Wednesday, April 14, 1993 - 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. Ostashek: I have a legislative return for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Curragh Inc., financial assistance
Mr. Penikett: I have a question for the Government Leader. After months and months of dithering, impossible conditions, economic crises and social hardship as well as zero progress at the negotiating table, is the Government Leader now prepared to admit that it was a disastrous decision to place the fate of the Yukon economy in the hands of Toronto-based liquidation experts rather than Yukoners who would be motivated by common sense and a sense of real concern and compassion for the people of the Yukon in the negotiations about Curragh loan guarantees?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: In one simple word: no.
Mr. Penikett: There are people in Ottawa who believe that Burns Fry was originally hired by the federal government because of that companys experience with liquidations, acquisitions and corporate takeovers.
Given the territorial governments absolutely bizarre negotiating posture, what assurances can the Government Leader give that it is not working with Burns Fry and the federal government to force Curragh Resources to sell its Yukon mining properties?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know where the Member opposite gets his information from; he certainly has not been listening to any of the information that has been given by this side of the House.
Burns Fry is acting on instructions from the territorial government - no one else.
I want to draw to the attention of the Leader of the Official Opposition that this government stated from day one that we would not get involved in Curraghs cash flow problems. We stated that the only thing we would get involved in would be the Grum stripping. If we were involved in the Grum stripping now, it still would not help the company with the problems it is facing today.
Mr. Penikett: Let me just say that there is still a great, dense fog surrounding the instructions from YTG to Burns Fry. Yesterday, the Minister of Economic Development admitted that Curraghs competitor, Cominco, was looking at the Faro mine without Curraghs knowledge.
Since a Cominco official admitted to the media in March that its Red Dog mine was pouring as much zinc as it can into an already flooded market in order to drive competitors out of the business, will the Government Leader give his categorical assurance to this House that his agent, Burns Fry, has had no discussions with Cominco whatsoever about the possibility of taking over and shutting down the lead-zinc mines in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I can give the Member opposite assurances that Burns Fry has not acted on the instructions of the territorial government to talk to Cominco or any other mining company to take over the Faro operations.
Question re: Cominco interest in Curragh
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader has just given the assurance that Burns Fry has not been instructed to have discussions with Cominco or any other party. Can I ask the Government Leader if he will give the House the assurance that he has not had any discussions with the federal government about the possibility of a takeover of Curragh and, to his knowledge, that Burns Fry has not talked about a takeover or liquidation of Curragh at any time during the period that they have been supposedly negotiating on our behalf?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I certainly have no problem at all giving the Member opposite that assurance. We have not talked with the federal government about that and, to the best of my knowledge, Burns Fry is not talking to anybody about liquidation of Faro.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Government Leader for his answer. Unfortunately, because it is incomplete and because we cannot satisfactorily explain the behaviour of Burns Fry at the negotiating table, nor this governments negotiating position, perhaps he would tell us this: since the Minister of Economic Development has repeated to us that the Yukon government has offered a $5 million stripping loan based on certain conditions and if these conditions are not secret, can the Government Leader tell the House now exactly what those conditions are ?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have no problem at all telling the Members opposite. In fact, I believe I already relayed it to the Member for Faro. All we want is security for the $5 million; we want a first charge for the $5 million. Because it is under CCAA protection, we probably would have to have the cooperation of the bank. My understanding of the negotiations so far is that the bank is very reluctant to get involved in that sort of an arrangement.
Mr. Penikett: We know very little about the details of the security being requested. Let me put to the Government Leader this obvious question: if neither Curragh nor the banks have agreed to these conditions, does not this latest offer just amount to another sham designed to frustrate, torment and even torture the people of Faro and indeed the economy of the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite gave away $5 million of the taxpayers money with no security and now he is asking us to do the same thing when it appears that neither Curragh nor the banks are interested in stripping the Grum; they are more interested in saving the company.
Question re: Curragh Inc., financial assistance
Mr. Penikett: Not only did the Government Leader not answer the question but he repeated the falsehood that we had no security. The fact of the matter is that we had the same security as the banks. His own Department of Finance has insisted - throughout the time we were in government, and no doubt when he was there too - that we had good security.
I am forced to ask the Government Leader: since his negotiating mandate is designed to lead us absolutely nowhere in terms of a solution to this great human, social and economic situational crisis that we have, and since nothing he has said indicates any optimism or hope of resolving the problem, can I ask him now if he would give a new mandate to his negotiators, will he take personal responsibility for the negotiations, will he now meet, because of this emergency, directly with the company involved and try to work out something to get Yukoners back to work and our economy back on its feet again?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have no problem meeting with the company directly, but the fact remains, as I just told the Member opposite, that the company is more concerned with saving the company than they are with the Faro operation. That is what they are trying to do. If they are successful in saving the company they will save the Faro operation.
Mr. Penikett: Forgive me, but the Government Leader is giving the impression that he is quite prepared to let the company go. The last time the company that owned the Faro mine was shut down, the mine was shut down for two years. Most of us do not want to face that prospect. Can I ask the Government Leader leader this: since we do not have a Yukoner at the table any more and since there is great doubt about exactly what Burns Fry is doing and who they are working for, what steps has he taken to ensure that the people negotiating the fate and the future of this mine are in fact representing Yukon public interests, not some private interests that have nothing to do with our agenda?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Burns Fry is a very reputable firm and works for many clients. We are in almost daily contact with Burns Fry and if there is anything to negotiate we will be there to negotiate. I have no problem going to Toronto myself if I feel it will do any good, but is the Member opposite asking me, and the taxpayers of the Yukon, to pour money into Faro with no security, while not even knowing if the company is going to survive?
Mr. Penikett: What I am asking the Government Leader is to take some initiative, show some economic leadership, demand that Clifford Frame come to Whitehorse right now to start negotiating directly, personally, immediately, here and now, about a stripping loan to remove the overburden from that ore body, which will give access to an important, valuable Yukon resource and which will put people in Faro and businesses in this territory back to work now. I am asking him to show some leadership, some responsibility for this problem, now.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The question the Member asks is something we have been doing. We have been showing economic leadership all winter long, trying to get that ore body stripped, but we have to have some security for the taxpayers of the Yukon.
Question re: Public service, restructuring
Mr. Cable: I have another question for the Government Leader. The Government Leader, both in and outside of this House, has indicated on various occasions that he wishes to set up a different role for the public service, to make the public service more efficient by changing the relationship between the elected officials and the public service. This would presumably permit the government to reduce operating expenses and thence taxes. What has the Government Leader done to date to set this process in motion?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: For me to answer that in the short time I have in Question Period would be virtually impossible. I have related to the Member opposite many times the restructuring that has taken place throughout government and in each department, starting with my own, the Executive Council Office. It will be an ongoing process through each and every department, involving the people in the departments for restructuring that will save the taxpayer money in the long run.
Mr. Cable: It was my impression that the Government Leader and his government were going to approach the way the public service did business in a markedly different way and provide incentives to public servants. Is this on the drawing board - either directly to public servants or to their departments?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, if the Member is asking if incentive programs are to be put in place. Some of the merit pay that has been held back will be used for that purpose.
Mr. Cable: It was my impression that this would be a major overhaul in the way the public service did business. Is the government approaching this with an internal working group, or has it put the proposition out to some consulting firm? How is the government going about this? What is the methodology?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am of the firm belief that the departments themselves have the best idea where to save taxpayers money, and I am encouraging the departments to work with the Executive Council Office to come up with solutions to the problem. I believe we are getting the message through, and I am very happy with the cooperation we have been getting from our managers. They are coming forward with ideas. There is an interdepartmental committee, as well as a Cabinet committee, that is working on this, and we will be doing it one department at a time.
Question re: Faro contingency plan
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development with regard to the contingency plan, as much as it pains me to do so, because I believe that the bungling from the side opposite has directly contributed to the problem we are in right now with the Faro situation.
The Minister committed to, and promised, my community in January that a contingency plan would be in place for the community. Yesterday, we learned that there is still no monetary commitment defined and in place from YTG. My community has been tortured and decimated by uncertainty. Specifically, what is the government doing for my community and the people in that community who want to remain in Faro and continue to work there? Specifically, what is the government doing for those people?
Hon. Mr. Devries: First and foremost, the $34 million loan and the $5 million stripping project are still on the table. If the mine and the bank give approval for this to go ahead, it would happen.
As the Member very well knows, the committee held a public meeting in Faro last night where I understand various projects were proposed to them. I have not received a list of those projects yet. As soon as we have the list, we will determine the Yukon governments financial role.
Mr. Harding: First all, I would like to say the $5 million and the $34 million offers are nothing but scams, because the conditions on those offers are impossible to meet.
The commitment was made to my community, in January, that things would be in place. Now the Minister tells me that there was a meeting last night, but he is not sure what the outcome was.
I would like to ask the Minister of Economic Development, specifically, what the Yukon territorial government is doing to put people back to work in my community, so that they can remain in that community, because they are Yukoners and they want to be here.
Hon. Mr. Devries: The plan is very similar to the plan the Members of the Opposition used in Elsa, during that shutdown. Much of that plan was carried out in conjunction with the Industrial Adjustment Services, and it is very much along the same procedure that was used at that time. My understanding is that there were no firm commitments of dollars at that time. It was slowly worked out as things progressed.
Mr. Harding: That statement by the Minister is absolutely not the case. There was a very quick commitment made by the territorial government in that situation, and that is very important to point out here, because it is sadly lacking from the Members opposite. As my community is tortured by this uncertainty, they await some news of optimism, some hope.
One of the things that was promised to my constituents was that a contingency plan would be put in place. Now I am told that there were meetings last night to discuss it. I would like to ask the Minister once again: exactly what is the government doing to ensure the projects are available for the people who are staying in Faro to continue to work.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I will repeat: our primary goal is to see the company survive and see the stripping of the Grum deposit take place. Meanwhile, several projects are being proposed and they will be reviewed.
Question re: Faro contingency plan
Mr. Harding: Once again, we hear the vagueness of this contingency plan, which has supposedly been worked on for months, and this morning I heard on the radio that it was such a wonderful, rousing success for the people of Faro. Well, I am here to tell you it is not, Mr. Speaker.
The Minister just indicated that several projects have been proposed. I would like to ask him what those projects are, and specifically, at what point of development are those projects, and when can people in Faro expect to go to work on those projects?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not know how many times I have to repeat myself. I indicated to the Member that a meeting was held last night and various ideas and projects were put forward by community representatives. As discussions continue with the various interest groups, we will determine where our priorities should be.
Mr. Harding: Again, we hear the vagueness of this plan. I would like to ask the Minister of Economic Development if any of these projects are in the developmental stages and when can we expect to see some work done on them? First and foremost is the YTG Grum stripping program to expose that asset for the Yukon. The second is the Chateau Jomini construction, the third is tourism development projects in Faro and the fourth is the item that was contained in Toward Self-Sufficiency by the 21st Century, which was proposed to the Deputy Prime Minister by the government: the Grew Creek infrastructure development. Can he tell me if any of those projects will be going ahead in the next short while?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I must beg the Members indulgence. We are discussing those projects right now. Once a decision has been made on them, which will be in the very near future, we will see what happens.
I will say that the Grew Creek project, due to its sale, is probably no longer on the table, as it was a few weeks ago. Some drilling will be done there this summer, but it will only be one or two drills. The other projects will all be dependent on what happens with the discussions that are going on in Toronto.
Question re: Faro contingency plan
Mr. Harding: I want to pick up on the point that was just made by the Minister of Economic Development, where he said, These projects that I have identified as projects that will put people back to work in Faro will be contingent on what happens to discussions in Toronto. Is not the point of a contingency plan to develop plans for the community that is affected by the shutdown, so that there is something in place for them in the event of the worst-case scenario, a shutdown of the Faro operation? Why are those things not in place now, when they were promised in January?
Hon. Mr. Devries: In the first place, the Member very well knows that we do not know if the worst-case scenario is going to happen. We cannot jump to that conclusion. If the worst-case scenario is going to happen, we certainly do not want to go ahead with some of those projects, because we do not know what the long-term existence of the community would be.
As far as the various tourism projects are concerned, we are seriously considering some of them.
Mr. Harding: To use the Ministers words, he asked us to show some indulgence for the government. My constituents have been laid off for up to six months waiting for this government to show some kind of leadership. How many months and how much time is it going to take before this government is going to show some kind of economic leadership for my constituents?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I feel we are still carrying out economic leadership and I have had calls from the people of Faro who support the position we have taken on their behalf and they are very happy with what we are doing there. The only person I have heard complain to any great extent was the union leader who was on the radio this morning.
Mr. Harding: Let me just tell the Minister that that union person who was on the radio this morning represents about 800 people in that community and their views on this subject. The Minister may have received a couple of calls but I can assure the Minister that I received a lot more complaints about what is happening in that community.
I was told that the hours were doubled for the Economic Development officer in the community to work on some of these projects but, yet, he has no staffing, he has no budget and he has no policy directives on exactly what he is supposed to be doing. Could the Minister please tell me exactly what policy directives he has given this officer in order to accomplish these tasks?
Hon. Mr. Devries: My understanding is that the Economic Development officers time has been doubled. He was normally on half time and he is on full time there now, and my understanding is that the majority of his time is being spent in Faro. We also have two other people from our department in Faro. Meanwhile, there are several people from the Industrial Adjustment Services in Faro and they are all in the process of working on a process to assist the people of Faro in the best way they possibly can within the financial limitations they are under.
Question re: Faro contingency plan
Mr. Harding: The Minister of Economic Development is still on the same track. We still do not know exactly what they are doing to keep people in my community at work. I would like to ask him this - I need a commitment from the Minister of Economic Development: if there is any Grum stripping work undertaken either in conjunction with the company or as a government project alone, to expose that ore body and that asset as an asset for the Yukon, will he commit that he will put Faroites to work first and foremost to expose that ore body, because there is a trained, skilled workforce available right there?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I can assure the Member that there is $5 million available for the Grum stripping, provided that we can get first charge on the property. Basically, yes, Faroites would be hired for that project.
Mr. Harding: I am glad I got the assurance that Faroites will be the ones who do the stripping, first and foremost, if there is any government funding involved. I am glad I got that assurance on behalf of my constituents.
I want to move on to another issue regarding contingency, and that is the funding that has been made available. The IAS committee has an interim amount of $50,000 for setting up committees, and that type of thing, but we are of the understanding, and have been told, that the actual funding from the federal government is not going to be in place until probably mid to late May. People who have to leave the Yukon to try and find work have the option of going to social services for about $500. Could the Minister of Economic Development please tell me what the territorial government is prepared to do in terms of moving expenses for the people in my community who have no other choice but to move elsewhere to try to find some other work?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I hope that the people do not have to move. We have a capital budget that is waiting to be passed. That capital budget has possibly 1,200 to 1,400 summer jobs in it. If the Members would quit filibustering the supplementary debate, we could get the capital budget through and get those people to work.
Mr. Harding: As we do not know exactly what budget we are going to be debating, there is really not much point for us to move on to this mysterious budget that is still in the midst of negotiations.
Speaker: Order please. I do not want an argument between the Members. I would like the Member for Faro to ask a supplementary question.
Mr. Harding: I would certainly never engage in an argument with the Members opposite. It would not be a fair fight; they are undermatched.
I would like to go back to the matter of social assistance for the people in my community who have been forced to move as a result of the inaction by the government on this situation, which has seriously damaged attempts by Curragh to raise working capital. I would like to ask the Minister: how long can members of my community wait? Some of them have been off work six months. Why will the government not kick in to help these people? The federal government will not, because when they find jobs in other communities, UIC is saying no, you cannot have any money because there are people in that community already laid off. Therefore, they have no money; they have spent all their money waiting for the government to do something. They are left there; they are trying to go to work.
Hon. Mr. Devries: In the first place, some of them were working up until just a week or two ago. I believe that we are doing everything that we possibly can at this point to assist those people. As the meetings continue with the various people who have concerns in the community, with Health and Social Services and with the IAS people, something will be worked out. They will be given the assurances that they can move to wherever they want, without any real undue hardship.
Question re: Income tax forms, printing of
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Government Leader regarding tax bills. I have been in contact with representatives from Revenue Canada today and yesterday regarding the process for the tax bill on the Order Paper and the deadline for the printing of the deduction tables. I have been advised that caveats may be negotiated between Revenue Canada and the Yukon territorial government that would enable the printing to go ahead and allow us to have full debate on the budget without being threatened by the tax bill being brought to the House every week. I would like to ask the Government Leader if he would agree to this process.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have also been in touch with Revenue Canada, and we are working under that assumption now. We hope to have an answer for the Member in a day or so.
Mrs. Firth: I believe the Ministers executive assistant has been in touch with Revenue Canada but has not yet spoken to them about any process. Would the Government Leader agree that this is a good solution to the problem we are facing here in the House?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Members information is not correct. I, myself, was in touch with the Deputy Minister of Revenue today. I am certainly trying to find that solution, and we hope we can.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Government Leader tell us when we are going to have this solution in place?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just told the Member opposite that I hope to be able to have this resolved in a couple of days. I just spoke to the deputy minister today; I have faxed a letter to him, and I hope to have a reply to it shortly.
Question re: Income tax forms, printing of
Mrs. Firth: Will the Government Leader tell us the nature of the letter he has faxed to the deputy minister? Will he table it in this House?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will take that under advisement.
Question re: Faro contingency plan
Mr. McDonald: With respect to the contingency plan for Faro residents, the Minister of Economic Development indicated this afternoon that, last night, townspeople had started coming up with ideas for various projects that might serve as useful work projects for people in the community. The Minister went on to say that the government would be waiting to see if the town had a future before they decided whether or not certain projects would go ahead.
Could the Minister indicate what he means by that?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I meant that we do not want to make the same mistake as happened in the Members former riding, where we ended up spending a lot of money with nobody to utilize those buildings.
Mr. McDonald: As much as I want to debate that subject, I want to focus on Faro for a moment. If Curragh and the government successfully conclude discussions regarding the Grum stripping, what possible use would the Town of Faro have for special work projects, if they are all working on the Grum stripping, mining ore and making a living in the mining industry?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Naturally, that is the $34 million question. Again, if there are a certain number of people employed in the stripping, and Curragh resolves its restructuring problems, naturally we will be assured that there is a long-term future for the community and, then, yes, some of these other projects will definitely be going ahead.
Mr. McDonald: That position makes absolutely no sense. Why have make-work projects for Faro residents if they do not need them? If a mine goes ahead there is no point in make-work projects. Could the Minister indicate what the policy direction has been to his business development officer in Faro to provide for infrastructure projects, and can he tell us why he has indicated in this House that he will be providing funding for make-work projects when it is obviously clear from the questioning this afternoon that the government has no intentions of providing make-work projects or any community-works projects because the mine will either be operating or the town will be closed?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The Member is distorting everything I said. He knows what I said; he is just playing games. I do not like it when I see Members of the Opposition playing political games with the lives of the people of Faro.
We are very aware of the situation in Faro and I am very aware of the situation in Watson Lake - the number of laid-off workers.
As for those projects, if they are not related to the long-term viability of Faro, they will go ahead immediately. When we have assurances that things are looking good with the negotiations and that Faro will still be there in the future, we will focus more on the projects that would provide for the long-term benefits of the community, as a mining community.
Question re: Faro contingency plan
Mr. McDonald: I, for one in this Legislature, have already gone through the process of watching the community collapse because its economic base has collapsed. I know the people of Faro have been sitting on unemployment insurance, have been collecting welfare, using up their savings, waiting for some government action for months and months. They were told in January by the Minister of Economic Development that a contingency plan was in place and that they had no reason to worry about the governments intentions to provide support. If we are asking questions in this Legislature, it is not because we are playing politics, it is because we care about those people very deeply.
Speaker: Order please. I would like the Member to get to his question.
