Wednesday, April 7, 1992 — 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will begin with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have a legislative return for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have for tabling a letter from the Yukon Energy Corporation.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have for tabling the Faro action plan.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers.
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Fees, permits and licences
Ms. Joe: I would like to follow up on some questions that I asked in the House yesterday. At the end of the questions yesterday on the increases and permits, the Minister suggested that we were confusing taxes and licence fee increases, but by the Yukon Party’s own definition, they are one and the same. Since the Government Leader has stated more than once that there would be no more tax increases, I would like to know why he is now choosing to raise fees, and when is he going to be telling the general public that he is going to be generating all of this revenue from the increase in licence and permit fees?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I think maybe I should clarify that for the Member opposite. I said that we were reviewing all licensing fees in Yukon, and there may be some that will be raised. The budget is tabled now and there are no fee increases in it. So, increases certainly will not come into effect in the next fiscal or calendar year, on whichever date they fall due, but they all are under review.
Ms. Joe: It is a pretty scary thing when the Minister of Finance announces in Dawson City that he is going to be raising taxes right across the board. In a question in the House previously asked by Mr. Lang, he states that when the budget came down the Minister of Finance took great pains to tell everybody in the Yukon that there was going to be an increase in taxation. If he knew there was going to be a 44 percent increase in licence fees, why did he make a statement that there would be no increase in taxation? I would like to ask: does the Government Leader not agree with his party that an increase in any licence fee is a tax increase?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, I do not agree that a licence fee is a tax increase; not at all; they are two different things. They both bring revenue for the government, there is no doubt. But, as I said before, all licences are under review. There is one that has been increased now, and I believe that is the liquor licence, which went up 20 percent and is due to go up another 20 percent on April 1, 1994. That is the only one that I am aware of that has been increased to date.
Ms. Joe: I have a supplementary for the Member for Riverdale North. In a question in the House previously on the increase in fishing licences, he stated that we are taxing the fishermen personally in quite a dramatic way. I would like to ask the Member for Riverdale North if he still considers an increase in a licence fee to be a tax increase, as he did when he was in the Opposition?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I do not think we are increasing the fishing licence fees, as far as I know.
Question re: Fees, permits and licences
Ms. Joe: I am trying to establish whether or not their philosophy on raising licence fees is still the same as when they were in Opposition.
Yesterday, the Minister suggested that I was making an issue out of something that was not. I suggest it is a very big issue and will affect hundreds of people and businesses. I would like to ask the Minister when he and his Cabinet colleagues approved this hidden tax increase and when he will announce it to the public.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I am a little amazed at how I am supposed to answer that. There is no increase in the fishing licences this year. A proposed one will be put in front of the Fish and Wildlife Management Board for next year. The reason this is being done is because it costs us more to administer it than we are taking in. We want to get the government straightened out so that we are not putting money out where we should not.
Ms. Joe: What we are trying to establish here in this House is that the Government Leader, the Minister of Finance, made a statement in Dawson City that they were going to be increasing fees for licenses, certificates, permits, or whatever, right across the board. That is pretty darn scary.
What we are suggesting is that it is a hidden tax to Yukoners. They do not know about it. We are trying to establish that the government’s philosophy is that raising taxes and increasing fees is one and the same.
I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources. When he was in Opposition, he asked a question in the debate on the Electrical Protection Act. He referred to an increase in electrical permits as a raise in direct taxes. I would like to ask him if he still agrees that the raising of fees for licences is an increase in taxation to the general public.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: It is simply a question of whether a business licence — I suppose if you want to get technical, and we have three lawyers here, we could debate this — is or is not a tax. I am not a lawyer; I am not going to get into the legal argument on this one.
Speaker: I would ask the Member to try to keep the preamble to the supplementary to one sentence or start a new question if it is a longer preamble.
Ms. Joe: I guess what we are going to have to do is turn this into many questions and that is a possibility. The increase for licence fees in the past, when we were in Opposition, would generate revenue of about $200,000 to $300,000. I would like to ask the Minister of Finance what his estimate is for revenue from the increases in all fees for licences and permits. If Cabinet made the decision he must have an answer for that.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not sure that I made the statement that our fees will be going up across the board. I said they were all under review and we were looking at maybe increasing fees. We will continue to do that on an ongoing basis. The total amount of money that comes in — I am not sure at this point; I have no idea how much is raised by licence fees.
Question re: Whitehorse waterfront development
Mr. Cable: I have a question for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. During the last election, one of the elements of the Yukon Party’s platform was the provision of funding to promote tourist infrastructure. Included in examples in the Yukon Party’s literature was the development of the Whitehorse waterfront. I understand that the Minister has recently been approached by the City of Whitehorse with a view to setting up a body to organize the development of the waterfront. Could the Minister advise this House as to the status of the negotiations, if I could call it that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The City of Whitehorse has approached me with the idea of setting up a committee to investigate the waterfront question, and I have agreed to sit down with them and help establish that committee.
Mr. Cable: In view of the Yukon Party’s platform, would it be safe to say that it is the Minister’s present thinking that this body or committee or whatever it turns out to be will be charged with tourist development and economic development powers?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is a little premature at this point to say exactly what the committee will be charged with. I believe the Minister of Tourism announced in this House that he will also be sitting on that committee, so what we come up with I cannot say at this time.
Mr. Cable: I understand the City of Whitehorse would like the committee or board or whatever is set up to be membered with two people from the City of Whitehorse, one from CYI and one from the YTG. Is that the Minister’s present thinking?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, I have not gone into it in that much detail. When we sit down with the City of Whitehorse, I want the Minister of Tourism to be involved; I also want to see the Minister of Community and Transportation Services — myself — involved in it. Beyond that, I cannot say at this time.
Question re: Tax increases
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Minister of Finance.
Ever since the Minister tabled the main estimates in the Legislature, many groups and individuals, from the Association of Yukon Communities to Members of the Legislature, have indicated a desire to negotiate elements of the budget to make it more acceptable to the general public. Is the elimination of tax increases negotiable?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have met with many groups and listened to their concerns. The simple answer to the question, is the elimination of tax measures negotiable, is no, it is not, certainly not in totality. We had to balance a budget, and we required the tax increases to do it.
Mr. McDonald: Given the fact that we have debated the budget in second reading, and there are some discussions taking place respecting it, is there any element or program negotiable for amendment to help the budget pass the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Right now, we are listening to various groups in the community as to how they felt the budget should have been drafted. For me to stand here and say that everything is carved in stone, would be wrong. We are prepared to listen to recommendations to see what we can do.
Mr. McDonald: Let me ask a question that is typical of one my colleague from Riverside asks. Can the Government Leader keep us apprised of these negotiations while we are debating the budget in the Legislature, so we will know precisely which budget we are debating, while we debate it?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We certainly will. We will also be listening to what Members in the Opposition have to say about what they would have liked to have seen in the budget.
Question re: Dawson City water and sewer
Mr. Harding: I have a question regarding the Dawson City water and sewage system, and the election promises made by the Yukon Party surrounding that issue.
In the Tuesday edition of the Whitehorse Star, the Government Leader was reported to have said that there was going to be money to help Dawson City with water and sewage issues, whether or not the money showed up in the budget. This was to follow up on election promises made by the Yukon Party candidate who is now sitting as the Member for Klondike.
Is it the policy of this government to honour all of the campaign promises made by the Member for Klondike in seeking a seat even though the Yukon Party has reneged on major election promises such as there would be no new taxes?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I wish I could stand up and say that this government is in a position to honour all of the commitments made to Dawson City and other areas of the Yukon, but the fact remains: the previous government forgot to leave us any money.
Mr. Harding: Again, the Government Leader absolves himself of any responsibility. I find it hard to believe that they have been in power for six months — they have recently received $483 million in new revenues, but still they have no money.
On the specifics of financial help for Dawson City’s water and sewer problems, and following up on the Government Leader’s reported conversation with the Member for Klondike, can the Government Leader confirm that the government is committed to providing relief to the Dawson City ratepayers, through forgiveness of the $300,000 water and sewer deficit debenture?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is difficult when two-sided questions are asked; should I answer the question or should the Government Leader answer?
The question regarding the $300,000 water and sewer operating deficit is not in the works at all. What we are willing to do is assist the City of Dawson with a very long-term problem they have with their water and sewer system. It does not mean we will reinstate the $300,000 water and sewer operating deficit.
Mr. Harding: Could I ask if the discussions taking place regarding debenture forgiveness are now off the table? Also, could the Minister of Community and Transportation Services indicate exactly how much money we are talking about to relieve the water and sewage problems, that was one of the election promises?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The debenture has nothing to do with water and sewer operating deficits. The amount of money required is being negotiated while we speak. There are people in Dawson City, meeting with representatives of the City of Dawson about the overall agreement that we are trying to reach.
Question re: Faro contingency plan
Mr. Harding: We still cannot nail down the amount of that Dawson City election promise, but we will in subsequent discussions in this House. I have to move on, as much as it pains me to do so, to another subject. That is the Faro contingency plan. I have placed emphasis on what the government is doing to get the people who are out of work, back to work. I think that is the most important area. I would like to ask the Minister of Economic Development a question. Everything I have seen in the contingency plan seems to be designed to get people out of Faro. I want to say that there are a lot of people in Faro who wish to stay there forever and ever. I would like to ask the Minister if he plans to develop the Chateau Jomini project for construction and decentralization, as well as undertake the Grew Creek development infrastructure work, which could put some people to work in Faro and diversify the economy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, regarding the Chateau Jomini, there are ongoing discussions with the Town of Faro on what is going to happen with it. No firm decision has been made yet on whether it will be transferred back to the Town of Faro. There is nothing concrete there, but there are ongoing discussions.
My understanding is that there has been a change of ownership on the Grew Creek property, so that is a whole new ball game at this point.
Mr. Harding: It does not seem to me as if there are many definite plans, in terms of keeping people in my community; they do want to stay there. Basically, we have a “1-800-ITS-DOWN” line for my constituents to phone here in Whitehorse. I am not too happy about that. I would like to ask the Minister of Economic Development if he can tell me specifically, what other economic diversification initiatives they are working on to help my constituents stay in that community, rather than leave the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As the Member for Faro very well knows, one of the things is we are still looking at stripping the Grum deposit. This is still being considered. Basically, at this point it will be up to the company and the Bank of Nova Scotia to decide whether that project goes ahead. There are other things being discussed at this point with input from the community. At this point, I do not have a list of the projects that have been approved to go ahead.
Mr. Harding: Again we have the vagueness of the plan for my community. It is quite disheartening. There was a commitment made that the school, as well as all other services, will remain open in my community. I would like to ask the Government Leader, no matter what happens, what is the length of this commitment they are making with regard to leaving those services and that school open?
Hon. Mr. Devries: My understanding is that there is a full commitment to maintain full services there as long as they are needed.
Question re: Faro contingency plan
Mr. Harding: I hope that “as long as they are needed” means as long as there are people in the community. I hope the government will undertake to come up with some economic initiatives to keep people there — the Grum stripping being my favourite one.
The point in the contingency plan was made that the Department of Education would be sending people in for career counselling and that sort of thing. Unfortunately, the impression I get is that the commitment is a short one. I would like to ask the Minister of Education and the Minister of Economic Development — whomever wants to answer — whether or not this commitment is going to be a permanent, ongoing undertaking by the government for my constituents.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Department of Education plays a key role in the contingency team that is working in Faro. I want to give the Member for Faro and all of the people in Faro full assurances that all school facilities in Faro will be maintained. The training programs will be developed as needed in Faro to retrain people and provide jobs and opportunities for them. That is the purpose of the contingency plan; it is to work with the people of Faro and do whatever we can to help them. The Department of Education, in conjunction with other departments that are working in that community, is there to do just that.
Mr. Harding: With all due respect to the Member for Riverdale North, I did hear that they were going to make a commitment to it this week, but my specific question was: will there be someone staffed specifically for that task who will have some permanency in Faro and be available to work directly with my constituents on an ongoing basis, or will they have to dial the 800 number in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There is a fairly senior individual in the Department of Education who has been assigned to the Faro contingency plan. That individual will be working closely with the people in Faro on Education matters. I have listened to the advice of the Member for Faro and I will look at how we can more closely communicate with the people of Faro on issues.
Mr. Harding: I would like to ask a question of the Government Leader about the contingency plan. In his capacity as Minister of Finance, what commitment is the territorial government prepared to make with regard to severance for the people who are affected in my community, as well as moving expenses for people who have to move to try to find some alternate work, whether it be to elsewhere in the Yukon or outside?
Hon. Mr. Devries: For moving expenses, we are looking at approximately $500 to $600 as being an average payment, if people so choose. Presently, there is one additional social worker, one additional counsellor — who was half-time in Ross River and is now presently booked full-time in Faro. There is a 0.8 social services person dedicated to Faro to deal with social assistance applications, and there is a half-time secretary who has been increased to full-time, as well as an additional counsellor position while there is a high demand for counselling services.
Question re: Fuel tax, off-road vehicles
Mrs. Firth: My question is for the Minister of Finance, the Government Leader. A week ago, the Government Leader announced that his government was going to give a fuel tax break for users of off-road vehicles — snowmobiles, boats, motor bikes and ATVs — for recreational purposes. The Government Leader has not told Yukoners how this new tax exemption for recreational pursuits is going to be administered. I would like to ask the Government Leader if he will tell us now exactly how the department will administer this program.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I cannot tell the Member now exactly how it will be administered. Officials are looking for a plan that will be the least cumbersome and least expensive to administer.
Mrs. Firth: I have some more questions about how policy decisions are made within this government, but my second supplementary is: can the Government Leader tell us how much money the government is going to lose in revenues because of this policy announcement?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is very difficult to put an exact figure on it, but the estimate is that it could be somewhere in the $100,000 to $200,000 range.
Mrs. Firth: It would be interesting to know if that is an accurate figure or an estimate or a guess.
I would like to ask the Minister another question: how much will be the administrative costs for this program?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I answered that in the first question — the officials are currently looking into what is the most cost-effective manner to administer the program.
Question re: Fuel tax, off-road vehicles
Mrs. Firth: I thank the Member for allowing me to follow up on this line of questioning.
The way policy decisions are made within this government gives me a great deal of concern. We have just had an announcement made about fuel tax increases and then, very shortly thereafter, another announcement was made about fuel tax exemptions. This afternoon, the Government Leader could not answer any of the questions about the costs or even how they were going to administer the program, so I would like to ask the Minister if he could tell us very specifically just how his government makes policy decisions without any analysis or impact and who asked for this particular policy change?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The main reason for the exemption is because it was raised as a concern by the First Nations when the budget came out. There are already many categories of exemptions for fuel tax, and this is just another category to be added. With the increased number of people who might be using it, we are looking for a more cost-effective way to do it. Under the present system, one must obtain a tax number and fill out a bunch of forms to get the tax rebate.
We are overhauling the system and trying to make it more efficient.
Mrs. Firth: Surely the Government Leader is not saying that the First Nations people came and asked for all the snowmobilers, power boat users, ATV users and motorcycle users to get a fuel tax exemption, so I do not want to hear that statement again.
Was there any analysis done by this government prior to making this policy announcement? Obviously there was not.
The Government Leader has publicly mentioned that we may have to start using coloured gas. Is that an option this government is now looking at, after the fact?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: First of all, the Member asked a question and answered it herself. She then went on to ask several more questions.
We are looking at every way possible to make this as uncumbersome as possible. Coloured gas is an option, but it will have to be discussed with the fuel people to see what burden it would place upon them. It is used quite successfully in other jurisdictions.
Speaker: Before the Member asks her final supplementary, I would remind all Members that preambles to supplementaries should be one sentence.
Mrs. Firth: I need to be reminded of that from time to time.
Has the Government Leader had any discussions with the retailers prior to making the announcement of this policy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This is adding another category to the many areas that are exempt. It will be handled in a very efficient manner.
Question re: Contracts, project management
Mr. Cable: In the past, several large products in the Yukon developed by the government have been administered by project managers, as opposed to putting these large projects out to general contractors. The point of the exercise was to build up the local contracting community to increase its competitiveness. It allowed the local contractors who do not have the same bonding power and financial strength as larger contractors to bid on parts of the project rather than the whole project.
Is the Minister responsible for Government Services of the opinion that this practice increases the viability and competitiveness of the Yukon contracting community?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No, I would disagree. Our policy is to tender and contract out as many projects as we possibly can.
Mr. Cable: In view of the large size of the hospital contract and the probable inability of many Yukon contractors to bid on the project as a general contractor, is the Minister prepared to consider breaking the project up and managing the project through a project manager?
Hon. Mr. Devries: In the case of the hospital, Government Services will be overseeing the project and there will be a project manager onsite. The project will be divided up into as many subcontracts as possible, so Yukon contractors will have the ability to bid on this project and so that it can be divided among the contracting community in that manner.
Mr. Cable: I am not sure how I can reconcile that answer to the supplementary question. Let me ask this question: in view of the government holding out the promise of capital projects as a pillar of the economic strategy of the government, and in view of the possible shutdown of Curragh, can the Minister assure the House that everything reasonable will be done to ensure that Yukon businesses and Yukon employees are given first crack at this project?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, we will do everything within the parameters of our contract guidelines to see that that happens.
Question re: Communications advisor
Ms. Moorcroft: On Monday the Government Leader said that the salary of the communications advisor was arrived at by the Public Service Commissioner. Can the Government Leader assure this House that there was no pressure placed on the Public Service Commissioner, who was still on a temporary six-month assignment, as far as we know in this House, to pay the new Cabinet communications advisor $20,000 more than his predecessor?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: First of all, I would like to say there is a good possibility that my communications advisor is getting $4,000 less than the previous communications advisor, because I know what rate my communications advisor is getting. If the Members opposite would like to tell me what his predecessor was getting, we could maybe settle that question. There was no pressure put on the Commissioner.
Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps Mr. Drown would be able to offer resume writing workshops to the unemployed people of Faro; he obviously has a knack for it.
The Government Leader claims he has reduced the overall cost of his Cabinet offices by downgrading some of the administrative assistant positions, jobs that are primarily held by women. I would like to ask the Government Leader: have the job descriptions for these positions changed, and could the Minister explain the rationale for his decision to pay the communications advisor more, while paying the secretaries less?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is a very interesting question. Nothing has been downgraded. We have hired three administrative assistants, instead of six. We have hired three stenographers, instead of another three administrative assistants.
Speaker: Before the Member asks her final supplementary — I have asked the Members to keep the preamble to the supplementary to one sentence. I would like to also remind Members that the preamble should relate to the question that they are going to ask.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Government Leader has said that by reducing the number of employees in his office by 2.5 positions, he is making substantial savings for the government, but we have already seen how these savings have been channeled back into the salary for the B.C. advisor.
Will the Government Leader tell us specifically, who received a reduction in pay, who else got a raise and how much has actually been saved?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: When we get into the debate on the budget, the Member will have full opportunity to ask questions.
Question re: Employment interviews for summer jobs
Mr. Joe: My question is about the lack of consultation. My question is for the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission: in the past, when the government advertises for summer help, they hold interviews in all of the communities and that is one of the reasons people are employed in my riding. However, the government only held interviews in Carmacks and Dawson. Many people in my riding cannot afford to travel to these communities. I would like to know why interviews are not being held in all of the communities.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I was not aware in which communities interviews were being held. I will check that for the Member opposite and advise him.
Mr. Joe: Will the Minister make sure that people from all of the communities are treated equally and given a chance to get a good summer job?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I certainly share the concern of the Member opposite. All Yukoners should have the opportunity to have summer jobs. I will check on this and get back to the Member.
Question re: Animal protection legislation
Mr. Penikett: I have a question for the favourite and most beloved Minister on the side opposite, the Minister of Renewable Resources.
Is the Minister aware that the Yukon Territory, and particularly the City of Whitehorse, has one of this continent’s highest rates of abandoned pets, or animals that must be destroyed annually, in part due to the lack of enforceable legislation to deal with the problem?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I was not aware that it was one of the worst, but I am aware it is a great problem.
Mr. Penikett: Has the Minister been briefed on his department’s progress toward the drafting of new animal protection and animal health legislation — which has been going on for many months — to help deal with the care of neglected animals in the Yukon? Also, since he has become Minister, what consultation has taken place with the Humane Society, game growers, game farmers, farmers and other interested parties?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: The last time I was briefed on it, I was told that they were holding up the legislation now at the request of several groups because they want to get together on the situation.
Mr. Penikett: The previous government had committed itself publicly to bringing in legislation on this question this spring. Could the Minister advise this House what status the proposed legislation has on his government’s legislative priority list, and indicate, in a general way, when the Legislature may be able to expect his bills on the subject.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: As soon as the groups get together and notify us that we can continue with the legislation, we will do it.
