Thursday, April 22, 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.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to take this opportunity to introduce to the House certain members of the community who are deeply concerned about the state of our environment. This being Earth Day, they have come here to show their support for any initiatives taken by this House that address some of the ills that have been inflicted on our environment and to contribute to ways to keep our earth clean and safe.
Earth Day is a very important day to stand in recognition of the delicate balance that we must all strive to achieve between the land, water and air, and our relentless drive to provide for sustainable development. A stable economy is one thing, but I firmly believe that we cannot continue to exploit our Mother Earth and then, when we are older and pass it on to our children, tell them that they have to pay billions and billions of dollars to repair the damages, to clean our water and to heal the earth.
In the good old days, groups like the ones represented in the gallery today used to be called special interest groups and shunned and not listened to, but these groups represent very important views on our world and we maintain they should be listened to closely.
I would like to introduce Allen Young, the executive director of the Yukon Conservation Society. This well known and respected umbrella organization has been a guiding light in the local environmentalist movement for 25 years. As they celebrate a quarter century of activity in the Yukon, I would like to congratulate them. Consistently, the Yukon Conservation Society has successfully intervened, lobbied, represented and focused attention on issues that have a direct bearing on the environment.
Also in the gallery is Bill Wolverton, president of Raven Recycling. They have recently released a strategic plan - a major achievement. Their plan is to promote and implement, in a socially responsible way, the three Rs of recycle, reuse, reduce, and that philosophy of resources and waste management.
I would like to congratulate everyone involved who has worked toward their goal of reducing, by the year 2000, 50 percent of waste entering Yukon land fills.
Another important measure -
Speaker: Order please. The guests have been introduced and we should all welcome them to the House at this time.
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have a legislative return for tabling and I would like to ask the Member for McIntyre-Takhini if he could give us a brief three-page executive summary of this on Monday?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have a legislative return for tabling and a document pursuant to section 3 of the Fire Prevention Act; I also have for tabling the Fire Marshalls annual report.
Speaker: Are there any further Returns or Documents for tabling?
Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers.
Notices of Motion.
Statements by Ministers.
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Budget, projected deficit
Mr. McDonald: Yesterday, we heard that there was at least one large expenditure in the order of $200,000 in the supplementary budget that the government knew about long before the budget was developed, and that they had no intention of spending this in the last fiscal year.
Can the Minister of Finance indicate why the government consciously inflated the supplementary budget? Was it a conscious attempt to inflate the spending plans of the NDP administration and drive up the projected deficit for last year?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Before I reply to the question, perhaps I could just tell the Members opposite that if they want a copy of that, they should request it from the Clerk, rather than make copies for every Member of the House.
This is a ridiculous allegation by the former Minister of Finance. He should be well aware of the procedures that we go through to put the supplementary budget in front of the House. This is a debate that has taken place on the floor of this House many times over. There is no doubt that there are going to be lapses. We admitted that in general debate and when we introduced the supplementaries.
Mr. McDonald: It was established last night that the government knew, long before this estimate was tabled, that they would not require this $200,000 expenditure, and yet they claimed, during the introduction of this bill, that these expenditure estimates were accurate.
Can the Minister of Finance indicate whether or not there are other expenditure proposals that the government knew about that will not be spent, but served only to inflate the supplementary and drive up the deficit beyond reason?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I find this line of attack by Members opposite ridiculous. First of all, when the Members opposite sat on this side of the House, they said how difficult it was to be able to come up with exact figures. This debate has gone on and on.
The supplementaries were based on period 8. The cut-off date is November 30. The Member knows very well, in debate of supplementaries in this House before, when one went through line by line, it was identified by the Ministers whether the money was going to be spent or lapsed. If the Members would get moving in the debate on the supplementaries and get into the line-by-line debate, they would have those items identified.