Mr. McDonald: What kinds of projects is the Minister talking about when he says that he is going to be providing some support for projects that do not depend on the long-term viability of the mine? I am using his words: that the government will wait to see if the town has a future before it will provide any capital works or community development projects.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, the Member is distorting my words. Again, he is playing politics with the lives of the people in Faro.
I said some projects will be oriented toward tourism and long, long, long-term benefits to Faro. Other projects geared to Faros existence as a mining community will also take place, once we have a certain degree of assurance that Faro will exist, in the long term, as a mining community.
Mr. McDonald: I am using the Members own words to try and understand what the governments policy is. If the words sound inept to his own ears, he has only himself to blame.
What kinds of projects, specifically, is the government prepared to support? Is the government prepared to support community infrastructure projects? Is the government prepared to support Chateau Jomini? What kinds of specific projects is the government prepared to support?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The way it stands right now, projects will be directed toward some of the environmental problems that exist in Faro; there will be work on the Campbell Highway in the area; there will be clearing of the sheep viewing trails and some hiking trails. Those are the types of specific projects that I am referring to at this point.
Mr. McDonald: Is the Minister indicating that the kinds of projects he is going to support will be projects that will take place only outside the Town of Faro?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Not necessarily. Many of these projects are on the fringes of Faro and would contribute greatly to the survival of Faro as a community.
If the Member is trying to say that the projects that I have mentioned are going to be to the detriment of the community, I would like to know.
Question re: Economic forecast
Mr. Cable: I have a question for the Government Leader. I think that it has been acknowledged by all Members that the calculation of the various tax streams is subject to a very large number of variables. Most are somewhat predictable, but many are not.
Has the Government Leader set up a number of models to predict what the tax streams would be under various scenarios, and I ask this in the sense of a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not exactly sure what the Member is getting at. Many times we do not know for two or three years down the road what the transfer payments will be because they are based on so many variables. It is very hard to get an accurate figure. I believe the Member opposite was briefed on that last night, so he should be fully aware of what has transpired.
Mr. Cable: Quite so. That is where the question came from.
Has the Government Leader calculated what the best-case scenario would be for the various tax streams? In other words, what has the Government Leader predicted for taxes if Curragh remains in force and we get our maximum transfer payment?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I cannot give the Member that information while on my feet, but I can certainly give him a written reply to that question.
Mr. Cable: In the same sense, perhaps the Member could advise me and the other Members as to what the worst-case scenario is. What would the surplus or deficit be in the worst-case and the best-case scenario?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will get that information for the Member opposite.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now lapsed. We will proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Clerk: Motion No. 36, standing in the name of Mr. Cable.
Motion No. 36
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Riverside
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Public Service Act should be amended to provide that the Public Service Commissioner shall be appointed by the Commissioner in Executive Council on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly, and to further provide that the Legislative Assembly shall not recommend a person to be appointed Public Service Commissioner unless a Special Committee of the Legislative Assembly has unanimously recommended to the Legislative Assembly that the person be appointed.
Mr. Cable: I wonder if I could start this debate by asking for a brief recess?
Speaker: Is the House in favour of a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: This House will recess for 10 minutes.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Mr. Penikett: Point of order.
Speaker: On a point of order, the Leader of the Official Opposition.
Mr. Penikett: I wanted to draw attention to the fact that the Member for Riverdale North has crossed the floor.
Speaker: The Government House Leader on the point of order.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It was just a force of habit. I accidentally ended up over here, and I am going back to the other side immediately.
Speaker: I find there is no point of order; however, it appears that the House is getting back to the way it should be.
Mr. Cable: The motion before the House is a motion I have been thinking about for some time. I brought two incarnations before the House, and this is the second one, which I had amended to meet some objections I had heard.
It is well known that, in a small jurisdiction like the Yukon, the relationship between the public service and the elected officials is not what it would be in a large jurisdiction like Ontario, for example, where the elected officials probably do not see the public servants that often.
There is a general view in the Yukon, and it is a perception as much as a reality, that the Public Service Commissioner is not at arms length from the government. I think this is a view shared by the Member for Mount Lorne. She asked a question in the House regarding the appointment of the Public Service Commissioner relating to the short term. She indicated that the Public Service Commissioner is, by law, at arms length from government, which is supposed to ensure an unbiased approach to staffing. That is a view I share, and it is my view that that should be the case. I bring this motion forward as one small step to ensuring that that is the case, that that should be the law.
There is another aspect of the relationship between the public service and the elected officials that I think was addressed in the last election. It was brought to the attention of the people by the Yukon Party.
In part of its written platform the Yukon Party indicated, under the heading Restoring Freedom of Speech and Association, that they had intended to ensure that the abuse of authority and intimidation of government employees stops. Whether or not the abuse of authority and intimidation of government employees was a reality, the fact that there may have been a perception to that effect indicates that something should be done about it.
One of the things that we can do about it is recognize that the Public Service Commissioner is not exactly like your average public servant. The view that the Public Service Commissioner is not your average public servant is reinforced by the act. Probably, the act, if I can read between the lines, expressed the views of the legislators at the time they brought the act in.
If we go through the Public Service Act, we see that the appointment of the Public Service Commissioner is for an initial period not exceeding 10 years - a much longer guarantee of employment than one would expect for your average public servant. The removal of this person is by the Commissioner in Executive Council through a judge and the tabling of the order in the Legislative Assembly. The duties, as they are spelled out in section 8 of the Public Service Act, are statutory duties; the average public servants duties are not spelled out in statutes, so there is some suggestion, and I would suggest a very strong suggestion, that the legislators, or drafters, of the act, when they passed the act, had a view in mind that this particular public servant was a public servant not like most public servants.
Other jurisdictions have handled the public service and the Public Service Commission in a little different fashion. I was just browsing through the statutes the other day, which I think the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes would also assure the House is a very interesting way to spend a morning. The way the British Columbians have handled the appointment of the Public Service Commission is by way of establishing a commission, to be called the Public Service Commission. Their act goes on to say, at section 3, The commission shall consist of not less than three members, appointed by Lieutenant Governor in Council, one of whom shall be designated as chairman. It goes on to say, The members of the commission shall hold office during good behaviour for a term of six years but may be removed at any time by an act or resolution of the Legislative Assembly, indicating that the Legislative Assembly had a significant input into the continued existence of the job of the Public Service Commissioner.
This is also the way that Saskatchewan has handled the situation. I am reading from acts that may or may not be amended; I am just citing them as examples of what has been, or is being done across the country. The Public Servants Act of Saskatchewan reads, For the purposes of carrying out the provisions of this act, there shall continue to be a commission called the Public Service Commission, consisting of not less than three and not more than five members.
The act goes on to say, a member of the commission, other than the Chairman, is removable by the Lieutenant Governor on the address of the Legislative Assembly and such member may at any time be suspended by the Lieutenant Governor and council for cause assigned and another person be appointed to act in his stead until the Legislative Assembly, at its next session, has considered and taken action in the premises.
I think it is safe to say that both British Columbia and Saskatchewan view this particular public servant as a public servant who is different than most public servants and deputy heads. They have set up something to be interposed between the politicians and the public service, and perhaps between the public service and the people.
It is safe to say that here, as in other jurisdictions, the Commissioner has a schizophrenic role, and that he has a schizophrenic role in two senses: in one aspect the Commissioner - this is the single person in our jurisdiction - has a hat of an independent person, but at the same time has a public servant hat. The Commissioner has a role in performing certain statutory duties - and they are spelled out in our act, as they are in other acts - as well as a role of putting policies in place.
I refer the House to section 6 of our act, which says, The public service commissioner shall, subject to the general direction of the Executive Council Member, be responsible for the administration of this Act, the regulations and any policies - and I emphasize this - established pursuant thereto. It is clear that this particular public servant must follow the policies of the government-of-the-day, while administering those statutory duties set out in section 8 of the act.
This particular public servant has the legislative-officer smell about their person and also the public-servant smell about their person; there is a flavour of both. I think that this should be recognized in dealing with this particular public servant.
Various jurisdictions have dealt with those public servants, such as ombudspersons and auditors general, who are described, I think, as pure legislative officers.
I would refer to the B.C. Ombudsman Act. This act is where I plagiarized the draftsmanship for the motion. The appointment of the ombudsperson is dealt with in section 2 of the B.C. act. It says, The Lieutenant Governor shall, on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly, appoint as an officer of the Legislature an ombudsman to exercise the powers and perform the duties assigned to him under this act. It goes on to say, The Legislative Assembly shall not recommend a person to be appointed ombudsman, unless a special committee of the Legislative Assembly has unanimously recommended to the Legislative Assembly that the person be appointed.
This is the same sort of general drill that is set up for the B.C. Auditor General. This person clearly is a legislative officer reporting to the Legislature.
I do not intend to make this a lengthy debate; I can tell you when-I-was-a-boy stories if you like - barefoot boy from Burlington, yes. There is, and continues to be, a dichotomy of roles. I do not think our statute has acknowledged the fact that there is a dichotomy of roles.
I think we can see from the recent flurry of questions, both from the Member for Mount Lorne and from me, that the people in the street, who of course give us all our good ideas, also share the view that the Public Service Commissioner should be a special public servant. There should be enshrined in the law, statutory provisions setting up the separation of public servant from the government. Having said that, I fully recognize that this public servant is a little different type of public servant, but also has on the conventional public servant hat and must, of necessity, report to a Minister to take policy direction. Having said this also, I do not think for one moment that we cannot accommodate the need to have this public servant viewed as having an arms-length relationship from the government.
I do not choose to say any more on this subject. I would like to of course hear the views of those others who have expressed views to me in the last few days. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, you would also.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I was somewhat perplexed by the true intent of this motion. When the hon. Member asked for an adjournment I thought that it was because he had suddenly come to his senses and wished to withdraw the motion - sadly I was mistaken in that misconception.
There is a number of problems with the proposal, and I want to discuss some of these problems as best I can here today. I think the basic issue is not whether or not we have a correct-smelling public official after it is all over, as the Member is suggesting to us - if I understand his speech correctly. The basic problem, as I see it, is the dichotomy of which he spoke in his remarks.
We are looking at two broad functions. One function is that of a quasi-judicial officer who must treat members of the public service - applicants for jobs - fairly, and be, in some sense, removed from political pressure. That is something that is dear to the hearts of virtually every Yukoner and perhaps it is dwelling on that aspect of the job that has brought the Member to the point where he has come forward with this motion.
The other aspect of the job is extremely important as well. The Public Service Commissioner does act as a deputy minister. He has a dual role; much of his job involves carrying out the policy and directives of the government. In that particular function, the individual is really no different from other deputy ministers in government.
It is interesting on that point, under the current Public Service Act the powers of the Public Service Commission are as follows:
(a) to develop, maintain, administer and supervise a competent and efficient public service.
(b) to appoint or provide for the appointment of qualified persons to or from within the public service, in accordance with the provisions and principles of this Act.
(c) to test and certify the qualifications of candidates for admission to or promotion in the public service;
(d) to take any necessary action to ensure compliance with the act or the regulations;
(e) to report to the Executive Council Member from time to time respecting the operation of the Act or the regulations;
(f) to investigate and make reports as required respecting any contravention of this Act or the regulations;
(g) after consultation with a deputy head, to investigate and report on any matter respecting the employees of the department or branch of the deputy head;
(h) to report as required upon the organization of the public service or any parts thereof;
(i) to establish and maintain a position classification and job evaluation system in the public service;
(j) to make recommendations to deputy heads respecting the discipline of persons employed in their departments;
(k) to sponsor, encourage, administer or participate in programs of employee training and safety;
(l) to administer a program of security;
(m) to negotiate, on behalf of the Government of the Yukon with any authorized bargaining agent pursuant to any Act of the Yukon;
(n) to administer and interpret any collective agreement entered into between the Government of the Yukon and an authorized bargaining agent pursuant to any Act of the Legislature;
(o) to obtain the assistance of such persons as is considered necessary to enable the commission to carry out its duties;
(p) to perform such other duties as may be assigned to it by the Commissioner in Executive Council.
It is pretty clear, from this very broad range and long list of powers and responsibilities, that the Public Service Commissioner is required, within the parameters of the act, to take direction from the government-of-the-day. We, on this side, feel that this is a necessary requirement.
Under this proposal before us, there are many unanswered questions that arise. For example, under this proposal, who would evaluate the Public Service Commissioners performance? Would the Legislature do that? What if there were performance problems? Who would deal with those? Who would be responsible to answer questions regarding the department in this House? Does the hon. Member still see that there would be a Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, or does he see that the Public Service Commissioner would report to the House and answer questions? We submit that the latter arrangement would simply not work in a parliamentary democracy.
A government is elected and is responsible for the actions of the public service. The concept of ministerial responsibility is important. Therefore, the government has to speak to the issues. It would be improper for a public servant to have to come to the House to answer questions. It would be improper for a government to delegate accountability for an issue over which it would, and ought to be, ultimately held responsible.
Those are all very serious questions, which underline the basic weakness of the proposal we have before us here today.
It is important to outline how the current process of appointing a Public Service ommissioner works, for those Members who may not be aware. Under section 5(1) of the Public Service Act, it states that the Public Service Commissioner shall be appointed by the Commissioner in Executive Council to hold office for an initial period not exceeding 10 years from the date of the appointment and shall be eligible for reappointment. The act also deals with how a Public Service Commissioner can be removed.
Section 5(2) states. The Commissioner in Executive Council may, by order, remove the public service commissioner from office prior to the end of the period of his appointment only for cause and only after, (a) the circumstances respecting the cause are first inquired into, and (b) the public service commissioner is given reasonable notice of the time and place of the inquiry and is afforded an opportunity, by himself or his counsel, of being heard and cross-examining the witnesses and producing evidence on his own behalf. Section 5(3) states, For the purpose of making an inquiry under subsection (2), the Commissioner in Executive Council shall appoint a superior court judge who shall make the inquiry and a report thereon and who has the power to summon and enforce the attendance of any person to give evidence under oath and produce such documents as the judge may require.
Section 5(4) states, The Commissioner in Executive Council may suspend the public service commissioner pending the result of an inquiry under this section.
Section 5(5) states, That the Executive Council Member shall cause the order and the report referred to in this section to be laid before the Legislative Assembly within 15 days after the order has been made or, if the Legislative Assembly is not then sitting, in any of the first 15 days next thereafter that the Legislative Assembly is sitting.
It is our position that the current system is fair to all parties. It goes a long way toward protecting the incumbent of the position of Public Service Commissioner from being summarily dismissed, and it gives the Legislature the opportunity to assure itself that the person is not being dismissed solely for political reasons.
One problem with this proposal is that it really seems to entail aping the way in which appointments are made in the United States, where there are congressional hearings and peoples backgrounds are publicly debated, and where there is a lot of public scrutiny of an individual appointment. It is my submission to Members here that, in a small jurisdiction such as the Yukon, this type of process would be discouraging or, at least, would impede qualified and capable individuals from seeking this type of position.
Frankly, if one looks at the United States, with more than 200 million people from whom to draw, and compares that with this very small territory of 30,000, it would seem, certainly in our view, that the methodology being proposed by the proponent of this motion would tend to politicize, rather than depoliticize, the appointment - or, at least, it certainly runs that very severe risk. If that is not exactly the system that is in the mind of the proponent of the motion, then we would have a lot of questions as to exactly how the process of selection would work.
In a jurisdiction like ours, with a small population and a government that spends a lot of money and is the primary employer of people in the territory - at least, certainly in recent history - and where the government jobs are seen in many respects as preferential over jobs offered by private enterprise - as regards wages, job security and job benefits, except for the situation regarding professionals, as was noted by the Leader of the Official Opposition the other day in debate and duly noted - people have a keen interest in the role of the Public Service Commission and definitely a stake in the impartiality of the manner in which many functions of that position are carried out. I certainly understand that concern, and I am sure every Member in this House has had many constituents come to them complaining that they suspect they are blacklisted by government, that they cannot get a job for this reason or another because of political bias, and on and on it goes.
I certainly have had my fair share of complaints from the people who have lived in my respective ridings over the years. I understand the basic concern, and this is compounded when one considers that such a large proportion of jobs in the Yukon public service are held by employees of this government. That is coupled with the very real problems of interaction between individual citizens and government on a daily basis.
In the Yukon, it is commonplace to see one government car after another on the street. People know many of the inspectors and people in other government positions. Most people know each of the politicians by name and by reputation. Sometimes that is good and sometimes that is bad.
There is a very real potential, often realized, of conflict between Yukoners as citizens and the government in their private lives. Often that type of conflict gives rise to situations where there may be an appearance of government bias against an individual who at the same time is seeking employment with the government. That is something that I have certainly seen many, many times. People come to us in our role as quasi-ombudsman - ombudspersons - in this government.
More often than allegations that they are being discriminated against because they are NDP, PC or Liberal, the allegations tend to be, the government has it in for me because I had a run-in with so and so, and he is a big shot in the department of such and such, and I know that this person has it in for me and he is networking in the government and stopping me from getting jobs; I am blacklisted. That has been my experience. There have been more allegations of that kind of discrimination than political ones, strangely enough.
I certainly enjoyed hearing the good Member for Riverside, for the first time, embrace wholeheartedly - despite his votes of non-confidence in the government - the platform of that group of people known as the Yukon Party, with whom I have joined on this side of the House in order to try to bring good government to Yukoners of all political stripes, all ages and each gender. For the Member for Riverside to wholeheartedly support that part of the platform, which the Independent Party from Ross River supports as well, gives me a feeling of comraderie that I have not really felt for some time in this place.
Those are some of the initial questions that arise when one looks at the motion. It is interesting that the Member apparently browses through statutes in the early morning and late evenings, as a form of recreation. It is probably better than some books I have seen. I certainly hope he is not reading erotic books and things like that, because that is certainly bad for ones health, I have been told, and it can lead to a person having to wear glasses and such, so they tell me. As the Minister of Health, these are things that I am concerned about, of course.
Within his perusal of documents, we are advised that the motion itself was, in his words, plagiarized from the ombudsperson act of B.C. That is interesting, because that really reinforces the point that it focuses on only one aspect of the job, which is the need for a person who is seen as impartial and quasi-judicial in areas concerning advancement in the civil service, treatment of employees, as well as hiring and firing of employees, and does not, in any way, focus on the other really important aspect of the job, namely that of being a deputy minister in the government, answerable to the government, defended by, at all times, the person responsible under the doctrine in our British parliamentary tradition of ministerial responsibility.
I would go on to say the selection of the appropriate person is crucial. The role of Public Service Commissioner is a very important role. I think we have an excellent commissioner in place right now. I suspect, incidentally, that there seems to be some concern about the current position of that official, and it seems to be based solely upon the six-month appointment. I suspect, for example, from the questions asked by the Member for Mount Lorne in recent days in Question Period in this House, that that seems to be the issue that troubles her and, perhaps, some of her constituents. If that is the case, then surely the obvious corrective move would be to extend the appointment to five or 10 years. In fact, my understanding is that the former Public Service Commissioner was on 10-year contracts, if I remember correctly.
It seems to me that what we have here is the good Member for Riverside going mosquito hunting with an elephant gun with this particular motion.
The qualities of a Public Service Commissioner are extremely important, and there is no question about that. We spoke somewhat of being seen to be fair, and that person must have a completely balanced and impartial view of prospective employees, and be a person who would not discriminate on the basis of race, gender or religion. All of these issues are extremely important to the government-of-the-day.
As everyone knows, this government continues to support bringing aboriginal people into the government and using various methodologies to achieve the goal of having a more representative number of Indian people in government.
We strongly support issues surrounding the equality of women and seeing women advance upward through the government, according to their ability, with no artificial barriers placed in their way. Of course, the main artificial barriers have been spoken of many times in this House, and I do not want to get into that to any great extent in this very short dissertation.
We have stories to tell of Carcross, bare feet and Johnny Johns, and that sort of thing, and time is precious when one gets the chance to speak to this esteemed group.
It is kind of interesting to go back and see the attitude of the previous government. For example, I look at the debate on March 31, 1993, in the Hansard, on page 344, when the Leader of the Official Opposition made an absolutely unwarranted attack on this good Member, who only does what he can to promote peace and harmony in the Legislature.