Question re: Hospital board
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister of Health and Social Services told the House yesterday that some training of the new hospital board has begun. Could the Minister give the House an update on who the trainees were, and how many appointees to the board have already been chosen?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: As for the nominees, we have chosen 12 people. We are now waiting for an order-in-council for the official appointment.
Ms. Moorcroft: May 1, which is the second date the Minister has chosen for the new hospital board to take over, is only three weeks away. The Minister must have a good idea of the makeup of the board. Will he assure this House that there will be gender balance, and a proportionate rural-to-urban representation on the board?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Yes, although it may be weighted slightly in favour of the feminine gender. I hope she will not mind that.
Ms. Moorcroft: We certainly want a good board. The Council for Yukon Indians is entitled to two nominations to the board. I believe that Yukon First Nations should be consulted on the remaining 10 positions. Does the Minister agree?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Well, if the hon. Member would read the Hospital Act, CYI is responsible for three of 12. As well, we, by law, are compelled to consult with them on the two members from the public at large. In fact, we have discussed all nominees with CYI.
Speaker: Time for Question Period has now elapsed.
We will proceed to Orders of the Day and Motions Other Than Government Motions.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
GOVERNMENT PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Motion No. 25 — adjourned debate
Clerk: Motion No. 25, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Millar, debate adjourned.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: It is really truly amazing how the wheels of bureaucracy spin around in this world of politics and government. When I first came to this Legislature 12 years ago one of the first major projects I was on was hearings, sponsored by the federal government, to set up a review of placer mining regulations so that placer miners could operate without continual harassment. That was 12 years ago. It appears that only now, we have a set of regulations that most placer miners are able to work with.
The Implementation Review Committee has evidently provided a workable formula enabling all factions to work together.
I am happy to see that the efforts of the Department of Renewable Resources and the Department of Economic Development, along with the Yukon government’s negotiator, made it possible for the federal Department of Fisheries, the Department of Northern Affairs and the Klondike Placer Miners Association to get together and come up with a reasonable solution.
It is annoying that the Yukon representative had to travel to Vancouver to settle a Yukon problem. This has been annoying to me for 12 years with many other programs. However, at least it is reasonably settled now.
During the placer mining hearings that took place in 1982, I travelled with the Hon. Dan Lang on field trips to see placer miners at work. During that initial investigation, I was amazed to discover that there were no hearings scheduled for the Kluane area. I checked into the district’s placer mining industry and found out that there were over 1,000 active claims. Needless to say, the hearings were taken to Kluane. It is a very strange situation for a commission to tour without knowing where the people are that they are supposed to be interviewing.
I recall that during that time we flew along the Fortymile River. The aircraft pilot pointed out two rather large placer mines that had been shut down to protect the salmon stream. I noticed that the river was dirty above the two placer mines. I asked why they were shut down when the water was just as dirty above it as below it. The reply was that the water was from Alaska. I asked the pilot if we could fly into Alaska and see it and he said yes, as long as we did not land. We flew over the Alaska border and there was silt being dropped directly in the river. The Canadian companies were shut down to protect the stream while the Alaskans continued to mine. At the same time, Alaskans were catching the greatest share of the salmon. That is very sensible.
I found the whole process of those hearings very interesting, especially the slide show the board used. Several of us objected to those photographs, because the pictures were not even of the Yukon, but rather were taken in another province. In my opinion, the photos were unfairly used to condemn the placer mining industry.
When I first came to the Yukon, placer mining was the largest industry in the territory. There were placer companies who employed large numbers of people as well as numerous privately owned operations. Some of the family operations were being worked by the third generation of Yukoners.
I have watched this industry dying a slow death because of lobbying by the anti-mining groups, the crippling regulations and the harassment of miners by government officials — officials who contradict each other. Although the chart I will now hold up applies to hard rock mining, it clearly illustrates the bureaucracy and the tangle the mining companies are up against.
This is what Windy Craggy has to go through. I hope they have arms long enough to do it. Everybody should take a look at this. It represents a $50 million hearing before they can even start to mine. It was to begin in 1958; the hearings will be finished in 2001. Now we wonder why placer miners and others are having problems.
I feel it is necessary to mention that there is a great deal of natural sediment in Yukon creeks and rivers. If one takes, for example, the Donjek and the White rivers, one will notice that more silt is carried by those rivers in a 24-hour period than any other combination of placer mining through the entire Yukon. As silty as the Donjek and White rivers are, salmon still make their way up those rivers to spawn in the Kluane River.
In closing, I would like to point out that the Member for McIntyre-Takhini stated that the IRC was formed and active before our government took office. That is correct. However, the statement is only half true. The committee did exist, all right, but it was going nowhere. In five short months, we have managed to turn the situation around and reach an agreement that everybody can live with. They are not happy, but they can live with it.
I hear so often that the bureaucracy runs government. It is evident to me that when a government is prepared to govern bureaucracy, then the bureaucrats can follow instructions and achieve visible results.
Mrs. Firth: I want to begin my comments by first saying that I am going to be fairly brief because I think we have many other issues that Members would like to debate in this Legislature this afternoon, but we have to acknowledge and recognize that the Member who is representing the Klondike constituency has brought forward his first substantial motion to this Legislative Assembly; I would like to wish him well on the vote on his motion and thank him for presenting it today. I would also like to thank him for the research he did to give us a good outline of the background, and particularly to remind Yukoners about the history and significance of the placer mining industry in the Yukon. It is always good for new Yukoners to be reminded of our roots and of how the Yukon grew and developed.
Having said that, it was interesting to hear the Member for Klondike’s comments from a different perspective than most of us in the Legislature have — having been a placer miner himself; someone who is involved in a small family business. I can share some of the frustrations the Member has had to deal with. Any business that deals with government these days, no matter what the business or the activity that individuals pursue, they seem to be constantly coming up against government regulations, new rules, new laws and, in many circumstances, they feel nobody is on their side.
One particular incident I can personally remember was not last year, but the previous season. There were a lot of placer miners who lived in my constituency waiting for their water licences to be authorized by the federal Minister responsible. They had been waiting and waiting, and time was passing, and it was time they should have been running their businesses and starting their placer activities.
When I phoned the federal Minister to ask if he would try to expedite the permits that were sitting on his desk, I became very frustrated at the reluctance. As other Members have said, there seemed to be more of a concern about the environmentalists in Toronto than there was a concern about whether or not people in the Yukon were going to be able to start their jobs, buy supplies, buy gas and food, and get on with their lives.
I found that a very frustrating experience, and I want the Member for Klondike to know that there are many Members in this House who share his frustrations and have also had equally frustrating experiences dealing with government.
My understanding of this particular issue is that there is some urgency to having it dealt with because there has been so much work in the past years to get some realistic regulations in place. Now that there seems to be some kind of agreement among all the groups involved, it is important that we take some steps in a positive direction and get something finalized before another federal election is called. That does not give us a lot of time.
Perhaps, if this House urges the federal government to proceed, we can have some influence that way — as we are urging them to proceed with the land claims settlement.
We do not want to have to start the process all over again under a new federal government. I, personally, will be doing what I can, as a Member of this Assembly, to make requests that things proceed as quickly as possible.
We are also faced with some difficulties at the political level. In many instances, what we need at the political level are politicians who are prepared to make choices. I think in some cases, when you are trying to balance and trade off environmental concerns and issues, as opposed to business and development issues, it would be refreshing if we could find a politician or two who could just make a choice and stand up and enunciate that choice and let people get on with their lives. That seems to be a rare thing these days. It is hoped that the electorate will be wiser in choosing their politicians and will be careful that they choose people who can take positions, and who can represent the interests of people who are voting for them.
We are talking about small business here and the ability of small businesses to fulfill all the requirements that are needed just to start and carry on with their business as each placer mining season presents itself. Because I feel so strongly that small businesses, particularly family businesses — ma and pa businesses or whatever people choose to refer to them as — have limited resources, particularly limited time, I agree completely with the Member for Klondike that they do not have time to sit down and fill out reams and reams of paperwork and applications. I do not think they should have to hire consultants to do that for them either. In many instances, businesses are now faced with having to hire accountants and use more sophisticated accounting procedures because of tax laws and changes to the federal tax laws.
I think it would be incumbent on the federal government to put a system in place that small businesses could actually deal with in an efficient manner.
I have three recommendations to make to the federal government and to the committees who are pursuing this particular initiative. My first recommendation to them would be that they ensure that the procedure is a simplified one, so that small businesses can do it themselves, and can do it without having the procedure to be a very time-consuming one, as well as expensive because they have to hire expertise. My second recommendation would be that, once the paperwork is completed, the paperwork should pass through the process in a timely fashion. It should not be held up in the bureaucracy and keep people from actually proceeding with their work, particularly because it is seasonal work. My third and final recommendation is that the regulations and rules that are made and accepted should not be so rigid that they are absolutely impossible to achieve. I think in many instances that is what the problem was here. The demands and rules being placed by departments like Fisheries were just so rigid and they were asking for so much that is was impossible for a placer miner to comply with them and still keep themselves in operation.
In fact, I have had constituents who were placer miners and were unable to operate in the last year, and they probably will not be able to operate this year, because of rigid rules.
I think we have to be very careful that there is some common sense and practicality applied, and that the standards requested are standards that can actually be achieved. I will not take up any more time; I will give the time to other Members to state their positions on the record, so that we can proceed to other motions. Again, I thank the Member for presenting the motion for debate and wish him well on the final vote.
Ms. Joe: It has been two weeks since we debated this motion in the House. I remember taking all kinds of notes and wanting to respond to many things that were said.
First of all, I would like to thank the Member for Klondike for bringing this motion to the House, and for giving us a long history of the Yukon, the Klondike gold rush and many other things that went along with it.
I do not know if I am a real Yukoner or not but, when I first came to the Yukon in 1965, one of the very first things I did during my first few months here was to spend a lot of time at the library reading about the Dawson gold rush.
There are stories and diaries written by many people. I was absolutely impressed and, every time I read a book, I could almost see the history passing before my eyes. The first time I ever went to Dawson, the first thing I did was to go to Klondike Creek.
I have always been a fan of Dawson City, and I think it is one of the more interesting places to visit — that is not saying anything about all the other places in the Yukon, because they are also interesting.
One of the things I found lacking, as I was reading about the history of Dawson during the gold rush, was history about First Nations people. I found that lacking in almost every single book I picked up. I know that was not intentional, but I found out that it was something that might have been put in book form, and we should have been able to read the history of the First Nations people from that area.
The First Nations people in the Yukon suffered a great social change due to the gold rush. The gold rush was an onslaught of many tens of thousands of people who came to Dawson during that period of time.
One of the things that happened is that First Nation people did take advantage of the gold rush. They were employed doing many things, such as packing goods over the Chilkoot Pass. According to some of the history that I read in a book entitled Part of the Land, Part of the Water, which gives a great history of the First Nations people of the Yukon, even young children carried some of those small packs for the gold seekers. The men hunted for meat to sell in Dawson, they signed on as deck hands, and they cut wood. The women sewed mukluks, jackets and moccasins for the newcomers — they were entrepreneurs, even during that time.
They also, and I am sure he is familiar with this history as well, being a Dawsonite himself, cut wood and floated it down to Dawson to sell to white businessmen for fuel. One of the other things it did was to give families a chance to learn a new language — English.
Having come to the Yukon in 1965, I did not know anything about mining, either hard rock or placer. I grew up in an area where I did not have an opportunity to meet miners. It was with great delight that I learned a new part of the country and the history of it.
There has been, in the past, some controversy over whether or not mining was going to ruin the environment and in some cases people have suggested that that has happened. Certainly most of us here have the deepest respect for the environment, right across the country and all over the world. We are always looking at ways to improve the system to make sure that we are not causing a lot of ruin in the country.
It was even suggested, from the Member for Watson Lake, that our party, or former Cabinet, might not have been in full support of placer mining and I do not think whether or not every single Member agrees with something has any relevance because I am sure that they do not all agree with every decision that is made. What we do have is respect for the different geographical areas of the Yukon, the economy in those areas and the people who are part of that economy. I certainly want to see the continuation of placer mining in that part of the Yukon and I will continue to offer my support for that; I will continue to hold a strong view of the environment and what placer mining might do.
I am certainly in favour of the motion in the House that the committee recommend realistic placer mining regulations that will promote the development and growth of the placer mining industry while protecting the Yukon’s fishery resource. As a fisherperson, who loves the sport, certainly I would agree with that because I certainly want to be able to fish when I go to Dawson or anywhere else in the Yukon.
I will not speak long. I want the Member to know that I do appreciate his bringing this motion forward, and I do appreciate the long, very important speech he made that gave me a lot more information than I had prior to hearing him.
I will sit down and I will be supporting the motion.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I, too, for the benefit of the Member opposite, am a fisherperson. I would like it to go on record that I fully support realistic placer mining regulations that will promote the development and growth of the placer mining industry while protecting the Yukon fishery resource.
We have all seen the glossy magazine pictures and accompanying articles depicting the environmental and aesthetic damage caused by mining activities, or the TV documentaries essentially created to lead viewers into believing that any operation in a remote location is environmentally unfriendly. I saw photos used in one CBC-TV documentary that attempted to lead viewers to believe that miners were at fault when, in reality, these pictures were taken on the North Canol Road and the damage was caused by the armed forces during the Second World War.
Many unknowing people in Europe and North America, as well as a lot of our own federal bureaucrats, believe that all mines are environmentally devastating, because of adverse propaganda, such as I have just described. I do not feel that there should be no regulations with respect to maintaining water quality, but I do think that the regulations should be reasonable.
The Thames River, in England, was likely the most polluted river in the world. It was polluted with industrial chemical waste, sewage, agricultural waste and a host of other pollutants. That pollution had been there, to various degrees, since before the Norman invasion in 1066 — over 1,000 years. There were no fish in the river, and even migratory birds did not use it. A few years ago, in the early 1970s, the people in England decided they were going to clean this river up. In 15 short years, England was able to reverse the situation. Now, the upper reaches of the Thames River again abound with fish and migratory birds.
The placer miners do not discharge harmful chemicals, nor sewage, into the creeks. They merely disturb the creek bed and cause solids to enter the stream, which settle out and cause little, if any, harmful effect on the fish that also use the creek. Anyone who has been on the White River or has even simply observed the Takhini River west of Whitehorse, is well aware that more natural solids enter those waters than is caused by all the placer mining in the Yukon. It has been said that either the spring thaw in the Yukon or a heavy summer rainfall will put far more solids into a stream than a placer miner does in a whole season.
My colleague, the Member for Klondike, has told this House that less than five percent of the creeks in the Yukon have mining activity. As most placer areas are known and mapped, it is unlikely that this number will increase, at least dramatically. The creeks that are mined now, in most cases, have been mined for nearly 100 years, yet there is no proof at all that the mining industry has adversely affected the fish population in the receding bodies of water.
I fully support realistic placer mining regulations and urge the Implementation Review Committee to recommend regulations that provide reasonable goals that will result in an opportunity for a very viable industry to pursue its objectives.
Ms. Moorcroft: I am pleased to be able to speak to this very important motion before us today. Indeed, it explores some very topical and relevant issues facing the Yukon today.
Mining is crucial to the economic life-blood of our territory and provides a job pool upon which we depend for our economic survival. However, I am pleased to see that this motion respects the important requirement to protect the Yukon’s fishery resource. The Yukon’s fish reserve is as important to the territory as mining is. I believe that, by considering and respecting these two different resources, it will be possible to work in harmony.
While I am not going to rival the Member for Klondike in the length of my speech, I do have a few words to say.
The Member for Klondike gave us a history lesson in introducing this motion. I would like to add some missing pieces to that history. On August 17, 1896, George Carmack and his Indian brothers-in-law, Tagish Charlie and Skookum Jim, staked a claim. What he failed to tell this House is that George Carmack had been prospecting since 1889 with his Tagish wife, Kate.
Before the arrival of the white people, the Athapaskans were matrolineal, meaning that lines of ancestry were traced through the kinship of the mother, or the female line. When George Carmack left Carcross to prospect the northern Yukon and did not return, Kate’s brothers left to look for her and her white husband.
It is just as possible that Kate discovered the first gold nuggets on Bonanza Creek in 1896 as that George or Charlie or Jim did. Nevertheless, George Carmack, Tagish Charlie and Skookum Jim staked claims No. 1 above and No. 1 below Discovery in 1896. The three men were partners in a lucrative gold operation until 1900, when Carmack sold out cheap. Carmack had, however, transferred most of his assets to Seattle properties in the name of his new American wife.
The Bonanza Creek area was staked by miners already prospecting at Fortymile throughout the 1896-1897 winter. When the first ships full of gold arrived in the ports of Seattle and San Francisco in 1897, a mad rush of humanity to the Klondike River valley began. Outfitted in the Lower 48, most stampeders hiked over the Chilkoot Trail from Skagway. The Royal Northwest Mounted Police required each person crossing the Canadian border to bring 2,000 pounds of supplies with them, a measure to prevent mass starvation. Indian packers could be hired to help carry gear over the Pass. At Lake Lindeman, a tent city erupted as the stampeders built rafts and boats while waiting for the lakes and rivers to thaw.
By 1898, Dawson City boasted a population of 40,000 — more than the total Yukon population today. William Ogilvie was sent to serve as Commissioner, collect gold royalties and administer the new Yukon Territory, carved out of the Northwest Territories. A territorial council was appointed under the Yukon Act, 1898. In 1900, the White Pass and Yukon Route railway was completed, linking tidewater at Skagway with the head of navigation on the Yukon River at Whitehorse. Many aboriginal people participated, working as steamboat deck-hands, longshore workers, woodcutters at the wood camps that fuelled the riverboats between Whitehorse and Dawson City, and as dredge and sawmill workers. Indian women made and sold mittens, moccasins and baskets. A group of Peel River Indians came over to Dawson City from Fort McPherson to work.
Repeatedly, the Member for Klondike stated that the Yukon Territory was born because of gold, that because of the gold rush thus began a stable Yukon population. Perhaps the Member has not been listening to his colleague, the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in. There has been a stable aboriginal population in the Yukon for as long as 20,000 years.
The Klondike Han, whose summer fish camp was located at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon rivers, were displaced by the Klondike gold rush to Moosehide, three miles downriver from Dawson City. The federal government set aside about 160 acres of land at Moosehide as a reserve. The Anglican Church, which had been at Fortymile since the 1880s, established a mission school at Moosehide.
Far from being stable, the white population declined significantly after 1903. In 1902, Chief Jim Boss, hereditary chief of the southern Yukon Indian tribes, declared the right of Yukon Indians to compensation because white people had taken possession of their lands and hunting grounds. T.W. Jackson, a Whitehorse lawyer, wrote to the superintendent general of Indian Affairs on behalf of Chief Boss.
At that time, the Canadian government paid no heed to the First Nations’ claim to the land. The passage of land claims and self-government legislation in this House, earlier this session, is witness to the stable population and sovereignty of First Nations people long before the Klondike gold rush.
The Member for Klondike spoke with great passion about long soup lines that illustrated poverty and despair. He referred to unemployment and how gold mining is an important means of creating employment.
In 1937, there was an early Yukon labour standards law, entitled Ordinance Regulating the Hours of Labour and the Minimum Wage to be Paid in Mining Operations. Under that ordinance, hours of work could not exceed eight hours in 24, or 56 hours in a seven-day week. The minimum wage was 50 cents per hour. Overtime was permissible at an overtime rate of 56 cents per hour. The employer had to furnish proper room and board, or pay the employee an extra $2 per day. This law established minimum responsibilities and obligations for all employers at mining operations. Even today, these are disputed under current employment standards legislation.
Perhaps the Member for Klondike — given his concern about history repeating itself — would support a move to guarantee adequate accommodation, or payment in lieu of proper room and board, to mine employees, as was the case in 1937.
Placer mining is important to the NDP. While in government, this commitment was demonstrated through a variety of initiatives which, because mining is a federal responsibility, it was not obligated to carry out. However, the NDP government believed in the industry and made moves to prove this. The previous government worked with the placer industry associations, the Chamber of Mines, international markets, and supplied hundreds of thousands of dollars to Yukon placer miners.
Through the Yukon mining incentive program, which assists prospectors, exploration companies and placer miners, we supported, in 1991-92, $682,000 for 53 projects, with $400,000 of that money for 24 placer operations. In 1990-91, the YMIP supported 53 projects, and $223,000 of that money was for 21 placer operations.
The former NDP government also negotiated cost-sharing projects with the federal government, through the Economic Development Agreement, at the request of the Klondike Placer Miners Association.