Mr. McDonald: This is far from a ridiculous situation. This is a very serious situation, and there are very serious consequences to what the government appears to be doing by inflating the supplementary estimates beyond what is reasonable, then tabling those estimates in the Legislature and claiming they are accurate.
Did the government consciously decide that it would artificially inflate the supplementary budget so that, after the money lapsed, they could claim that they were simply tight fiscal managers?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Again, I say that is a ridiculous allegation, and the Member opposite knows full well that it is.
When we tabled the supplementaries, we identified that there could be lapses of two to three percent - $10 million to $15 million. While there are going to be some lapses, there are also things in the supplementaries that are not accounted for. One such thing is the MLA pension plan, which just had an actuarial evaluation done on it, and it was found to have been under estimated by hundreds of thousands of dollars, which has to be accounted for.
Also, the Department of Education has not taken into account the total cost of their teacher salaries, and that is going to be a tremendous under estimate that is going to have to be accounted for. Therefore, it is going to work both ways.
If we had wanted to embarrass the Members opposite, all we would have had to do was to charge the extended care facility against the accumulated surplus, which still has to be done. The Members opposite are fully aware that there is another $7 million to $11 million that has to be accounted for against the surplus.
Question re: Budget, projected deficit
Mr. McDonald: We are talking about deception here. Yesterday, questions were also put respecting the cost to the taxpayer of the severance for fired deputy ministers. We were first told that the costs were not in the departmental budget. Then we were told that perhaps they were in the Public Service Commission budget. Then we were told that perhaps they were not in the budget at all. On March 31, we were told by the Minister of Finance that the costs would be found in the supplementaries in the relevant departments. Why are the MLAs getting the runaround in the supplementary budget estimates? Why were we not being told the truth?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Members opposite were told the truth. It is my understanding that the severance packages will not be identified separately. It is a confidential figure and they are not even in the supplementaries yet. They would be in period 13.
Mr. McDonald: On March 31, 1993, not so long ago, we were told by the Minister of Finance that, The severance contracts for deputy ministers show up in the supplementaries in the relevant departments. We were told that we would have the opportunity to ask each Minister, as they were going line by line, on their departments in the supplementaries. Why is the Government Leader now indicating something quite the contrary? Is he trying to avoid questions in the Legislature about this particular item?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is fully aware that those kinds of figures are never identified on a person-by-person basis. If he wants to know what the severance packages were, I suggest he ask the former Government Leader, the Leader of the Official Opposition, who made the contracts.
Mr. McDonald: Again, we are talking about deception. It seems to be a theme. The Government Leader has said and I quote from Hansard on the same day, It will show up on the line wherever the deputy minister was paid, or maybe the department had savings within the department and were able to cover the severance package. Why is the Government Leader telling us a different story today?
We are talking about honesty here.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is right, we certainly are talking about honesty. As the Member said, it may be that the department had services that have covered it off and that will all be reported in period 13.
Question re: Land development, residential
Mr. Cable: The upcoming budget has a sum of $17,410,000 devoted to residential land development for the present fiscal year, which I should remind the government is twice the tax increases that are being requested.
My question is to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services. I assume that this amount involves a number of projects; when these projects are completed, how many residential lots - and I ask this in a very approximate sense - will be created and available for sale?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not have that information with me at this time, but I certainly will get back to the Member with that information. The reason that I do not have that information is because there are a number of lots in a number of different communities. There are rural-residential and single-family residential lots - several categories in several different communities. I can provide that information for the Member opposite as soon as possible.
Mr. Cable: I would appreciate the Minister doing that.
I note from the debate yesterday that the government anticipates a need - if I could paraphrase the Ministers words - over a three-year period of approximately 1,400 to 1,500 lots in Whitehorse. Could the Minister tell the House how this need was forecasted?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The lands branch goes by previous years sales, and my understanding is that in the past few years it has averaged somewhere between 150 and 200 single-family residential lots per year. There are also other country-residential lots. They base the figures on that type of calculation.