He said, We know that unless the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes has not only become, in the last 24 hours, a physician, and a woman, but indeed something of a witch doctor, there is no way in the world he is going to spend $14 million on the hospital project in the coming fiscal year.
With the greatest of respect, that is not the type of statement one would expect from a party that believes in equal rights. I would suspect that a lot of feminists would be somewhat enraged if they read that particular passage. The feminists do not exactly get off lightly, though, when this Member speaks. It is quite clear, on the part of some of the interest groups that advocate very special rights for women, that these groups certainly do not speak for a lot of female citizens in the Yukon.
This is certainly true when it comes to the view adopted by a great many Indian women respecting the Yukon Status of Women Council and the Victoria Faulkner Womyns Centre. I would just like to briefly read into the record a letter that appeared recently in a newspaper that states, It is time that we, as Yukon First Nations women, were heard. It appears that the media considers the Yukon Status or Women Council, the Victoria Faulkner Womens Centre and the Yukon Advisory Council on Womens Issues as our spokespersons on the issues facing Yukon women. The feminists who speak so angrily and so loud do not speak on behalf of First Nations women. We have always tried to work together, but the most difficult of women to work with are the feminists, who hold us in contempt for our beliefs and values. This letter goes on at some length, stating a position that is felt very strongly by a large number of First Nations women.
It is signed by Louise Bouvier, president, and Charlene Burns, Vice-President of the Yukon Indian Womens Association. I put this in the record because we have heard an awful lot from the side opposite with respect to the perception that somehow or other the budget that has been tabled in this House was intended, in some way, to reduce the status of women and endanger or impair the equal rights that women should have and do have in law in this jurisdiction. Nothing could be further from the truth, but there is a genuine concern on this side that the programs that we have - the allocations of money that we make - and the programs that we support are programs that are geared to meet the needs and aspirations of women right across the spectrum of views in our society.
I come from a riding that is predominantly First Nations in makeup. I can say right now that we want to ensure that support does not go to a few vocal people who have a narrow interest and view, but that our programs are designed to assist women right across the political spectrum and racial spectrum and are designed to get at some problems that are viewed somewhat differently from time to time by various people that make up our society - things like family violence and how those issues should be addressed are an example.
There is certainly some difference between the narrow feminist view expressed by some people and the view of others, particularly First Nations women.
I think we all ought to acknowledge this and, in the spirit of addressing this motion in the fullest way that I possibly can, I am summing up every argument that I can think of in order to give this first motion of the Hon. Member for Riverside its due. It is important that the issue of discrimination be one that we are seen to discuss openly and try to make it very clear where we stand. It certainly is, in our view, important that the public know that we are not captured entirely by - at least this Member and I am sure speak for others in the front bench - the very narrow view expressed by some of the interest groups, who have every right to lobby government and to speak out about these things, who I think do have to account, when they purport to speak for all women, to those who disagree.
These are some of the attributes that the Public Service Commissioner must have. I think that the Public Service Commissioner has to have a good understanding of the Yukon, know the people here, understand, to a good degree, the different cultures and values and have a sense of some of the frustrations expressed by people, particularly in the smaller communities, who try to work for government as auxiliaries on seasonal jobs and often face the problem of individuals playing favourites. They sometimes end up without a decent job and their family placed in jeopardy. I am sure all Members here are aware of some of the concerns expressed in smaller communities, particularly where people were hired from other parts of the Yukon, sometimes from outside, who used to be buddies of the officials at the community level or slightly higher up. I remember that we used to have cases where retired people were brought back in to work for government, to the detriment of younger people who do not have a pension, who are trying to raise a family, who rely greatly on the chance to work seasonally in government jobs.
Going back to the interesting list of responsibilities that I annunciated a bit earlier today, the person ought to be a person who has a good understanding of the organization of government and the best way of changing that organization in a manner that is compatible with the direction from the political level - yet will have enough experience to see pitfalls where that direction may not be in the best interests of the public service or of the public served.
This is a particularly crucial time in our history because, over the course of the next months and years, we will be looking at government by the people, government that must, because of legal requirements, meet the needs of the First Nation communities at least. A lot of reorganization will be taking place. It is simply the imperative of the land claims agreement that we debated here in this House five weeks ago and of the self-government agreements that are being negotiated.
The Public Service Commissioner is going to have to be extremely knowledgeable with respect to the needs of all parties in these negotiations and be able to provide advice about how best to achieve certain goals and aspirations as communicated to that official by the parties to negotiations, and be able to respond to new initiatives that are coming from communities, and communities within communities. I am thinking particularly of things such as justice as responsive to community needs, whether it be for groups within large communities, such as is taking place, for example, at Kwanlin Dun - a circle court - or the needs of the small communities that are now crying out to be allowed to take command of their destiny and to be able to use the legal system in order to meet their requirements, in order to take control of the future and particularly in order to ensure that young people have a real chance when they do end up in a situation where they have broken the law, been brought before the courts and require some understanding and sensitivity to their cultural needs, their background, and sensitivity to the views of the entire community with respect to the individual young person.
These issues do not stop at justice. They are issues that have to do with health. Certainly, there is a move afoot to bring the administration of health, once we get through phase 2 of the health transfer process, within community control - and certainly community involvement into aspects of decision making in areas of health.
There has long been a demand from all communities in the Yukon to decentralize aspects of child welfare. Of course, we know that there have been some innovative things tried in such situations as the Champagne/Aishihik agreement on child welfare - the devolution of certain responsibilities to that band - and, more recently, and perhaps with a more modest beginning, a protocol agreement between the Kaska people of Ross River and the Department of Health and Social Services.
All of these areas require expertise and require reorganization and cannot be done solely by the department, the Minister and the deputy minister, because all of these issues and all of these directions require a response by this government as a corporation - a government-wide response.
All of these things impact upon the finances of government. All of these things reflect upon the integrity of government, as it relates to First Nations communities. All of these things are truly important because really what we are doing, as we grope along and make some innovative changes in the system and in programs, what we are really doing is redefining the very constitution of the social contract of the Yukon.
I would like to say that I, for one, am pleased with the direction that is being taken. We certainly do not, for a minute, want to pretend that it just started. Some initiatives were commenced by the former government. What is interesting now is that we are seeing government and communities moving in a building-block fashion. They are moving slowly, testing the practicality of what is being proposed and whether the changes are suitable to the individual community, the aims and aspirations of the people, and the goals of the government. They are fleshing out these areas that may, in future years, become entrenched in our constitution under self-government agreements, in some cases. That is much better, in my view, than the professor approach of trying to define the whole thing in negotiations, without regard to trying out some of the ideas to see if they work in the field. This is a much better way to go because it ensures a greater chance of success in the long run. At the same time, it requires dedicated people in the civil service with the requisite experience who understand the corporation that this government is, as well as the goals of this government. One of the most important players through this period is, and will continue to be, the Public Service Commissioner of this government.
I feel that when one looks at all of the areas that the official must take on, and when one looks at the true needs of this government and of that office of the Public Service Commissioner, to set up a recruitment process as is envisaged in Motion No. 36, would surely prove to be woefully inadequate.
Again, we say this because it focuses on the one problem. What is the problem? The problem is the issue of fairness and the person being quasi-judicial.
We have already said that we feel - in fact, we are sure - that that issue would be quickly resolved by simply - I am sure that it is going to happen soon - ensuring that the person has security of tenure close to the maximum period defined under the act, which is 10 years.
I will throw out some more questions that I have asked some of the Members here today; however, I am rather curious as to how recruitment would take place under this system and whether it would take place in a way that would not prove detrimental to good people coming forward. I am wondering what happens to the current situation where people apply for positions in confidence and that confidence is, in most cases, respected. Without that kind of assurance, I am really concerned that Yukoners would be the losers. I say that because having the appropriate person fill this job is fundamental to Yukons immediate future.
I would like to ask: is the Member contemplating people applying to the Legislature, and having a legislative committee interview the candidates? Is there some magic formula as to how it would be determined who would be best qualified? Would the issue be settled by a vote in the House? Would the hearings be public hearings as they are in the United States? Would there be the potential for extremely prejudicial questions being asked of applicants? Would there be all kinds of questions with respect to past political affiliations of the candidates?
These are all issues that deserve answers. I strongly suspect, no matter how the Member attempts to reassure us here, that the system envisaged in this motion will simply prove to be a bar to many qualified people coming forward.
The Member has spoken briefly about the issue of the office of ombudsperson. I suppose an initial reaction to what I have just said would be that it works for the office of ombudsperson so why would it not work for the Public Service Commissioner. In the event that issue is raised, I would have to once again suggest that we are looking at a very narrow view when we compare the ombudsperson to the position of Public Service Commissioner.
It seems to me that if one only looks at the quasi-judicial nature of the person and their abilities with respect to investigation and adjudication - the kind of rough and tumble that one sees in the system being proposed here, and as it at least works in the United States - it may not be a bad thing. When we do come forward with an ombudsperson bill, I would certainly carefully examine this proposal for that particular office in my recommendations to Cabinet. I can say that the person who does become the first ombudsperson in the Yukon is going to have to be a highly qualified person with a very thick skin - the skin of a rhinoceros - because that person will be extremely busy and engaged in running battles with people in the bureaucracy, day and night.
That person can easily carry on the responsibilities of the office and report to the Legislature, but is not not carrying out policy functions of a government and is there to adjudicate on the way government treats citizens in the Yukon. Therefore, that individual would perform exactly the same role under exactly the same, presumably statutory, guidelines, no matter which party might, from time to time, be in office.
One would not be expecting the government-of-the-day to be responsible for the actions of the ombudsperson under the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. That person could, quite comfortably, be appointed by the Legislative Assembly and responsible and report only to this body once a year, as is the case in most jurisdictions.
In my view, this is completely different from the role of the person who would be providing the 16 tasks that I outlined earlier, a person who will be heavily involved in carrying out the policy directives in the changing constitutional situation of the Yukon - the social contract being changed constantly under the guidance of, I hope, sensitive and well-accredited officials.
I think I am running out of questions to ask the hon. Member. I was sure I had a few more.
Speaker: I would like to advise the Member that if he wishes to conclude his remarks today, he has only two hours left.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was certainly hoping I did not hear the word filibuster from the side opposite. In the world of Mr. Grimm and his fairy tales, such a comment from the other side would ensure that the person would turn into a frog or toad under the spell of wicked people, and deservedly so.
I know that when I make these comments, they are from the heart. They are comments that are for the benefit of all Yukoners and our very important future together. I know, as well, that although I use up the limited time we have on Wednesday afternoons, I will not be maliciously preventing, in any way, the capital budget from being voted on, the capital projects going ahead, the contracts being tendered out to the contracting community and some 1,400 jobs being created.
Unlike Members on the side opposite, on this particular afternoon I can speak without endangering the job potential of Yukoners and without making it difficult, to say the least, for government to put out tenders at the appropriate time, in the appropriate way and in a way that will ensure that Ithe hard-earned money and limited funds of this government will be spent in a manner that will get the best value - not just good value - for the dollar.
In looking at the very important issue of how one does appoint the Public Service Commissioner, the concept of value for money is also one that we have to think about. We want to ensure that our money is spent well in this regard.
Those are my main points, and I certainly would not want to belabour any of them. I look forward to hearing from all Members in this House with respect to some of the important issues that have not been dealt with in this motion or by the opening remarks of the good Member for Riverside. I am a person who listens very carefully, and I can certainly be swayed - I am often swayed in this House by the eloquent speeches of some of the Members from the side opposite. This is a very historic occasion, being the first motion we have heard for some time in this place from the Liberal Party of the Yukon. I do not know whether in recent years they just have not had the courage to come forward with new ideas in this place, or perhaps it was just their absence from the House.
I am not sure, but we do hope, in supporting this display of will by the Member opposite, that he has many more chances to come forward with motions. If they come forward with a motion a first time and get burnt, that does not mean they should not jump right back up and put another motion on that Order Paper. It is very important that ones name appears on that paper. A lot of Yukoners read it and check it out every day to see just who is doing what around here, I am told.
I would be very concerned that the Member not make the sad mistake of joining the old NDP crowd there - the no-development party - in a non-confidence motion, because it would hurt me very deeply to see the Yukon go another four years without any Liberal motions. It is a party that is well known in the Yukon, and it is a party that most of us even know who the national leader is - Jean Chretien, I believe. In view of the opinion polls we see, where they are now second nationally and have a good chance of acquiring a few seats in the next election, it is very important that their views on important policy issues be heard in this House. There is no question that there are people who will be Liberals, no matter what ridicule that position might expose them to, and it is incredibly important that, in this House, we have the chance to hear the views of that party, with its very special philosophy, debated in these hallowed chambers.
In conclusion, may I commend the Member, the leader of the Liberal Party in the Yukon, for coming forward and finally giving us a taste of the unbending principles his party stands for. We hope that we will hear his views many times in the course of the next three and one-half years, and we also hope that he does not, through inadvertence or bad advice, terminate his relationship with this place and deny Yukoners the chance to hear views of the people in his party in the upcoming years.
With those few remarks, I will be happy to sit down and listen very carefully to the answers to the many questions this motion gives rise to.
Mr. Penikett: As some great sage among the legislative reporters said, This is Wednesday, so it must be Willard. I know what some of the younger Members here may not know and that is that the reason why the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes is so sentimental about the Liberal Party is that I am old enough to remember the days when he was an enthusiastic, devout and indeed passionate member of that party. In fact, I can remember him just lathering himself up into an incredible froth and sweat on behalf of a certain candidate for the federal Liberal nomination once. He was just about working himself to death trying to prevent one Dr. Branigan from getting the Liberal nomination.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: An hon. Member is heckling me. It is true that the former Member of Parliament for Yukon, the Hon. Erik Nielsen, had sufficient respect for my political skills that he did ask, indeed offer to pay me, to work for him. My parents are still alive and I do have to live with them and respect their teachings and that would have been an impossible task for me to perform. I am sure my father and mother would never have spoken to me again if they thought I was going to be working for the forces of darkness, decay, reaction and oppression - and people who were contrary to everything my parents believed in.
I want to say in beginning my short remarks this afternoon, it is always a challenge to follow Willard Filibuster in one of these debates, since, while many of his thoughts are quite provocative, his manner is quite sleep inducing. In fact, you would almost describe his speaking style as somnolent. The person following him always has a bit of a challenge in attempting to wake up and enliven the assembly. I will attempt to do that in addressing the very modest proposal of the Leader of the Liberal party.
I must say, in passing, I have to refer to another tired attempt from the side opposite to misrepresent the views of this side. I am slowly learning that in the face of the new government I am going to have to be less poetic. I understand that the Member opposite took objection to my using what would be called poetic allusions in one of my speeches the other day, and I want to assure the Member that the three allusions - the one to his being a woman, the one to his being a physician and the one to his being a witch doctor - all had entirely separate sources. The first was that the administrator, Mrs. Whyard, referred to the desirability of having women Ministers of Health, which was the source of one illusion. In that same same 24-hour period, he did offer to this House medical advice, which I do not think he is qualified to give, but the Member said that we should take certain pills - Tylenol - assuming for himself the role of physician. In the same 24-hour period he had also promised to do the impossible, which is spend $14 million on a new hospital that he is not going to start until December - therefore, I think, assuming for himself the magical powers of a witch doctor. The Member may not know this, but witch doctors are not necessarily female; in fact the only witch that I know, Mr. Robin Skelton, a famous Canadian poet, is a man.
Let me say in all seriousness, while I think every man in this House could probably take lessons from women on equality and lessons from the feminist movement, I do not think I need to take lessons on the rights of human beings from the Member opposite who once suggested that if the Human Rights Act passed we would need separate washrooms for gays. I have always regarded the Member as quite wrong-headed on that subject, but I digress; the motion before us is a very important motion.
I think the motive for presenting this motion is highly commendable, because, if you will pardon me for saying so, Mr. Speaker, I think the Members opposite have been unforgivably Patrician in their behaviour with respect to the Cummings and goings of the Public Service Commissioners. It is my view that it is, and was, a scandalous situation to appoint a Public Service Commissioner for six months.
It is claimed in this House that the term was consented to by the person involved. You will have to call me a skeptic on that score, because I have done some hiring in my time and I doubt very much if you are about to offer a person a job - which they have been seeking - and say, well, it is only for six months, that they would say no, I want it for a longer period, knowing that all of the bargaining power in the situation is on the side of the employer. The concern of this House is an appropriate concern about what political pressure would be put on someone who is in a job for only six months.
Someone who has a temporary appointment is extremely vulnerable to political pressure, even if we know - as in this case - that the person is a person of absolutely unquestioned integrity and principle and a loyal and capable public servant. The fact of the matter is that someone who is appointed for six months can be leaned on and threatened. Since we have already had complaints about political interference in the hiring process, and complaints about political intimidation by Members opposite with respect to junior staff and their rights to express themselves politically, the kind of concern we have expressed about the temporary six-month appointment of the Public Service Commissioner is entirely legitimate.
It is a situation that should never have occurred, and the fact that it has been ratified by making it a long-term appointment after the fact still leaves a bad taste in our mouths, because we have to have serious questions and concerns about what happened during the six-month period.
The Liberal Party has presented a motion here in an attempt to address this rather awful situation. We agree that the problem they are trying to address is a serious one; however, in my few remarks, I want to raise certain questions. I will not suggest that, subject to what the Liberal leader may say in his closing remarks, I believe there may be some confusion in the principles proposed in this motion.
The first is that, in my view, there is some confusion in the body of the motion between the role of the executive branch and the role of the legislative branch in our system of government. Secondly, the Members motion suggests some confusion between the realm of policy making and the realm of administrative decision making. Thirdly, I think there is a confusion between the role played in a parliamentary system by the Legislature, and the role played in a congressional system, like the Americans, by the Legislature.
Finally, I want to say to the Liberal Party, and to the MLA who is the author of this motion, that his concern about the potential politicization of the public service function of staffing, recruitment, disciplining, promotion, and all the activities of the Public Service Commission, is a legitimate one, but putting the decision about who will be hired into this Legislature does not depoliticize it, but exacerbates the problem of politicization.
Those are the points I am going to make in my speech. I would like to begin by again reading into the record the text of the motion proposed by the Member, because the text states quite clearly the problems the Member is trying to address, as well as indicates the problems in the solution that is suggested.
The first part of the motion I want to address is that the Public Service Act is an act that does not govern the activities of this Legislature. It guarantees the activities of, if you like, the personnel branch of this relatively large entity of the Yukon public service. In other words, it is for the people who work for the executive branch of the government, not the legislative branch. The administrative head of that branch is called the public service commissioner. It is true that the public service commissioner is a deputy minister but, as another Member said, they are a deputy minister with a difference.
The differences, though, are not just those described by the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes; there are others. The Public Service Commissioner, unlike all deputies, does not just serve at pleasure. The Public Service Commissioner, alone of all deputies, has tenure. The reason for this is to remove the Public Service Commissioner from any potential influence or pressure by politicians or, for that matter, senior colleagues in the public service to hire, fire, promote or not promote people within the public service.
The motion presented by the Liberal Member goes on to talk about this person being appointed by the Executive Council, which is the situation now. Our government was never fortunate enough to appoint a Public Service Commissioner during our time, since we inherited a commissioner from the previous government, and the process of appointing a new one fell to our successors. However, it was clearly contemplated in the legislation that was passed in the Legislature between 1978 or 1979 and 1982 that the newly responsible Cabinet would make the decision about who the Public Service Commissioner was. That was appropriate, because the Cabinet, even under the act quoted by the Member for Riverside, can and must give policy direction to the Public Service Commissioner. The Public Service Commissioner has administrative sway, is the senior manager, and carries out administrative, investigative and adjudicative functions, but is a public official in every sense of the word. Policy direction comes from the government-of-the-day.