It is clear from the comments of Opposition Members that mining is important to the Yukon. The environment is also important, and I say again how pleased I am that the government, in the wording of Motion No. 25, is also committed to this. Last week, we heard from the Government House Leader that the Yukon Party supported the Environment Act.
The Member for Klondike expressed dismay about the placer mining businesses being bombarded and abused with more regulations and legislation. I agree with him that there have to be reasons for regulations. The Yukon Arctic and sub-Arctic are fragile environments, yet the wilderness still supports a variety of fish, birds, mammals and flora.
The growth in wilderness tourism indicates the value of the land and the water, the mountains and the sky. Yukoners struggle to define an acceptable compromise between economic development and preservation of our historical, cultural and physical resources.
The Yukon’s fishery resource is one that must not be put in jeopardy. Our First Nations’ cultural survival depends on it. Many of the territory’s first citizens rely heavily on the assumption that our rivers and lakes will continue to produce and provide healthy, non-polluted fish. It is my hope that we will not continue to discover toxins in our fish and we must do what we can to take a preventive approach to this problem.
I find it reassuring to see mining associations, environmentalists and First Nations groups working together to find common ground, to respect differences and cooperate.
The Yukon Mining Advisory Committee is a broad-based coalition made up of members from the mining associations, including placer miners, business, aboriginal organizations, the Yukon Conservation Society and others. They have worked together to develop land use regulations under the Quartz Mining Act and the Placer Mining Act. As the Government Leader said, miners today recognize that they must be environmentally responsible, so they chose to participate in the committee to plan regulations everyone could live with. This type of cooperation is a very favourable trend and one that I support wholeheartedly.
The motion mentions recommending realistic placer mining regulations, while protecting the Yukon’s fishery resource. I believe that with the cooperative examples set by the YMAC, this goal is attainable.
It pleases me to hear the Member for Klondike speak about the placer mining industry earning its credibility by its commitment to respecting other points of view, while working toward consensus agreement.
All Yukon people and affected groups must have a voice. Only then, can true consensus be reached.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am pleased to rise in my place today to speak in favour of the motion put forward by the Member for Klondike. This motion is appropriate today because, aside from the problems the placer mining industry is experiencing, there are fairly severe problems in the mining industry in Yukon overall. Our major mine, Curragh Inc. in Faro, is currently shut down and struggling to even survive. I think it is extremely important that we give our support at this time to the other segment of our mining industry, the placer mining industry in the territory.
We should urge the federal officials, and people involved, to consider the importance of this industry to all Yukoners and to Yukon jobs in the future.
I have lived in the Yukon all my life and I have known quite a few placer miners from time to time. Many of them are like the Member for Klondike. They are involved in family businesses. It has been a family tradition for decades where many families have passed the business down from father to son, to daughter, to other members of the family like aunts and uncles who have come in and worked in the various mines, and it has provided a very lucrative income for some of those people. It has not been without some pain. There have been many years where there was no money made, or there were losses. Yet, those people worked hard and survived and the industry is still there today.
The Member for Mount Lorne talked about her concerns regarding pollution. She mentioned the toxins in fish and the fact that we always want to have good, clean fish in our Yukon lakes and rivers. Well, it will not be the placer mining industry that will do that. The placer mining industry does not put chemicals into the water, so I do not think we have to fear the placer mining industry in those kinds of problems that we may face in the future. The sewage flowing into the Yukon River will do that. Other industrial uses will do that, but placer mining will not.
This motion is a significant one for the Member for Klondike and his constituents. Like I said, I have lived here all my life and sometimes I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of the Yukon’s history — that is, until I listened to the opening speech from the Member for Klondike. That Member provided all of us here with a great deal of insight and history into not only the placer mining industry, but also the problems the placer mining industry has faced over the last several years.
He provided us with very valuable information on the placer mining industry and those issues, and I thank him for that.
The placer mining industry has deep roots in the Yukon, and it is probably the main reason that most of the non-native people are in the Yukon. The First Nations, of course, had an economy here before non-natives arrived, but the placer mining industry brought many of our forefathers and foremothers here many years ago. Many of us are following in their footsteps, to build an economy that those individuals started.
The significance of placer mining is just as important today as it was almost 100 years ago when gold was discovered. It has contributed immensely to Yukon’s economy and still is today. It is not only a contribution to the mining economy but to the tourism economy of Yukon.
We are now starting to embark upon the decade of anniversaries. Mr. Speaker, I know you have spent a great deal of time in Dawson City, and that 1996 and 1998 will be great years of celebration as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of gold and the 100th anniversary of the gold rush. I know that those two events will bring millions of dollars in tourism to this territory. We will be rich from those celebrations for many years to come.
I know that the spinoff from the Alaska Highway anniversary appears to be well on its way. It looks like this year will be as good a year as last year, barring some unforeseen disasters in the world to prevent people from coming here. All indications are that it is going to be a great year for tourism, and I would expect that as more people understand and hear about the anniversary celebrations for the gold rush, and the discovery of gold, that those types of spinoffs will carry on for many years to come after the celebrations are over.
I think it is probably one of the few events in history — the discovery of gold — that is known throughout the world. Many people know of Robert Service and the history of the Klondike and are looking forward to coming back, in 1996 and 1998, and partaking in those celebrations. I think that alone shows us in the Yukon that we owe a great deal of gratitude to the initial discoverers of gold, the placer miners of yesteryear and the placer miners of today for carrying on their tradition.
It is somewhat ironic that it is almost 100 years after the discovery of gold in the Klondike and we are here debating the future of this industry in the Yukon today. Regulations have always been a problem for the placer miners, not because they do not like them or will not obey them, but because they are never certain what will change next. I have known a great many placer miners in my time and I can say to you that they care greatly about the Yukon and would not deliberately harm the environment in any way.
It seems that when we deal with placer mining regulations and the problems we are told placer mining brings to the Yukon environment, we always seem to be dealing with nameless or faceless bureaucrats who never lived here, never will live here and are somewhere off in the great beyond. They have meetings in Vancouver or Ottawa and the placer miners must feel like they are fighting for their survival year after year. We have to provide some certainty to that industry in the very near future.
As many of you know, for many years I have been concerned with and involved in the protection of our fish stocks — specifically salmon. I know that these fish do need protection, especially of their habitat. The most important thing to those fish is their habitat. There are some areas where I believe that no industrial activity should take place, for the protection of these fish. That should not mean that because there is one fish in a creek that no activity could take place at all.
This is the 1990s; there are new and more modern methods of mining. Miners are more environmentally sensitive to the problems that mining can create. I think we can be environmentally sensitive in many areas. We need regulations to provide for that protection. We need to protect our habitat and our fish, so these regulations have to be reasonable and they have to make sense. That is all placer miners are looking for. They are looking for some certainty.
I would hope that government officials and others will consider the importance of the placer mining industry in the Yukon when they develop the new regulations. This has gone on far too long. It is time to adopt sensible and reasonable placer mining regulations to lead us into the 21st century and give more certainty to the placer mining industry.
Mr. Penikett: I am pleased to join this debate for a few minutes. I would like to begin by observing that it may not have been the single word, “gold”, that set off the Klondike gold rush, but the phrase, “a ton of gold”, by a reporter describing the arrival in Seattle of the first bounty from the creeks of the Klondike, which proves only that writers, including that reporter and people like Jack London, Robert Service and Pierre Burton, also contributed to the gold rushes as well as miners, and helped to make the Yukon what it is today.
I would ask your indulgence in addressing this question today, that I think it is necessary to understand that you cannot really talk about the Yukon placer mining industry without talking about the Yukon mining scene in general. I think it is rather difficult to talk about gold, without also talking about other minerals that are part of our mining way of life.
To state the obvious, the industry faces enormous and quite complex challenges in the 1990s. I do not believe that the attitudes of the 1950s, nor the philosophy of the 1950s, will give us what we need to address the realities of the 1990s. In speaking to this motion today, I would like to draw on the thinking of some intelligent people in some of our neighbouring jurisdictions to address the problems that we have. I think there are things that we can learn from what is happening elsewhere in our region.
I think it is quite obvious that to address the problems of the 1990s, all of us are going to need new strategies to deal with the mining sector. I think these strategies apply, as the Member for Riverdale North has just indicated, as much to the placer industry as they do to the mining industry in general. The attitudes about the environment, social responsibility and the desirability of sustainability have changed enormously in the last generation.
People I respect are arguing that there are really three key priorities in dealing with some of the problems the industry faces. First of all, we need to create a good climate for badly needed mineral exploration. Secondly, we need to do what we can to improve the competitiveness of the mineral producing sector. Thirdly, over the longer term, we need to improve the social and economic performance of this sector in terms of higher value added, better resource recovery and other socio-economic indicators.
I think there are a lot of things that governments such as ours can do to work with the industry. The first of these is to actually be involved together in a dialogue with each other and the public. I do think there is a need for better public understanding of the industry and the contributions the industry makes and I disagree with those who say that no more studies are needed and that we should just get on with the job. I do not think either the hard pro-development voices nor the hard anti-development voices are right in some of their claims about the effects, benefits or the costs of the mining industry in an area like ours, and I think there are many future development opportunities for the industry and there are opportunities to improve its competitiveness and its environmental performance.
We also have to realize that there is a certain amount of cynicism abroad about the mining industry. I do not claim that this is all the mining industry’s fault but I have been to many places in North America where people are almost viscerally anti-mining because of their perceptions of the beliefs about what mining does to the environment. Rightly or wrongly, they have an unfair image of mining. If one goes to the United States, it is quite common to hear Mark Twain’s description of a mine — the Member for Klondike is looking interested and, just for the record, I will quote it — and if I am quoting correctly, it is “a hole in the ground with a liar on top”.
There are a lot of negative feelings about the mining industry out there, and I want to talk about them. Even recently — witness an editorial in the Whitehorse Star — there was evidence of this cynicism when criticism was made of the Chamber of Mines, something to the effect that there was nothing in the new Yukon government’s budget but they supported it anyway. Similarly, after the change of government last fall, the manager of the Chamber of Mines was quoted as saying something partisan or negative about the previous government.
My guess is that most responsible leaders in industry associations recognize that they have to be much more professional in their dealings with governments, whatever their political stripe, and in their dealings with organizations such as environmental groups or aboriginal organizations than they used to be. The simple-minded political response will not get them very far with today’s public.
Obviously, there are some very key irritants affecting the mining industry here — not the least, the placer mining industry. Obviously, among them are the whole crises facing companies like Curragh and the crisis that has been ongoing for some time for the placer mining industry: whether or not the regulatory burden and the cost of meeting those regulations are going to enable it to survive and function here.
There are questions — or have been questions — about land and land tenure, which I want to say something more about. I believe we have gone a long way toward addressing those in terms of the land claims agreements, which we have been involved in negotiating the last few years. I think we have come a long way toward providing certainty about title to land and resources in those negotiations — something that cannot exist while the claims are under negotiation. We have, in those agreements, negotiated arrangements like surface rights boards and development assessment processes and other mechanisms to bring comfort to both the industry and the landowners.
Clearly, as we analyze what is happening in the world economy nowadays, we also have to understand the need to focus our efforts in areas like exploration and identifying key opportunities.
It is quite true that the federal government still has jurisdiction in this field for most of what we are talking about today, and they will cling to it tenaciously at some level at the constitutional table. I know this from discussions last summer; however, the federal government is also interested in deficit cutting. They are quite willing to off-load administrative responsibilities onto provinces and territories. As long as the terms are right, there will be opportunities for us to take more and more responsibility in the area of administering issues, programs and policies concerning the mining industry over the next few years. I think the mining industry would want that, but so also would all Yukoners, because it gives them greater opportunity for a say.
In general terms, we are also going to be seeing here something that is very desirable: an increasing number of opportunities for partnerships between the aboriginal community and the mining industry. We have seen some beginnings in the arrangements around Sa Dena Hes and some of the other properties that may be coming into production in the next few years. However, I think also that we will have to extend this sense of partnership to the people who live and work in the existing communities. When we are negotiating arrangements that involve First Nations and their lands and the companies they are going to be developing, the resources under those lands, we also need to be making sure that we involve other people in the neighbouring communities and the unions representing the workers in the industry.
Everywhere we are talking about mining, whether gold mining or base metal mining, there is a lot of concern about levels of taxation as they affect our competitive position.
I want to say more about that later. It seems to me that one of the few advantages the Yukon has had in recent years has been our relatively low rates of taxation. The fact that we had the lowest rates in a number of categories was to our advantage. The fact that we are now raising those rates will affect our competitive position negatively, and I think that is indisputable.
One of the most difficult and painful questions affecting the mining industry is the whole question of reclamation policies. The Member for Klondike is quite right that, in some sense, the tailings left over from the first run of the gold rush are, in themselves, a tourist attraction. He will also know, as a resident of Dawson — I am a former resident of Dawson — that there are tourists who will come and see placer operations where there is a large amount of material being moved, or a course of a river affected, who are not always inspired or attracted by what they see. The Member is quite right in talking about the extent to which a casual observer may misunderstand the long-term impacts. It is also true that the impact of placer mining on tourism is a little more complex than he has indicated.
In national terms, the problem is simply colossal. Some years ago, the Canadian Mining Association offered a few million dollars to deal with the problem of reclaiming sites where there was a problem of acid wastes. It was interesting that, almost within a week of the industry making the offer of several million dollars — I think the number was $5 million, but I cannot be completely sure — the federal government put out a report indicating the scale of the problem in Canada. The federal report claimed that, in fact, it was a $5 billion problem.
We would be naive here if we did not recognize that there is a significant body of public opinion that sees those kinds of problems as very serious problems of social responsibility, and which does not believe that we should be passing on the costs of that kind of clean-up to future generations. This is the kind of issue I think we need to talk very frankly about with the industry in the next few years.
Obviously, following the Friday and Monday news about the Curragh layoff notices and its bankruptcy protection application to court, we also have to be thinking about the community and labour adjustments, as mines open and mines close. From the beginning of our administration, my colleague, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini and a former miner, in his capacity as Minister of Education, was trying to work very hard for the industry on jointly-sponsored training programs to make sure that the skills miners had acquired on one property gave them mobility to move on to other areas in the Yukon.
The fact is, most of the operating mines here in Yukon either want to train their own employees, or if they wanted government assistance, they wanted it for either company-specific or site-specific training. That is not always the kind of training that employees need if they are to have a skill that is portable.
It is important to recognize the history of gold mining in the Yukon, but it is also important to understand that mining has been our leading export sector for a number of years — if you like, the cornerstone of our modern, industrial economy. It is also important to recognize that in some of the ways that I have mentioned, mining is in trouble; not only gold mining. It is the case, in the region in which we live, which includes Alaska, the Northwest Territories and most of western Canada, that many of the mines that are now operating are going to be closing in the next few years as their reserves are depleted. That is a problem, when you match that fact to the fact that exploration has also been declining, not only in Yukon, but everywhere in our region. This is a problem for both precious metals and base metals.
I believe there is a lot of ground for optimism. I think there are some basic strengths in the industry and I do think — while we have only had, in recent years, one world-class mine in Yukon: at Faro — we have the potential for more world-class mineral developments, including gold properties, in the next few years, and I think we have something to contribute in placer mining technologies and technical innovations in other parts of the sector.
I come back to my main point. I think we need more complex, subtle strategies to deal with the situation in the 1990s. We are not dealing with a economic environment that is anything like the situation that applied in the 1950s. We need to make sure that governments like ours are sensitive to the effects of their decisions on the mining industry. We also have to recognize that in a fiercely competitive, global economy we have to do everything we reasonably can to make sure there is a healthy climate for exploration and for operators in the Yukon, and that we do what we can to help make the operators competitive.
We also need to understand that mineral policies — the policies that will apply to industries like the placer industry — are in line with the public’s desire for modern and progressive environmental legislation and that the policies are also consistent with the vast majority of our citizens’ social goals, as well.
To survive, the industry, here and everywhere else in the country, has to have public support. I believe that public support can only be earned by the industry recognizing the social realities of the 1990s — the public’s wish to live in an environment with clean air and water. In this territory — we know this from the Yukon 2000 exercise — the vast majority of our citizens, including placer miners, see fishing as one of the principal forms of recreation.
We need strategies to ensure development opportunities for growth in the mineral sector. We need to make sure that we understand the new markets that are emerging and the potential for new products and technologies.
There are many ways by which a government like ours can contribute to that. They include everything from putting the kind of work we have put into negotiating and settling land claims here in a way that responds to some of the needs and wishes of the industry. We can also do it in very direct ways, by the support of such programs as have been developed by the YTG over the last few years, whether it was taking over the prospectors assistance program from the federal government when they dropped it, whether it is through the mineral incentives program, or whether it is through the development agreements we negotiated for opening the mine at Faro, Sa Dena Hes or Ketza River, or whether it is through the electrical infrastructure program announced by a former colleague, the Hon. Maurice Byblow, or whether it was by negotiating instruments like the Surface Rights Board or a one-window, expeditious-development-assessment process, which we tried to negotiate into the land claims agreement, as well as considering it in the Environment Act or, when we were debating that act, making sure that regulations that might affect the industry would not be put in place without full consultation with the people affected. There are many ways we can contribute.
We can also contribute by effectively lobbying the federal government to make sure that regulations that apply to the industry here are realistic and attainable — I want to say more about that. In the end, the big challenge for the placer industry is to see the great Gordian knot of legislation — including the waters act, the quartz act, the placer act, lands act, regulations, licences, and that whole regulatory confusion, — ultimately replaced by something clear, definite and effective in terms of environmental protection regulations for the industry.
As you well know, Mr. Speaker, the mining industry in the Yukon is at least 100 years old. The Member for Klondike talked about Yukon history beginning with the Klondike gold rush. I think there are those in this House who would find that an ethnocentric point of view and would argue that aboriginal people were finding and employing metals in this territory for many thousands of years before the Klondike gold rush.
However, it is true that the modern history of this territory really did begin with the Klondike gold rush, and the character of this territory is affected by that, even today.
It is important, though, to see the mining industry not just as an industry with a history but also to see it as one with a future, and that future depends on us being able to discover new ore bodies and to see them come into production successfully. That, of course, involves ensuring that every step of the journey from discovery to production in the development of a mine is a logical and necessary step. The territorial government, the federal government, as well as the First Nations, the industry and the affected communities all have a role to play in making that a reality.
This territory was, of course, once known for its gold but, until recently, exports were more involved with lead and zinc; we have also had a history of silver and copper mining and the mining of lead as well as zinc. Everybody here knows that our two largest mines, until recently, were lead and zinc mines but it is quite possible that, with their closure, when we look at the economic statistics a year from now — and I say this with regret — gold may be king again, or number one again, because of the tragedy that has affected the mines at Faro and Watson Lake.
To state the obvious, I think over half of our exports are made up of mineral products, largely to Pacific Rim nations, Japan and Korea, but also to some extent to Europe. Most of our exports are in the form of concentrates and that, in itself, is a problem because the lack of further processing means that we are not getting the value added to our products or to the exports; we are not maximizing the value added and therefore we are not achieving the maximum possible value added and thereby the maximum possible sustainability that we might enjoy here.
The industry here employs, or has employed until recently, at least 1,000 people directly and probably 3,000 indirectly. As the Member for Klondike said, there are dozens and dozens of placer mining operations and there are probably hundreds of people involved in working in those operations every year.
Workers in the mineral sector are relatively well paid and that is an important point I want to come back to later. It is also true that many communities in the Yukon have a history of mining. Someone once said that it was interesting that, after only 100 years of non-native settlement in the Yukon, there were already more ghost towns than there were living communities; but it is true that many of our living communities, whether it is Whitehorse or Burwash or Dawson or Mayo or Elsa or Faro or Watson Lake, have been associated with the mining industry over the years and associated not only with gold and silver but also with tungsten and asbestos, lead, zinc and copper.
It is important to understand that the mining industry, including the placer industry, are key contributors to service industries in Whitehorse — including equipment supplier, geological engineering companies, banks, law firms, accounting firms, and anyone else who provides mining-related goods and services — and are all an important part of the economy here in Whitehorse. I would guess that the transportation of concentrates out of this territory makes up by far the largest part of the transportation industry in the Yukon, too, so the impacts here are very important.
The people involved in the mineral sector, whether they are people who are running placer mines — and the Member for Klondike gave us an example of how complex the management skills are for placer mining now, given the regulatory burden and the kind of paper work they have to handle — require skills that are very technical. That is also true of people who work in mines like Faro, whether they are working in the mill, the production line, maintenance or in the management offices.