Mr. Cable: In the event that the Curragh operation remains closed for an extended period of time, would the Minister expect to review the forecasts and the expenditure?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The department does a continual review of the needs for future years based on the economy of the community at the time.
Question re: Budget, projected deficit
Mr. McDonald: I would like to ask the Minister of Finance a follow-up question to some of the responses he just made. Last night, we heard the Minister of Community and Transportation Services indicate that the $200,000 required for the 911 number was known at the time the budget was developed, long before it was tabled, and was not going to be needed. In the past, Ministers have indicated that they would insert items into their budget for which there was a chance that the money would be expended. Why did the government consciously insert this item in the budget when they knew without doubt that the funding was not going to be required?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, that allegation is simply not true. When the supplementaries were put together, based on the variance 8 report of November 30, the department at that time believed they would be able to spend the money. As I said earlier, the same debate has gone on no matter which side of the House this government was on, whether they were in Opposition or in government. When Members were over here on this side as a government, they defended this and said it was hard to project exactly what was going to be spent; and it was identified as they went through the budgets line by line which would lapse and which would not.
Mr. McDonald: This budget was tabled two weeks before the end of the fiscal year. The government knew well before the budget was delivered to the Legislature and while it was being developed that the funding was not going to be required. That was acknowledged last evening. What has apparently transpired now and what has transpired in the past is very, very different. Why would the government insert into its budget a requirement - in this particular case, and there may be more - for $200,000 when they consciously knew they would not require the funding?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This is a ridiculous debate; a ridiculous Question Period. The Member opposite knows full well that there are cut-off dates for these documents. They cannot be preparing them on a day-to-day basis. If that is what the Members opposite want, then we should operate on warrants the whole year and put the budget together afterward, so that we will know what the exact expenditures are. The call letter went out on December 14 for period 8 variance reports, based on November 30, and the departments were explicitly instructed in that letter to budget as tightly and as accurately as possible, so as to provide Management Board with a fair picture of our financial position. We needed this so that we could put a budget together.
Generally, the supplementaries come in the fall but there was no fall session because of the election so we had to do this this way, and we tried to get as accurate a picture as possible. As I have already stated in previous questions, if we want to embarrass the previous administration, there are other ways to do it without a Micky Mouse thing like the Member is trying to allude to.
Mr. McDonald: We are talking about honesty in budgeting. We are talking about the government doing, consciously, what they knew was wrong. There is nothing Mickey Mouse about this question; this is a serious question.
Why would the government, knowing that they did not require the $200,000, table that budget in the House, bill it as a required expenditure, and then indicate in defence of their actions that they could have been even more devious if they had tried?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That statement is simply not true. I said we could have been more honest. We could have got the extended care facility included in there and brought in a deficit of $69 million.
The fact remains that the Member opposite knows full well that there is a cut-off date. Does he expect that we can have the supplementaries done, put a main budget together based on those supplementary estimates and then change them a week or two prior to bringing them into the House? It is a ridiculous accusation.
Question re: Whitehorse sewage treatment
Ms. Moorcroft: As I noted earlier today, as it is Earth Day, and we have representatives from the Recycling Organics Together Society - a very worthy organization known as ROTS - it is fitting that I have a question for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services regarding sewage treatment and the environmental disaster created by the lack thereof within the City of Whitehorse.
In the House yesterday, the Minister stated that this was totally a municipal responsibility. During the election campaign, the Yukon Party made it a political issue when it said, The Yukon Party knows that the cost to the environment is far greater if this problem is not resolved. In light of this, can the Minister explain how it could be a totally municipal responsibility? Is he saying that the Yukon government is now washing its hands of this matter, or does it have some responsibility here somewhere?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: This question is ridiculous. The Members opposite had seven years in which to deal with the Whitehorse sewage problem. We have been in office for six months. We have done more in six months than they did in the previous seven years.