It is conceded by the Liberal Member in his proposal that the Executive Council should make the final appointment but he goes on to suggest that the actual nomination or recommendation should come from the Legislative Assembly. The argument, I gather, is that if the Legislative Assembly has a debate or a resolution to appoint or recommend someone then this will ensure that there is an all-party agreement on the person who is being nominated and that this persons independence in their role will be protected.
Of course, their independence is not as a policy maker, their independence is as an administrator and an adjudicator. While this Legislature, as in all legislatures in the parliamentary system, is empowered to make policy debates, it is not within our power to make administrative decisions or adjudicative ones most of the time. It is quite within our power to question the executive about administrative decisions as we do about policy decisions. It is quite reasonable for us to ask a Minister about some adjudicate process. It is not for us to involve ourselves in those processes.
However the motion presented by the Liberal leader goes on to suggest that not only must this prospective Public Service Commissioner have to pass the test of being approved by the majority of all Members in the House but they must meet an extremely onerous test, never before suggested in this House for any appointment, that the approval be unanimous.
In the Public Government Act - an excellent piece of legislation, which I would enjoy discussing later today, if we have a chance - there is a proposal that a conflicts commissioner, and officer of the House, and an information commissioner, and officer of the House, meet an extremely onerous test of having the approval, I think, of two-thirds of the Members of the House. The reason for the two-thirds number was, in looking through history, since we have had party politics in this territory, there never has been a party that had two-thirds of the Members. We wanted a guarantee that there would at least be a super majority in favour of some appointment.
Both of those people, the conflicts commissioner and the information commissioner, would be servants of the House - not public servants, not officials of the government, not employees of the executive branch but part-time servants of the Legislature. It is quite appropriate for the Legislature to have a role in their selection. It is quite appropriate for the Legislature to decide that they could only be appointed by a two-thirds majority.
To say that a Public Service Commissioner would have to be appointed by a unanimous vote is to give, I say with the greatest of respect to the Liberal party, enormous power to to small parties.
It would, in fact, amount to a veto by a one-member caucus. I can understand the desirability of that from the point of view of a leader of a one-member caucus. The Liberal leader will understand that I have been in that position and I would have, frankly, lusted after such power for the time I was in that role, but I never even got a taste of it, to be perfectly frank, so limited was the participation of my party in policy-making decisions at the time.
The point is, though, that if there is a one-party caucus or one Member who can essentially veto the appointment of a Public Service Commissioner, it seems to me that there is the potential for strangulation. There is the potential, indeed, for somebody of a personality less attractive than the Member for Riverside to insist, in the future, that the Public Service Commissioner be someone they personally approve of, someone who may be their friend, someone who in fact agrees with their party philosophy.
A Conservative government might be elected that was absolutely opposed to the principle of pay equity or employment equity or any form of affirmative action, and the Liberal Party might one day decide that those were policies they thoroughly agreed with and they wanted a Public Service Commissioner who would deliver those policies even in the face of a government, which had the right to govern, which had a totally different view.
It seems to me that that is an untenable position. I am not a conservative and I do not agree with most of their philosophy even though the Government Leader in the last few days has indicated he has not changed any of our policies in the Executive Council Office apart from putting the decentralization policy on hold. At least, in terms of his public utterances, I am not a philosophical conservative; I do not agree with where the conservatives opposite want to take the territory. But, as a democrat, I respect fundamentally their right to do so as long as they can command a majority in this House. It seems to me it would be the very opposite of democracy to have a situation where one Member, or a one-member caucus or a party consisting of one member, could frustrate the will of the majority, could frustrate the legitimate wishes of the government to set a policy in the personnel field, and perhaps prevent the government from appointing a Public Service Commissioner at all.
I know enough about the way bureaucracies work to know that they would manage in that situation; things would just roll along like the Mississippi, and business would get done, and there would be an acting Public Service Commissioner. In fact, all there would be is a legislative deadlock - a gridlock. Nothing of consequence would change in the way the bureaucracy operated, but one would have the potentially dangerous situation, if that continued, of a government being able to put incredible pressure, should they wish, on an acting or temporary appointment during the period when the Legislature was unable to successfully conclude or reach unanimous agreement on the new Public Service Commissioner. In other words, one could have created exactly the kind of situation the Liberal leader wants to avoid.
There may be other opportunities to do this, but let me say something of my own views on the relationship between Ministers and deputies. It has usually been argued in this House that personnel matters - the detail of personnel matters, not the fact that someone was hired or fired - should not be the subject of public debate - at least in terms of the particulars about why someone was fired.
I think we established long ago in this House that we can ask questions about what kind of pay range someone was in, why they were hired, why they were fired and what they did before. I do notice the government has provided me today with a long list of answers to a set of questions in which they provide me with no answers at all. I will get back to that later.
The trouble is, while wanting to protect a system where we have some privacy about personnel matters, in other words that they are done objectively, professionally and fairly by Public Service Commission employees under the direction of the Public Service Commissioner, by making the appointment of a Public Service Commissioner herself, the subject of a highly public debate here, it seems to me we do the very opposite of what I suspect the Liberal leader would want to have done in respect of all other personnel matters. In other words, they would not become part of the public political process. They must be private, professional, efficient and fair processes governed by the highest standards of integrity according to the Public Service Act.
The other problem I have is with the notion that by making something the subject of all-party agreements, it becomes apolitical. I fundamentally disagree with that analysis. It seems to me that something can be partisan, in other words, by definition, coloured by the views of one party. There can be a decision that is bi-partisan, which is a decision that is shared by the views of two parties. That term is often used in the United States and refers to a situation where both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party agree on some major decision, usually about external matters.
You can also have a situation in Canada, as we did around the famous Charlottetown Accord, where there was multi-party agreement on the provisions respecting aboriginal self-government, or some of the other parts of that agreement. Nobody ever suggested that a multi-party agreement, any more than a bi-partisan agreement, or simply a partisan agreement, was apolitical. In my view, a multi-party agreement is just as political, perhaps even more political, than a partisan agreement. I do not believe that you can make something non-political by putting it in the hands of politicians. There are many nasty and unflattering things about politicians. There are many things said about politicians that are not true, but the one thing about politicians is that they are, by definition, political. What they do is political. What they say is political. What they think is political. How they decide questions is political. To put the decision about appointing a Public Service Commissioner in the hands of all politicians in this House not only makes it perhaps even more political than it might be in the hands of a Cabinet, but it makes it doubly political because it is public and subject to public debate. All sorts of issues may get involved in the appointment of the Public Service Commissioner that would never be part of or given consideration in the proper routine as carried out under our law.
It has been suggested by the Liberal leader that we could have a situation like the one operating in British Columbia, with respect to the appointment of its ombudsperson.
My view is that the two offices are fundamentally different. An ombudsperson, an auditor general, an information commissioner and a conflicts commissioner, are all servants of the Legislature; the positions exist to serve a legislative function. The ombudsperson is someone to whom citizens can go to as if the person were a surrogate legislature, to complain about activities of the executive branch, not the legislative branch. The auditor general is someone who audits the activities of the executive branch on behalf of the Legislature. The conflicts commissioner is someone who looks at the conflicts of legislators, but also other people who may be in the government or have certain dealings with the government following a period of employment in the government. All of these people are servants of the Legislature and it is absolutely, inescapably the duty of the Legislature to make those appointments, one way or another.
The Public Service Commissioner is a profoundly different office. We want the person to be apolitical, not political. We want them to be neutral, rather than partisan. We want them to be professional, rather than amateur - I do not mean to use the word amateur as a reflection or a criticism of Members of the Legislature because in the American theory of citizen legislators, we are all amateurs here; there are no professionals; there is no such thing as a professional politician; we are all people who have temporarily left some other occupation in order to spend time here, and then return later to what I call real life.
The Public Service Commissioner is the head of the personnel branch of the executive of the government - in other words, the executive, which includes, in the British parliamentary system, the Cabinet and all of the civil service. The Public Service Commissioner is not accountable to the Legislature, and my view is that the chain of accountability, is very, very important.
In our system, a public servant, even the Public Service Commissioner, any deputy, like every other deputy, reports to a Minister. The Minister is accountable to the House, and the Legislature is, individually and collectively, accountable to the public. There is nowhere in the British system of Cabinet government that I know of where a public servant, even a senior one in the executive branch, is accountable to anyone other than a Minister, except in those rare occasions when the Legislature may be performing an audit function and deputies may come and report to or advise something like the public accounts body. Even then, they are not accountable to the Public Accounts Committee in the sense that it can hire and fire them, promote them, reprimand them or evaluate them.
We have to understand that even if there is an absolutely squeaky clean Public Service Commissioner - as I think we have now - who will follow the letter of the law absolutely with respect to their duties under the act, that person is still accountable to the Cabinet-of-the-day in respect to policy direction. If the Cabinet-of-the-day wants to pursue an employment-equity policy, they have the right to do that and to insist that the Public Service Commissioner carry it out, as long as they have budgeted to do it and have the necessary legislative approvals. If the Cabinet of the day happens to be a right-wing one and does not want to follow an employment-equity program, they have the right to insist that the Public Service Commissioner stop doing it.
It is irrelevant, I say with the greatest of respect, whether or not the Public Service Commissioner themselves believe in employment equity. If the Public Service Commissioner believes strongly in employment equity, for example, and the government does not, the Public Service Commissioner may want to leave on a question of principle - resign. That, too, is an appropriate course of action for a deputy who does not like or cannot accept the policy direction from the government-of-the-day.
There is a big difference between the policy role in government and the administrative role. Policy makers, in the government at least, are the Cabinet. They are accountable for the policies they make to the Legislature. Cabinet Ministers are responsible, too, for the administrative decisions the deputies make. Sometimes Cabinet Ministers muck around in the administrative decisions. When they do that, they will usually get their wrists slapped by the Legislature, when and if it finds out.
It is clearly understood that the policy role is a ministerial role. The administrative role is the deputys role - the public servants role. The Public Service Commissioner should be protected not from policy direction, but from interference in their administrative and adjudicative role by the Cabinet or any other Member of the Legislature or, for that matter, any senior colleague in the process. That is why the person has tenure. They must be immune from that kind of pressure.
The problem is that if one involves oneself in the process of the Legislature hiring public servants, which is unprecedented in the British system, one is really in danger of demonstrating a misunderstanding of the way our system works. I am not suggesting our system is perfect, but that is the way it functions.
That would be treading down the road to the congressional system, where there is a separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch. In the United States, with respect to Supreme Court justices, the Senate has to advise and consent the present nominates, and they will hold hearings. The process can be quite painful, as we all saw with the Judge Thomas and Judge Bork hearings in the last couple of years. I do not say this unkindly, but the kind of answers the Government Leader gave me today in questions about the work background, and so forth, of certain appointees of his would have been totally unacceptable in the American system. The Senators would have demanded to know the work history, and have the right to get it, and they would have refused to confirm the appointment until such time as they were given satisfactory information about the political background, the work experience and the qualifications of candidates for a senior position, for a Cabinet post, for a post in the Supreme Court, and for many senior positions in a new administration. In Washington, they are going through this process now with the election of a new president. There are literally thousands of appointees, many of whom are subject to Senate approval.
With rare exceptions, the Senate has conducted those reviews in a fairly professional way, according to their likes, yet I think that most Canadians would not want to see us ever get into the kind of hearings they had with Judge Thomas or Judge Bork. The last person in the world they would want to see those kind of hearings around would be the appointment of a Public Service Commissioner.
Let me suggest, with the greatest of respect, that someone who could pass the political test of getting the approval of not just one party, but two and perhaps three or four parties, in a legislature for an appointment like this may be so anemic a personality, so flexible or charismatic that they may have the kind of qualities that one would not want in a Public Service Commissioner, where someone who might be the professional manager with a background in personnel, who is perhaps not a colourful or effective orator, not someone who would star at the witness table, not someone who would impress the Members of this House with their glamour or elocution, but someone who their colleagues in the public service would be satisfied with their impartiality, fairness, professionalism and integrity.
We talked about employment equity, and one has to admit that the new government has, at least, demonstrated a commitment to employment equity in one respect - two of the four deputies who were fired were women.
I guess that is a sign of fairness, but the Government Leader will understand when I say that, while he has declined - perhaps in some ways appropriately - from answering questions about it, that is just a hint of the kind of debate or discussion that would go on if this Legislature were actually seized of the responsibility of having to appoint a Public Service Commissioner. Consider the process: Where would the nominees come from? I have worked with the senior public service, and I know they are absolutely appalled most of the time when they appear here as witnesses. Sometimes, they are horrified at the process we put ourselves through about budgets. There are not very many of them who would want to put themselves through the rigours of a legislative approval process such as operates in the United States.
I have no idea how much time I have left. I have quite a few more points to make, but I do not want to wear out your patience, Mr. Speaker.
I have an indication that I have four minutes left, so let me just make this point: having expressed all my concerns - to which I hope the Liberal leader will respond in his closing comments, because I would very much like to vote for this motion if I could be persuaded that the Liberal leader has addressed some of my concerns - I think there is the germ of a very good idea in what he suggests. The reason I say that is because there is a practice in Britain, at the Mother of Parliaments, which is not well known and is this: when the Prime Minister there has to appoint a new Cabinet Secretary who, in Britain, is the head of the public service and carries out all the personnel functions that the Public Service Commissioner does in ours, there is a long tradition there that the Prime Minister must consult with the Leader of the Opposition. Why is that? It is because the Cabinet Secretary there is involved in hiring all the deputies and senior officials. The Cabinet Secretary there is usually there until they retire. Once they are appointed, they are there until they retire.
It is assumed in the British system, correctly, that, in a parliamentary system, governments change periodically. People in Opposition go into government, and vice versa. Therefore, there is a convention there that, when one is appointing the head of the public service, there must be not public, but private, consultation between the two major parties in the House, so that there is some understanding that the person to be appointed head of the public service is a satisfactory appointment for both of the parties that are likely to be in government during the period until that person retires.
That is a reasonable, practical, sensible arrangement, which guarantees at least the respect of the head of the public service in Britain - the person who will do most of the hiring and firing - and that it will not be turned into a total partisan cabal in the upper reaches.
That is, of course, a different proposal from the one made by the Liberal leader, but there is some, at least intellectual, affinity between the two proposals, although they are not the same. I sincerely hope that the Liberal leader, in responding to my comments and those of other colleagues here, will be able to answer our concerns and be sufficiently persuasive in his closing remarks that we will all be able to vote for some version - perhaps an amended one - of his motion.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I must admit that someone snuck my name onto this list. I was not going to elaborate on this in any great detail, but I also question the merits of this motion. I was totally impressed by the words of wisdom from my colleague, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes.
Being a rural Member, I cannot help but appreciate the carefully laid out concerns of the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes. I am sure that much of the discussion he gave gives us a better understanding of the importance of the role the Public Service Commissioner plays in all of our lives.
I personally have enough confidence in our political leaders that I feel that they will use discretion and judgment in the appointing of this Commissioner. I also feel that the existing legislation adequately covers the parameters that we have to work within and ensures that this is done with a great deal of integrity and that this person operates in the best interest of Yukoners.
I have found the debate interesting in that it has given me a better understanding of the role that the Public Service Commissioner actually plays. Normally I thought of it much as someone hiring people for a factory or a sawmill. I have been involved in that. Another interesting aspect that the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes brought up was employment equity and some of those issues. Being the father of three daughters who are also in the work force, it is very important to our family that these things are dealt with. I must admit that I know my daughters are very capable of sticking up for themselves, but I am sure at times it is important that there is some discretion used in ensuring that young women are given the proper opportunities to advance in the workforce within government.
I really do not have an awful lot to say on the subject. I will be voting against the motion because I am satisfied that our existing act deals with this matter adequately.
Mr. McDonald: I will take the opportunity to say a few words because I do care enough about the issue to address the remarks made by the mover of the motion. I, like the Members who have spoken so far, at least my colleague for Whitehorse West, feel that there was sufficient reason for there to be a concern raised in the House in the first instance. When the so-called legislative branch discovered that the one deputy minister who had been appointed for a short term was the Public Service Commissioner, we suspected that there were probably some reasons for that, and probably bad reasons.
Typically, the appointments of new deputy ministers does take place upon transition from one government to the next. Typically, most deputy ministers are appointed to their positions at pleasure. In the case of most other deputy ministers, there is the assumption that if the deputy minister fails to follow the political direction of the Minister, that deputy minister may suffer a number of consequences, including dismissal.
In the case of the Public Service Commissioner, the assumptions are quite different. The Public Service Commissioner, in law - as a couple of Members have pointed out - is a position unlike other deputy ministers.
As the Member for Riverside has demonstrated in his reading of the Public Service Act, this position is somewhat schizophrenic in that it plays a number of different roles. Those roles are normally encompassed within the framework of normal administrative duties, the normal duties of the deputy minister and to ensure, through its responsibilities under the Public Service Act, that there is integrity and independence when it comes to hiring persons for the public service.
Quite frankly, we have heard some disturbing rumours about political interference about the selection of some persons into the lower levels of the public service, by Ministers in the current government.
It is only when we are convinced that the Public Service Commissioner is appointed in a manner anticipated by the act, that we can be certain that the independence and integrity of that position will ensure fairness when it comes to government recruitment practices.
Unfortunately, we heard in Question Period and through other sources that the position of the Public Service Commissioner was going to be maintained for a six-month period - the only such short-term appointment in the government.
This caused us to express some concerns that during a period of transition when there is naturally upheaval in the public service, and during a period when the government had indicated there were going to be some significant changes made to the policies in government - they expressed concerns about various personnel policies - they had made statements about layoffs.
I think it was a legitimate concern that the short-term appointment of the Public Service Commissioner was to send a signal, not to the legislators, but to the Public Service Commissioner, that if the person wanted to maintain their position for any length of time for a normal period of five or 10 years - a period of time that we are all somewhat used to - then he or she had better toe the line, irrespective of what kind of political direction they were receiving respecting recruitment practices.
I think every Member has said so far that they have no problems with the incumbent in the position of Public Service Commissioner, and I would like to join that chorus indicating that I think the current Public Service Commissioner is a person of great integrity and would follow the law, irrespective of what direction she might be receiving from political masters.
There should be no question that this motion, in any way, has anything to do with the actual incumbent in the position, but primarily to do with ensuring that the incumbent can act purely with integrity and without illegitimate pressure by political leaders.
I, like the Member for Watson Lake, do not have a great deal to add to the remarks made this afternoon. Certainly, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes was entertaining and every once in a while, he actually spoke on the subject of this motion. When he did, he said some valuable things.
I was most interested in the comments made by the mover of the motion in the first instance. As I said at the beginning, the general intent of the motion, which I understand to be to ensure that the Public Service Commissioner, as a servant of the executive branch and as a person who is meant to be a buffer between the political vagaries and pressures of the moment and the professional workings of the public service, should behave in an appropriate manner. The concern that has been expressed by the Member for Riverside is a legitimate concern, but I do not believe, like other Members, it has been resolved in the body of the motion that has been presented today for many of the reasons that have already been mentioned.
I do believe that this person must not be intimidated by those who would wield undue political interference in such things as recruitment. This person is also responsible for a number of other areas that are very clearly the primary responsibility of the Cabinet, particularly in policy areas, and is responsible for carrying out those policies. The chain of accountability, in my view, must be clear.
In the area of training, negotiating contracts, administering collective agreements and the various personnel policies that Cabinet will approve from time to time, that person must understand that they are accountable to their Minister and that the Minister is accountable to other elected people. That is one principle that should not be muddied; it should be maintained absolutely in our Legislature.
It is interesting that one of the things that the Americans in the Alaska State Legislature like the most about our system is that a person who is responsible for policy direction within the department, and who can make things happen in the department, is also the elected person who must answer to other elected persons in the Legislature. There is considerable frustration often expressed by Alaskan state legislators that they behave, in some instances, like a municipal council. As legislators, they approve policies, but are only able to question the true leaders in the departments - the commissioners - on the rarest of occasions, and that separation of policy and the ability to carry out policy is a matter of some irritation.