I think for us here in the Yukon to remain competitive in the mining industry we have to ensure that we have, for years and years to come, well-trained, well-educated workers. We have to understand that we have a responsibility as a community to guarantee that.
I must say that I was very disappointed to hear a very long-term placer miner here, who is in fact not a resident but who placer mines here, complain to me about how much money we spend on education. I had a frank discussion with him. I told him he was wrong because I think the future of the whole industry depends upon having a well-educated population. I thought this particular gentleman was wrong, especially since he did not live here or pay income taxes here, to criticize the amount we were spending on education, because I think the only way we can guarantee a future for the industry is if we have young people coming out of our schools and college system who have the skills necessary to go to work in the mining industry and who are ready to contribute for years to come.
We also need to talk about revenues. We are not talking about the budget today but we all have taxes on our mind. I mentioned earlier that the Yukon tax rates are relatively low. Federal tax rates have been rising the last few years and the burden of tax has been moving away from the corporations onto individuals. Taxes like the GST have certainly affected industries like placer mining.
It is interesting to reflect that we do have relatively low royalties. In fact I was told by a federal official — I do not know if this is still true — that in all the years that mineral royalties have been collected in the Yukon there were only two years in which the actual revenues from the royalties actually exceeded the administrative cost of collecting them. The reason is that the royalties are relatively low.
I could tell an interesting story about royalties and gold mining. I would have to stray just over the border to Atlin. There was a Minister of Mines from British Columbia, about 20 years ago, who was being royally — some would say appropriately — abused by the miners in the Atlin area for some new tax that was being imposed by the provincial government.
He went to that community to have a public meeting. In the public meeting, the Minister of Mines sat at a table at this town meeting and listened as one after another miner got up and blasted him, telling him how this new tax was going to add $10,000 to their costs that year. Another miner said that $10,000 was nothing and that it was going to cost him $20,000. Another said that $20,000 was nothing and that it was going to cost him $50,000. The evening went on and on until everyone had their say. The Minister finally got up and said that he was extremely confused by what he had heard that night, because he kept a record of what was said. According to what they had said, the extra taxes on the Atlin gold placer miners was going to be in the order of a magnitude of several million dollars. This was difficult for him to explain because there was only $1 million in production reported out of that area the year previous. Most of the people left quietly shortly after that and went off into the night, leaving the Minister to deal with the perplexing problem of the tax burdens of the industry. I am sure that nothing like that would ever happen in the Yukon.
It is important for us to understand, as we look at our revenues, that one of the sources of revenue for us as a territory has been the taxes from the employees of the industry. The employees in this industry have been relatively well paid. I would argue that, for fiscal reasons among others, we have an interest in seeing that the employees in this industry be relatively well paid and, therefore, well trained, because it is well-trained workers who would be able to command those kinds of wages.
As you know, we cannot talk about the gold mining industry, or any part of the mining industry now, outside of the context of the global realities. The vast majority of the output of this territory goes to world markets and is sold at prices that, I would argue, are almost totally beyond our control. It has been argued that if we simply develop the infrastructure and make this an attractive place to invest by putting in roads, making power available and having a skilled workforce available and have programs like flow-through shares to attract investment, we will be assured of success. The problem is, because we cannot control prices or what investors are doing, even if we wanted to, that strategy in and of itself will not succeed; it is what my colleague, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, has called the field-of-dreams strategy. It is the argument that if we build it, they will come. He has witnessed, of course, in his former constituency of Mayo, what happened when we improved the road to the mine at Elsa, built a dam to supply power to that mine, the federal government put millions of dollars in through flow-through shares to develop new ore bodies and we built a curling rink for the people of that community — these people had received practically nothing from the territorial government, even though they had been paying taxes to it for 50 or so years.
The chairman of the board of the operating company woke up with a headache one morning and shut the town down, sending some people packing who had been born and lived in that town for the best part of 40 years. There are some decisions that we cannot control.
Even the supplying of the necessary infrastructure of transportation, energy — even with the generous application of flow-through shares money — we could not bring those mines into production today, because silver prices are too low. While the new owner, I think, has developed some proposals on how the mines could come into production, I would guess the price would have to come up quite a bit before they would be profitable operations.
Most of our important minerals, and this includes gold, are facing lower prices in world markets. These market pressures reflect the impact of the economic recession that has been taking place, and we have to deal with that reality. We have to deal with the trends in world demand. We have to recognize that there are some things that we can control and some things that we cannot. We have to recognize that there are new supplies of mineral resources in the world — many of them in Latin America. We have to recognize that capital is highly mobile. We have to recognize the realities of our competitive position. We have to recognize the comments from the Member for Kluane that mines open and mines close, but we also have to recognize that we cannot talk mines into production.
We have to recognize that our strengths include political stability, strong business infrastructure, relatively high-skilled work force, attractive geological potential, fairly good transportation infrastructure, and energy — which is perhaps not as attractive as the industry would like to see, but let us say if Curragh goes down, we are going to have a large supply of hydro-electric energy.
We have had some negatives and uncertainties. We have had high labour costs from some people’s point of view. We have had increased federal taxes. We have had the regulatory burden and the complexity of the regulatory situation, which has been a real problem for the placer industry — in particular, the myriad of federal laws and regulations.
In conclusion, I want to say that we have to recognize all of these realities; we have to recognize that a major new mine with the scope of Faro would take $100 million of investment before it came into production. We have to encourage companies like Curragh to be reinvesting in developing new ore bodies, in places like the Yukon when they are here. We have to encourage innovation, value-added processing and long-term exploration.
In fairness, we have to recognize what has been done, and I will close with this point.
In the last few years, even though the Yukon government does not have jurisdiction, we have funded the prospectors assistance program, the mineral incentives program, off-road fuel tax cuts, the roads to resources transportation program — which has just been cut by the new government — the energy infrastructure program, development agreements for Faro, Ketza River and Sa Dena Hes, the development assessment process, the Environment Act and land claims, settling claims and we have contributed money to organizations such as Klondike Placer Miners Association.
The territorial government has not always received credit for doing that, but I think if we are going to make mining more sustainable and our communities sustainable — I think that is what people want — we are going to have to recognize and work with the mining industry.
The realities of the 1990s are different from what they were a few decades ago.
Speaker: The Member for Klondike will close debate if he now speaks. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Mr. Millar: I have been listening today, and two weeks ago, with a great deal of interest to what everyone would have to say about the placer mining industry. I believe that some people have got a pretty good grasp of what I was trying to say, and understand a little bit about what the placer mining industry has been going through in recent history — the last 19 years — but I think there are some people in here who really missed the boat.
I am pleased almost everyone said that they were going to be supporting the motion and that everyone does realize that the placer mining industry is very important in the Yukon. That does please me, but some of the comments made by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini two weeks ago, and some of the comments made by the Member for Whitehorse Centre just now, are a real concern to me. The fact that they cannot separate the placer mining industry from the other mining industries in the territory really scares me. They are different industries. They are both mining industries, but they are very, very different from one another.
I would like to comment a little bit about some of the things that the Member for McIntyre-Takhini said. He said, “The fundamental issue, as I understand it for the placer mining industry, is that they need to be working and operating in an environment where they are aware of the pressures that they must face respecting environmental regulations.” Yes, I guess that is sort of true, but the fundamental issue, from my perspective and the placer mining perspective, is that we need to have legal certainty; we need to be able to carry on doing something that we have been doing for, in some cases, up to three generations now. That to me, is the fundamental issue.
He goes on to say that there is a considerable degree of luck involved in the placer mining industry, but I just do not buy that. To me, it is not right to put good, solid, environmentally sound regulations in the same sentence as the price of gold and the amount of gold in the ground. They are two different things. We have no control over the price of gold; we have no control over how much is in the ground, but we do have a little bit of control — especially those of us in this House — over the regulations and we should be standing up and speaking about them.
I know mining is a federal responsibility but the Yukon territorial government, through the IRC, does have a voice to be heard there.
The Member for McIntyre-Takhini said that the Minister of Economic Development had, in his own fashion, given us to believe that things had changed dramatically for the placer mining and mining industries, thanks to the last election. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini said he did not believe that statement. I can tell him, from the placer miner’s point of view, it has changed dramatically, very dramatically.
I am not trying to put down the people on the board who were representing the Yukon territorial government, because they were good people and I know them; but the direction they were given by the previous government — and I can really see it in listening to the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Member for McIntyre-Takhini — just was not the right direction. They were worrying about the wrong things. They were saying that the placer mining industry is hurting certain things, i.e. the environment and the fishing industry, but that just is not true.
I take a great deal of exception to that particular statement. I believe there has been a change in direction there.
He talked about consulting with the public and I would like to quote something from Hansard that he said about placer miners, “Of course, they also fix furnaces, plough roads and do a little work here and there to make up the balance of their income. Consequently, one should not be surprised at the anxiety of the government regulators here, when they hold public meetings in communities like Mayo.”
I guess that is true. He goes on to say that he attended meetings in the early 1980s. Again, on the subject of that change of direction of government, I would like to know where the Members were in July and August when there were public meetings held all over the territory, and there was no one there to speak up on behalf of the placer mining industry, or even against it.
I have here a summary of those hearings. In early August, open houses were held in Whitehorse, Mayo and Dawson. These were followed by three hearings: one in Whitehorse, on August 24; one in Mayo, on August 25; and one in Dawson, on August 26.
Eighty-seven submissions were made at these hearings. There were 118 letters and briefs received by the chairman of the IRC — 74 briefs were from the placer mining industry, 21 from community groups, 20 from community and business people, and three represented the commercial fishermen and conservation interests.
There was also a petition, signed by over 2,000 people, which was given to the chairman of the IRC. That petition was analyzed. Forty-two percent of the total were from Dawson City, 75 percent of the signatures were Yukon residents, and eight percent were from outside Canada.
The back of this report is a list of the names, companies and everyone who made submissions or attended the meetings. Nowhere in this report is there mention of any of the people who were in the NDP government at that time or, for that matter, of any of them who are in that party and sitting in this House today.
There is definitely Yukon Party representation. That is significant and an important fact.
The IRC has one person from DIAND, one person from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, one person from the Yukon territorial government, and one person from the Klondike Placer Miners Association. There is an independent chairman on that board. That is a total of five people.
The hearings that were held last year were in response to a study on new regulations proposed for the industry. The Members opposite made reference to the fact that this was a consensus of the IRC. I would like to put on the record that the Klondike Placer Miners Association — and only the Klondike Placer Miners Association — was the only one that did not agree to that. They did not think those recommendations were good ones.
The Yukon NDP government of the time did think they were satisfactory regulations and were willing to put the placer mining industry out of business.
Just to expand on the IRC a little bit, I mentioned that there are supposed to be five people at that table. The Members opposite have mentioned sitting down and talking with the interested parties is good. I believe it is good, too. What has happened at these meetings is that people have come to the place where there are so many people at them. At the last one I was involved in, slightly over one year ago, there were over 30 people. All of them were from government except for two, who were from the Klondike Placer Miners Association, fighting for the industry. The other 28 were there as technical advisors, and so on. They were all on government payrolls, from one level or another. The members from the KPMA were there on their own money.
We have talked a bit about the paper work and other things. One of the things we hope the IRC will be able to accomplish is a one-window approach, so that when we fill out all the paperwork, we only have one spot to go to instead of going to Fisheries, DIAND, YTG, the water board, and so on. This would help to simplify matters. I hope that is one thing the IRC is able to accomplish.
The Member for McIntyre-Takhini said in his speech — we are talking about the change of direction this government has given — “With all due respect, the Member for Dawson does not have the experience and does not understand the situation at all.” I am sorry, but I take a great deal of exception to that. I have been involved in this all my life. I think I understand it. I would suggest that perhaps it is he who does not understand what is happening here.
He and other Members from that side went on to talk about the amount of money that they have given to the placer mining industry and the mining industry in general. Yes, they have thrown a lot of money at the industry. Some of it needed money. Some of it was very good. For example, there are some tax breaks, but I think they really missed the point there. Their whole philosophy is just a little bit off, to throw money at an industry on the one hand and, on the other hand, to shut it down. They were really sending mixed and confusing signals to the placer mining industry. I know of a lot of people who left the territory, or quit mining, because of those signals.
It is legal certainty we wanted. To throw money at us, and not give us the assurances that we would be there tomorrow to work, sends very mixed signals. It is part of a whole differing philosophy that we, in the mining industry, really had a hard time understanding. It is a basic philosophy of the NDP. If they have a problem, throw money at it. I suggest there are other ways to handle problems.
For example, the Member for Whitehorse Centre got up and talked about the image problem of the placer mining industry. I will admit that we do have an image problem. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini was saying how much money they spent the previous year in advertising the good image of the placer mining industry. I think that is an example of poorly spent money. It obviously did not even get to their leader, let alone anybody else.
Just before I close, I have a couple of other points I would like to make. Negotiating for the sake of negotiating: I know there are a lot of people who believe in that philosophy, but I am not one of them. I will give you a little bit of an example of what I am talking about here. I believe that the previous administration was doing just that: they were going to the table and using very poor scientific data. As a matter of fact, they were making statements based on a scientific report that cost us over $1 million. There were no conclusive statements in there at all, but they came up with conclusions. I do not know what they were based on.
However, they were still looking for the same thing. At the end of it, they wanted .02 in settlable solids. That is what they started asking for back in the 1980s. We are currently at five parts per 100 litres of settlable solids. They want to go to .02 settlable solids. I think that the tack that was being taken was that we would just meet somewhere in the middle, say around three parts per litre. Yet there is no evidence or scientific proof to show that would do any good. As a matter of fact, there is a lot of scientific evidence that states that three would provide absolutely no benefit to the fish, or the fishing industry.
There is tons of scientific information that states that and yet, just for the sake of negotiating, they want to put the placer mining industry under undue hardship. I do not think that is right. I know that direction has been given by this government and I hope that something comes of it, because to negotiate for the sake of negotiation is a very difficult thing for me to accept. In my opinion, there is very little or no scientific proof that the placer mining industry hurts the fishing industry.
I would like to tell a little story about that particular issue. I was born and raised in the Yukon, and I spent a good part of that time in Dawson City. I have talked to a number of elders in Dawson who are very heavily involved in the fishing and mining industry. Last year, when the hearings and open houses were going on, I was talking to them. One of them told me a story that I had heard before, and I would like to repeat it. In the 1940s, 1950s and the 1960s, when placer mining was at its peak, the dredges were all working and things were really happening. There were no environmental regulations at that time; they dumped everything down the rivers — yes, I am sure you do remember, Mr. Speaker. You could almost walk across the rivers at that time.
Yet, everyone who was involved in the fishing industry at that time says those were the record years for fish. There were more fish in the Yukon River, the Klondike River and most of the other rivers at that time than there were before or have been since. I would say that although I believe in scientific data, sometimes we have to look at history to see what actually happened.
There were more fish and placer mining at that time than there has been since. I think this is a very strong argument for one of the things that I have been saying all my life, and that is: I believe the fishing and placer mining industry can co-exist very well, if they were left alone from government interference.
The Member for Riverdale South would like me to clear up something I said a moment ago. I do not know that I was actually talking about her — I was talking about the NDP — but I will mention that there is a letter here from the chair of the IRC saying that she did participate in a review last year.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: Please allow the Member to conclude his speech.
Mr. Millar: In closing, I would like to quote something that one of the past presidents, Mr. Frank Taylor, had to say, “Regulations have to be sensible and affordable. There has to be good reason when the government brings in legislation that could put someone out of business. Reasonable regulations mean protecting the environment while miners are still able to make a living and offer jobs to the public”. We are clean, green, and chemical-free and that is important for everyone in the territory to remember.
Speaker: Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, would you kindly poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Agree.
Mr. Abel: Agree.
Mr. Millar: Agree.
Mr. Penikett: Agree.
Mr. McDonald: Agree.
Ms. Joe: Agree.
Mr. Joe: Agree.
Ms. Moorcroft: Agree.
Mr. Harding: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Firth: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are sixteen yea, nil nay.
Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Motion No. 25 agreed to
Motion No. 27
Clerk: Motion No. 27, standing in the name of the Hon. Member for Vuntut Gwich’in.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Government of the Yukon should support the development of a portable sawmill for the Vuntut Gwich’in riding.
Mr. Abel: Since I was elected as the MLA for my riding of Vuntut Gwich’in, I have been listening to the people of Old Crow. It is very important for me to listen to their aspirations and what they need, rather than for an MLA to try to decide those things for them.
Old Crow is a small village of 300 residents many air miles north of Whitehorse and other Yukon communities, but Old Crow, like all other communities, has specific needs to be able to address special socio-economic considerations.
I have listened to the people of Old Crow about the development of long-term economic plans in my riding. Then, I came back and talked to other MLAs in this government. We have been discussing ways and means of helping the people of Old Crow to become more self-sufficient. The need is to try to provide for better ways to use any facilities currently in place. There are many plans that are important and are being studied and discussed to meet the objectives of being self-sufficient in Old Crow.
However, one thing is perfectly clear to the people of Old Crow and all people in the Yukon Territory: the government is having to operate on a very limited amount of funding these days. However, the people of Old Crow have come up with an idea of how to get involved in a new economic enterprise during this time of financial restraint. The one of which I speak is a venture that embraces the use of our renewable resources. One such initiative my people are interested in is in being able to achieve the purchase of a small portable sawmill for the Old Crow Band.
Old Crow once had a permanent sawmill built in 1957. During its lifetime, the sawmill was invaluable to Old Crow. As I mentioned, Old Crow is many air miles from Whitehorse. We have no roads or railroads, so the airplane is our only mode of transportation. Like all air freight, to fly lumber into Old Crow from a long distance is an astronomical price. That air freight price has to be added on to the cost of whatever we want to build in Old Crow, such as housing, schools, operational facilities, community facilities, et cetera.
The permanent sawmill we used to operate went through two major floods, and it did not survive the last one. In the more than 30 years of its lifetime, that machinery sawed a lot of logs. As one example, the sawmill provided logs to build our really nice log school in Old Crow. The school is of primary importance as a learning centre, but it is also very important to Old Crow for social functions. This school was destroyed by fire in 1969.
The Old Crow people are resourceful. With that same sawmill, the logs were provided to build another school. This school was destroyed by fire in 1980. By the time the sawmill was hit by another flood, it was pretty well worn out, and the last flood just helped to polish it off and render the facility inoperable. We feel that a new portable sawmill is a first step in the right direction of economic development ventures that will come forward in the future. Just as our last sawmill created many thousands of board feet, so would a new one.
One of the items on the agenda is to build a wilderness healing camp some 50 miles from the main village. It is a proven fact that, whenever something is taken away from something, it must be replaced with something else. That something else is the wilderness camp. It will be designed to help people heal from alcohol and substance abuse. The camp will develop and set up programs using the traditional methods and the guidance of counsellors, and it will rely heavily on influence from the community elders. The construction of the camp will give employment to people who, when they are idle and bored, tend to get into trouble. In turn, this employment opportunity will help create self-esteem and some very useful training. There are plans for about five buildings. They would include living quarters for single men, single women, married couples and a structure for the kitchen with a dining room.
However, the sawmill has to come first in order to make lumber to build these facilities. The sawmill needs to be portable, so we can move it around in the bush — wherever there is good timber. The sawmill itself will provide employment for about 10 people, that is, five men or five women, working on a two-week rotation on a year-round basis.
The sawmill is a bush-oriented type of work. That type of work is what Old Crow people like to do. Clearly, this operation is only seasonal. Logs have to be brought to the sawmill but, with a portable sawmill, the operation can be carried out year-round. The men or women can take the sawmill to the logs, rather than waiting for the logs to be brought to the sawmill. The sawmill can also fill in a gap when the fur industry is not good.
If there is a tough winter and not enough animals to harvest one year, or if the price of fur declines in the marketplace, the trappers may not have enough money to live on. From a practical, economic standpoint, the sawmill could help balance the financial situation.
Another value the sawmill could add to the role of self-sufficiency would be that the whole spruce tree could be used. Not only could the tree be used for lumber, but the end of the trees can be cut into firewood. The firewood could then go to the Old Crow school, which is wood heated.
As a potential for future consideration, there is a possibility of being able to export lumber to other nearby Arctic communities, such as Fort McPherson or Arctic Red River. That possibility may be a long way down the road.
For now we are dealing with federal government agencies to obtain forestry and land use permits. It is a necessary, but fairly straightforward, process. We would have to pay stumpage fees and the forestry official would have to come to inspect the job site.
There is also a future possibility that a person from Old Crow could be trained to carry out these inspection duties for the federal government. As you can see, the possibilities are unlimited.
A good send-off into a solid economic future could be done with a small investment of about $50,000 and a portable sawmill. The unit could be trucked from the point of purchase to Whitehorse. The unit would then have to be flown by Hercules into Old Crow, as early as the month of June.