This is a responsibility of everyone in the Yukon Territory, not just the city, the people downstream or the Yukon government. We are accepting the responsibility in that we are providing major funds toward this project.
Ms. Moorcroft: This is not ridiculous. The Minister is the MLA for Lake Laberge and he has constituents that live downstream and use the river water; some of them drink it. The Minister said yesterday that no one from his department was going to make sure that people downstream knew about the sewage in the water and that he was not sure if anyone from any other agency was doing so either. Can the Minister explain why he either does not know or does not care that all people downstream are fully informed about the environmental emergency created by 4 billion litres of raw sewage being pumped into the Yukon River this week?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do know and I do care. I have had many phone calls at home; people have been and are being informed. I think the Member opposite should read the newspaper or call the city. Although this is an environmental disaster, it is not near to the extent that she is trying to make the House believe.
Ms. Moorcroft: I do read the newspaper but I would also like to hear answers when I ask questions in the House. The city has apparently found a short-term solution to the problem but treatment from the Porter Creek lagoon is less that adequate - five days as opposed to the full eight days required for primary treatment. Will the Minister take a bit of interest in the welfare of his constituents downstream and find out today, tomorrow or over the weekend what steps are being taken by any agency - federal, territorial or municipal - to ensure the public downstream is aware of this problem and that people do not use the water. If no steps are being taken, will he make sure that something is done?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I will ensure that adequate notification is given to those residents if it has not already been done and if there is anything more that can be done.
Question re: Aishihik Lake, effect of hydro plant
Ms. Joe: I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources. A recent study done for the Yukon government regarding fish at Aishihik Lake has concluded that there is no doubt the whitefish population is affected by the hydro plant at the lake. Is the Minister aware of this study and has he looked at the report and its conclusions?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Yes, I am aware of the report and I have seen the draft, which has been sent to Winnipeg to be finalized.
Ms. Joe: Since the Minister has seen the report, can he state what steps his department will be taking to stop the environmental devastation of Aishihik Lake, including the effect on the fish?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: What I would like to advise the Member opposite is that this is one of a number of studies that will be forthcoming over the next few months and years. All these are being prepared as part of the process to examine the water licence that is currently held by the Yukon Energy Corporation at Aishihik Lake. The corporation intends to participate in that process and will be bound by the decisions made by the Water Board with respect to its licences.
Ms. Joe: I was asking the Minister responsible for Renewable Resources about what his intentions were to deal with this problem at Aishihik Lake. His party made an election promise to stop the environmental devastation. I would like to ask the Minister whether or not he intends to keep that promise and do something about the devastation of the fish at Aishihik Lake.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: The draft report that has come in indicates that there are some problems with the whitefish in the area; however, this report has not gone through the experts in the professional field who are now looking at it. We will wait until that comes back. There is already progress being made to do studies in the next four or five years to see what we can do.
Question re: Environmental protection regulations
Ms. Joe: I have another question for the Minister responsible for Renewable Resources. Can the Minister advise whether or not the schedule established for the development of the Environment Act regulations, by the New Democrat government, remains unchanged, or has there been a major shift in priority and slowdown due to the 36-percent reduction in the environmental protection funding shown in the recent budget?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: No, there are roughly 20 to 25 regulations that have to come in over the next few years. They are working on them. They have two in now.
Ms. Joe: I understand that litter regulations are scheduled to be completed in the very near future. Can the Minister confirm that this is the case?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Yes, some are being completed at the present time. If this Legislature keeps going on like this, they could probably come in here. We will be here until next fall.
Ms. Joe: We on this side certainly have a lot of interest in what this government is doing. Until they let us know, we will be here. I understand that the Summary Convictions Act will have to be amended in order to comply with the proposed litter regulations. Can I ask the Member whether it is the governments intention to introduce those amendments during this sitting of the Legislature?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I will take that under advisement.
Question re: Emergency telephone number
Mrs. Firth: Last evening, we had a very interesting debate in this Legislature regarding supplementary items and some budgetary items. One of the topics of discussion was the 911 number.