I do like the ability, in this Legislature, to be able to question the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission about personnel policies. I expect that that Minister has the ability to get things done if we are in agreement that something should happen. The Public Service Commissioner should feel compelled to carry out policy direction from the Minister and the Cabinet, as well as this Legislature. There should never be an opportunity for that person to believe that, somehow, they are responsible to somebody other than the Minister and the Cabinet.
Having been a line Minister for some seven and one-half years, I know from personal experience that, from time to time, it can be quite a frustrating thing to ensure that the deputy ministers do precisely what is wished. From time to time, and it is certainly not the case with the majority of deputy ministers I have worked with, it would have been an intolerable situation if a deputy minister felt truly only to be responsible to the Legislature and not to the executive branch or me, as a line Minister, the person who has been charged with the responsibility for answering for that department in this Legislature.
I, like the other Members, have some difficulty with the solution being proposed by the Member for Riverside, although I do appreciate the sentiment from which this measure has evolved. I feel that the current situation we are faced with, with respect to the Public Service Commissioner and that persons term, could have been handled better.
I will allow others to speak. I will not carry on at great length. I am sure others have lots to say.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: With respect to comments made by the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes linking the wearing of glasses to immoral activities, I too wear glasses though I do not as a practice read erotic literature. I believe the Members simile is wrong. I understand that readers of this type of material normally have a hair-loss problem.
I am not as wise as these lawyer guys but in this House, and among the few of us, I must admit to having read some of Yukon and Canada acts, which brings me to the points I would like to make. While there may be some merits in the motion by the Member for Riverside, I have to disagree with an appointment being made by Cabinet on recommendations from the Legislative Assembly.
In order to make the recommendation, the Assembly would need to conduct some sort of information-gathering session, which would be held in public. I have no desire to see someone who may be employed by the Yukon government for 10 or more years being subject to a public grilling similar to the ones we periodically see on television when a United States supreme court judge is chosen. The process is demeaning and bares the very soul of the candidate. While basic honesty is only one of the requirements for the position of Public Service Commissioner, I cannot support putting any individual on display for the entertainment of the public.
The Member for Riverside admitted to reading the Public Service Act, but he did not comment on the obvious intent of that act nor if it is his feeling that the act should be amended to change that intent. Section 2 of the Act states, The Commissioner in Executive Council has the management and direction of the public service. It states quite clearly that Cabinet is the supreme authority with respect to the management of the public service.
This section implies, then, that the Public Service Commissioner is responsible to Cabinet. Section 6 of the act furthers this argument where it states: The Public Service Commissioner shall, subject to the general direction of the Executive Council Member,... [and we could read that Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission] be responsible for the administration of this Act, the regulations and any policy established pursuant thereto.
If the Public Service Commissioner were to be appointed in accordance with the Member for Riversides motion, that individual would have a real or perceived responsibility to the Legislative Assembly and not to Cabinet. I do not believe that that is the intent of the act nor the intent of the Member for Riverside nor of the previous government; therefore, I cannot support the motion.
Ms. Moorcroft: I rise to speak to the motion to amend the Public Service Act to change the method of hiring the Public Service Commissioner. The proposal before us is that a special committee of the Legislative Assembly must unanimously endorse a candidate, at which time the Commissioner in Executive Council appoints the successful candidate.
I am sympathetic to the problems of potential political interference recently created by the temporary six-month appointment of the present Public Service Commissioner, and agree that this needs to be resolved; however, the proposed legislative appointment of the Public Service Commissioner also raises a number of questions. Is the special committee an all-party committee of the Legislature? Who decides the membership of the special committee? What happens if the committee fails to reach unanimous decision on the person to be appointed? This could create the potential for one member to block the appointment of the Public Service Commissioner, which is an important position to be filled. How much more would this method of hiring a Public Service Commissioner cost?
The motion also does not address how the Public Service Commissioner would be removed from office, if that were necessary; or how would the Public Service Commissioner be evaluated?
The Member for Riverside, in sponsoring this motion, referred to the ombudsperson legislation in British Columbia. I would note, as my colleague before me, that the role of an ombudsperson, who advocates on behalf of citizens who are encountering problems with government departments, is very different from the role of the senior public servant, the Public Service Commissioner, who administers government personnel policies and practices.
The Minister of Justice has already read into the record the powers and responsibilities of the Public Service Commission so I will not reiterate them, irrespective of the favoured style in this Assembly to repeat, repeat, repeat; rhetoric, rhetoric, rhetoric.
Although I favour brevity, it is important to recognize the significant responsibilities that the Public Service Commission holds. The most important issue at stake here is the issue of accountability. The role of the Public Service Commission is to provide corporate personnel services to the Government of the Yukon. The Public Service Commissioner is, in essence, a deputy ministers position accountable to the Minister, who is accountable to Cabinet and, ultimately, to the Legislature.
Hiring a deputy minister is a responsibility of the government, as deputy ministers work to implement the policy direction from Ministers. The Public Service Act presently allows for the appointment of a Public Service Commissioner for up to 10 years to prevent the politicization of this position. A six-month appointment raises the spectre of potential political interference with the work of the commissioner in upholding a fair hiring process, among other important duties.
I want to be perfectly clear that I consider the present commissioner to be a qualified candidate and a woman of integrity. It is not fair to her that the government has failed to provide reasonable job security for that position, thus allowing for the possibility of a perception of attempted bias in the diverse and important work of the department in charge of personnel. I believe the present commissioner should be confirmed in the position for at least a five-year term, so that continuity in that position is maintained throughout at least one subsequent election process.
The Minister of Justice himself indicated that a ready solution would be to appoint the present Public Service Commissioner for a longer term. I would urge the Minister to bring the full weight of the Independent Party for Ross River-Southern Lakes and its hordes of members to bear on the Government Leader to effect this solution.
The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes talked about promoting competent women. I am not surprised that we share those views. The Minister of Justice also spoke about very special rights for women. I do not advocate special rights for women. I only demand equality for women, and that makes me a feminist. Women demand and deserve equal status, equal pay, equal access to jobs and promotions, equal respect and equal freedom from violence, but I will not claim equal time with the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes today in speaking to the important issue of justice and equality for all women of all races.
Unfortunately, I missed some of what the honourable gentleman opposite had to say when he launched into his diatribe against feminists. One thing I am learning in this House, besides repeat, repeat, repeat, is that any issue can be addressed at any time. The most tenuous connections to the motion at hand can result in a 70-minute oration. I will no doubt respond to the Ministers comments in the fullness of time.
By hiring the Public Service Commissioner through the Legislature, this motion creates a potential precedent for the politicization of the hiring process of deputy ministers. I would like the Member for Riverside to address this concern in his concluding remarks. I think it is important to maintain an arms-length relationship between the Legislature and the public service, including the Public Service Commissioner. There is also a need to ensure that the Public Service Commissioner can respond to government policy direction and is not compromised by being appointed by the Legislature.
If the legislative branch takes control of the hiring process for the Public Service Commissioner, I would also ask what criteria would be used for hiring into that position.
The Public Service Commission must continue to assist managers in acquiring the best qualified candidate for public service jobs through a simple, understandable and timely staffing process. Due to the fact that this position must ensure the integrity of the staffing process, it cannot be political, or even be seen to be political.
The Public Service Commissioner ensures that the merit system is used and that no government hires its political friends, bends rules on policy in order to hire friends, or otherwise circumvents policy.
One of the most important goals of the Public Service Commission is to support the attainment of a workforce, representative of the Yukon population. Under the goal of employment equity, the Commission coordinates and monitors the equitable representation of women, aboriginal people and people with disabilities at all levels and employment categories of the government workforce to achieve a representative public service.
Similarly, government policy for the re-integration of disabled employees is a policy for which the Minister should be able to hold the Public Service Commissioner responsible. I would hope all Ministers who hold this portfolio, past, present or future, would share these goals.
Accountability to the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission could be at risk if the Public Service Commissioner is hired by the Legislature. I would ask the Member for Riverside to assure me that, somehow, the significant change in policy - to move responsibility for hiring the Public Service Commissioner away from the executive branch of government to the legislative branch - is a wise move that is warranted in this case.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Motion No. 36, which we have before us today says, It is the opinion of this House that the Public Service Act should be amended to provide that the Public Service Commissioner shall be appointed by the Commissioner and Executive Council, on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly, and to further provide the Legislative Assembly shall not recommend a person to be appointed Public Service Commissioner unless a special committee of the Legislative Assembly has unanimously recommended to the Legislative Assembly that the person be appointed.
Unfortunately, this is a motion that I will not be able to support. The motion before us is the first motion that has been presented by the Member and our colleague for Riverside. I hope that the Member for Riverside will not be offended by the rejection of his motion here today.
I gave some thought, when I first read this motion, to proposing some sort of an amendment to make it acceptable to the House. But the process that is suggested in the motion is simply not one that I believe would work in the current system of government that we have in the Yukon.
Before I speak to the merits of this motion, I would like to discuss the current process of appointing a Public Service Commissioner. Section 5(1) of the Public Service Act states, The public service commissioner shall be appointed by the Commissioner in Executive Council to hold office for an initial period of not exceeding ten years from the date of the appointment and shall be eligible for reappointment.
The act also deals with how the Public Service Commissioner can be removed. Section 5(2) of the Public Service Act states, The Commissioner in Executive Council may, by order, remove the public service commissioner from office prior to the end of the period of his appointment only for cause and only after (a) the circumstances respecting the cause are first inquired into, and (b) the public service commissioner is given reasonable notice of the time and place for the inquiry and is afforded an opportunity, by himself or his counsel, of being heard and cross-examining the witnesses and of producing evidence on his own behalf.
Section 5(c) states, For the purpose of making an inquiry under subsection (2), the Commissioner in Executive Council shall appoint a superior court judge who shall make the enquiry and a report thereon and who has the power to summon and enforce the attendance of any person to give evidence under oath and to produce such documents as the judge may require.
(4)The Commissioner in Executive Council may suspend the public service commissioner pending the results of an inquiry under this section.
(5) The Executive Council Member shall cause the order and the report referred to in this section to be laid before the Legislative Assembly within 15 days after the order has been made or if the Legislative Assembly is not then sitting, on any of the first 15 days next thereafter that the Legislative Assembly is sitting.
It is my position that the system we have in place today is fair to all parties. It protects the incumbent in the position of Public Service Commissioner from being summarily dismissed and gives the Legislature the opportunity to assure itself that the person is not being dismissed solely for political reasons.
This particular issue came to light primarily as a result of the short-term, six-month appointment to the Public Service Commissioner position. Others in this House have spoken today about the integrity of the person who is currently in that job. I also remind Members that it is the intention of the Government Leader through statements in this House to very shortly extend the tenure of the individual in that position.
Those of us who know the individual in that position will know she has a great deal of integrity and respect within the public service of the Yukon; she has worked in that area for many, many years and has the respect of all individuals working for this government, and has never been seen by anyone to be political in any way, shape or form. That individual is the type of person who is well suited to the job of Public Service Commissioner of the territory and I would support any extension of that individuals contract or tenure for this government because she is the type of person the Yukon wants in that particular job.
There may be some paranoia, for one reason or another from the side opposite, that the tenure is so short, but we do not get to discuss personnel matters in this House. Maybe, just maybe, one of the reasons why the tenure is short is that there may have been some requests from the individual involved that the tenure be of short duration until perhaps that individual could make her future plans. I am just speculating - as others on the side opposite have speculated in the negative - that this individual is getting things in order so that she may carry out this job for a long time to come.
I would hope that the side opposite will not always look at these kinds of things as the doom-and-gloom scenario they seem to suspect.
It is my position that the process being proposed by the Member for Riverside would be rather unique to Yukon.
There is no other jurisdiction in the country right now where this particular process for choosing the Public Service Commissioner is used. This process is not even used for choosing provincial auditors.
The Member for Riverside said he took the wording from the Ombudsman Act in British Columbia to establish this process. I would submit to that Member that the responsibilities of an ombudsperson and the responsibilities of the Public Service Commissioner are a great deal different. I would suggest to the Member that, if that is the sole rationale for choosing this method, he may have erred in making that decision.
The process we are talking about troubles me, because it leans to the process that we have in the United States, as the Member for Lake Laberge just mentioned. The American system appoints a judge, someone is nominated, and they sit in a legislature similar to this. The individual who is going to fill the job is brought before them, and their family history is checked out - past, present, their grandfather and grandmother, who was in their family and who did what in the past. I do not think that is the type of process that we want to have in this Legislature, and it is not a process that I would be very proud to take part in. I do not think that the public forum of the Legislature of the Yukon is the place to be debating peoples backgrounds.
Recent events concerning this type of process are evidenced by the vacancies in the United States Supreme Court. Public scrutiny of an individual appointment is discouraging and impeding qualified and capable individuals from seeking this type of position.
In the United States, they have more than 200 million people from which to draw in order to select someone for a job such as this. In the Yukon, we have less than 30,000 people. Everyone knows everyone else in this territory, and we would be hard-pressed to find Yukoners who would subject themselves to that type of scrutiny before this Legislature, and it would be unfair to do that to Yukoners. The Yukon is far too small for this type of system. It would be very difficult for us to find anyone who would put their name forward.
Under our current recruitment system, people apply for positions in confidence, and that confidence, in my view, should be respected. To do otherwise places this entire system in jeopardy and may discourage exactly the kind of people we want to apply for this position.
I know the individual who is currently in the position. I would not want to pre-judge that individual, but I think if that individual were asked to come before this House and answer all kinds of personal questions about her history, family, political or non-political beliefs, I think that individual would say, I am just fine where I am at, find someone else to do the job. That would be extremely unfortunate, because that individual is a top-quality individual. She is a Yukoner who has lived here all of her life and is extremely qualified for that particular position and, I might add, is doing a very good job.
I wonder if the Member for Riverside could see people applying to the Legislature and having Members interview the candidates. I wonder what the process would be. Would we internally shortlist four or five people in a back room, then bring them in here, one at a time, and grill them? Would the government shortlist the people and bring them in here? Then, as it was decided by other Members opposite that there was a horse thief in their family history that would make them ineligible to do the job, we would tell them that they were not qualified for the job. We would then go through the same process as in the United States, where another is nominated, and then another, and so on. I think that would be an unfortunate situation.
What would we do when it is all over? Would we interview the person for the job and then, when it was all over, would we all raise our hands in a vote for yea or nay on whether we approved of the individual? That would be unfortunate. The individual should be hired for their merits and abilities, and the process should not be carried out in the public forum. We can still maintain the integrity and dual role of that job by doing it in the current manner.
This whole process of bringing an individual into the House may, in some ways, politicize the whole effort. I would be concerned about that aspect of it. It is far different than the process we now have.
I know the Member for Riverside is trying to do the exact opposite of politicizing the job. He has good intentions, and the intent of the Member is really to have a totally impartial Public Service Commissioner in the Government of the Yukon. We could not agree more, but I have to say that is why we have the current process in place, which has been in place for many years. It gives the Public Service Commissioner anywhere from five to 10 years of tenure. In the past, I do not think this has been a problem.
I know that some individuals in government, from time to time, have had difficulties with the Public Service Commissioner and some of the issues that have turned up, but it is the nature of that job that everyone will not always be totally satisfied with the decisions of the commissioner. That is why the individual is given the tenure, so they can work freely within the guidelines of their job description.
To bring proposed candidates for the position of Public Service Commissioner before the Legislature or a standing committee of the Legislature would risk entangling them in some partisan controversies. I have to point to the system in the United States where in fact when you start discussing the persons personal history there are also some people out there who never be satisfied with an individual and will always raise issues of one form or another to try to discredit an individual. Opposition MLAs could seek to uncover policy differences between the proposed Public Service Commissioner and their Ministers as a way of embarrassing the government.
The constitutional principles of ministerial responsibilities and the political neutrality of the public service could be undermined by the focus and the policy views of the proposed Public Service Commissioner, when in theory and in practice the views to count on the most are those of the Minister responsible for the department.
I think what is important here, although I do not always think we should go the way of every other government in Canada, is that there is no other Public Service Commissioner in Canada who is appointed in this way. In the jurisdictions that have Public Service Commissioners, the appointment is by Cabinet. Some of the Public Service Commissioners serve at pleasure, with virtually no tenure. Some have fixed terms, and only in Manitoba is there a protection against the removal of the Public Service Commissioner, who can only be removed by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
Under the Member for Riversides proposal, once we get over the hurdle of the appointment process, I guess you have to ask yourself the question about whom the person would report to. Who would set the policy direction for the Public Service Commission? Everyone must realize that when there is a change in government there is often a change in philosophy. Some governments place a greater emphasis on local hire, employment equity et cetera. By giving this type of policy direction it does not impact on the merit principle; however, it sets the direction in which the government of the day wishes to proceed.
I would, in hearing the reply from the Member for Riverside, be very interested to know who that Member would see the Public Service Commissioner reporting to - who would be his or her boss - and how the Public Service Commissioner would be responsible for his or her budgets, and those kinds of issues.
I think those are important questions that the Member for Riverside should be prepared to answer. We have to realize what the role and the powers of the Public Service Commissioner are in Yukon. I would like to list the powers that the current Public Service Commissioner has in the territory, because I think it is important to put them on the record.
First of all, the Public Service Commissioners job is to develop, to maintain, to administer and supervise a competent and efficient public service. Second, it is to appoint, or provide for the appointment of qualified persons to, or from, within the public service, in accordance with the provisions and the principles of the Public Service Act; three, to test and certify the qualifications of candidates for admission to, or promotion in, the public service; four, to take any necessary action to ensure compliance with the act or the regulations; five, to report to the Executive Council Member from time to time respecting the operation of the act, or the regulations; six, to investigate and make reports as required respecting any contravention of the act or the regulations; seven, after consultation with the deputy head to investigate and report on any matter respecting the employees of the department of the deputy head; eight, to report, as required, upon the organization of the public service or any part thereof; nine, to establish and maintain position classification and job evaluation systems in the public service; 10, to make recommendations to deputy heads respecting the discipline of persons employed in their departments; 11, to sponsor, encourage, administer or participate in programs of employee training and safety; 12, to administer a program of security; 13, to negotiate on behalf of the Government of Yukon with any authorized bargaining agent pursuant to any act of the Yukon; 14, to administer and interpret any collective agreement entered into between the Government of Yukon and an authorized bargaining agent pursuant to any act of the Legislature; 15, to obtain the assistance of such persons as is considered necessary to enable the commission to carry out its duties; 16, to perform such other duties as may be assigned to it by the Commissioner in Executive Council.
That is the list of duties required of the Public Service Commissioner.
As you can see, many of those duties are somewhat of a political nature. The last one is to perform such other duties as may be assigned to it by the Commissioner in Executive Council, which is one example where the Public Service Commissioner is responsible and answerable to her boss, the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission. How would that work if the Legislature appointed that individual? Who, then, would the Public Service Commissioner be answerable to? Who, then, would the Public Service Commissioner take direction from?
One of the main jobs of the Public Service Commissioner is to work with the Minister in negotiating contracts of employees for the Government of the Yukon. Who, then, would the Public Service Commissioner report to when it came to negotiations for the Government of the Yukon employees? That is a very significant area of responsibility. I do not have the figures in front of me, but more than $100 million of our budget is related to wages of employees of the Government of the Yukon. That particular individual, the Public Service Commissioner, is heavily involved in the negotiations on behalf of the Government of the Yukon.
I ask the Member for Riverside: who would the Public Service Commissioner report to in those negotiations? Because she was appointed to the Legislature, would she report to the Members of the Legislature on the status of negotiations?
These are very serious questions I believe have to be answered in relation to this particular motion.
It is very clear, when one reviews the list of powers and responsibilities, that the Public Service Commissioner is required, within the parameters of the act, to take direction from the government-of-the-day. We believe that is a necessary requirement. It would be very difficult to separate the political or deputy ministerial side of that job from the independence of the Public Service Commissioner.