I have spoken to and lobbied the Ministers of this government and I can say that I am very pleased to see this government wanting to support what the people of Old Crow want.
Each community has decided on its own direction how to approach things from a socio-economic standpoint, and the Minister seemed keen to see the communities taking these type of initiatives as their priorities.
Also, the more self-sufficient Old Crow can be, the less of a burden we are to the government. Flying lumber into Old Crow is very expensive. If we can use our own resources to provide that lumber, rather than allow the trees to go to waste, there are benefits for my people and all Yukoners.
I trust that the Government of Yukon will give its complete and full support to the development of a portable sawmill for the Vuntut Gwich’in riding.
Ms. Moorcroft: I am pleased to rise in support of the motion for the development of a portable sawmill for the Vuntut Gwich’in riding. The New Democratic government set up the business development fund and community development fund to accommodate such community-based projects. It is these kinds of projects that the former government believed were an important stimulus to the local economy, as a way for communities to maintain a level of economic integrity and self-sufficiency, about which the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in has just spoken. Even the Yukon Development Corporation, in its current form, has a mandate to support this type of project.
Currently, all the building materials for construction in Old Crow are imported. The cost of flying these materials in is often the most prohibitive factor when it comes to building new homes or upgrading existing facilities. A portable sawmill in Old Crow, such as the one the Member is asking our support for, will not only slash the cost of construction, but it will also generate local employment and the local use of resources for the people of Old Crow.
This is the kind of local stimulus the Yukon Economic Strategy mentions. This type of economic diversification is vital to local interests, local economies and local lifestyles.
The people of Old Crow have looked long and hard for projects that will help them sustain their local economy. In the past, they have put forward some very interesting and worthy proposals. In the past, the NDP government has been able to support many of these projects. This is another one that I would like to say deserves the support of this House. It is encouraging to see a community pulling together and coming together around an issue like this. It has the potential to do so even more. A wilderness healing camp would also be a good way to promote healing, as the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in has just stated.
Another reason I support this motion is that it indicates that the new government is prepared to entertain local funding for local projects. Where this money is going to come from is another question. Will it come under the business development fund, the community development fund, or will it be funded by the Yukon Development Corporation?
This project has a history of community support. The former MLA for Old Crow believed that a sawmill in Old Crow would be good for her community. Many Old Crow people support this project, and I hope it will succeed.
The people of Old Crow have a great opportunity ahead of them. Some of the airlines may have a different idea, but I am sure they will realize it is more important to support the local economy to provide an economic stimulus, so there will be more money in the community. This will allow for other kinds of projects to get underway.
I look forward to hearing about the progress toward actually getting the sawmill to Old Crow, getting it operational, and the impact it will have on the community, as the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in described.
I wish the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in all the best in his efforts to see this project come to fruition.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I also wish to speak in support of this motion. I congratulate the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in for his first motion. There is no doubt that this motion addresses one of the major concerns of the First Nation community.
This is one of the first steps toward self-government in a community’s effort to become more self-sufficient and in charge of their own destiny. I must admit that the Member for Mount Lorne stole most of my speech, so I am going to have to just go through and condense it.
Having been employed in the forest industry on and off for most of my time here in the Yukon, I have developed a deep appreciation for the quality of our forest products. Not having been in Old Crow, I cannot pass judgment on the quality of the trees in that area. According to the Member, there is an ample supply of timber and I hope to be able to assist him in whatever way I possibly can to see that this dream comes true.
Naturally, with land claims almost settled, tenure of the timber will be very well laid out. The land use process should be relatively simple, with little competition from other user groups up there.
There will be some hurdles to overcome. My understanding is that presently CMHC houses and government buildings require lumber that is graded. Again, there is nothing wrong with having someone from Old Crow come down to the southern Yukon or into Northern B.C. to take a grading course. I am sure they could very well get the qualifications to be able to do some of the grading. This way this lumber would be acceptable for government-sponsored and CMHC projects.
As the Member for Mount Lorne indicated, there will be considerable savings for government and many individuals, as they will not have to fly all of the lumber into the area.
I am certain that this project will be a great experience for the proponents who are putting it forward and will probably stretch the limits of their ability to plan the project and get the project off the ground. I have instructed the Department of Economic Development officers who go to that community to assist in whatever way they can to put the proposal together so we can get on with this most viable venture. The instructions from the EDO officers all across the Yukon are to assist anyone who comes up with a good proposal like this and help them put it together.
One of the proponents who came to my office one day, displayed a remarkable interest in sustainable harvesting methods. As well, he immediately started talking about silviculture — I think this was really good to see.
When you look at the history of the Old Crow people, they have lived in harmony with the forest for many years, and I feel they have the ability and the knowledge to ensure that this forest will meet the needs for many centuries to come. There is no doubt that the Old Crow people have practised sustainable harvest for many years.
This project can also be used to train people for management skills. It will train people to fall trees in a proper method. I always find it interesting that there are a lot of people who know how to saw a tree down and have it fall over, but there is a bit of an art to making sure that they all fall in the same direction, which is usually done in a forestry operation.
From the proposal that I have seen, this is not a multi-million dollar project. It fits well within the budgets that we have in Economic Development or some of the other funding areas available, for example the Aboriginal Business Development Program. My understanding is that it has a 15 horsepower engine that moves back and forth on a rail and the log stays stationary. I am sure those people who have been to the Lion’s Club trade show in Whitehorse the last few springs would have seen what an efficient machine it is. It is a band saw and my understanding is that it takes a bit of skill to sharpen the blades properly. The company that sells this product is prepared to train someone to sharpen the blades properly. There are a lot of skills that the people involved in this small operation will be able to acquire.
This type of configuration is commonly used at camps and remote communities in Alaska. I am sure that, once it all comes together, this small sawmill will be able to meet the domestic needs of the Old Crow Band for many years to come. I wholeheartedly support this project.
Mr. Joe: I want to join other Members of this House in support of the motion before us. This project has a long history. I remember many people from Old Crow talking about it. They believe it is a very important thing for their community.
I also want to mention the former MLA for Old Crow, Norma Kassi. She also believed that a sawmill in Old Crow would be a good thing for her community. To put a sawmill in Old Crow would really help the people with their economy. Now, they have to spend so much money flying building material up there that there is not much left over after the house is built.
I know what a help this kind of thing can be to a community. In Pelly Crossing, when we first started building furniture, everyone got excited about having an industry right in town. It was something that we could feel proud about and something we could participate in. To have a business like this in our town helped our community, because we did not have to rely on furniture from outside.
The same could be true for Old Crow. Instead of flying all of that lumber up there and spending that money on airfreight, knowing they could go out into the bush, saw all of their own logs and then bring them back to the village to be used in construction would be good.
This makes people feel good about what they have done for themselves. They will also have more money to invest in making their homes better. That is what we are all here for: to make our life better.
In closing, I would like to thank the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in for bringing this motion to this House, so that we can talk about it. I wish him luck in making his community better.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I am very pleased to see your promotion. Now, Mr. Speaker, maybe you can get around to do some ticking while you are up there.
I am very pleased to support this motion. A small, versatile sawmill in the community of Old Crow will provide economic benefits directly to the community, both through direct employment and major cost savings when local milled lumbers are substituted for high-priced timber imports.
The proposed sawmill, known as a wood miser, is a versatile, portable sawmill, capable of milling rough lumber and construction-grade lumber. Several sawmill models are available. The products offer a technology suitable for the climate of Old Crow.
Through it is land claims settlement, the Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation has several sections for commercial forestry purposes. It is anticipated that the mill will operate on a supply of logs generated by selective harvesting. I believe an economic venture such as this will benefit the community of Old Crow.
I have met with the people who have done a lot of talking about this project. They came down from Old Crow. I was very impressed by their attitude and that two young people could talk about this in the way they did. They have done a lot of thinking about it, they certainly have some very good ideas, which I will not go into — those ideas are theirs — and they are out to make to make them work. It is a dream that they have started — a dream that will succeed for several reasons.
It is their dream; they are not asking for a lot; they have done a lot of talking about the project. They are not trying to get too big; they are starting small. In fact, when they first came in, I think they were aiming a little lower than the Minister of Economic Development and I thought they should be. We suggested they add a little more to the project.
They have plans for a number of things such as the work camps and the wilderness camps.
I think the one very important thing of the whole project is that people from that area came to us, the government, with their idea. The government did not go to them and start throwing money around and start saying, “You are going to do it our way.” We are going to do what they ask and not what some civil servant went out there to tell them to do.
Mr. Harding: I have a few brief words on this question. I promised to be kind to those in Hansard who have made comparisons of me to Danny Lang — it was a terrible insult, but nonetheless.
I rise today to speak in support of this motion, and I think it is important that rural communities are supported in their economic diversification initiatives, especially an initiative such as this.
I am not too aware of what environmental concerns the people of Vuntut Gwich’in might have with their renewable resources. I am sure that with a portable sawmill of this size they will be able to handle the draw-down that it would have on the area. I have never had the privilege of visiting that community and I would like to go there at some time.
I can certainly support the principle of this motion. I know the limited resources of the $483 million budget and the financial restraint shown in the $483 million budget that the Members opposite have shown may not include this particular project this year, but I certainly wish the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in all the best in future, in terms of lobbying his government in this effort.
One of the things that is unfortunately sadly lacking in the territory with regard to rural communities and has been somewhat improved is economic diversification. It is a tough problem because we are limited by resource bases and our situation in proximity to markets for the products that we can produce in our communities. Nonetheless, there are some things that governments can do to help spur that along and I certainly support those initiatives.
I believe that is the initiative where the idea in Watson Lake came from — whatever the criticisms of that project were, it was an attempt to economically diversify a community that was hurting. It is important for governments to feel the responsibility to continue to help and stimulate the economy in the rural communities.
As a matter of fact, we had some discussions today on the implications of a mine closure in my rural community and I am certainly hopeful that there are some projects that would largely have to be spurred on by government, such as construction and decentralization that could occur in the Chateau Jomini project and the mining diversification infrastructure work in the Grew Creek area that could employ some people, and of course there is the Grum stripping, which, even if the mine mill was not operating, would certainly be a project where Yukoners could do some meaningful work in exposing that asset as an ore body. I certainly have not given up the ghost on that one yet, but they are all potential economic initiatives, largely spurred on by government, that would help my rural community.
I believe it is important that government continue to keep in mind that, in some cases here in the Yukon, because of the factors with regard to our proximity to markets and also the higher cost many businesses have to bear here, they must have a sense and a philosophy that espouses greater stimulation of business and the economy in many of the rural communities.
It does not stop with Old Crow. This sawmill is a project that is particularly suited to Old Crow, but there are probably some more initiatives like it that could happen in the riding represented by the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in. Many other rural communities deserve and could use this type of initiative.
Everything starts small. Sometimes you do not hit a homerun every time you try. Sometimes you strike out on these types of things. Nonetheless, governments have to make these types of attempts in these communities. You do not always get home on the first hit. You start at first base and I believe that is what this would be. It would be a good start. I think it is imperative that the people in the Vuntut Gwich’in riding get opportunities like this, and in the other rural communities as well. I would have no problem in supporting this motion.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I, too, am pleased to support this motion and I want to say a few words in support of it. I will start by thanking the Member for bringing this motion forward. I think it gives us a chance to put forth our views on the situation in many of the small rural communities, such as Old Crow. It was interesting to hear the history of the current sawmill, such that it is in Old Crow. It was first established in Old Crow in 1957, and has survived one flood and sort of survived another and it was used to build so many of the buildings there over the past 35 years.
I remember the sawmill from the first time I was in Old Crow, about 20 or 25 years ago. It was there long before I ever arrived in Old Crow for the first time.
The concept of a portable sawmill is a good one, and we have talked about the concept. The stands of timber in the Old Crow area are mostly along rivers and creeks, and it is important to have a sawmill that can be moved from area to area, since the availability of timber quickly runs out, given the nature of the terrain and vegetation in that area. A portable sawmill would be a great idea and would provide a great opportunity to have people employed away from the village. The idea of constructing a healing centre is something we solidly support.
I have been impressed by many of the small communities in the Yukon and many of the new generation of First Nations chiefs, since I have assumed the responsibility for Justice and Health and Social Services. One of the decidedly new trends I have observed since quite a few years ago when I was involved in land claims, is that many of the new First Nations chiefs, councillors and entire smaller communities have adopted the attitude that they want to move slowly but steadily and make progress. They want to start with small things and build on success.
One of the refrains I have heard over and over for the brief five months we have been in office has been the idea that they do not want to be set up for failure. They do not want to have money thrown at them and all the resources sunk into something and then find out it does not work. That is something people want to avoid. They would much rather start in a modest way, so that, if something does not work, it is not the end of the world and, if something does work, they can build on that success. It is a building block approach to not only economic diversification, but also dealing with programs in the areas of health and social services, justice and corrections.
In the two departments, we are currently working with many of the First Nations on local initiatives — things the communities want to try. In many cases, each community is unique in setting out its immediate achievable goals and objectives and in the way it wishes to proceed.
One of the things that several of the smaller communities are very interested in is the concept of a healing centre. For example, in Pelly, they have been building a healing centre at Tatlmain Lake. Right now, they are in the process of developing some programs for that healing centre. Both Justice and Health and Social Services are working to support them in developing these sorts of programs. In Pelly, it is felt that Tatlmain Lake would be the healing centre that would serve Pelly as well as the other Northern Tutchone centres of Carmacks and Mayo.
The development of our circle courts in Justice is gaining acceptance in many of the communities. Right now, in addition to implementing the circle court concept, we, in Justice, are also looking at doing a complete review of the corrections policy. One of the reasons for this is the interest in having certain classes of offenders being able to serve sentences in healing centres and wilderness camps, so that, in our corrections policy, we will be looking at enabling judges to send offenders from the First Nations communities to these camps, or healing centres, that serve the First Nation.
At the same time, we are looking at social services in the area of the juvenile justice, with child welfare being involved in the development of these policies, because it is really important that we develop policies respecting wilderness camps and healing centres that are perceived as being equal and fair treatment to each of the First Nations, particularly now that more and more of the First Nation communities are developing these centres in their own way.
I firmly believe in the concept of supporting local community initiatives rather than having Whitehorse and the bureaucrats here impose their standards on those communities. In my view, when one looks at the treatment of alcohol and drug abuse, and at the healing of people who are trying to, in some cases, stop abusing family members and helping victims of violence and abuse heal themselves, it is very important that the initiative be taken by the individual and by the community.
In my view, it makes it much easier to achieve solid progress and results within our departments to support the initiatives that are developed by the people the departments are intended to serve. While this may seem like a very modest principle it is one that has not really taken effect in Yukon. I am extremely encouraged by the recent work that has been done; it did not start with the new regime. I certainly give credit to the Ministers before me in each department who have supported such things as the circle court and the use of some of the wilderness camps in the communities.
This proposal for the portable sawmill is a very important one, not only for the potential for employment opportunities in developing self-esteem amongst members of the Old Crow community but because it is seen, in a symbolic way, as an initiative by the community to take steps to help themselves. It is really interesting that it is seen that there is this need to develop self-esteem through employment. There is this need for a cultural centre to be developed outside of the community. There is this need for the healing place to be a place where such issues as drug and alcohol abuse can be treated, because all of these things mean to me that Old Crow, like many of its sister communities, are on the road to dealing with some of the really important social problems these communities face.
When one looks at the situation in Whitehorse, in contrast to the situation with these small communities, it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that these communities have received very little, in a tangible way, from the territorial government to deal with social problems, when contrasted with Whitehorse.
A kid from Pelly, or Ross River, or Old Crow simply does not have all the opportunities to be involved in things like organized sport, hobbies and structured activities. In fact, they are lucky if there is anything in their community. It is so important that we encourage that sort of thing, in addition to dealing with the obvious through healing centres and such. It is a well-known fact that most of the people who end up in the criminal system in the jails are of native ancestry. Of course, most of the Indian people of the Yukon still reside in the small communities outside of Whitehorse.
I make this plea that we not only support this motion and this initiative, but we also bear in mind — when we hear the screaming and the squeaky wheels of Whitehorse complaining that they do not think they are getting enough money for whatever non-governmental organization they represent — that we have done very little to assist the people in these small communities with their social programs in our history. I suggest that life in Whitehorse is easy compared to life in a place like Ross River, particularly for kids, where there is so much abuse, alcoholism and violence. The ultimate social cost, the ultimate cost in dollars, and the burden on our system is much greater than it ought to be, because of the neglect and lack of understanding of many people who live in this community of what the real problems are out there.
When I hear a leader from any of the smaller communities make a pitch in this Legislature for support for something such as this portable sawmill, the healing centre and raising of self-esteem, trying to treat alcohol and drug abuse and support culture, I am impressed and have absolutely no problem in supporting such a motion, and I urge each and every Member of this House to support it.
Mr. Penikett: I had sincerely hoped that I had given my last speech in this Legislature on the subject of sawmills, but I am nonetheless pleased to contribute a few words to the motion today. My normal caution to a new government would be to say “beware of MLAs requesting sawmills for their constituencies”, but I do understand that we are talking about a very legitimate need and a request that is fundamental to the hopes and dreams of the Vuntut Gwich’in and, indeed, something that will serve both their economic and social development needs.
I appreciate that the Minister for the Yukon Development Corporation has not been willing to offer the services of the Development Corporation to make the sawmill available; I might not necessarily agree with that, but I do understand his reasons for making that decision. I am not entirely clear, given the representations of the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in, why the government could not have provided some assistance in the budget, since I understand the request was made some time ago. We may have an opportunity to ask about that later in this sitting.
I do note, if Mr. Speaker will forgive me a whimsical moment, that the Member for Watson Lake has offered to assist in any way he can — I think that is what he said. I would only urge the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in not to ask the Member for Watson Lake to come to manage the sawmill for him — that is the road to heartbreak.
I want to say to the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in that this is not a question just of money for communities because, as the Minister of Justice will know, during our time in government we often received criticism from some political figures in this town to the effect that we were spending too much money on the smaller communities; in fact, in respect to Old Crow, we were criticized on at least one occasion because the highest per capita spending on any community in the territory, during our time in office, was in Old Crow.
I never felt any need to apologize for that. As the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes said, the needs of the smaller communities are such that they warrant some extra effort from governments. I included in my list of small communities, communities like Watson Lake and Dawson City and others, where the standard of living or the quality of life is not yet equal to that appreciated or enjoyed by young people in Whitehorse.
I do not want to leave the impression that life is bliss for young people in this town. They, too, have needs and challenges. As someone who has, at one time or another, gone around and talked to high school students in pretty well every school in the territory, I continue to be concerned about the fact that the vast majority of young people in our high schools have, as their highest goal, to leave the territory and go somewhere else — somewhere that is more interesting and more fun than they see life to be here. I only hope that many of these young people, whether they go south for education or in search of employment, will one day find their way back to the territory. One of the ways in which this community has matured and grown over the last few years is that we have many more multi-generational families and much more of a rooted and stable community.
The kind of deep roots that the aboriginal community has in many parts of this land are well known and need no comment today. I only want to say, in closing today, to the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in, that we wish him and his community good luck with this venture. I know that this development tool is important for the community. I have been up and down the Porcupine River enough to know some of the timber resources of which he speaks. I know well, as a frequent visitor to that community, some of the building material needs of the people there.
As their land claim and self-government agreements are implemented, and they begin to develop their own tools on the road to self-government and self-determination, we all wish them well and good luck with this initiative.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will be relatively brief, but I do want to rise in support of this motion from Old Crow. I listened with interest to the Leader of the Official Opposition and would like to give him some assurances. He talked about entering into another sawmill debate. I know how painful or risky that may be to him, but I can give him strong assurances from this side that we will not be investing $16 million in this particular one. It will be a lot less than that, and a much more economical investment. We will be watching that relatively closely.
I also found it rather interesting that the Leader of the Official Opposition saw fit to blame the Member for Watson Lake for the folly of the sawmill. I would think that would be stretching the imagination beyond belief, in anyone’s wildest dreams, and I found it an interesting comment.
I have to commend the Member for Old Crow for bringing this motion into the House today. It is the very first motion that he has brought forward as a Member, and it is a significant motion, not because it came from the Member for Old Crow, but it came from the people of Old Crow and was delivered by their representative.
I know that the people of Old Crow are very proud of that representative who is representing them in this House today. They were proud of him as the chief of Old Crow years ago when he provided many economic opportunities for the people, and they are equally as proud of him today as their Member of the Legislature.