Could the Minister of Community and Transportation Services tell us if the 911 number will be implemented for this coming fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Standardized telephone numbers for emergency response purposes throughout the Yukon will be installed in May 1993. The final decision on how this government will approach the 911 service in Whitehorse will be made within the very near future.
Mrs. Firth: In the House last evening, the Minister told us we would have the 911 number in the fall, and that he had told his department that he wanted it in the 1993-94 budget. Why is there no money in the 1993-94 budget for the 911 implementation?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Just to clarify what I did say last evening, and I will quote from Hansard, Depending on budget approval and technical difficulties, which are apparently being remedied at this time, the 911 service may be in effect in the fall.
With respect to the funding for 911, we felt that some things might have been completed in the 1992-93 fiscal year and, consequently, had $200,000 in the supplementary budget for those items. Then, when we found that it was not going to happen in that fiscal year, it was too late to get it into the 1993-94 budget; therefore, that money will have to be revoted.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister put $200,000 in the supplementaries when they knew they would not need it. The Minister stood in the House yesterday and, in response to my question, Did the Minister direct his department to include it in the main budget? he said, Yes, I did.
Why is the money not in the budget, if he directed his officials to put it in the budget?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure whether there was a misunderstanding between the department and me but, for whatever reason, it did not get put into the 1993-94 budget; however, the money can be revoted and it will come through on the first supplementary of the new year, or even into the period 13 supplementary.
Question re: Emergency telephone number
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the same Minister.
In the Legislature last night, the Minister said no less than four times that the money for the 911 number is in the 1993-94 budget. The Minister said that over and over.
Either the Minister is trying to manipulate the budget or he genuinely does not know what is in his budget; which is it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Neither one; I certainly was not trying to manipulate the budget or pass false information on in this House, but at the same time I honestly did believe that the money was in the 1993-94 budget.
Mrs. Firth: Again, if the Minister believed the money was there and directed his officials to put it there, why was the money not there? Who is running the show?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would hope that this House is running the show.
Mrs. Firth: Believe me, that would be a very refreshing change. My concern is that it is not the Ministers; it is not the House; it is being run at the officials level.
I would like to ask the Minister if he is going to direct his officials to look at changing the budget, including the money that he originally requested be put in this budget for the 911 number. I would also like to know if he will be bringing forward an amendment to do that or if I will have to do that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not exactly sure what the mechanics are to ensure that the money is available for 1993-94, but I believe that it can be done on the period 13 supplementary. I am quite willing to ensure that it is in there. If it is possible and can be done easily, I will attempt to amend the 1993-94 budget.
Question re: Faro contingency plan
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development regarding the Faro contingency plan. When Cassiar shut down in northern B.C., the B.C. provincial government spent over $13 million to do a proper job for the community in assisting them in their needs during the troubled times. Two weeks ago, the Minister of Economic Development committed to determining what the territorial budget commitment would be to the contingency plan in the area of capital make-work projects, retraining and relocation. Would the Minister now tell us how much the Yukon territorial government will budget for this important and urgent task?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We do not have a firm budget established, as such, but we are assisting people in whatever way we possibly can. I have also been in contact with the federal employment and immigration people and we are all working on this together. I assure the Member that everything that possibly can be done is being done.
Mr. Harding: That is absolutely pathetic. They promised my community in January to have a contingency plan in place and two weeks ago promised to tell us what the budget commitment was going to be, and they still do not have one for my community, which is crying because they have needs.
The Minister also made a commitment that nobody in Faro would lose the roof over their heads. Information I have received tells me that almost 100 families are in jeopardy of losing the roof over their heads due to financial hardship. Will the Minister immediately ensure that the situation gets action and that rental arrears are taken care of for my constituents who are in fear of losing their shelter?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I will assure the Member for Faro that, if people are experiencing hardships and they contact us, they will be looked after to whatever extent we possibly can.