Under the proposal put forward today by the Member for Riverside, who would evaluate the Public Service Commissioners performance? Would the Legislature do that? Would we annually call the Public Service Commissioner into the Legislature and ask them about their performance? Who would be responsible for the budget of the Public Service Commission? Would it be the Legislature or would it be the government-of-the-day? Who would we question about the figures in the budget as presented by the Public Service Commission if they were appointed by an all-party committee of this House, and the Minister had no say in the matter? Would we even have a Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission?
When one looks at all of the government departments, there has to be a flow of responsibility. The buck has to stop somewhere. Is the Member for Riverside suggesting that, in the case of the tri-party appointment of the Public Service Commissioner, that group would be responsible for the expenditures or actions of the Public Service Commission? I would not think that is what that Member would want to see, but by just passing this motion this way, it is not clear to me what the answers to these questions will be.
A government, when elected, is responsible for the actions of the public service and, therefore, has to speak to its issues. I believe it would be improper for a public servant to have to come to this House and answer those kinds of questions. We do that kind of thing from time to time in the Public Accounts Committee, where we bring deputy ministers into this House to ask them to justify areas of concern in their budgets. However, it would be really quite unprecedented to go through the whole budget of the Government of Yukon, having the government side - the Ministers responsible for all the departments - rise in their place and, one after another, defend their budget and, then, when it got to the Public Service Commission, to bring in a bureaucrat, or someone who is not elected, to defend the budget of the Public Service Commission.
I think that would be irresponsible for us as elected Members in this House, and it would be undemocratic. I think the ultimate responsibility for the budget of the Government of the Yukon Territory rests solely with the government-of-the-day, and that includes all departments, including the Public Service Commission.
We have done some preliminary research on this issue to determine if there was ever a study done on the appropriate way to appoint a Public Service Commissioner. Unfortunately, we could find no work that had been done on this. Unfortunately, again, we cannot provide any information that we gathered from other jurisdictions, because there simply is none.
As I said earlier, other jurisdictions have various ways of appointing their Public Service Commissioner, ranging from appointing them at pleasure to appointing them with some tenure. However, no one has delved into the issue of a new process, or another process, of appointing a Public Service Commissioner. I could suggest to the Member for Riverside something that he may want to look into, or have others look into, which is the possibility of other options in the future.
I think to change horses in mid-stream now and have so many unanswered questions may not be the proper route to take. I know that the Member who proposed this motion is a very cautious gentleman and does not like to jump into things with both feet without thinking them through. I am sure that many of the Members in the House today have raised some very interesting questions, which I know he will want to have answers for, and he may have answers for some of them today.
I know there are some strong concerns from all Members in the House. When you make major changes in policy and government - especially ones as significant as the Public Service Commissioner - we have to take the time to think about what we are doing.
The old adage comes to mind: if it aint broke, dont fix it. I do not think it is broken right now. I do not think there is a problem with the current process of appointing the Public Service Commissioner. I would suggest to the Member that there are some concerns about the length of time for which the current commissioner has been appointed. I have similar concerns. It may be the personal reasons of the present commissioner, who may have asked for that to be the tenure. There is nothing in the motion before us, even if we agreed with it, to prevent someone appointing another commissioner for the same period of time: six months. We would need better direction in the motion on the length of time, how they would interact with the department, who would be responsible, who would defend the budget and all those other things that go with the job of the Public Service Commissioner.
I spoke briefly about checking to see if any other jurisdiction had looked into a different way of appointing a Public Service Commissioner. There is only one provincial jurisdiction that is doing any research at all that remotely relates to this area; that is the Province of British Columbia. In 1985, the B.C. Public Service Act was amended and the Public Service Commission was abolished and replaced by a new commissioner with a narrow mandate: to deal only with appeals from the ministry job competitions.
Similarly, the new Public Service Act eliminated the government employee relations bureau, an agency that had responsibility for broad human resource matters, and replaced it with the present organization, which has restricted involvement in staffing and recruitment and other personnel matters, but it does have the responsibility for labour relation matters for the government. The result is a decentralized and fragmented system of human resource management in the province of British Columbia.
This is certainly not what the Member for Riverside is looking for here. I am providing this information to you, Mr. Speaker, and other Members of this House, only to illustrate that this is the only jurisdiction in Canada that is undergoing any investigation into the management of a Public Service Commission department of personnel.
The Member for Takhini-McIntyre spoke on this issue and I want to make a couple of comments about what he said. I could not agree more with his comments on the dual role of the Public Service Commissioner. I am now speaking again of the political side of the job of the Public Service Commissioner - the responsibility role to the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.
The chain of accountability for every deputy minister in this government, or in any government, must be perfectly clear. It would be very difficult for any deputy minister to have to serve two or more masters in this government. It would be unfair to ask that of an individual.
I mentioned the Cabinet policies regarding staffing. I mentioned the negotiations, the negotiating table. The Public Service Commissioner plays a key role in both those areas providing advice to the Minister and to Cabinet in areas of personnel.
I said earlier that if something goes wrong in the Government of the Yukon Territory in a certain department, it is the Minister responsible for that department who is accountable. It is the Minister responsible for that department who, four years down the road, will be defending his or her actions at the polls. It is not a publicly appointed official who never has any accountability to the public other than every 10 years a group of individuals in this House may or may not reappoint that individual.
We have to ask ourselves what is the purpose of this motion. Is it to depoliticize the appointment? If that is the intention then, as mentioned earlier, I believe this proposal may do the exact opposite.
It will end up, I am afraid, being a political debate. We have all seen that happen in this House. We have been here almost four and a half weeks; we have had supplementary budgets in front of us for three and a half weeks; we have had main estimates in front of us for two weeks. At a cost to taxpayers of thousands of dollars a day, we have not even talked about the budget.
We are on the second line item in the supplementaries; we spent two hours the other night on the Legislative Assembly budget - unprecedented - usually that takes five or 10 minutes.
We are still in general debate on the second program in that budget. We all know what happens when we start politicking in this House. It goes on and on, like the Member for Mount Lorne said, we say the same thing over and over and over again.
I would be afraid that the opportunity to have an individual sitting in that chair answering to us, as the Public Service Commissioner, would provide the political opportunity for Members of this House to go on and on - at the expense of that individual. I think that would be unfortunate.
The motion begs the question of whether all deputy ministers and presidents of Crown corporations should be appointed by the Legislature. I do not think they should, and I do not think the Member for Riverside believes that should happen.
We have just finished recruiting for a new president of the Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board - a competition that has proceeded with complete board involvement. We have not been advised by the Members of the Opposition of any particular concerns regarding the process used to recruit for that new president. The principles involved for the recruitment of this position are exactly the same as the rules that are used for the recruitment of the Public Service Commissioner.
If the board, in the case of the president, or the government in the case of the Public Service Commissioner, is responsible for the administration of these areas of responsibility, then they, as well as the government, must be held accountable.
I know the Member for Riversides intent is worthy, but I do not believe that he will accomplish his intent through his motion, as it is worded before us today. There are many serious questions about how this will work and how this will accomplish the independence of the Public Service Commission.
The Public Service Act now provides for that independence. I am convinced that the individual who is in the position now - and whom we have been told by the Government Leader will be re-appointed - is an outstanding individual worthy of that position.
As I said earlier, If it aint broke, dont fix it.
I would urge all Members in this House to vote against this motion before us today.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I will see if I can get through my speech in the short time we have left. I usually speak very little, so I should be able to get half way through, anyway.
Although the Hon. Member for Riversides motion is worded well, the intent of such a motion, as it relates to the Public Service Commissioner, is unclear to me. It is important to point out the duality of the Public Service Commissioners role. Such an individual serves as a deputy minister and, at the same time, remains impartial on all matters pertaining to the hiring or termination of those employed by government.
Deputy ministers are, of course, required to provide ministerial support, especially in the areas of departmental finance, administration and policy. The motion would appear to place the Public Service Commissioner at considerable arms-length from the government. This may make it awkward for the commissioner to carry out the duties of deputy minister, especially in the areas relating to finance policy.
The Yukon Public Service Commissioner is currently appointed by the Commissioner in Executive Council. The motion describes a process that is not in use in any other jurisdiction in Canada. In jurisdictions that have Public Service Commissioners, the appointment is made by the Cabinet. Manitoba is an exception, wherein a Public Service Commissioner can only be removed by two-thirds of the vote of the Legislature.
Individuals who apply for positions with the Yukon government do so in confidence. If the applicants were to be open to public scrutiny, it would place the entire system of trust in jeopardy and discourage applicants. I would also question how the Legislature would review the applications and review the candidates. Such a process would, in fact, make the appointment system political. A candidates qualifications and experience would then share the arena with their real or perceived political entanglements.
This is also a question of who the Public Service Commissioner would report to after accepting the appointment. Who would evaluate the Public Service Commissioners performance, or is the Member proposing that the Public Service Commission operate under both a commissioner and a deputy minister? Is he suggesting that the Public Service Commissioner report directly to the Legislature? If so, such an address would be improper. A civil servant cannot be questioned or held responsible for issues that relate to government accountability.
In closing, I would say that, however well intentioned the motion would appear to be, it is simply not practical or workable. The existing recruiting policy for the Yukon Public Service Commissioner has withstood the test of time. It is my opinion that those individuals, both past and present, who have served as Public Service Commissioners have done so with honesty, integrity and expertise. With such a record of success, I cannot see any reason for change.
I would also suggest to the Member for Riverside that, when you gets knocked down once or twice, just get up again and keep coming; eventually, you will get people onside with you.
I have just been asked to talk for another three minutes. We would not want to do that, would we? No, we would not.
Can I get off the subject and get on to buffalo?
Speaker: I hope not.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have travelled with our Public Service Commissioner during Workers Compensation Board hearings, and I found her to be very credible. She was very sincere. She went out of her way to find people and talk with people, and did a good job of bringing that in. I do not agree with everything that was in it; however, she did her best to get to everybody and she brought back a very sincere report.
When I first came here, she was the assistant deputy minister for the Public Service Commission. She applied for another job and she got it. There is absolutely no way in the world that I would ever object to anyone going ahead in this world, although my friend, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, worked me over pretty good on it; that is all right; I still stand by my principles that anybody who wants to advance in this world should be able to advance, and I am quite pleased that she was able to do that.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will have trouble making all of my comments in one minute. I guess I will get started and I hope that we will have another day to finish the debate, because I think it is a very important debate.
I believe the Member for Riverside, in his mind, had some very legitimate concerns when he proposed this motion. I would have great difficulty supporting the motion in its present context, but when the Member for Whitehorse West rose he made some very broad statements about my colleague and the other happy half of the coalition on this side of the House - the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Well, half is half. He has a lot of power; maybe you have not noticed yet. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini figures that is comical and maybe it is.
The Member for Whitehorse West was alluding to his previous dabbling and muddling in the Liberal Party, but the fact remains that there are many people who dabbled in the Liberal Party and other parties. They finally saw the light and came to where they truthfully belonged.
Speaker: Order please. The time being 5:30 p.m. the House will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will call the House to order.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: 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.
We are on Bill No. 4, general debate on Executive Council Office.
Bill No. 4 - Second Appropriation Act, 1992-93 - continued
Executive Council Office - continued
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Penikett: I would like to indicate the ground I would like to cover tonight. I have not yet had a chance to ask any questions relating to intergovernmental relations and its staffing priorities. I have some questions I want to ask about the Minister/deputy relationships, as well.
I also have some questions I want to go back to with respect to devolution. I would like to emphasize that this is all in connection with the trolling, rather than the fishing of deep pools. I also have a couple of questions about policy and Cabinet support. Then, I would like to ask a few questions about policy with respect to implementation. I filed some written questions, to which I have not yet had answers. After that, it might be possible to go into line-by-line debate on land claims.
Another thing: it is customary for Opposition critics to ask, in connection with the supplementaries, for the tabling of any contracts that have been issued in the year past under the supplementary. I apologize to the Government Leader that I have neglected to do that so far. It is an annual routine, and I am sure the deputy minister will be fully acquainted with the procedure.
Mr. McDonald: I think what I will do - given that my colleague would like to pursue other lines of questioning - is briefly to touch on decentralization and then perhaps get some answers to the questions during the main estimates general debate, because I think the questions could be answered there, as well.
When we last left the subject, I was trying to get an answer from the Government Leader - the real one - respecting government policy when a position is decentralized and whether or not that position could, in theory, service the entire territory and not simply the community in the region that it serves.
That is a fairly simple question. Can the Government Leader indicate whether or not that is, in his mind, open for consideration?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thought I had answered that question the other day, but maybe I did not.
Anything is possible under decentralization. Each option would be analyzed as to whether it is beneficial to the community and the government that the Yukon be serviced from some other point than Whitehorse. I would have no problems considering that.
Mr. McDonald: What wonders a break can do. We tried our best to get to that point yesterday. It took us probably half an hour of trying yesterday, and we did it all in the space of a few seconds this evening.
The second question I have is a question respecting the ability of the public servants to moonlight. The Government Leader indicated in his remarks last week, very briefly, that he felt there were problems with public servants who would be decentralized to a community who may in their off hours take on jobs, for instance, furnace repair, or a service that the private sector was also offering in that community. Is the ability of public servants in their off hours to take up work to supplement their income something that is going to be under active consideration when deciding to decentralize positions?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As the Member says, it did not take him but a few seconds to get the answer today; perhaps he put the question more clearly today than he did yesterday.
On the last question, that certainly has been a concern and it has been raised by people within the communities. Some employees who have been decentralized have been, as the Member put it, moonlighting to supplement their incomes. It is a major concern for this party, which believes in private enterprise and free enterprise, and I think it is something we would give serious consideration when decentralized a position. If it were going to cost a private entrepreneur in a community some business, as long as that business or service were being provided by the private sector at a fair cost, it is something we would really have to take into consideration.
Mr. McDonald: I am sorry, I thought the questions yesterday were crystal clear. Unfortunately, we got bogged down in some of the enticing thoughts of the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes and, as enjoyable as they were, they were not relevant to the line of questioning. So I was under the impression that we were going through some sort of leadership review here, and the people on this side of the House were victims of that process.
I thank the Government Leader for his answer. The issue is ultimately going to be not a question of whether or not one promotes free enterprise, which is something I do not think anybody disagrees with in terms of encouraging small businesses to continue. The situation is not as clean as the Member may have envisaged, given that the persons who are government employees are also engaging in free enterprise, not on government time but on their own time. That sometimes means that they will, at least in small measure, compete with others who may be making a living at it on a full-time basis. Certainly the freedom of employees to do as they wish on their own time is going to be an issue the Member is going to face.
The last question I would like to ask is about the monitoring of decentralization. The Government Leader indicated that the position that had Imonitored and encouraged the decentralization activity had been struck from the Executive Council Office. That person had discussed decentralization moves with communities and community groups and done a lot of capable work to ensure that the rough edges of the decentralization program were smoothed out.
Now, it appears that the departments are going to be responsible for doing everything.
The question for the Minister is: who will be monitoring the decentralization activities by the departments? He indicated that the policy work would still be done through the Executive Council Office. Who will be monitoring this program to ensure that there is consistency in activities throughout departments and there is coordination between departments, in their own activities, to ensure that there is not duplication of services and that all departments know precisely what is going on? For example, who will ensure such things as provision of office space and that the employees are managed in the same way?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I told the Member yesterday that with decentralization on hold right now, we eliminated that position from the Executive Council Office. I said that the departments would be taking on more of the responsibilities. They will still be coordinated through the Executive Council Office. The Deputy Ministers Review Committee is a good forum in which to address some of the problems and concerns that the Member opposite raised about ensuring that everything is coordinated.
Mr. McDonald: I would just like to ask the Government Leader: does he really believe that the Deputy Ministers Review Committee is a good forum to coordinate the detailed decentralization activities? I would like to ask if he has he ever attended the Deputy Ministers Review Committee meeting. If he has not, will he, and then will he answer the question as to whether or not he thinks that is a good forum for this process?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe it would be a good forum. I think that with the Executive Council Office monitoring it, it would work quite well and we are prepared to try it.
Mr. Penikett: We will serve notice now to ask how many positions the Executive Council Office has decentralized to the communities come budget time next year - or other departments, for that matter.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: If the Government Leader is mumbling about the money that was left, if he had started the budget process a little earlier, perhaps shortly after he came into office, we could have helped him save some of that money. I would like to ask some general questions, as I indicated I would, about another broad policy area in the Executive Council Office. Can I ask the Government Leader if there have been any changes in staffing in the intergovernmental relations office in Ottawa and if the mandate of that office has changed?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There has been no change in the staffing. We do have one position vacant, and we will be dealing with that in the near future.
Mr. Penikett: Is there a competition going on now for the vacant position?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, there is no competition going on at this time.
Mr. Penikett: Then, how will the Government Leader be dealing with the vacancy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We will be putting it out to competition, once we have resolved what the office is going to do and how beneficial it is to us.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leaders answer indicates that they are reviewing the mandate of the office, perhaps even considering whether or not it has any continuing usefulness. Could the Government Leader share with the Committee of the Whole his reasons for wanting to do the review and whether he has any thoughts he can share with us now about his inclination as to whether or not it is useful and whether or not the office should remain open?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: One of the concerns I had is that we had the office under the previous administration, yet I was made aware that the former administration still hired lobbyists in Ottawa to get the work done. So, if we are going to have an office that is costing us a substantial amount of money, I want to make sure it is able to do the job without having to hire lobbyists.
Mr. Penikett: I do not want to spend too much time tonight describing to the new Government Leader the views of the old Government Leader in respect to the difference in duties between the Ottawa office and the lobbyists. The money spent on the person he described as a lobbyist was a tiny fraction of the total budget.
Before I ask him whether or not they are still retaining the services of a lobbyist, or even the same lobbyist, let me explain the reason we had to retain those services. Under the present federal government, it was discovered by not only our government, but by most provincial governments in the country, that the only way to get reliable access to certain Ministers was to retain the services of what are called strategic consultants, or strategic advisors, or policy communication people, or sometimes lobbyists. It so happens that the person we chose, who got us ready access to senior people in the Cabinet, was very close to those people and, to her credit, did register herself in Ottawa as a lobbyist for the Yukon government. It gave her certain cachet in Tory circles. I understand she was the only lobbyist for an NDP government who was also close to the federal Cabinet.
We did not initially start out to have a lobbyist. We chose to have one because it became a necessity to gain the kind of access we thought we needed to senior people in the government. It is not a desirable situation, nor is it one that we designed, but it was one that was made absolutely necessary by the circumstances.
It is my view that there is a continuing role for staff at the Ottawa office, particularly when one is involved in negotiations around land claims and devolution that go beyond the occasional services or work that one may call upon a strategic advisor or lobbyist to do. Since the Government Leader seems to believe that the roles are interchangeable, given the choice between retaining a lobbyist and keeping the office open, what would be his preference?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that if we have the right person in Ottawa, we could probably avoid having lobbyists. That is one of the concerns; it must be staffed with the right type of person. We were prepared to consider staffing it at one point, but we backed off, and we are going to review it. We will be dealing with it very shortly.
Mr. Penikett: Just as a matter of record, I should remind the Government Leader that his Conservative predecessor, Mr. Pearson, while opening the Ottawa office, which he did at first, also found it necessary to retain a consultant or lobbyist in Ottawa in addition. Having the office was not sufficient.
Let me ask him, then, what kind of qualifications he is looking for if he keeps the Ottawa office open. It is certainly a reality, for example, in Canada today, that a large number of federal Cabinet Ministers are francophones from Quebec, as are many senior people in the public service. Will he, for example, be looking for someone who is, as one of their attributes, bilingual?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, it is under review; we will be looking basically for a person who can do the work that the Member opposite found he had to find a lobbyist for - someone who can get into government departments and get some answers and meetings with people when necessary. If it takes a bilingual person to do that, we will certainly be looking at that.
Mr. Penikett: I take it from the Government Leaders answer that he is leaning more toward keeping the office open than using a lobbyist. That is his decision and I will not quibble with it, but it does prompt me to ask what kind of skills he thinks will be required in that office at the current time?