I have visited Old Crow many times in the last few years. I have several friends in the village of Old Crow. I have spent a lot of time on the Old Crow people’s highway, the Porcupine River, going up and down the river, sitting by the campfire and talking to the people of Old Crow.
When they are talking about various issues, the issue of employment and opportunities come up, and many people relate the days when the sawmill was there providing work, logs and initiatives for the people of that village. This new portable sawmill will provide those opportunities.
The people of Old Crow are bush people. It is the life they are familiar with, and this type of project is one that they will be very comfortable with and do very well at.
I have been in Old Crow several times, and I have watched the big Hercules aircraft arrive at the airport to unload tons of lumber and supplies for the building in Old Crow, at a very high cost to the people of Old Crow. Much of the equipment and building supplies they unload require special skills to assemble — the buildings or the products that they are putting together. The people of Old Crow are quite adept at building log cabins and this is what the sawmill will provide, logs for those kinds of structures.
Again, this is something that is probably long overdue in Old Crow and something that is needed and should be done.
I am also pleased to see that the initiative was driven by the people of Old Crow. I think that is what is significant here; the village has produced this initiative and has had that initiative delivered by their representative.
The Member for Faro made a brief comment about the concerns he has about the government’s fiscal constraints within the $483 million budget. We realize that we do have those constraints, and this government does have huge O&M costs that we are trying to get under control.
Again, we are left with the legacy of the $58 million overexpenditure of last year. We would have loved to have had that $58 million, or $50 million in the bank, because it would have made an awful lot of decisions and campaign promises that we made in the last election much easier to keep and follow up on. Unfortunately, the cupboard was bare when we arrived. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, we did not have much choice in putting together the budget you have before you now. I think this is a very positive thing for the people of Old Crow and for the village. I hope that this initiative can begin shortly and that the people of Old Crow can get back to work building the wilderness school and other projects that they have in mind. I wish them well in this project. I thank the band council of Old Crow, the chief and the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in for bringing this motion forward here today and I urge all Members to support it.
Mr. McDonald: I will be relatively brief. While I do think that some of the petty and chippy comments made by the Member for Riverdale North deserve some response, I do not want to clutter this motion with a rebuttal, because I do not think it would be seemly and I do not want to repeat the same kind of petty and chippy response that seems to be more and more typically the creature of that Member.
I support this motion. I assume that the motion will pass unanimously. Certainly I have had, in the past decade or so, a great deal of affection and sympathy for the aspirations of the people of Old Crow. I have come to know many of them over the years. I have certainly had a long history of working with a variety of leaders and chiefs in Old Crow, all of whom, in my experience, were very good and conscientious people working very hard to improve life in that community. Certainly, the provision of a sawmill is something I think would be quite a useful addition to the economic infrastructure in that community.
In some respects, there are so few opportunities for people to undertake economically productive work that pays a wage and that provides needed support to the economic life in the community. This has been suggested in the past and I know that it would, if it were to be managed in a way that I know it can, be a real success in the community of Old Crow. Certainly I know, from some considerable experience with building projects in that community, that flying building materials into the community by plane is an enormously expensive proposition. If there is any import substitution in that community — that people can saw their own logs and provide their own lumber — that would obviously be of some significant benefit to the community.
I do wish them well in this venture. I think the Member for Old Crow has thought out the potential for this project quite thoroughly, and if there is a purpose associated to undertake healing activity for those people who need it, I think that would also be a useful feature. I support this motion and I hope all Members support it as well. I know that the next time I go into Old Crow, I will probably be seeing the fruits of the Member for Old Crow’s labour, seeing more people working more productively and more happily.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I rise today to support this initiative from the Vuntut Gwich’in people and their community, as was relayed to the House by their MLA. When I first met the now MLA for Vuntut Gwich’in, I was very impressed with this man’s vision of how he wanted to see his community develop, and how he was not satisfied just to be given things by governments without earning them. All he and the people of the Vuntut Gwich’in riding are asking for is the economic opportunity to be able to help pay their way in society and become a productive community. I believe initiatives such as the one we are debating today, a portable sawmill for the community, is a very good step in that direction.
A tool like a portable sawmill, in a remote community such as Old Crow, is of enormous benefit to the community, both in the economic way and the social way. It gives them the ability to continue to provide basic materials that will be required for their community, and it gives them pride in what they are doing and to be able to see the fruits of their labour.
When I first met the MLA and talked to some of the elders from Old Crow, they told me about when they first established the village of Old Crow. The reason they established it there was because there were logs for building. It was a good stand of timber, and that is why that site was selected.
Now, with a portable mill, they will be able to move around to various areas where there are good stands of timber. I believe initiatives such as a portable sawmill will be able to provide a lot of the building materials that are required in a community such as Old Crow — traditional building materials for the people there; they will be comfortable with them, and they will not have the huge cost of flying all the materials in from outside, which did not give them the benefit of employment in the community.
They will have a real pride in the buildings they establish there with this facility but, more than that, as the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes said, these people are looking for something to start them on the economic road — not something that is a massive project; something small, something they feel quite confident they are capable of handling without having to bring in a bunch of consultants and experts. I believe this is the type of initiative this Legislature should be supporting in Old Crow and other communities, so that they can grow with their labours and, as they proceed with the land claims and self-government agreements, I am sure they will go on to bigger and bigger projects that are far more beneficial to the community and to the Yukon as a whole.
As the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes said, many of the people in the small communities do not want to be set up for failure. They want to be able to progress at their own speed and their own initiative. What the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in is doing here, on behalf of his people, is bringing forward their wishes as to what they feel they need for that community to start on this long road of economic self-sufficiency so they will be able to create materials to make their village a better place in which to live.
I am not going to speak long on this. I am fully supportive of this type of initiative. I would like to see more of these types of initiatives from other communities in the Yukon. As the Leader of the Official Opposition said, there are many other communities in the Yukon that need these kinds of initiatives and I think it is incumbent upon governments to support these initiatives.
Ms. Joe: The Offical Opposition, of course, will support the motion before us as introduced by the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in. It is an economic development plan by a First Nations people and does hold a very high priority in our caucus. Any time that a First Nations group chooses to introduce some kind of an economic development plan, we know that we are on the road to some kind of development that is acceptable to all people.
I do not know a lot about sawmills, but I do support the concept as mentioned by the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in.
I sat here and listened to some of the other speakers. I will try to finish speaking in about two minutes. The Minister of Justice talked about a healing centre that the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in said would be a part of this plan. As I listened to him, I thought that we were speaking about healing centres. Even if we were, I would certainly support a healing centre of any kind, run by First Nations people in any community in the Yukon. To introduce that as part of the plan is very positive. I know that aboriginal people, not only in the Yukon but right across the country, need those kinds of healing centres — places they can go where they understand each other’s concerns and is not something being imposed on them by someone who was taught in universities.
I have nothing against universities, because they do introduce some very good academic issues.
I was going to get a little bit snippy at the Member for Riverdale North, because we were all going along and speaking quite positively on this motion. Then, all of the sudden — as often happens with that Member — some negative issue was thrown into the motion. That is all I will say about that.
I think I missed part of the debate on where this money is going to be coming from, and whether it is the government’s plan to buy this sawmill and send it to Old Crow. I am not exactly sure where the money is coming from — I see the Member for Kluane smiling over there — but I would like to know. Is the money going to be coming from the community development fund, or the existing budget, which does not include this? I do not know that yet, although someone has probably already mentioned it.
I talked to the Member as he was coming in, and I told him that we voted against this motion, but that is not true, as you already know.
I will make a deal with the Member: some time when he is back up in Old Crow, if he makes a promise to bring me some dried caribou meat, I will vote yes for this motion.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I, too, will only take a very few minutes. I would like to go on record as lending my full support for this motion.
I spent most of my life in Watson Lake and watched many small mills operate out of Watson Lake prior to the big mill coming in the 1970s. The small mills would employ up to 25 people. They operated even before I ever got there in the late 1950s; the mills were operating then and, in fact, if they could get timber, they would still be operating.
I think that this is certainly a good initiative for the people of Old Crow. I understand that there would be approximately 10 people involved in operating the mill. It is a sustainable industry. I imagine the amount that they will cut will never hurt the forest in the area. The by-products, such as slabs and end-cuts, can be used for firewood by the people there. The training possibility is certainly there.
I did want to mention, and it has been mentioned twice before — I guess that is one of the hazards of speaking last, you do not get to bring out what you thought was a fairly obvious idea — the sense of pride and the self-esteem the people who work on and operate the mill will gain because of it.
I would like to urge all Members of the Assembly to support this motion.
Mr. Cable: I, too, rise in support of the motion. It has been about two months since the land claims committee landed in Old Crow. I was walking down the street, just before the hearing started, and saw these large logs. I tried to figure out where they came from because, when you fly over the countryside, you do not see these large trees. However, I am told there are pockets of large timber around the Peel and Porcupine Rivers, and these are a valuable timber resource to the Vuntut Gwich’in, who put these logs to good use.
I am going to speak very quickly, because I know we all want to pass this motion, but I was particularly pleased to hear that we were not only talking about steel saw blades, steel rigs and diesel fuel, or whatever it is that is going to propel this rig. We were talking about healing, self-esteem, self-sufficiency, pride and those things that come from looking after yourself — as this machine will assist the people of Old Crow in doing.
For a community that relies so heavily on air transportation, it makes good sense to try and harvest the local resources, not only for food but other purposes, as well, including these logs. I have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting the motion, and I am sure that, when that rig arrives in Old Crow, there will be a celebration, and I hope I get an invitation.
Mr. Millar: I will also speak very quickly and briefly to this motion. I just wanted to let the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in know that I will support this motion. I think it is a very good motion. Anything that works toward self-sufficiency is, in my opinion, a good motion.
I remember when I first met the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in. He was up for a chiefs’ convention. It was just after we had both been elected. It was one of the first things on his mind then. He was talking to me about getting support. He was already soliciting my support at that time for this particular motion. I would like to say to him right now that he has my support.
Mrs. Firth: I know it was not intentional that my name was left off the speaking order. I did want to get up to congratulate the Member for Vuntut Gwich’in for presenting his first motion to the Legislative Assembly. I will not speak for a long time, so that there is time for him to make some comments and to get a vote on the motion.
I do want to say to the Member that I do have a lot of friends in his community who have talked to me about this particular issue. I also want to tell him that I have some first-hand knowledge about portable sawmills, as I have just had a close friend from Whitehorse who owns a portable sawmill out at my farm recently. He has been showing us how it works and has been cutting some lumber for us so that we can use the wood we have cut down to clear farmland.
I hope that the Member is able to get further, assistance and advice to teach his people how to use the equipment. I know that I was very intimidated by the sawmill cutting up that lumber. I wish the people of Old Crow well in learning how to use it. It is a machine that requires a great deal of respect when one is using it.
I, too, will support the Member in his initiative and allow him to speak now so that we can get to the vote on his motion.
Speaker: The Member will now close debate if he speaks. Does anyone else wish to speak on this motion?
Mr. Abel: It is encouraging that the Members of this House support my motion for a portable sawmill for the Vuntut Gwich’in riding. This development project will provide jobs that will lead to other economic opportunities in the future, thus providing even more employment. This is just the beginning.
Old Crow, as well as other Yukon communities, wants to put economic structures in place so that all people can become self-sufficient, rather than having to rely on government.
My people want to do things for themselves, so that they can feel good about themselves. I think this sawmill will be a positive step forward for the community of Old Crow. I would encourage the other communities to start taking these small, positive steps forward that add up to a giant step toward economic self-sufficiency in the future.
Motion No. 27 agreed to unanimously
Clerk: Motion No. 30, standing in the name of Mr. Millar.
Speaker: Is the hon. Member prepared to proceed with Motion No. 30?
Mr. Millar: Next sitting day, Mr. Speaker.
Clerk: Motion No. 29, standing in the name of Mr. Millar.
Speaker: Is the hon. Member prepared to proceed with Motion No. 29?
Mr. Millar: Next sitting day, Mr. Speaker.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
At this time, we will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Chair: I will now call the Committee to order.
We are on Bill No. 4, general debate on the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Bill No. 4 — Second Appropriation Act, 1992-93 — continued
Yukon Legislative Assembly — continued
Mr. Penikett: As I indicated when we were last discussing this item, I have only a few questions and we had begun to discuss them when we last adjourned Committee.
I believe the Government Leader will recall that I was asking about revisions to the Elections Act, which had been recommended by the Clerk, and for which the Clerk had publicly abused the former government for not implementing, even though I did try to make clear that we had fully intended to but were not given that opportunity. In fact, we hope to do it this fall.
The Government Leader had indicated his general agreement with the proposition that the Clerk’s recommendations might go to the Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges and that drafting of legislation would follow from that.
I would like to ask the Government Leader for one other assurance on this question before I move on, and it arises from another word from another little bird, to the effect that a gentlemen well known to the Government Leader, whose name I will not mention but who comes from British Columbia and has a long association with the Social Credit Party, originally came to the territory some years ago as a contractor for the then-Conservative government of the Yukon to recommend changes to the Elections Act. Other parties in this House had some problems with some of the recommendations made on that occasion. I would like to ask the Government Leader for his assurance that, as we deal with the Clerk’s recommendations, until such time as the committee that we talked about yesterday reports, could we have his understanding that the Minister’s political staff will not be involved until we get to the drafting stage — and I quite accept that the government will want the advice of its political staff before the item goes to Cabinet.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Election legislation affects each and every Member in this House. I do not have much difficulty giving the Member opposite that type of assurance. We will let the Standing Committee on Rules, Elections and Privileges deal with it first and listen to what they recommend before we start drafting the legislation. We certainly do not need any advisors involved at that particular point.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Government Leader and appreciate the fact that in this respect he and I are of one mind and at odds with our mutual predecessors — prior to Mr. Phelps, of course — the gentleman before that who went on to his glory in Texas.
Let me ask about another piece of legislation that affects all Members, about which the Clerk has also expressed some helpful and constructive opinions — the question of electoral boundaries.
As the Government Leader knows, there was a charter challenge in British Columbia that lead to a charter challenge in a number of provinces including Saskatchewan. It eventually found its way to the Supreme Court; the Government of the Yukon intervened on the appeal to the Saskatchewan Supreme Court of Appeal decisions following which there was a boundary commission established by this House, which reported back and made certain recommendations.
Custom would have it that boundary commissions only act following every 10-year census. As the Government Leader knows, there were Members on both sides of the House who were less than entirely happy with the results of that boundary commission. Although the Member for Ross River Southern Lakes was probably happier with the ultimate results of that redistribution than perhaps I was, there may be some lingering concerns about it.
I want to ask the Government Leader’s intentions with respect to boundaries legislation. Is he, in his first term in office, in the next four of so years, contemplating another look at the boundaries, or would he expect that that would not need to take place in the normal course of events until after the next census or at least until we have had a couple of more elections.
The Minister of Justice wants to jump in; I would be happy to hear from him on that.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is right; there were Members on this side of the House who had some grave concerns with the way the electoral boundaries were drawn before the last election.
As the Member so clearly stated, boundaries are usually only looked at once every 10 years. It is a very expensive process. The Electoral District Boundary Commission toured the Yukon, and still did a relatively poor job of dividing the Yukon, as far as I am concerned.
I think too much attention was paid to trying to equalize the number of voters in every riding, rather than looking at the logistics.
We on this side of the House have certainly not discussed it yet. We are very early into our mandate, but we will consider this at a later date — depending on how the Legislature goes. If we are here for a year or two, it may be necessary to review it.
Also, I think we would want to wait and see what the fallout is in Faro, and what happens to that community. I hope that those decisions will be made and we will have some clear direction as to what is going to happen, before we have to look at the boundaries again. However, there is a possibility that we will want to review the boundaries, but I will consult with the Members opposite on that.
Mr. Penikett: I appreciate the Government Leader’s answer. He is probably bolder in being critical of judicial decisions than I would dare to be.
The Government Leader mentions the problem of equality of voting power, and of course that was the issue that went to the Supreme Court and the issue that gave us all so much trouble.
The Government Leader raises the question of what happens to Faro, and of course, it is not a new thing in the Yukon to have mining towns shut down for a period, then reopen.
I think that we could compound whatever errors may exist in the last boundary commission report, if we were to move precipitously and redraw the boundaries, only to find a community resurrected. We would then have a problem on the other side, which could ultimately lead to court challenges.
I know lawyers have a different view of this, but I would prefer to avoid these matters being dealt with by the courts, if one can. If I can just summarize what the Government Leader said: they do not feel any need to look at it now, but in a year or two they might; he will do it with consultation with other Members, and, in fact, the fate of Faro might have some bearing on their eagerness to look at this question. Is that a fair summary of what the Government Leader said?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is a fair summary of what I said. I believe that the other thing that would have to be looked at is what the distribution of the population is in a year or two. Some ridings might be building up massively; others may be decreasing. These things all have to be taken into consideration.
Mr. Penikett: Let me ask another general question under this line. The Government Leader and I have exchanged thoughts on the question of consultation between parties on some points, which I will not go into here. I would like to ask the Government Leader his general intentions during his tenure about the use of standing committees of this House, and his view of the utility of standing committees. Lest my question not be perfectly clear, let me explain to the Government Leader that there have been in different legislatures different philosophies about this matter. Back under the first of Mr. Pearson’s mandates, there was quite a lot of use of legislative committees. In some cases, they were heavily involved in actually drafting legislation.
The Minister of Renewable Resources is reading; perhaps he could just ignore what I am going to say now.
I could remind the rest of the Members in the House that the Department of Renewable Resources officialdom were totally appalled at what the legislative committee did to their proposed changes to the Wildlife Act. The committee produced something like 101 amendments.
Most Members in the House felt that they were pretty good amendments, but the department absolutely hated them. That does not mean they are bad — I should hasten to add that — but there was a problem because, by that time, the Legislature did not had legislative council available to it. A Member, whose name I will not mention, who was in the House then and is still in the House, persuaded the Clerk to actually divvy up the legislative council money among the caucuses for research budgets, which was the first research money they ever had. I have never established what the Clerk thought of that suggestion; we got a little bit of caucus research money out of that, but what we did not have when we were doing that work in committee was legal advice, which might have been of benefit.
That same Legislature, the one that sat from 1978 to 1982, used committees quite a lot to do a number of things. There was a food price enquiry and a special committee on privileges, investigating a wire tapping incident of a Minister. This committee wrote a report that became something of a precedent; its recommendations were in some sense adopted by the Solicitor-General of Canada as instructions to the RCMP on how to deal with such matters. There were one or two other committees during that time.
The second Pearson administration did not make as much use of committees, if I recall correctly. Our government, in 1985, went into office expecting to make heavy use of committees. We believed very strongly in the principle of having all-party committees dealing with policy matters.
I have to be frank with the Members in saying that our experience was mixed. We had a very good experience in dealing with the Select Committee on Renewable Resources. The government took some risks, in that it only had one Member on a three-member committee. The other two members were Opposition Members. The committee had hearings and made recommendations. The recommendations were very much accepted as consensus recommendations.
Another experience we had was with the Human Rights Committee. We were less delighted with that experience. It turned into somewhat of a partisan circus. The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes will recall his glee at people tearing their shirts off and expressing dismay that certain people who had not acknowledged their rights were going to have them anyway. I do not want to get into that debate again, but the point was that the committee experience for us was not as useful or productive on that occasion.
It is not for me to comment on the Public Accounts Committee, because that committee has not reported, and I will have another chance to do that.
Having sketched that outline of the different kinds of experiences of the committee, I asked the Government Leader, following his experience with the land claims committee — which, I understand, was a fairly pleasant, even-handed experience for the participants; there were no violent clashes between Members and, apart from the entertaining meeting in Carcross, I gather it was fairly smooth going — what his intentions might be, as the leader of the governing party in this House, in respect to the use of select committees and standing committees, whether he would see them being used a lot, a little, occasionally, or only when necessary. Could I invite him to share with us some of his policy on that question?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I think the standing committees of the Legislature are appointed for a reason, and they should be used for those reasons. I have some problems when the use of those committees is abused and when they are dealing with issues they should not be dealing with, as has happened in the recent past. Nevertheless, we will not get into that right now.
I believe that there is a valid use for standing committees of the Legislature.
I have mixed feelings on select committees of the Legislature. I went through all the scenarios the Member opposite reviewed. I can remember the former Pearson administration and the committee on the Wildlife Act. I appeared in front of that committee on several occasions and made quite a few recommendations, as did many other people, and found out that very few of our recommendations were paid attention to. We spent a lot of time and money getting ready to appear before those committees. I found it a very challenging exercise.
I was not involved in the Human Rights Committee. I did not appear in front of it. I did not tear my shirt off, or anything like that. I did not get out there in real ambitious support for it. I am not sure what sort of experiences the Member opposite got from that episode.