Mr. Harding: I am getting incredibly frustrated with the answers I am getting. There is absolutely no care or concern for the people in my community. There is just rhetoric; just talk. It is the same with the loan guarantee conditions. Will the government at least commit to paying all rental arrears accumulated during the shut-down period for members of my community, and will they once again commit to ensuring that families in my tortured community do not lose the roof over their heads due to financial hardship?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I will give the Member the same answer I gave him because he is asking the same question again. The same answer is: we will make sure that the people are looked after and that they will not suffer undue hardships.
Question re: Land development, residential
Mr. Cable: I have another question for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
My recollection of the debates in the last few days in the House is that, at some juncture, the Minister indicated that some residential lands were being turned over to the City of Whitehorse for planning and development for a subdivision. Does this indicate that this governments policy is to have the City of Whitehorse plan and control subdivision development generally within the city?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The City of Whitehorse is being encouraged to plan and develop some of their own subdivisions. They have, in fact, done exactly that with the latest country-residential subdivision - Pineridge.
Mr. Cable: It is my understanding that, across Canada, the municipalities plan and control subdivisions with private entrepreneurs. What is the reasoning, in the Ministers view, for the Government of Yukon being the prime mover behind planning and controlling residential subdivisions within the City of Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Yukon government more or less inherited the responsibility a number of years ago. One of the main reasons was because of cashflow. The municipalities generally do not have the kind of money necessary to provide for the infrastructure up front and then sit for sometimes several years to collect it back.
Mr. Cable: On another policy matter, what is the governments posture on the privatization of land development within the City of Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We are, as I stated in my first question, encouraging the City of Whitehorse or other municipalities, if they wish, to actually enter into land development themselves with private contractors or in other ways of their choice.
Question re: Anti-litter program
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Tourism - a Member who, at least in rhetorical terms, has been a strong advocate for the apparently non-existent Yukon Pride, year-round, anti-litter program. The effective and well-received community clean-up program, supported by the previous administration and funded through the Department of Community and Transportation Services, has apparently been eliminated, based on the evidence in the Yukon Partys O&M budget. There appears to be no replacement program identified in their Renewable Resources budget, which saw the environmental protection budget cut by 36 percent. Is it the Ministers intention to fund the Yukon Partys commitment to a year-round, anti-litter program under the auspices of the Tourism department?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: If I could convince my colleagues that the Department of Tourism could be a lead agency there, I would love to do it. I have a lot of good ideas about how we could keep Yukon clean year-round. I do not think it will be the responsibility of the Department of Tourism to do that. I can tell the Member, through my other responsibility, that I have asked the Department of Education to have Auntie Litter go into the elementary schools and go throughout the whole Yukon this spring. I hope that that program will begin very shortly.
Mr. Harding: It should not be hard to convince his colleagues to do it. After all, they did promise it in the election. I would like to ask the Minister another question.
Since, in previous years, the Member has spoken about litter problems at F.H. Collins High School, and has just made reference to the Education department has he been able to identify concrete funding, and how much funding, in the Education department to fund his Yukon Pride program.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I do not think there is specific funding in the Education budget allocated directly to Yukon Pride. I can tell the Member that several weeks ago, I gave instructions to the department to ask all schools, as soon as the snow goes, to get out there and start programs to clean up the schools. I know they are some of the messiest areas in the Yukon when the snow goes away. We should be doing something about that. Over the next few years, I would like to eliminate the litter around those schools. That is my goal.
Mr. Harding: I have read through Hansard. I read, when the Member was in Opposition, his ranting and raving when more concrete action was being taken by the previous administration, but it was just not good enough for him. It is unfortunate.