As a preamble, I agree completely that the skills needed in one year may not be useful in the next. If, in one year, one is dealing with one set of issues, a certain type of person may be needed; in a subsequent year, one may need a different type of person. Given what is on the agenda in terms of the intergovernmental relationship between this government and Ottawa - probably the most important intergovernmental relationship we have - what kind of skills is the Government Leader looking for? Is he looking for a publicist, a lobbyist, a negotiator, a policy analyst, an insider in the capital who can winkle out what is actually going on in Cabinet, in Cabinet subcommittees and at the deputy ministerial level? Is he looking for a public servant or a political staffer? Perhaps he could indicate something about what he is looking for.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would like to be able to hire a Messiah with all of the attributes that the Member opposite put on the record.
My first preference is someone who is very familiar with Ottawa and knows how to get inside of government to get things done; someone with a lot of experience in the federal process who knows how it works, so there is not a lot of time wasted opening doors. As I said, this is under review and I am leaning toward restaffing the office, rather than working with lobbyists.
The Member opposite is quite right; maybe what is needed this year will not be needed next year, but we will face that when we come to it.
Mr. Penikett: Unfortunately, I would have to agree with the Government Leader that the Messiah, or the super person, is probably otherwise employed right now.
The Government Leader might help us understand what he is looking for by giving us his short list of priority issues, in terms of the current dealings with Ottawa. From that list we might glean some information about the kind of person he is looking for.
Let me explain one point. I learned in dealings with Ottawa that you can have a senior official who may be able to work the bureaucratic networks, who will become known on the officials circuit and will talk to the officials. That person is unlikely to get access to the political people - to the Ministers - partly because the Ministers just will not see them. All that they can likely do is arrange access for Ministers from the government.
If one defines the job as getting access to Ministers, as opposed to senior officials, then different circumstances will call for different requirements.
I would like to tell the Government Leader that my view is that frankly, you are better off with the lobbyists, because the lobbyists do a better job of getting in to see Ministers than do department officials.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I view the position in Ottawa as one of getting in to see the bureaucracy. That is where I feel the problems are. We should be able to gain access to the Ministers without having to use lobbyists. I know that is not always possible, but I am working to build up that relationship with the Ministers, so that I do not have to use the lobbyists to get access to the Ministers on a political level.
My concerns are, especially, some of the priorities facing this government now, such as land claims, devolution of powers from Ottawa, dealing with Finance on the perversity factor. Those are the main areas of concern that we are dealing with at this time. I know the areas of concern will change from time to time, but those are some of the priority issues that we are dealing with at this time. Getting access to the bureaucracy is the biggest problem that we seem to be having.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader has given us a short list of key issues - land claims, devolution and formula financing. The land claims issue is, I would guess, largely a matter now of getting the legislation through, which is subject to direct lobbies by Members in this House to the federal government. It is subject to the implementation funding question, which is a matter of money, and there is an outstanding issue that has not been addressed concerning constitutional protection for self-government agreements. That is a policy issue between Ministers.
The devolution agreements - I am sure the Government Leader will find, if he has not found already, that the federal government has two agendas there: this present government, I think, genuinely does want to devolve some programs to the territories, but I think they also want to cut the national deficit on the way, which means they want to often underfund or dump programs, which is also a matter of money. The third issue on the Government Leaders list, formula financing, is exclusively about money.
Along with the senior intergovernmental person in the Ottawa office, we have had, for most of the last few years since Mr. Pearsons day, a senior fiscal relations officer who also did not work for the Executive Council Office but who worked for Finance. Is it the Government Leaders intention to keep a senior fiscal relations officer in Ottawa as well?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, that position is staffed now and we will continue to keep that person there.
Mr. Penikett: Who is carrying out those duties now?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will probably murder his name, but it is Raghu Raghunathan.
Mr. Penikett: Mr. Raghunathan is an excellent person; he probably has more tenure with the territorial government than anybody here and, perhaps, anybody in the territorial public service. He goes back to the days when he was statistical advisor to Commissioner Jim Smith. He is a very good official and also happens to be a Sanskrit scholar, whose family wishes at some point, I think, to return to India. Regularly every year he gives the indication that he plans to leave that year, which is why I asked if the Minister intends to keep the position open.
Because Mr. Raghunathan is certainly worth his weight in gold to the territorial government in terms of dealing with these matters, should Mr. Raghunathan leave, as he has threatened or warned or promised to do many, many times, is it the Government Leaders intention to keep that position staffed? I ask the question, even though it might be technically a Finance question, because almost all the issues the Government Leader mentioned on his short list are matters of money, so I am bound to ask whether the intergovernmental relations agenda that he wants to address with the federal bureaucracy might not adequately be dealt with simply by the senior Finance official, given the financial nature of the issues on the agenda he has indicated he wants to address with senior federal officials.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The gentleman has not given me an indication that he wants to leave this year. I hope that he will stay because, as the Member opposite said, he is worth his weight in gold and there is no doubt in my mind about that. He has been doing an excellent job for us in dealing with the federal government on fiscal relations, devolution and all the problems relating to money.
If this gentleman were to leave, it would be my desire to refill this position.
Mr. Penikett: Could the Government Leader indicate if there has been any major policy change in intergovernmental relations since he went into office?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Nothing significant has changed except that the focus has shifted toward money issues.
Mr. Penikett: Believe me, money was always a matter of high priority for any government here. During our time in office, our Cabinet adopted an intergovernmental policy that required Ministers and senior officials who attended conferences out of the territory to provide written reports on those conferences and to file a copy of them with the Executive Council Office so that that office could play a coordinating role, ensuring that we were not saying different things in different forums and with different people, and to enable the Government Leader to communicate consistently and effectively at national conferences at which he and his counterparts must carry on the intergovernmental business. Has that policy changed and is it still in practice?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The policy has not changed. There are reports coming in, but not as many as one would like. That seems to been an ongoing problem.
Mr. Penikett: He said a mouthful there. Could I ask the Government Leader if he could provide the House - not with the actual reports, as I would not want to wish the ones I have seen on the House - with some form of summary of the conferences attended by Ministers and senior officials and the reports submitted, and if he could indicate if there are emerging issues about which he feels it would be useful to inform the House? I am not asking for it tomorrow or next week, but sometime in the course of the budget debate.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We will see what we can do about that.
Mr. Penikett: One of the things our Cabinet tried to do on an annual basis was to have some kind of look at - analysis or review - of our relationship with Ottawa, neighbouring jurisdictions, and other Canadian jurisdictions - in other words, the whole general question of our intergovernmental relations and our priorities.
Has the government had occasion to spend any time on that question since it was sworn into office?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have not had much time, as the Member opposite may be aware. I have not yet had the opportunity to attend many meetings with other Premiers, and I have not yet attended one with the Prime Minister, because there has not been one called. There was a Finance meeting called during December, when our House was in session, and I was unable to attend it. However, that would be something that I would be following up on. I truly believe that we have to have a good relationship with other jurisdictions in order to have a good grasp of what is going on in the country as a whole.
Mr. Penikett: Assuming that the relationship with Ottawa is at the top of the list, could the Government Leader indicate what kind of priority - in ranking of two, three, four, five, six - he would give to our relationship with our neighbours: British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and Alaska? Does he have any priorities? Are there any pressing issues where we require them to be higher or lower on the list next year than they were last year? What is his intention about participation in bodies like the Northern Forum and expos abroad that may come up? These things always have a cost to them, and it is a difficult question, when you are a small jurisdiction, about whether you participate. I would be interested in the Government Leaders views on that question.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is quite right that there are costs involved in all these and they have to be assessed, in tight financial times, as to whether we can attend all of these conferences. I know there are requests coming in all the time, some of them in Asia and Europe, and all over the world, to attend certain forums. We assess each one. There are a lot I would like to attend, but we just do not feel we would be getting our moneys worth, at this point.
I really believe that forums such as the Western Premiers Forum is one we must participate in vigorously. It can help us a lot in problems that are facing us. I have undertaken to set up a good working relationship with our neighbours to the east, the Northwest Territories. I have had one meeting with the Government Leader there and I talk to her on the telephone quite often, although not on a regular basis, since I met with her in January. She will be up here again this weekend, and we can talk further.
I would guess that those would probably be at the top of my priority list at this point. As I become more familiar with this job, and get to more of these meetings and have an opportunity to meet more of the Premiers and discuss issues, my priorities may change.
Mr. Penikett: That is a fair enough response from the Government Leader. Could I ask the Government Leader if it would be his intention to have the Yukon Territory have any continuing association with either the Northern Forum, or the Asia Pacific Foundation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We communicate with the Asia Pacific Foundation, but my understanding is that we have not been active with that foundation. The Northern Forum is planning a meeting this year in Norway, but the cost of attendance there will be a problem for us. I believe that it may be a useful forum. In fact, I think it is a pet project of the Governor of Alaska, as he brought it up in my meeting with him in Juneau last month. But as I said, the cost of attending the meeting in Norway this year may be a problem. We have not yet decided whether we will be attending that or not.
Mr. Penikett: When will the Government Leader be deciding that question?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We will be dealing with that in the near future. I believe the meeting is scheduled for late summer.
Mr. Penikett: Has the Government Leader made a commitment about whether we will be contributing annual dues to the Northern Forum for the next fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, the dues are budgeted for and we have contributed what we have been asked for so far.
Mr. Penikett: Unless my colleagues wanted to ask any questions at this point, I would like to move on to another subject.
The Executive Council Office coordinates a lot of activity between departments, but also between Ministers and officials. Of course, funding for the Government Leaders office also comes out of this vote. I would like to spend a few minutes, if I could, asking the Government Leader about his policy in respect to the relationship between Ministers and deputies, the differentiation in the roles and the occasions when there will be collective decision making by Cabinet, as opposed to decision making by the Government Leader. I would like to ask the Government Leader first, in respect to decisions to hire, or fire, deputy ministers, is it his policy that that is a matter for the Government Leader, or people in the Government Leaders office, or for the Executive Council as a whole to make?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The final decision falls on the Government Leader. It is certainly a Cabinet decision that is made to hire or dismiss deputy ministers.
Mr. Penikett: Would it be fair to describe the process as a Cabinet decision on the recommendation of the Government Leader?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Certainly, the Government Leader makes recommendations. That is not to say that the recommendations are always listened to by Cabinet. I believe that my Cabinet Members are equal. They have the right to their opinions. We try to reach a consensus opinion.
Mr. Penikett: Let us assume, for the sake of polite discussion tonight, an entirely hypothetical situation where the Government Leader decided that a deputy minister should be dismissed and the Minister of that department disagreed. How would that difference of opinion be worked out in this government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is asking me a purely hypothetical question. The only way to answer that is that all Cabinet decisions are unanimous.
Mr. Penikett: I could ask about actual cases, but, as I said, I thought I would be polite and just ask about the policy.
The Government Leader is satisfied that in all cases he has had to deal with in terms of hiring and firing of deputies, the Cabinet decisions have been unanimous. Is that his view?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, that is my view. I believe it to be the truth. Every decision that is made is unanimous.
Mr. Penikett: Could I ask the Government Leaders view on the policy, if you like, on the question of Cabinet solidarity - a very old British parliamentary tradition. If it were to come to the Government Leaders attention that a Minister had communicated outside the Cabinet table to someone that they dissented from a Cabinet decision with respect to such a personnel matter, what would that Ministers future in Cabinet be?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: His future would not be good, I could say that. I truly believe in Cabinet solidarity. If one is going to achieve anything in government, there must be Cabinet solidarity.
Mr. Penikett: To be precise, if the Government Leader had a case brought to his attention where a Minister had reported dissent from a Cabinet decision outside of the Cabinet room - say a purely hypothetical case regarding a departing deputy minister - how would the Government Leader deal with that complaint?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As it is a purely hypothetical question, I do not have to deal with it, but I certainly would speak to the Minister responsible forthwith.
Mr. Penikett: Perhaps the Government Leader and I can have a private conversation later on; I will not pursue this on the floor of the House at this time.
Would the Government Leader give a short description of his policy, in terms of the distinction between duties and responsibilities, between a Minister and deputy minister in the conduct of the day-to-day business of a department. I am not picking a department, but I would like a description of the generic role of the Minister and the deputy.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It has been my opinion, and the policy of this government, that the Minister is to direct policy to the deputy minister and the deputy minister is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the department and the carrying out of government policy. It is up to the Minister to see that the policy is being carried out by the deputy minister.
As far as the day-to-day operation of the departments go, that is left in the hands of the deputy ministers; they are the professionals.
Mr. Penikett: Could I ask the Government Leader if he see any role for the deputy in policy development or policy making?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We certainly listen to what the deputies have to say. As the Member opposite is fully aware, there are Cabinet committees that deputy ministers are involved in. I certainly listen to what they have to say and I am sure that my Ministers listen, and take their advice into consideration when developing policy.
Mr. Penikett: I was going to ask a question later about Cabinet committees, but since the Government Leader has mentioned them, could I give the Government Leader notice of a question, to which I would like an answer in writing, about what Cabinet committees are operational and what their memberships are at the current time? I will not expect an answer at the moment, but if we could have that tabled in the estimates debate, I would appreciate that.
Given that the Government Leader has confirmed the policy of the previous government in respect to the distinction between the ministerial and deputy roles - at least the theory of the distinction - could I ask what in his policy is the penalty, if you will, for a Minister who is found to be interfering in the administration of a department; for example, presuming to get involved in the hiring or personnel decisions of junior people in the department.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe the guidelines have been laid down quite clearly to the Ministers as to what their responsibilities are, where they start and where they end, and I expect the Ministers to respect those guidelines.
Mr. Penikett: Where are these guidelines laid down? Could the Government Leader table them in the House?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not sure we have them down in writing but we have certainly discussed them and the Ministers are fully aware of what I expect of them.
Mr. Penikett: If they are not written down, even though the Ministers have a clear understanding of them, could the Government Leader perhaps give us a brief oral presentation of those guidelines so that everybody in the House may understand his view?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is just a general code of conduct that is discussed with Cabinet Ministers, and they are fully aware of what their duties are. We have discussed them time and time again and, if a problem ever arose that I was made aware of, then I would have to deal with it and talk to the Ministers about it and refresh their memories.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader may have spoken about this before, but could he refresh our memories briefly on what the content of the code of conduct is - how many points does it have, could he describe some of them for us, and just assist us in knowing what code of conduct we should expect from Ministers in this government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not exactly sure what the Member opposite is looking for, but I can assure him that we have discussed a code of conduct and I believe there is a code of conduct written out in Executive Council guidelines, from back in the Pearson years.
Mr. Penikett: That is why, just a moment ago, I asked if there was a code of conduct written down, but the Government Leader said there was not. If the code of conduct that was adopted some years ago is still in operation, could we reaffirm it by simply having the Government Leader again table that code of conduct and that will serve as a signal to the House that that is the code that is in operation in 1993, as it was five years ago and 10 years ago?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thought the Member was asking for something else. I have no problem tabling that.
Mr. Penikett: Since the Government Leader has been very general in his responses, and I appreciate the necessity for doing that, but is there any occasion, in his view, when a Minister would be justified in taking action with respect to an administrative question in his department, a matter which, by the Government Leaders statement, would normally be the business of the deputy and other officials?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would just go on record as saying that, in my short experience as Government Leader, and working with my Ministers, if they are unsure, they come and discuss it with me first, before taking any actions they feel are questionable, or if they have taken some action that they feel is questionable, or may cause embarrassment to me or the administration, they have been very quick to bring it to my attention.
Mr. Penikett: Other than political questions, which would be the normal part of conversations between Ministers and the Government Leader, have there been any occasions when he has had such discussions about administrative questions in Ministers departments?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There are none that come to mind at the moment.
Mr. Penikett: I have another general question about deputies, and I have to ask it here because it is the only place I can do it in the budget. It is about his own philosophy with respect to two competing theories about deputy ministers, which is the theory about the specialist deputy as opposed to the generic deputy. There is a theory that has been articulated by Mr. Pearson that a deputy is a deputy is a deputy; a deputy should be able to manage any department at any time and, therefore, they should be subject to frequent transfer. They have generic management skills that are interchangeable from department to department.
A contrary view is held in most places in Canada, namely that it used to be that, in many places, you had to have someone with a background in education to be a Deputy Minister of Education; in Health and Social Services, you often had someone with a health or social services background leading the department; even though, in recent years, as the financial problems of health and social services departments became more serious, the governments that have successfully addressed those problems have more recently been hiring finance people or economists, in some instances. The government that has done the most successful job of lowering the health cost now has an economist as the deputy minister, not a health professional. That may say something. I am not recommending it. The view has been to have people who were, if you like, specialists.
Now, having heard the Government Leader, the other day, on the subject of biologists, it occurs to me that he may prefer the generic deputy. However, just to be sure on that point, could I hear his view on this question?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Certainly, deputy ministers are supposed to be professional administrators. I believe, for the most part, that they should be able to manage any department. There are certain departments where it helps to have a background in what they are dealing with. Education may be one of them. I do not think one needs a background in biology to be the Deputy Minister of Renewable Resources. I also do not believe that one has to be a lawyer to be the Deputy Minister of Justice. It may be beneficial to some deputy ministers, but, for the most part, I believe that deputy ministers are professional managers and should have the ability to manage almost any department.
Mr. Penikett: It was often my belief that, in respect to Renewable Resources, the deputy minister had to be a bridge over troubled water - someone who could talk to both the enforcement people and the biologists, because they did not always speak the same language. If the department is going to function, a person who could talk to both was needed. That is a different kind of skill.
Let me ask the Government Leader this: since it seems to be the view of most jurisdictions in the country that a Minister or a deputy minister with some background in law or the courts is needed in the Department of Justice - though it may not be necessary in Education or Health - is it his view that it is desirable or not necessary at all to have a policy background in the field that a deputy is administering?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I could perhaps add to the Member opposites comments about the Deputy Minister of Renewable Resources having to be a bridge over troubled waters. After having to deal with that department for 20 years in my private life, I can vouch for that. There are two different wavelengths, depending on whether one is talking to a biologist or a conservation officer. They certainly have two different views about how things should be done.
It would certainly be beneficial to have a Minister or deputy minister in a department with some background in the areas they are handling. We are handicapped in a jurisdiction as small as the Yukon and among ourselves, with very few people to select from when choosing Ministers. We do depend more on our deputy ministers to have the necessary background. That problem did not happen in the Department of Justice, where our Minister has a legal background. I do not feel, therefore, that it is necessary to have a deputy minister with a legal background, as well.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Government Leader for his comment about one of the major policy questions, and rather than talking about individual cases, I will not talk hypothetically, I will talk about policy, and then we do not have to talk about particular cases, now or in the past.
I believe our public service laws make it quite clear that a deputy minister cannot be active politically. They should not be a member of a political party or in fact indicate any political beliefs or attitudes in their working life.
That view of the deputy minister role has been recently confirmed by the Supreme Court, while the Supreme Court was simultaneously reinforcing the rights of other public employees to enjoy the benefits of citizenship - to join political parties and to be politically active, as long as they were doing it on their own time.
Could I ask the Government Leader if he agrees with the views of the Supreme Court on this question and does he agree with the law that is now laid down in the Public Service Act?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that a deputy minister should not be political. I believe that they should not be involved in politics. If they were wise they would not be. I agree with the Supreme Court ruling that deputy ministers should not be politically active.
Mr. Penikett: Mr. Chair, could I ask your indulgence about the timing of the break. I would like to change subjects now and I would be happy to take a break now and develop my line of questioning after the break.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a break?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I will declare a brief recess.
Chair: I will call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there further debate?
