The downside risk is very considerable.
Mr. Lang: I am not arguing that. I would like to move from the question of security into the area of employment.
You will recall when the witness was here in the House, I specifically questioned the witness with respect to the employment of local residents and giving them the first opportunity for jobs, and I raised a number of issues.
What steps is the Minister going to take to ensure that our local residents get the first opportunity for jobs as they come up, whether they are here, in Faro or in Watson Lake. It is a refrain that keeps coming back to all of us, as individual Members, that they are not getting an opportunity for some of those jobs. That is all I am asking for.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I want the Member to know that I understand and fully support what he is saying. I was extremely pleased that he was asking the questions of Mr. Benner, because I, as well as my colleagues, have continually put these questions to the company, and I would be very pleased to follow up on the conversations on that score.
The Member will understand that the tragedy happened immediately after Mr. Benners appearance before this House. Apart from telephone conversations about the tragedy, essentially, and the financial implications, we have not had a chance to have further discussions since that time. However, I will give the Member the undertaking of this government that we will aggressively pursue that matter on behalf of Yukon residents seeking employment at both of the mines, for as long as we need to.
Mr. Lang: Following up on that, could we pursue it with the company that there be some sort of a quarterly report with respect to the hiring, so that we can have some statistical indication as to how the intent of local hire is being adhered to. Would the Minister be prepared to pursue that?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I do not know. I will be frank with the Member. In the past, my colleagues and I have spent some very unprofitable time arguing about who was local and who was not. We have questioned some of the statistics in the reports that we have had in the past. I just want to say to the Member that we have had some disagreements in the past with respect to that kind of monitoring, but I have no hesitation whatsoever in pursuing it again.
Mr. Lang: I just want to restate the point about of unemployed miners. The Minister will recall that I raised the question. Actually, I have a number of unemployed miners in my constituency, who are in tough straits right now. I would ask that that be actively pursued, I gather, in August, when this other contract comes to an end, to see what can be done because I know that there are quite a few miners out there who are capable and will produce on a shift because that, to me, is their responsibility once they get the job opportunity. So, I would ask the Minister to specifically pursue that.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I have already done so on behalf of unemployed miners in my own constituency. I have spoken to the chairman and the president about this and will do so again. The assurances we will seek compliance with are the ones given to us by Mr. Benner about Canadian Mine Development Corporation, the contract miners.
Mr. Lang: I would like to go into another principle of the bill. I appreciate the fact that the Minister has provided us with the opportunity of debating this in the House, as opposed to going through some other vehicle, such as the Yukon Development Corporation. This could well have been done, but this is the proper way of doing it. This allows for adequate public debate and the public is made as aware as possible with respect to what commitments are being made.
Unlike the situation with the ill-fated $3 million U.S. that was loaned to Totem Oil, we do have an agreement here to look at. I notice that the agreement for the loan is for prime plus one-half percent. I also notice in the Totem loan that the American-based company received a loan for $3 million U.S. plus prime. At present, prime is seven percent.
Why would a Canadian company that is so vital to our economy get prime plus one-half percent - which, quite frankly, I think is reasonable - when, at the same time, we have an American company getting a preferred loan at a lower interest rate? Can the Minister tell us the reason for that?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: I cannot, because there is no connection in terms of the officials between the two events. The loan we are talking about in the House today was negotiated by Department of Finance officials. To my knowledge, the other transaction was negotiated by the Yukon Development Corporation and the other party. As far as I know, there was no dialogue between the parties while the two events were going on. There was no conscious decision associated with the different rates except the one that we negotiated. This was what we judged to be the appropriate level for this transaction.
Mr. Lang: That is not very consistent. Is the deputy minister not on the board of directors of the Yukon Development Corporation, as well? He would have been involved in that loan as well as this one.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Yes, but not every director is involved in every decision about interest rates. My deputy tells me that one of the things that may have had bearing on the interest rate is that the real interest rates are lower in the United States than in Canada. That may have had some bearing on the difference between the two transactions. Beyond that, I cannot speak to the Totem transaction.