I want to now turn to the select committee the Member opposite established for the renewable resources legislation. Again, I went to great effort, on my own behalf as a businessman who was very concerned about the direction of renewable resources legislation to present an extensive brief. Many other people presented extensive briefs. That committee travelled throughout the Yukon. One of the major things that committee heard all around the Yukon, in every community they visited — as the Member opposite said, I believe it was a three-member committee — was an overwhelming desire for a predator control program in the Yukon.
Yet the government never listened to them. So I have some reservations. I know that many other recommendations were put forth that I felt were good recommendations — not only the ones put forward by me but ones that were put forward by other people — that never got past the committee, as far as I am aware. Maybe the committee made recommendations on them but they were never followed up. I do have some problems with select committees going around the Yukon listening to the concerns of Yukoners and then the government not being prepared to act on the concerns of Yukoners. I believe the Member opposite is fully aware of the sympathy this side of the House has for the use of boards. When a board is appointed to do something and recommendations are given to the government, but the recommendations are not followed up on, it amounts to the same thing.
I have mixed feelings about select committees. If we were going to undertake a major piece of legislation, I would consider using a select committee, but before I considered using the select committee I would recognize that we may be getting recommendations from the committee that we do not like. If the government is going to use that vehicle to hear what the people say, then they should be prepared to act on some of the recommendations the people are putting forward. I have mixed feelings about them.
Mr. Penikett: What the Government Leader has to say on this question is extremely interesting to me on a number of points. He just finished by suggesting that if the government suspects a committee might be recommending things the government does not want to hear, they might want to think twice about appointing the committee — a fair comment. But, on the renewable resources select committee, the government took a great deal of risk because it had a majority in the House; it did not even appoint a majority.
The Member says he might not want to debate predator control tonight under this particular item, but I remember the committee’s recommendations reasonably well and, I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the Finlayson program followed those recommendations. In any case, it was not intended to be a committee, as the wildlife committee was, to make specific recommendations about programs and that sort of thing. It had a broader mandate, as would be appropriate if one was going to send legislation out and then give the Opposition in the House a chance to write the legislation.
I was pretty liberal on that score and pretty generous, but I would be extremely surprised if the Members opposite were ever that way.
I do not want to stray into the Renewable Resources vote tonight, but let me ask the Government Leader — because we are talking about the Legislature’s vote here — if he could elaborate on his experiences with the Wildlife Act committee. I think that was in 1981, if I remember correctly.
He suggested that he had spent some time and money getting ready to appear before the committee to make recommendations about changes to the act at that time. If I remember correctly, the committee — there may have been two stages to the preparation of the changes to the Wildlife Act; there was a process that invited recommendations to the department and, after the act had been introduced, I think there was a consensus reached in the Legislature that, for a change, rather than reviewing the legislation in Committee of the Whole, we should send the bill to a legislative committee that was structured in the same proportions as were the parties in the House, but which would hold hearings and invite comments.
The Government Leader has said that even though — I think I heard him say — there were dozens and dozens and dozens of changes to the legislation, he was not happy with the result — the law did not reflect his input.
I am curious as to whether he believes that that was because the departmental officials who originally drafted the act did not listen to his representations, or whether it was because the Legislature did not listen to his recommendations.
I am asking this question for a very important reason. Those who were in the House at the time probably recall that experience as one of the high points of their legislative life. I was not on the committee, but those who were on it felt, for the first time, as empowered as their American counterparts and that they actually had their hands on some legislation. Rather than just asking questions and hearing the Minister read the deputy minister’s briefing notes back to them — we have had a change in government here, so there are a lot of us in the House who have read the briefing notes, and the government Ministers are reading some of the same notes back to us in Question Period that we used — there was a new experience. The difference in the experience — which is very classically the British parliamentary experience — with that committee in 1981, is much more characteristic of the Parliament of Canada since the reforms — the McGrath Committee recommended some reforms that gave Members there much more input into legislation than they had before. Rather than being a rubber stamp for the bureaucracy and Cabinet, they now had a chance to become involved in legislating, something that legislators used to do 100 and 200 years ago. They were actually able to make amendments to try to improve bills.
I know that the department was not happy with the results of the Wildlife Act, and I know from a technical drafting point of view, some of the changes that were made by the committee did not make the department happy. That may have been because we did not have the expert, independent, legal advice available to the committee that would have been useful.
One thing I remember clearly about that experience was that Members on both sides of the House — and this was a committee dominated by government Members, Conservative Party Members at the time — felt really good about the chance to be involved for the first time in legislating. There were a lot of recommendations. I am not here to argue today that everything that the House did, or everything that the committee did was necessarily good, with the advantage of hindsight. I know that the committee recommendations were accepted by the Cabinet-of-the-day and were passed by this House. Therefore, I am interested, since the Government Leader appeared before that committee in his private capacity, in having him explain to us whether it was the bureaucracy that did not listen to him or the committee that did not listen to him. Perhaps he could proceed from that point of fact to a sharing with us a few thoughts about whether he would ever, on major bill, engage in that kind of committee process, which is different from land claims because we were not invited to make amendments to the land claims legislation in that committee.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Just before we get onto my views, I would just like to point out to the Member that I think he is mistaken. I believe that the Finlayson caribou project was started by the previous Conservative administration, prior to him taking office. It was done under a Conservative government. That is when the decision was made to go ahead with the Finlayson project.
As to the question of whether it was the legislative committee that did not listen to our views or whether it was the bureaucracy that did not listen, I appeared before both. The committee that was drafting legislation came around and asked for views on the legislation. Again, I say this may be a very useful exercise with a major redrafting. At that time, in 1981 I believe, there was supposed to be a major redrafting of the Wildlife Act. I guess I was disappointed because I do not think the finished product was a major redrafting. It was moving some stuff around, but I did not view it as a major redrafting, based on the amount of money and effort that went into it.
It may have been a very worthy experience for the Members of the Legislature. I would not condemn that and I would not say that I would not do something like that. It would be something that would have to be taken into consideration, depending on what kind of legislation and how major the overhaul of the legislation was going to be.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader’s memory may be better than mine, but I could have sworn that I sat over there and had my colleague Dave Porter going through all sorts of combinations and permutations as he went through a public consultation process to begin a wolf cull in the Finlayson area. I am absolutely certain there was a wolf program during our time in office. It was supervised by the Minister of Renewable Resources of the day, the Hon. Dave Porter. In fact, I remember going to the public meetings we had to consult about it.
Unless I have gone completely crazy, I am absolutely certain that we were involved in one. That is not my point. If I am wrong about that, the Minister of Renewable Resources can beat me up later. I really wanted to pursue the main line of my inquiry, which is not the Renewable Resources estimates but the use of boards and committees.
The Government Leader again has repeated something that he did often during the election: there is not much point in having boards unless the government is going to take their advice. Someone might equally say that there is no point in having a government if only the boards are making decisions and the Cabinet will just rubber-stamp them.
There are several different kinds of boards. There are those that are administrative tribunals, which are all given the right to make certain decisions on their own, such as the Workers’ Compensation Board. There are boards that can issue motor vehicle licences and the Liquor Corporation can approve liquor licences, but most of the boards give policy advice of some kind to Cabinet. The key word is “advice”. It is not the presumption, in the British parliamentary system, that they make the final decision. The presumption is that they are advising Cabinet. In that sense, they have the same status as any other group advising Cabinet, except that they have a mandate. The boards work best when they do not only have the views of one party, but have a diversity of views from men and women from all communities and all walks of life.
The trouble is that when there is a board like that, the kind of advice they will give is not perfectly predictable. They may give advice the government does not want, to be perfectly frank. They may give answers to questions that they have not been asked. I remember being berated by the Government Leader in the campaign because we had not accepted the advice of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment on the Employment Standards Act, because we rejected one of their recommendations.
Let me give the exact analogy. The Government Leader is getting lots of notes, so I guess everyone wants to get in on this. The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment gave us some advice with respect to saying that employers were allowed to rip off employees for a week’s wages if they did not give them adequate notice. My party happened to have a very clear policy on that, which we had adopted for a number of years. We were quite clear on that question. The Council on the Economy and the Environment, on a split vote, recommended something different. We accepted most of their advice, but rejected the rest.
I do not know if any government worthy of its name would accept all the advice, all the time, from committees. I could give the House another example, since the Minister of Community and Transportation Services is now dealing with hazardous waste. That committee was widely respected and was chaired by a former Commissioner. The Minister has essentially rejected the advice.
It so happens that there is some history of the committee that I would like to share with the Government Leader, as an example of what can happen. The Cabinet-of-the-day asked the committee to look for special waste sites outside the boundaries of the City of Whitehorse, because the City of Whitehorse had asked us to do so. When the committee came back with its recommendations, it recommended a number of sites inside Whitehorse. The committee had been originally structured to include some interests from outside Whitehorse, because that was what we were looking at. Unfortunately, they did not include people who lived in the area where they were recommending sites — which was the whole objective of the consultation.
This is a bit of a hypothetical question, and I know that would normally be out of order, but I am curious as to what this Government Leader would have done with the committee’s advice, when it was advice that he had not asked for. Citizens in a democracy will do that, even though they may be a legally constituted board.
This is where we may differ, but it seems to me that Cabinet still has a duty not to rubber-stamp advice, but to listen to it and consider other advice they may be getting from other quarters, including the professionals within the public service. They may have some division — assuming there are some occasionally in this Cabinet, I do not know — which they would then discuss, and come to a decision about which there is Cabinet solidarity.
Does the Government Leader believe, as a general rule, that the government ought always to accept the advice of the advisory boards and committees on matters of policy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Before I give my answer to the Member opposite’s question, I think I should refresh his memory, as he seems to have some problem recalling events of the past.
I believe the Finlayson wolf control program was instituted by the previous Conservation government. The Hon. Howard Tracey was the Minister when it happened. The Teslin burn was one that the Hon. Dave Porter cancelled. I just wanted to clarify that for the Member opposite.
There is a very serious problem now with the number of boards that we have in the Yukon. I believe, in the budget, the previous government paid out over $1 million to boards to make decisions on behalf of Yukoners. In a community of 30,000 people, I think that is a tremendous amount of money for boards to be going out and getting the views of Yukoners, when we have 17 Members in this Legislature, and each MLA knows a large majority of the people in his riding by their first name. Yet, we have to send out boards to get the views of the general public.
When we get those views, there seems to be some reluctance to act on them, as the Member opposite pointed out. I think he said the Minister of Community and Transportation Services does not want to listen to recommendations now. I believe the Leader of the Official Opposition received one decision from the board on the hazardous wastes site that he did not listen to and asked for another decision on.
As they so pointed out during the election campaign, I brought up the fact that he did not listen to the recommendations of the Council on the Economy and the Environment on the labour standards legislation. He says he rejected one point, but I recall a letter at the time criticizing him severely for — I think the term used was — “cherry picking” through the recommendations.
So, I have some difficulty with this, if we are going to set up boards. I will concede to the Member opposite that you cannot always listen to the recommendations of boards. I can recall another instance of a decision of a board that I do not believe the Member opposite, when he was Government Leader, listened to. That was the Fish and Wildlife Management Board’s recommendation on the predator control program in the Aishihik area.
When we have hundreds of people in the Yukon sitting on boards to advise Cabinet Ministers as to what the people want, and we do not listen to those recommendations, it is a very serious situation. If they felt that a major recommendation of the Fish and Wildlife Board, for example, had not been followed, it may be an indication that the Minister had lost confidence in the board and, at that point, perhaps he should be appointing another board.
This vehicle for getting public opinion is very expensive. The per diems are very high; the travel expenses add more money to it, with meetings being held all over the Yukon. I am not saying that all Yukoners should not be heard, but I think we have to look at what it is costing and how they are being heard.
I question the validity of all the boards we have and all the meetings that are held, when we have 17 Members in the Legislature who each represent a riding with an average of 800 to 1,000 people. We also have a city of 22,000 people, which has a mayor and six councillors governing it. If we looked at it on a per capita basis, we are probably the most over-governed section of Canada. I do not think anybody else has that type of representation, so it is incumbent upon us to try to cut the cost of that representation and still get the views of the public.
Therefore, I have some difficulty with having all the boards, if we are not going to listen to their recommendations.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader is saying so many interesting things tonight, I do not know whether we will have time for all the questions arising from his comments.
For a start, he talks about us being the most over-governed jurisdiction in the world, and there are good reasons why people might believe that. However, he may be interested to know that the ratio of elected representatives to people in the United States is about one to 500, which is actually about the same ratio we have in the Yukon, if you also take into account municipal politicians and First Nations councillors.
Actually, in Canada, if you look at the layering of elected offices, including school boards and local councils, you will find that there are far more elected people in Canada than we sometimes assume. Let me go back to the question of boards, because the Government Leader said we spend a lot of money on boards when we have a Legislature. I hope the Government Leader will not think I am unkind in saying that I am a Member of this Legislature. In fact, I am leader of the second largest party in this House, but I do not recall being consulted yet on a major policy decision since the new government was elected.
I think the argument that, somehow, the fact that we have 17 legislators here is an adequate substitute for boards and committees is not a very good one.
There is another problem with the Legislature. From 1898 to 1978, a major portion of the Yukon population was not represented here; we had no First Nations Members.
Even now that we do have First Nations Members, the First Nations themselves, as I am sure our Chair will know, will insist on making direct representation to the government, through boards like the hospital board, which we were just talking about today, or other boards. That is why they have fought so hard in the land claims negotiations to establish boards on which they would have one-quarter or one-half of the seats.
The Government Leader complains about the cost. He will already know that the cost of getting expert advice — whether it is from consultants or bureaucracies — will be far greater than listening to citizen boards. In any case, citizen boards do not just tell the government what the people want. I do not think anyone can do that better than the Legislature. The legislators are here to represent the views of the general public of the constituencies that make up the territory.
Many of the boards have a different function. They have a duty to tell us not what the people want, because the Government Leader is quite right; the politicians should be able to do that. However, they have a duty to tell the government what it ought to do, or what is the right thing to do, but not necessarily what is the popular thing to do. That may be a recommendation about having considered all the options on some difficult question, and they may recommend the government take course X, course Y or course Z.
Government may receive such a recommendation and know instantly that, while the recommendation is sound, logical and practical, it is also unpopular. It would be perfectly within its rights, in a democracy, to say, we respect and value your advice, we have talked about it — which is all a Cabinet can promise to do — but, on balance, having considered all the other issues, like the views of the general public, we have decided we do not want to proceed.
The Legislature can do the same thing. A Cabinet can take the advice from a board, bring a recommendation to the Legislature and, once in a while, in our parliamentary democracy, the Legislature will reject the advice of a Cabinet or a Minister or a board. That is their right.
I am going to check this tomorrow; however, I am absolutely certain I am not deluded. I can recall my good friend, Mr. Porter, doing a wolf cull, and I can remember the consultation he did around it. I can remember the protest we got at the time. Mr. Brewster is saying it never happened, but I am going to check.
If it was started by the Conservatives, I wonder why we got all those angry letters and telegrams. I am pretty sure the wolves that were culled, or killed, on that occasion were not illusory. We certainly heard about them.
The other Members of the House may have questions about boards and commissions. Now that the Government Leader has given us his general view that, while there may be too many of them — and I am not going to dispute that, because there are some we were thinking of winding up — the government should accept their recommendations. He may recognize that that is a bit of a trap for him, because I predict there are going to be boards that make recommendations to him that he and his Cabinet will not like. Even though I think he may have put himself into a bit of a sticky position, I, for one, will understand perfectly — and they may be criticized for it by the boards — why Cabinet has a right in our kind of Cabinet government to make the final decision and it may be a different decision from what has been recommended to it by a group of citizens,.
I would like to move on to another area of this budget. This is an area entirely within the domain of the House, a matter that has customarily not been a subject for debate between the parties in the House, but has been the subject for discussion among the Members in the House.
When I first was a Member of this House, the Conservative Party had only come out of the closet then. The party had controlled our Legislature for most of our history, but not officially as the Conservative Party. At that time, it was only new as the majority party and we only got responsible government — as the Government Leader knows — in 1979.
In those heady days, when we were taking a more active role in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association — which is one of the items funded in this budget — there used to be a fairly strict adherence to the party representation at the meetings of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. There were strict proportions in terms of the numbers in the House.
One of the small reforms that our party was quite proud of when we were in government — even though we had the majority to have a great deal of influence on who went on these trips — was that when we decided to participate in the International Commonwealth Parliamentary Association events, it was decided that the truly fair way to do decide who attended these events was to have names drawn out of a hat. We also established the rule that once you had been on one of these trips, you could not put your name in the hat for the next event; there would be some sharing of things.
It so happens that most of the trips of that nature, interestingly enough, went to Members who shortly thereafter retired or were retired by the voters.
I believe there are a couple of Members presently in this House who have been on the international trips.
The Government Leader has talked about sharing and fairness in the past as one of his principles. Could I ask the Government Leader for his undertaking, as a fellow vice-president of this organization, that the practice of drawing the names out of the hat — in other words, giving every Member an equal chance to attend these events — is the practice that he would continue to observe?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I want to go back to the preamble a little bit, where he says that I may have gotten myself into a bit of a trap by saying that we should act on the recommendations of the committee. I said “in most instances”, and I just want to clarify that for the record. There may be a time when Cabinet cannot follow the recommendations, but I think it should be the rare exception, not the practice.
As for following the tradition of drawing the names out of the hat, I do not know if the Member opposite has been fortunate enough to have his name drawn out of the hat, but I certainly will not take that opportunity away from him. I would be quite prepared to carry on that tradition.
Mr. Penikett: I am sure all Members who have not been part of one of those important Commonwealth parliamentary occasions, where matters of great import are discussed, will be pleased to hear that commitment from the government side.
Can I ask the Government Leader one other major policy question that I have, which deals with the Legislative Assembly vote? Again, I do not want to sound harshly critical, but I want to ask his views on this subject. On at least three occasions that I can remember, while the House was sitting, the Government Leader has made significant policy announcements outside of this House, rather than before the House. Is the Government Leader aware of the convention of parliamentary practice, which requires that any policy announcement be made first in the Legislature, when the Legislature is sitting?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There is no doubt that I am new in the Legislature, and I am not familiar with all things. The Leader of the Official Opposition says three occasions, and I could not argue with him right now. However, I know that, at least on one occasion, it was not a major policy announcement made, but it was the intention of doing it in the House. It was done in the budget. I have no problem making major policy announcements in the House first, if the House is sitting.
Mr. Penikett: I am not even going to ask the Government Leader about what I would call budget teasers put out by employees in his office. That would get us into a whole different line of inquiry, which more properly belongs under the Executive Council Office vote. We will not get into that. Can I just ask the Government Leader now if I could move from these sort of general legislative questions into some specific questions about some of the lines in the budget? I would stand aside if other Members have general questions.
Chair: Is committee prepared to proceed line by line?
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Legislative Services
Mr. Penikett: I have an advantage. I have been given a courtesy copy of the Government Leader’s remarks in opening debate on the matter. I understand that of the $94,000, $30,000 is required for MLA pay, which is due to the addition of a seventeenth Member to the Assembly following the election. The remainder is to cover caucus support services not provided for in the 1992-93 main estimates. This was identified as caucus support for the Members for Riverdale South and Porter Creek South.
Can I ask the Government Leader if the $64,000 is entirely attributable to the post-election period or is there some other detail that would add up to those numbers? Let me explain to the Chair my difficulty: I am not sure that, with the arithmetic I have done, I can entirely explain the $64,000 based on the support services to our two honourable friends.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding is that the secretarial service fund for the Independent Alliance, the $48,000, was for the full year and the secretarial staff and research fund for the Liberal caucus is $29,000. This would have been after the election. Caucus funds not used prior to the election came to $12,000.
Mr. Penikett: I should explain to the Chair that I know we are in an unusual procedure when we are in Committee on the Legislative Assembly vote. All of the questions I am asking I have, in a sense, given notice of to the Table so that they can be answered expeditiously. The Government Leader is aware of that.
I would like to ask a question that would puzzle most citizens. It is about the impact on the Legislative Services vote for MLA pay during an election period. Under our act, there are some pay outs to Members who are not returned and who have a certain amount of service. I am not talking about pension pay outs; I am talking about the indemnity and salary portions.
Did the election have any impact on the total expenditure under MLA pay in this vote?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding is that Members were paid right up until election day so there is no saving there. Severance packages are paid out of the Retirement Allowances and Death Benefits line.