Mrs. Firth: I would like to ask the Government Leader some questions - in a similar context to the questions that the Leader of the Official Opposition was posing - about Cabinet, advisors, relationships and, in particular, I would like to ask the Government Leader what the requirements are of the special assistant to Cabinet. I would like to know what the job description involves and what matters this individual advises Cabinet on, or how this individual assists Cabinet; what is the function of that individual?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The special assistant and advisor to Cabinet is just that; he takes on a varied and broad range of duties and advises Cabinet. He has been working with us quite a bit in the restructuring of departments and he brings advice back to Cabinet. We use him wherever we feel it is necessary; he has a broad range of duties.
Mrs. Firth: Does that position have a job description?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, certainly the position has a job description.
Mrs. Firth: Could a copy of that job description be tabled in the House tomorrow?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not believe those have ever been tabled in the House before.
Mrs. Firth: Certainly they have. I have asked previous governments for job descriptions of staff and they have been tabled in the House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will check on that and, if possible, I will table it.
Mrs. Firth: I do not see any reason why it cannot be tabled, other than if one does not exist. I would like to have it tabled tomorrow. I would like to know if the job description went along with the individuals resume to the Public Service Commission for a pay range to be selected.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, it did.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell us what the pay range classification is?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is MG8.
Mrs. Firth: MG8 is, I believe, equivalent to, say, what the Government Leaders Principal Secretary range is. That is in the range of $72,152 to $93,704. That is as of the October 1 pay grid.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, it is in the same pay scale.
Mrs. Firth: When the Minister tables the job description tomorrow, could he also indicate the length of time of this position? Is there a time period attached to it? Is it a year, two years, or five years, like the other orders-in-council? Could we get some indication from the Minister?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I can give her that information now. It is an order-in-council appointment, and there is no time limit on it.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Government Leader tell us if his Principal Secretary pay range remains the same as the previous governments, which was an MG8?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, it is an MG8.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Government Leader table the job description for that position, as well?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, we will do that.
Mrs. Firth: Again, does that position have any tenure attached to it, or is it just at pleasure?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, the appointment is at pleasure.
Mrs. Firth: I noticed that both the special assistant to Cabinet position that has been created, and the Principal Secretary, were part of the transition team of the government. At the time they were transition team members, were they in these job positions, or were they classified in some other capacity, or being paid in some other capacity?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe the appointments go back to November sometime.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Government Leader get that for us accurately. He said he believes - could we find out for sure when the appointments started, and was it at the time for the special assistant? He was considered part of the transition team, so was he on some kind of contract or was he hired as a special assistant right at that time? The impression we were given and the announcements that were made were that he was a transition team member; this special assistant to Cabinet is a new position that has been created. I would like to know whether he was being paid by contract or whether he was serving a dual purpose or whether he was in that role as special assistant to Cabinet.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We will bring the dates back, but I do not believe the special assistant was on contract prior to being appointed special assistant.
Mrs. Firth: If the Minister could bring that information back, along with the job descriptions, I may have further questions tomorrow.
Mr. Penikett: I would just like to ask one question, which would be supplemental to Mrs. Firths question. I hope the Government Leader will answer as it is a serious question, given the rhetoric of his party about hiring Yukoners. Did the Government Leader give any consideration to hiring a Yukoner in the position held by Mr. Dale Drown, who I understand is still a resident of British Columbia? I make the point that there are obviously very strong supporters of his and the governments in the local media; among the strong supporters I think are Lisa Blackburn who writes for the Whitehorse Star, Don Sawatsky who writes for the Yukon News and Jane Gaffin who writes for publications locally. A number of people have suggested to me that surely the government could have hired one or two or perhaps all three of these people for the price we are paying for Mr. Drown. They are all Yukoners; they all live here; they all pay taxes here and have families here. Did the Government Leader ever give any consideration to hiring these well-qualified - very conservative no doubt - local people?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not believe we could hire two or three of them for what we are paying Mr. Drown - nowhere near what we are paying that gentleman. Mr. Drown was hired on the basis of his qualifications and he is doing a very good job for us.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader says he hired on the basis of qualifications, but when I asked about them, he refused to tell us what they were. The legislative return today was, if I may say so, almost insulting in the information that it refused to provide.
What are Mr. Drowns qualifications? May I ask the Government Leader that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will double-check that to see what information I can bring forward.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Government Leader. I hope the record will show that I have made a strong representation on behalf of Lisa, Don and Jane and that I hope the government will seriously consider these Yukoners for this kind of role, rather than someone who, I understand, does not choose to live here. While we are on the subject of communications, may I ask the Government Leader to explain the extent to which the public service bureau has been reorganized or redesigned, changed its reporting relationship or had its staffing reduced? Could the Government Leader tell us something about that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I could answer a lot of these questions in the budget debate when I have my proper briefing book with me. The public affairs bureau has been incorporated into policy and planning and reports to a single director.
Mr. Penikett: I appreciate that we will get into the detail, but is it also the case that the number of staff in the public affairs bureau - however it is now described - has been reduced?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, there has been a reduction of two positions. One of them is the director and the other is a communications assistant. The positions have been eliminated.
Mr. Penikett: Is there any occasion when the staff of this branch, who are public employees and public servants, ever take direction or instruction from Mr. Drown, who is, of course, a political appointee and not a public employee?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, they do not.
Mr. Penikett: Therefore, if there was ever a case where it came to the Government Leaders attention that Mr. Drown had given instructions to the employees of the public affairs bureau, the Government Leader would immediately order that it stop? Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am certainly not aware of any incidence where this may have happened, and I do know that Mr. Drown talks to those people, but he certainly does not carry out instructions from the Executive Council Office.
Mr. Penikett: I did ask the Government Leader earlier, before we got to the line-by-line debate, to give us an organization chart as it is reoriented. I am not asking for tonight, but perhaps tomorrow the Government Leader could provide the House with a new organization chart for the Executive Council Office, so we may better understand who is reporting to who.
To what extent does the reduction in the public affairs bureau funding reflect a desire or wish by the Government Leader and the government for departmental communicators to have a larger role or a freer hand? To what extent will the public affairs bureau be coordinating communications from the Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The public affairs bureau will still be coordinating communications. The communications officers in larger departments will still be carrying out their roles, but there are some who will be brought back in-house from the smaller departments, where we do not feel we are getting value for our dollar.
Mr. Penikett: What does that mean? Does that mean that there is centralization as opposed to decentralization; in other words, the government is transferring communications officers from smaller departments into the Executive Council Office? If that is the case, then what is happening to the total person year complement in the branch?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is partly correct. Some of them are being brought back in from some of the smaller departments, and we leave them in the larger departments where we feel they are required. We did not feel we were getting value for our dollar by having the communications officers decentralized to all departments.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader answered part of the question, but the other part is: if he has reduced the staffing in the public affairs bureau, is it then going to increase again as a result of people being transferred from small departments back to the Executive Council Office, and by how many person years?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, it will not increase.
Mr. Penikett: I know that we are going to go to the full time equivalent system, which is going to confuse us mightily about who is working where and when.
If you are moving someone from a small department back to Executive Council Office, are they moving into a vacant position, and if that is the case then I would like to see some reconciliation of this. I do not see how you could have enough vacant positions to move all of the communication officers from small departments into the Executive Council Office and not have a staff increase.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We can get that information for the Member, but I am sure that the Member is aware that there were, I believe, four or five vacancies in the public affairs bureau shortly after we took office. These positions were filled with people from other departments.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader will also understand - we are talking about fairly simple math here - that if you move four or five people from small departments into those vacant positions, you cannot reduce the total staffing. The government has claimed that it has reduced the total staffing. That is why I would like a reconciliation. I will not ask for it now; you can come back with the information tomorrow, but I am not clear on that point.
Let me ask one or two other questions - Mrs. Firth has one on the same subject - and then I would like to move on to another area if we may.
A number of us were quite appalled by the politicization of The Sluice Box, by the inclusion of Mr. Millars article, especially since the article included figures that the government must have known were inaccurate by the time they published them. May I ask the governments intention about the politicizing of The Sluice Box, and to what extent that is now a communications organ of the Cabinet office or Executive Council Office, rather than the Public Service Commission, as it was previously.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is one place where the Member opposite and I will disagree. The publication has not been moved to the Executive Council Office or the Cabinet office for political purposes; it is still a Public Service Commission publication.
Mr. Penikett: Who makes the editorial decisions about what goes into that publication?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is my understanding that there is a small advisory group that is chaired by a staff member of the Public Service Commission.
Mr. Penikett: Did any member of Cabinet, the Government Leader, any of the Government Leaders political staff, or Mr. Millar solicit or instruct the Public Service Commission staff to publish Mr. Millars article in The Sluice Box?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Not that I am aware of.
Mr. Penikett: Surely the Government Leader is not claiming that the Public Service Commission staff, who have always been scrupulously non-partisan and apolitical in their publication, solicited the article?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, not that I am aware of.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader has just contradicted himself. He said that he is not aware of the Public Service Commission soliciting the article. If they did not solicit it, the only way it could have appeared there is if, in fact the government, or Mr. Miller, offered it for publication to The Sluice Box, or ordered that it be published. The Government Leader may not know the answer now, but I would like to know the answer.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, I certainly did not order it. I will try to find an answer and bring it back for the Member opposite.
Mr. Penikett: Given that the article published in The Sluice Box contained information that the author must have known was inaccurate at the time it was published, who should we hold responsible for the publication of inaccurate information in a government publication, by way of an article including quotes, or views, attributed to someone who was on the political staff of the Government Leader.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is making an assumption that the information was inaccurate, or the government knew it was inaccurate at the time. I am not aware that that is the case.
Mr. Penikett: I do not want to go over all the old coals, but we have established definitely on the record, that by the time that article was published, the information contained in it was already known to be wrong. I think that every Member on this side of this House who has ever been a Minister and knows anything about government, knows that is a fact. I do not think that can be in dispute. I do not want to go over that ground again. All I want to know is, who should we hold to account for this? Is it the staff in the Public Service Commission who had the ultimate editorial authority, or was it someone else? I do not expect the Government Leader to answer tonight, given his previous answers, but I would appreciate him coming back with an answer to that question.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, I will try to get some answers for him on that.
Mr. Penikett: Can I have the Government Leaders absolute assurance that never again will The Sluice Box contain articles by his political staff? If that were to happen again, there would be all sorts of anger and suspicions about the nature and political orientation of that publication.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, I am not aware of any instructions that were given to The Sluice Box to publish that. I will check into it and bring the information back to the Member opposite.
Mr. Penikett: Let me be quite precise about my question. I am not asking about the past now; I am asking about the future. I want the Government Leaders assurance that never again, during his time in government, will there be an article published in The Sluice Box authored or attributed to a member of his political staff. It damages the integrity of the publication as an employee newsletter.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not want to damage the integrity of the publication. However, again, I say to the Member opposite that I am not certain what transpired around that, and I will get some information and bring it back to the Member. Perhaps then I can answer the question better.
Mr. Penikett: I have a question on a related area in this broad area, then I will sit down and defer to Mrs. Firth.
One of the important and valued activities of the public affairs bureau of the last few years has been the role of the photography section in contributing to the Yukon archives, in other words, providing records of the government and government activities to the archives for part of the permanent historical record of this territory.
Under this budget, will this activity be maintained, or is it an area that may be sent out, or restructured to another department or agency?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, it is our intention to maintain that service. We have not even discussed contracting it out, or any other such move.
Mrs. Firth: I want to ask the Minister about an answer he gave to a question the Leader of the Official Opposition asked in regard to the qualifications of his communications advisor. The Ministers response was that he would have to check and see what he could bring forward regarding that individuals qualifications. With whom does he have to check? Why can he not just stand up and tell us what the qualifications are this evening?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I told the Member opposite, I was advised that job descriptions were not tabled in the Legislature, so I am going to check to see if I can table them or not. I will get a copy of the job description. That is why I cannot answer the question any better tonight.
Mrs. Firth: I did not ask for this individuals job description yet. I will be asking for it, though. I have asked for the special advisor to Cabinet and I have asked for the Principal Secretary. I will also want tabled tomorrow the communications advisors job description. We have asked what the qualifications of this individual were and the reasons the Minister hired him. He answered that he could not tell us and that he would have to find out what he could bring forward. My question is: who does he have to ask about bringing it forward? Can he not tell us what the individuals qualifications were, which were the reasons for his hiring that person?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: First of all, I will check on what is personal information regarding the person who is being enquired about. Furthermore, I would hate to mislead this House, and I will have to check he gentlemans resume to make sure I have the right facts.
Mrs. Firth: I am not asking for any of the individuals personal information. I do not want to know the personal, intimate details of his life. What I want to know is what particular qualifications this individual has that caused the Minister to think he was the best person to hire. That is the question we have been asking from this side of the House. The Minister has indicated that he cannot tell us what the qualifications were that were the reason for him hiring this individual, but that he has to find out from somebody what he can bring forward. It does not make any sense.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just want to repeat what I just said. I will check his resume so that I do not mislead the House.
Mr. Penikett: I do not know if the Government Leader will feel grateful, but I want to change the subject. It will still be under the topic of general debate on the ECO.
Since we have a few minutes left, I wonder if I could start to fish one of those deep pools and go back very briefly to the question of the policy on devolution. The Government Leader may have had a chance to think about this or discuss this further with his officials, but the other day, when we were discussing this, he hung his hat fairly firmly on the hook of the devolution table suggesting that the devolution table might be the be-all and end-all to addressing the concerns of First Nations about their rights and interests on devolution matters that are being negotiated between the territorial and federal government:
I would like to take a minute to explain what I think the concern of First Nations would be. I can use the example of the Northern Accord or the forestry matter. The other night, I conceded to the Government Leader that I think our governments record on this score was imperfect. While we went almost all the way to concluding an agreement on the Northern Accord, the obligations that we made at the land claims table were not met satisfactorily in the devolution discussions or the Northern Accord and they do not appear to have been satisfactorily met, from the First Nations point of view, in forestry.
I appreciate and understand what the Government Leader said at the devolution table, but I suspect that the First Nations will not be content with the answers given by the Government Leader, for the following reason: if the two governments, federal and territorial, negotiate and reach an agreement - almost a final agreement - on a matter like forestry or the Northern Accord, and then come to the devolution table and say they want to check with the First Nations on their interests, there will be the perception that the First Nations are having to deal with a fait accompli - a deal that is already made, or matters that are essentially settled. I believe that we had some fault on this score, because I believe the First Nations have a legitimate point that, in the Northern Accord case, their interests were not included, as they were supposed to be at certain critical stages in the government caucus.
I asked the Government Leader the other day if he would make some efforts to include the First Nations in the final stages of the negotiations on the mining matters, because I know that is a very important question, but he did not give us a very clear answer.
On forestry, I think the Kaska First Nation, in particular, is going to be deeply concerned that we are going to be negotiating matters that affect lands they have selected, the forests on those lands and a whole number of questions about forest management, in which they have a legitimate interest.
While I appreciate what is said about the devolution table, I want to know what involvement the government is going to give First Nations, not at the devolution table, but in the direct talks involving the devolution of forestry.
Before Dr. McTiernan advises the Government Leader, I meant to say that there is clearly a possibility - Dr. McTiernan will understand - that, in the case of forestry, for example, it is not only the financial interest that they have in the Northern Accord, but there may be some devolution that goes directly to First Nations, not only to the Yukon territorial government.
In that sense, it is a three-cornered negotiation. However, if they are left out of the negotiations, they are going to feel frustrated and angry - not at me any more, but probably at the Government Leader.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There are ongoing meetings with CYI about their involvement in the forestry transfer, as well as ongoing meetings about their involvement in the Northern Accord. I can assure the Member opposite that, right now, there are federal officials in town who are dealing with the devolution table and are making very good progress. I am sure that once the table is in place, along with some clear guidelines about how the First Nations will be involved in the negotiations, everybody will have a clear understanding of where they are going. Surely, this is a matter that should be determined by the First Nations people.
Mr. Penikett: I quite agree. I am not trying to have a furious argument with the Government Leader here. I am trying to address something that is a very sensitive and somewhat complex policy issue. I want to know what direction he is going to take on it.
Let me try to explain it again. The devolution table is, as they say at Trinity College in Dublin, necessary but not sufficient. It will address part of the concern. It will be one forum. First Nations are going to be profoundly frustrated if there is a matter being negotiated in devolution talks in which they have an interest and to which they think they should be a third party - not just simply a consultant at the devolution table, but a party to the negotiations. As I tried to explain, with respect to the Northern Accord there is a subtle difference. It is my belief that it was agreed with the First Nations at the land claims table that they would have something more than a consultative role and something less than a veto. We did not work out clearly enough what the model was going to be, but I am quite sure that they are not going to be satisfied with simply being told that it will be dealt with at the devolution table.
When the federal officials are here having talks with Dr. McTiernan and others, it will be expected by the First Nations, and by the federal officials, that YTG representatives will come to the table with some kind of mandate from the Government of the Yukon.
Without showing our complete hand, I would like the Government Leader to give us the policy context for that mandate. What is the policy objective that he will be trying to achieve in terms of accommodating legitimate First Nation concerns in devolution talks? I know and I understand what is trying to be achieved at the devolution table, but I want to know about the devolution talks, especially those where they believe that they may not have a veto, but an interest in the talks and a right to a voice in the negotiations.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: These are talks that are going on now with CYI and First Nations people, and there is no doubt that when we come to the forestry transfer that there is going to be direct involvement by the Kaska and other First Nation people who have forestry resources on their land. They are going to have to play a part in negotiations. That process is being set up now. That is what is being discussed now under the Northern Accord and the management of oil and gas, onshore resources. Those are the areas that are being discussed with the First Nations, and it is a matter that will be determined by the First Nations and our negotiators in these talks to see what role they play. We have made extraordinary efforts to build a good working relationship with the First Nations of the Yukon, and there are going to be many problems. I see the Kaska nation is not in favour of the agreement that was negotiated by the previous administration on the transboundary issue.
In fact, they are not prepared to accept the umbrella final agreement in its present state. I believe the news report said that they did not negotiate it, so they did not feel they had to honour it. So, there are going to be many ongoing problems. We are going to deal directly with the First Nations and try to rectify the problems, so that we know exactly what their involvement is and to build a good working relationship with the First Nations people. I do not think we are going to solve it by negotiating that relationship here in this Legislature tonight.
Mr. Penikett: Far be it for me to try and do that, but I want to say, by way of a preamble, that I certainly hope, given the debate in this House on the Tetlit Gwichin experience, the Government Leader will be supporting the position of the NDP, and not the Kaska, in respect to the transboundary matter. I will ask him that when we get to the land claims line.
Since I cannot do this by asking a general question, I will try and do it bit by bit. If the Government Leader had his way, or if he was taking a position in the talks with the First Nations with respect to the forestry transfer and the Kaska interests, which he has just recognized, would he prefer those negotiations about devolution of federal forestry authority to the Kaska, where they have a legislated interest, take place at the self-government table as part of the land claims negotiations with the Kaska, or would he prefer that it take place in a larger forum, such as the devolution table? I am asking as a matter of policy. What is his position?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I want to get back to the issue of the devolution table, which the Member opposite does not think is going to solve the problem. I will say this, that it will go a long way toward solving the problem. Since the Member opposite said he was going to ask me anyway, I would just like to put on the record my position on the Tetlit Gwichin claim. I would only say to the Member opposite that I think I would have done more than take the position that he has taken now, with renegotiating a clause in the umbrella final agreement, which I do not believe carries much weight. I would have taken a firmer stand, such as the previous administration did in the COPE claim. That is what I would have done, but that is not the issue here in front of us today. The issue here in front of us is that the Member opposite is asking me strictly a policy question as to which forum I would prefer. I would prefer the devolution table, rather than dealing with that issue when negotiating for self-government issues.
There are self-government issues that will arise after the forestry transfer has been dealt with through the devolution table, and those issues will be dealt with at that time.
Mr. Chairman, it now being close to the time, I move you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, entitled Fourth Appropriation Act, 1992-93, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from 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 9:27 p.m.
The following Legislative Return was tabled April 14, 1993:
Transition Team composition, responsibilities and contract costs (Ostashek)
Written Question No. 2, March 15, 1993, Mr. Penikett