Mr. Lang: All I am saying is that the loan agreement we have before us and the bill asking for the appropriation is the proper route to go. I want to ask the Government Leader why we are putting such large amounts - $3.7 million Canadian - through the Yukon Development Corporation to an American company and $2 million to a hotel - and I believe that was at a prime rate, as well - without coming through the House? Would he not agree that those particular projects are just as important to the taxpayers and the people of the territory as this one? Would he not agree that it would be more appropriate for them to come through as loan appropriations similar to the one that he is providing with respect to the Curragh situation?
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Clearly, the Member is trying to involve me in a very long debate here, which I am not going to be drawn into. I am here with a proposal about a loan bill to Curragh Inc. The other transactions were made according to the legally established mandate of the Development Corporation, as passed by all Members in this House. I cannot say any more than that.
I am not the Minister responsible for the Development Corporation any more. There is another Minister who has answered questions in this House and will be prepared to answer others. All of us are accountable in different ways. This is a transaction involving the Department of Finance in a loan being made through the House under the Financial Administration Act, not the Yukon Development Corporation Act. They are two separate pieces of legislation. This is an unusual circumstance and therefore a loan like this being legislated in the House is an unusual circumstance.
Mr. Lang: It seems like no one wants to take responsibility at any given time. We saw, in the past two to three weeks, $5.7 million being loaned to other outside interests through the Yukon Development Corporation, and now we have this loan.
I want to go back to the question that I asked the Minister. I still do not think that we got a valid answer and I would like to know why. Why are we in a situation where we are loaning money - which I think is the appropriate way to do it, incidentally; it should be prime plus one-half percent - at this rate, when other corporations have the mandate to do it for less?
I do not understand it.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: Clearly, the Member is not here trying to deal in good faith with the Curragh matter; he is trying to raise other issues that have nothing to do with the matter before the House.
Frankly, I am disappointed, given that the fate of the territorys economy hangs with us dealing with this matter and dealing with it properly.
The Member opposite has opposed the transactions of the Yukon Development Corporation. The Member has opposed them in Question Period; he has opposed them on the floor of the House and he has debated them with the Minister. It is perfectly proper for him to do so. I am here with a certain measure, a very specific instrument, before the House this afternoon, talking about a loan from the Government of Yukon, through the Department of Finance, under the terms of the Financial Administration Act. I have tried in good faith to answer all of the questions. I have responded to Members opposite who wanted to have witnesses from the company here in the House.
We went to great lengths to make sure the witnesses from the company were here; we brought them before the House to answer all the Members questions. The questions the Member is raising now have nothing to do with the matter before the House. The Member is trying to engage in diversions about other matters for which there have been other opportunities in the House to debate. I am no longer here as the Minister responsible for the Development Corporation developing the Totem transaction or the hotel transaction. The Member may want to get those two matters involved and entangled in this issue; I do not. I want to deal with the question that is fundamental to the territorys economy in the wake of a very difficult tragedy at Westray; the Member has had plenty of opportunities to put questions to the Minister responsible for the Development Corporation and has done so this week. The Development Corporation board makes certain decisions according to its own judgments. The Minister has communicated those decisions in the House and has been here to answer questions. I am here to answer questions about the Faro loan. That is what I have been prepared to do. I am not here to engage in spurious debate about other matters. I have been prepared, on the floor of the House, in Question Period and on other occasions, to do that.
Frankly, I am disappointed.
Chair: Order please. Would the Committee like to extend the sitting time by unanimous consent? If not, I will rise and report progress.
Hon. Mr. Penikett: It is clear that is all I can do, given the hour. I still had an amendment to move in this matter. On behalf of all of the people in Faro, I am very disappointed, but I would move that you report progress on Bill No. 52, entitled Faro Mine Loan Act.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Ms. Kassi: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 52, Faro Mine Loan Act, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
The time being past 5:30, this House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday next.
The House adjourned at 5:33 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled Thursday, May 21, 1992:
Government of the Yukon Annual Report 1990-91 (Penikett)
Yukon Training Strategy: Investing in People (McDonald)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled Thursday, May 21, 1992:
Seatbelt Usage/Offences/Fines/Statistics (Byblow)
Oral, Hansard, p. 112
Access House/Receiving Home Contract (Hayden)
Oral, Hansard, p. 387, 388