Since it appears that the Yukon Party government has not chosen to put a high priority on its anti-litter program election promises, I would like to honour a longstanding spring tradition of this House and challenge the Members of the government caucus, as well as other Members of the House, to join the New Democrat caucus in a clean-up of the Whitehorse waterfront on a day to later be agreed upon. Will his caucus be able to participate?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: He is going to have to find a new script; he obviously stole that out of my script from several years ago. He is going to learn a lesson really quickly. That lesson is that you do not jump to your feet and announce that you are going to clean up around the City of Whitehorse until you consult with your colleagues.
I can remember in the past, I committed them to all kinds of things that they got upset about. Although they participated, they were a little shocked about it. I can guarantee the Member that I will be involved. In fact, I will provide the garbage bags for all the Members if they want to participate in the clean-up. I would be more than happy to invite all my caucus colleagues along and be very insistent that they actually show up.
Speaker: Time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF DAY
Bill No. 83: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 83, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Phelps.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I move that Bill No. 83, An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act (No.2), 1992, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 83, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act (No.2), 1992, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have the great pleasure of supporting this motion and this bill. I am going to give a rather short speech at this time in support of this rather modest amendment to the package of amendments that were never proclaimed by the Commissioner.
Of course, I see the issues here as being relatively narrow, directed to the consequences of one clause of the amendments that never were proclaimed, and that clause comes into force without the necessity of proclamation by the Commissioner.
In my opening remarks I will go through the reasons for us putting forward Bill No. 83 and I will be listening with great interest, because I understand there are a lot of people who wish to speak to this relatively straightforward amendment. Depending upon what they have to say, I may have a lot more to say over a wide range of subject matters and the real issue before us today.
As everyone probably knows, Bill No. 13, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, received third reading in June 1992. Section 6 of Bill No. 13 provided for the act to bind the Government of the Yukon. Section 53(2) spelled out that section 6 would come into force the earlier of January 1, 1995 or the day after March 31, 1993, when the government entered into a new collective agreement with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the employees bargaining agent.
Under section 53(1), all other provisions of that act, which is An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, would come into effect on a date to be fixed by Cabinet.
Bill No. 13, for some mysterious reason, was not proclaimed into law prior to the defeat of the previous government. Bill No. 83 was introduced in the fall session of 1992 to repeal the wording of section 53, so that every part of that act would come into force on a date to be fixed by Cabinet. Without this amendment, the government would be bound by the current act by January 1, 1995, at the latest.
To bind this government by the current Employment Standards Act, would give rise to a number of problems certainly not contemplated by Bill No. 13.
Existing compressed work week arrangements would be illegal, unless the government applied for a permit to average hours under section 9(2) of the current act in force. Teachers, as government workers, would have the right to complain about not being paid overtime for their preparation and marking time. Teachers are normally exempt elsewhere in Canada from some or all of employment standards legislation. The collective bargaining agreement was negotiated and agreed upon in contemplation of that.
The union representing government employees would have the right to complain about matters not addressed to their satisfaction through the grievance process; again, an outcome not contemplated under the current collective agreement, which was agreed to by the government and the employees.
The payroll system would have to be changed in government to meet the requirement of the current act in force to pay wages within seven days of the end of a pay period, and within three days determination.
Accordingly, I would hope, for obvious reasons, that all Members in this House would understand the need to enact Bill No. 83. I would commend this act to them, and ask that they support it in second reading.
Ms. Joe: I will not be speaking very long on this proposed amendment. It was very clear during our time in government when we were proposing changes to the whole act that there was much opposition to it. Once again, I say that it was very evident that Opposition Members at that time did not realize that they had workers in their riding, not just business people, and that workers were looking for some constructive changes to the act that would improve working conditions for them. Every single person who works in this country should have the benefits that were included in the act that was passed in this House. As I said, many people objected to it because of the high cost to businesses.
The section of the act that the Minister is proposing that we repeal was recommended by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. It was not a section that we proposed ourselves.
There were many reasons for it. It was the general feeling that if small businesses and companies were subject to provisions of the act, this government should also be subjected to them. It was understood that there were going to be some groups that felt they might be affected by it, and we would be looking at the possibility of dealing with those situations.