Mr. Penikett: I have some question about the appropriateness of paying a severance package, which is attributable to pay rather than pensions, out of the Retirement Allowances and Death Benefits line. I do not want to pursue this now with either the Chair or the Table or, in fact, the Minister, but could I just through you, Mr. Chair, serve notice of a concern on that point and ask, just from a point of view of accountability, whether that is really proper in the normal course of things. I am not asking for an answer now, but I would like to serve notice of that question.
We were told, in the opening statement, that the Legislative Assembly Office vote was down by $31,000 as a result of two vacancies for part of the year. Could I ask the Government Leader if both of those positions are now filled?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, both positions are now filled.
Chair: Mr. Penikett, are you finished with the Legislative Services line and is it clear?
Mr. Penikett: Yes, I am happy to clear that line. I do not know whether other Members have questions on it.
Legislative Services in the amount of $94,000 agreed to
On Legislative Assembly Office
Mr. Penikett: My only other question on that line, which arises from the $31,000 for the two positions that were filled, is: may we know, for the record, what those two positions were?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That was for the two secretaries in the legislative office.
Mr. Penikett: I am ready to clear that line now and move on to the next one.
Legislative Assembly Office in the amount of an underexpenditure of $31,000 agreed to
Mr. Penikett: I understand from the opening comments of the Government Leader that the actual cost for the election was in the neighbourhood of $406,000, not $366,000, as in here.
By either looking at the $366,000 figure or the $406,000 figure, there is a fairly large increase in the cost of running the election, even if you analyze it on a per-seat basis. I am wondering if the Government Leader has had an opportunity to discuss with the Chief Electoral Officer those rising costs, or whether there is any small number of easily identifiable factors to which we can attribute these increased costs?
He may want to take the question as notice, because it is something about which he may not have given much thought.
There is a growing view elsewhere in western democracies that election periods have become too long and too costly. Ours are not nearly as long as they are in the United States, nor are they as costly. We do not spend as much on electronic media as do our American cousins. There is a view that a considerable sum of money might be saved in annual elections if we would have something akin to permanent voters lists, which could be assembled either by annual enumerations and used for all purposes — including school council elections and municipal elections, as well as territorial and federal elections, even though we have different eligibility rules, which could be difficult.
There are those who point to the experience in other jurisdictions, such as Britain, where, customarily, a new government is often sworn in three weeks after the election has been called, the election period being two and one-half or even three weeks, with the new government coming into office almost immediately following that. They do not go through the same kind of expensive and time-consuming enumeration that we have.
We have to be careful about the enumeration, because the constituencies are small and the votes can be close. We understand all that. There was some attempt, some years ago, with the proxy innovations, to try and solve that problem. However, there are those who believe that proxies can be abused and that that is not the answer. It is also the case that we do not always know when elections are going to be held in this territory. If they are in mid-winter, the difficulties of doing enumeration can be aggravated.
Has the Government Leader, or his party, given any thought to this question? Would he be willing to entertain the possibility that there might be some election year savings achieved by having something akin to permanent voters lists, which might be used for school council, municipal and territorial elections, and perhaps might even be a first draft for the enumeration for federal elections?
I am asking the question, mindful of the comment the Government Leader made the last time that we talked about this item, when he said that he had a problem with the eligibility rule. It seems to me that, if we were to standardize the eligibility rule in this territory for all elections under the control of this Assembly — in other words, school, municipal and territorial — you might, therefore, logically make an argument that there should be one voters list, according to that one rule. If the voters lists were updated every year, when you did have an election, you might be able to shorten the election period and lower the costs of conducting the election.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite raised some very interesting scenarios there, especially after the election we just went through where we had to do an enumeration for a territorial election and an enumeration for a school committee election at almost the same time.
I want to put on the record that as leader of the government I am interested in anything that has cost savings in it. I have not given it much thought, and I would have to give it more thought because I have some great concerns with respect to the mobility of people in the Yukon, as a result of the question that came up in the last election, with respect to the residency clause, in order to be sure that our voters lists are accurate.
The other concern I have is over shortening the election period. I do not know that that would be a valid or beneficial argument. I think the people of the Yukon need at least 30 days to get to know who their candidates are, especially when a snap election is called — like the last one. Most parties did not have all their MLAs in place and we still had six months left in the term of the governing party. That would have been difficult if we were to have a two-week election campaign. I would have some concerns that but it is certainly food for thought.
Mr. Penikett: I understand Mrs. Firth may have some questions on this, but just let me make a comment. It is my view that there were three and one-half months left on our term, and the Government Leader will forgive me for thinking that we had the furthest thing from a snap election. It was my impression the election campaign had been going for at least six months before we eventually called it. That may have been a distorted view of things that only I had.
I want to emphasize to the Government Leader that in putting the questions to him just now I was not making any official proposals; I was just asking if he had been doing any thinking in that universe. Let me resume my seat on this line and defer to the Member for Riverdale South.
Chair: Mrs. Firth, before you start, would the Committee like a brief recess?
Mrs. Firth: I have one question for the Government Leader regarding elections. It is an opinion among my constituents that there are a lot of Yukoners who would like the idea of a fixed election date. I would certainly support that concept. I would like to know what the Government Leader’s position is regarding that, and would he look at having a fixed election date so Yukoners know when the election is going to be called each time.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Maybe if that would apply to minority governments as well I might be quite interested in it right now. It is a thought; I am very open-minded about it. As I said, I do not know that having a lot of speculation on when the election is going to be called is good or healthy, especially in a small community like the Yukon — people get very tired of it.
The Leader of the Official Opposition said he thought the campaign was on for six months prior to his calling the election. It may be that he was so busy with the referendum that he just happened to pick that up when he got back home in between meetings and was not really following what was going on in the community.
Mr. Penikett: To state the obvious, the referendum was not my idea either — the project or the outcome — but, for the record, before we leave that point, a part of the Public Government Act consultation did invite people to comment on the idea of a fixed election date. Personally, it is an idea in which I am very interested, for different reasons from the Government Leader.
For the record, we did not get a lot of people expressing themselves on it, but it is an idea that is gaining greater currency in more countries.
With that comment, I am pleased to hear your call for recess.
Chair: At this time the Committee of the Whole will take a brief recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We were on Elections, page 12 of the book.
Mr. Penikett: At the break, we were talking about the Elections line and the increased cost of the elections; the Government Leader was musing about the benefits of fixed election dates, and I think I had concluded by commenting that, in part 2 of the Public Government Act, fixed election dates would have been one of the issues on which we invited responses from the public. But since I am not holding my breath for the proclamation of part 1 of the Public Government Act, even though Members across the floor who were here voted for it, and only criticized strenuously one clause, I gather that is another policy on which they have changed their minds.
If other Members are ready, I would be ready to clear the Elections line and move on to the next one.
Elections in the amount of $366,000 agreed to
On Retirement Allowances and Death Benefits
Mr. Penikett: Could I get a detailed explanation for the amount going up by $78,000? The Government Leader had explained previously that the severance pay for retiring MLAs was not where I had expected it might be in this budget. I understand from the Clerk that the explanation here may be a bit more complicated. It has to do with making sure we are fully covered on liabilities of the Legislative Assembly retirement plan, according to the act, as amended in 1991. Could I ask the Government Leader for a bit of detail on that increased expenditure?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is my understanding that the increase to $66,000 was our increased liability after the legislation was passed. Those were the additional funds required to cover the 1992-93 MLA pension liabilities.
Mr. Penikett: With respect to the plan, can the Government Leader tell us how often there may be adjustments to the plan driven by actuarial evaluations? In other words, how frequent does he expect them to be?
I am particularly interested in the following potential scenario, and I assume that it is not completely hypothetical: the pattern in most legislatures is that you often go for a number of years with a very small turnover and, suddenly, you have an election where quite a few seats change hands. If that happens two or three times in a row, you may have very few sitting Members who are eligible for the pension plan. That may coincide with a period in which a number of the previous beneficiaries have passed away and not left any surviving claimants.
How often would we have these actuarial reviews? What course would the Government Leader be recommending to the Clerk’s office, if we had an event, which is not inconceivable, where a number of the existing retirees have passed on, and there are no new claimants — in other words, a situation in which, for a period, the plan might be over subscribed or fully subscribed? How would he recommend that the Legislative Assembly Office deal with that matter?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding is that, in the past, prior to this legislation, Management Board recommended that it be looked at every three years. Now I understand it will be the responsibility of the Members’ Services Board to make recommendations.
Mr. Penikett: That answered part of my question. The Members’ Services Board may look at it every three years, but can I ask the Member if he can envision an occasion such as the situation I just described, where the Clerk’s office or some other agency would ask for an actuarial evaluation of a shorter interval than that because it was apparent that the fund was either fully subscribed or undersubscribed and therefore some remedial action might be triggered.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It says that the Members’ Services Board shall cause the liabilities created by parts 2 and 3 to be evaluated by an actuary at least once in every three year period. If that situation were to arise, the Members’ Services Board could request that it be done at that time. I do not believe this is carved in stone.
Mr. Penikett: As I remember events, we had some changes in federal law or regulation, which triggered the rewrite of our legislation in this area in 1991.
Could I ask the Government Leader if we have had either a legal review or a pension management review since then that would make us totally satisfied that our plan was in accordance with the new federal law in all respects?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We are registered with Revenue Canada, and we are still awaiting any comments that they have on our act. If they pick out some discrepancies, we may have to make some amendments. However, we are still waiting to hear from them.
Mr. Penikett: I appreciate the cautious way in which the Government Leader answered the question. Does the Government Leader, or the Table, have reason to believe there may be any problem with our plan that would invite an adverse comment from Revenue Canada?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We do not believe there may be a major problem, but there may be some minor problems. As of this date, we have not been forewarned of any problems that they have perceived with it.
Mr. Penikett: If no other Members have questions on this line, I am prepared to clear it.
Retirement Allowances and Death Benefits in the amount of $78,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $507,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Legislative Assembly Office
On Office Equipment
Mr. Penikett: This is the first time that the Legislative Assembly has been given the proud honour of having a capital budget. This is a major, historical event. It would be churlish of us to let this moment pass without some comment.
I have a couple of questions about the Legislative Assembly capital acquisition procedures, and management of the capital program. I would like to lay out all my questions and invite some general response.
From time to time, I have had some concerns about the tendency of some parts of the government to treat the Legislative Assembly as if it is another department of government.
The Government Leader is aware that I have complained in the past about the executive branch and the legislative branch using the same legal services, namely, the Department of Justice, and perhaps even the same lawyer on some question when, in fact, there can be a perfectly legitimate difference of opinion between the executive branch and the legislative branch on some matter.
It is my personal view that it is helpful for the Clerk of the Assembly to participate with other people of similar rank in bodies like the Deputy Ministers Review Committee. However, in some ways, it troubles me when I see the government treating the Legislative Assembly as if it is another government agency, rather than a constitutionally separate entity, such as the example I gave of the lawyers. This may seem a small point, especially on a small capital budget, but I am therefore interested in how capital procedures work.
For very good reason, governments of all stripes have, over the years, set up tendering, contracting, requisition, and service and supply procedures through central agencies. For example, for most of the years I was in government, the Government Services department was responsible for contracting for and buying computers for all branches and agencies. There was a systems acquisition committee and a subcommittee of Management Board. That system has changed recently, so the departments have more leeway.
I want to find out exactly how the government and the legislative branch are interacting in respect to the capital programs, which they are just starting out on. I want to find out about the procedures. For example, if the Liberal Party of this Legislature were acquiring a personal computer, how would that process work differently from the process whereby a lawyer in the Department of Justice was acquiring a computer? That is one general question.
The other one is: what is the latitude of the Clerk’s office in terms of delivery of such items? When we are talking about major capital projects, of course, there has been a convention in this House that they should not be tendered until the items have actually been cleared in budget debate; the planning could be done but the actual tendering might not be done. That, of course, would be a ridiculous procedure to observe in respect of the Liberal caucus’ computers, but I want to find out what procedures will be in effect.
Let me explain my point to the government. There is not only the principal point about seeing the Legislative Assembly as separate from the government; we, of course, want to see prudent procedures and fiscal responsibility and good management. The Legislative Assembly Office, being a small operation, we do not want to see it encumbered with highly cumbersome and complex arrangements; something sensible and simple, economic and effective would be fine. I just want to find out what they are.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As the Member opposite pointed out, we are in a new process here where each department is going to be responsible for its own office equipment, computers, laptop computers and all those things that I really like, which cost a tremendous amount of money and do not seem to save any time but do burn up a lot of trees in the paper that goes through them when they print all that stuff.
As the Member opposite is aware, we discussed the capital budget for the Legislative Assembly several times in Members’ Services Board and, as he pointed out, it is a very small budget.
At the present time, he is right. The Legislative Assembly has been treated as another government department in a lot of instances and the Member said he has some problems with that. As there is only $5,000 in the budget, the Legislative Assembly was able to second equipment from other places prior to the end of the year — they got them out of storage — so they did not require a big capital budget.
I would be interested to hear the Member opposite’s comments as to how he feels it should be handled. I am fairly open on this.
Mr. Penikett: Let me just first of all make a principal point. I think that the reason that the Legislative Assembly has often been treated as another government department here is historical. It goes back to the days of commissioner government, and this was treated as a sort of local debating society. It did not have Ministers in it and it did not have any real accountability; it had the financial advisory committee. The real power was in the bureaucracy, the commissioner and the senior people, and in a sense was the direct pipeline to Ottawa.
This body was very much treated as an advisory body, and not treated the way a Legislative Assembly in most of the provinces would be treated or as the Parliament in Ottawa would be treated — very much an independent entity. I think there can be some problems created when officials in the government, anywhere, can treat the Legislative Assembly as if it were another branch, or a department.
I am particularly nervous when they do not understand the absolutely fundamental difference in our system, between the legislative branch and the executive branch. By the executive branch, I mean including the Cabinet and the entire bureaucracy and the legislative branch. It is true that, in our system, the executive usually has a majority in the legislative branch, or, in some sense, can control the legislative branch. Not every philosopher of democratic theory likes that arrangement, but that is the truth in the parliamentary system. That is my principal point.
I am concerned when I see us getting legal advice from the same lawyer for two separate branches, when there may be a difference of opinion. I use that example. I also believe very strongly that we should have practical arrangements. I think if the Clerk has the ability to go and talk to the Deputy Minister of Government Services or whatever, and get some stuff out of storage, rather than leave it sitting on a shelf somewhere, and put it to use here is a practical arrangement. If some Member in the House does not have a typewriter and has to borrow it from another caucus, if the Clerk can solve that problem by getting a typewriter from Government Services, God bless him.
That is the second principle. The third principle I cite is that obviously we are all under some kind of oversight from the auditors, including the Auditor General. God forbid that this Assembly, to whom the Auditor General reports, should ever be the subject of a negative comment from the Auditor General about its own procedures.
All I would hope from the Clerk’s Table is that, in acquisition, once the Assembly has approved the amount and that there are the normal, sensible controls, without having to get into a lot of paper, there should be some checks to see that the money was spent as it was intended and that the Clerk would suffer the same awful sanctions that deputy ministers might suffer if they went willfully over their budgets, through no fault of his or her own. We need to keep it as simple and effective as possible.
Speaking to our own vote — the Yukon Legislative Assembly — we are going to get frustrated. This will not surprise the Government Leader. If we had money in a budget, for example, or we had money available and we could not get it spent because of some bureaucratic, governmental obstruction or, to use the other simple point, if we had a Member in the House who needed a typewriter when there were typewriters sitting in storage in Government Services and we could not get one, I guess what we would want the Clerk to do, with proper regard for economy and efficiency, is to do the simple and effective things that need to be done to get the equipment and material Members need to function as Members.
Since the Government Leader invited me to give my views, those, in general, are my views.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would like to thank the Member opposite for his views. We have a very small capital budget in the Legislative Assembly, and I do not expect that it will ever be an exceptionally large capital budget, but that may change over the years.
I agree with the Member; as long as the Clerk uses some prudence in how he handles the capital budget, I do not have much problem with that. I do have a problem if the Clerk is going to spend the capital just because it is in the capital budget, whether it is required or not.
I think I would like to see the Members opposite have the tools they need to do their job; however, in these times of fiscal restraint, because there is an item in the budget, I do not think it all has to be spent if it is not necessary.
Mr. Penikett: I hope the Government Leader will not think that I am at all raising unnecessary questions because this is such a small capital budget, but let me — if I may be forgiven — tell them a little story.
Once upon a time when I was much younger, I had the privilege of working at the House of Commons, as the Chief of Staff for a federal party leader. I saw some amazing things there. We are talking about a small budget and a small Assembly, but it may well be that some rules or precedents that we establish now, may endure for a long time.
When I watched the operation of the House of Commons, which is not a government department, evolve to a point where it was producing 50 tonnes of paper per day, where there was a huge staff reporting to the Clerk and to the Sergeant-at-Arms — hundreds of people.
The Sergeant-at-Arms — I hope Mr. Bill will not be concerned about this — had successfully managed to set up a secret, private dining room for himself and his friends, at government expense, without any accountability to anyone. There were all sorts of perquisites — and I am sure the Members were accomplices in this, Senators and MPs — for Members and staff that had been larded into the budget without any sort of effective control.
Modest services that the Clerk’s office had originally provided for Members had mushroomed.
I went to work there, there were still Members around who had worked there in the days when two MPs shared a secretary. When I was there, it got to the point where any MP had a staff of five, with infinite franking privileges and access to all sorts of — how can I put it — lubricants of legislative debate: subsidized meals, tailoring services, subsidized haircuts. All of this was done under the supposed supervision of the Speaker, but I suspect the Speaker did not know about a lot of it. There was a chain of command with the Clerk and the Sergeant-at-Arms. The Sergeant-at-Arms was an enormously powerful individual with a lot of staff reporting to him and, effectively, there was no effective control or accountability to the Members or, ultimately, to the taxpayer.
I am not even suggesting that we have even the glimmer or the beginnings of that here or that we should, nor do I want to get into the auditor mania where ridiculous structures are put in to prevent it. What I do want to do is make sure that it is not the government that decides how the Legislative Assembly budget is spent but, if the Legislature votes a budget to meet the needs of Members — and this is where I may differ from the Government Leader a little bit — Members should have a reasonable expectation that the money they vote for that purpose will be spent for that purpose. Therefore, if a Member needs a typewriter, and there is some money in the budget for the typewriter, we will not have to have a legislative debate in order to get the typewriter for the Member — if the Government Leader grasps my meaning?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We may have a little different view of how things should be done. I truly agree that the Legislative Assembly should be autonomous from the rest of government. The Member opposite was Government Leader here for seven and one-half years, and I would hope he had created the guidelines, which I can continue to follow, that the Legislative Assembly is an autonomous body and is not linked to the Executive Council Office. I have used every precaution to see that it is not.
I do have some problems believing that, just because a budget is voted, it has to be spent. I do not follow that guideline, because budgets are a best guess at what you are going to spend.
As the Member opposite very well knows, most department heads err on the side of surpluses than on the side of deficiencies so that they do not want to have to come back for big supplementaries.
With the type of convention going on where most department heads like to have a little cushion or surplus, I have grave problems when the departments want to spend it all just before the end of the year.
I have no problem if the Member for Riverdale needs a typewriter. That is fine, but if the Leader of the Official Opposition wants a new computer just because it is the last week in March, I have a problem with that.
I think we will use due prudence, and I am sure that the Clerk of the Assembly will. In a Legislature as small as ours, it will be many years down the road before we have the luxuries and extravagances that were pointed out by the Leader of the Official Opposition have come about in the House of Commons. I am not saying it could never happen here, but I do not think it has happened yet. I believe it could possibly happen, however.
At this time, I move that the Chair do now report progress.
Chair: Before you move that motion, do you want to clear this line first?
Mr. Penikett: If you will permit me to make one comment, I will clear it.
My one comment is that I am not making a case for elaborate procedures. All that I want to make is a submission that in respect to our budget, yes, we should do the prudent thing in the Member Services Board, and then we should have a frank debate here in this House about what the needs of Members are.
Having established the budget, it seems to me that it should be between the Legislative Assembly and our officer, who is the Clerk, to ensure the money is spent for the benefit of Members.
With that I would be happy to clear the item.
Office Equipment in the amount of $5000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures in the amount of $5000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair and that you report progress.
Chair: Are you agreed?
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4 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. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:28 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 7, 1993:
Memorandum dated March 30, 1993, from W.E. Byers, President, Yukon Energy Corporation re: Canadian Utilities Issue (Phelps)
Faro Action Plan dated April 5, 1993 (Devries)
The following Legislative Return was tabled April 7, 1993:
Aishihik Lake: review of water management regime by 2002 (Brewster)
Oral, Hansard, p. 337