It is very important that this government be bound by the Employment Standards Act, along with every business in the Yukon.
I could stand here and talk about the many things that were said during the time of the consultation, but I am not exactly sure that this amendment to the Employment Standards Act is something we can agree with.
Ms. Moorcroft: I rise to speak to the motion regarding the Yukon Employment Standards Act and the second reading of the bill brought forward by the Minister of Justice.
An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act is one of five Yukon statutes presently held in limbo, which were fully debated and passed in this Legislature during the Third Session of the Twenty-Seventh Legislative Assembly. It was supported at third reading by representatives from both sides of the House. An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act received royal assent on June 2, 1992. I must admit that my ears pricked up when the Minister of Justice introduced this act before us in December, as I thought it meant that the Minister might be going to move this legislation forward. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
The Minister of Justice is opposed to the provision in An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act that would require the Government of the Yukon to comply with the provisions it establishes as minimum working conditions for private sector employers to follow. These provisions are minimal standards. As we have seen with great sound and fury in the past year, any move to improve working conditions for employees has met with a solid wall of resistance from those who would have to pay the price for increased benefits.
Where a collective agreement provides additional benefits, as is the case in the Yukons public service, over and above the minimal benefits in the Employment Standards Act, the collective agreement applies. Therefore, there are only a few minor provisions of the Employment Standards Act amendments that would affect the working relationship between the Government of the Yukon as an employer and its workers, represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
Frankly, I am surprised by this governments position on the issue. They are friends of the business community. They consult with the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Chamber of Mines and other employer groups. Employers took the position during the review of the act that the government should be bound by the same rules it establishes for private sector employers. What is unreasonable about that?
The Minister has spoken about the fact that employers are forced to apply for an averaging permit under section 9(2) of the act if they have existing compressed work weeks. Private employers would like the government to realize what that process is by which they have to apply for averaging permits. A form is filled out and a decision is made by the labour services branch of the Department of Justice, which can be appealed to the employment standards board, established under the act.
It may take a few weeks to schedule an appeal, and a hearing at which the employer appears takes a couple of hours - usually no more than a morning. The board writes its decision and communicates it to the parties.
In amending the Employment Standards Act, as the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment stated, the Yukon government should achieve a balance between fair and reasonable employment standards, on a par with the rest of the country and the demands of current, local, regional and global economic conditions.
The size of the government workforce and the relatively high level of pay and benefits government employees receive set a standard that the private sector often finds difficult to meet. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that northern firms face both local and outside competition, which means their profit margin is often very small. The Government of the Yukon should lead by example and should be legislatively bound to adhere to the provisions of the Employment Standards Act.
That was the position of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, which was championed by the now Minister of Education.
Employers have concerns that they are often faced with complex regulations, significant paperwork and numerous reporting requirements. The Yukon government will be fully aware of the effect of the act on other employers if they must apply it to themselves as employers. I do not see that as necessarily a bad thing.
The union can file complaints with the Human Rights Commission under the Human Rights Act while a grievance is in process. Standard procedure is that the Human Rights appeal is held in abeyance until the grievance procedure is exhausted. The governments concerns that the union representing government employees would have the right to complain about matters not addressed to their satisfaction through the grievance process is not one that I see as a legitimate concern. If the union files an appeal or a complaint under the Employment Standards Act, it too could be held in abeyance until the grievance procedure was exhausted.
The Minister of Justice is objecting that the payroll system would have to be changed to meet the acts requirements to pay wages within seven days of the end of a pay period and within three days of a termination. The Yukon government can afford to hire payroll staff to administer the payroll of the government. I believe that the public servants in that department are able to comply with the provisions of this act, if they are given the direction to do so.
Labour legislation in the Yukon sets a worthy tradition. The 1914 ordinance respecting masters and servants allowed a judge to fire a servant or labourer who brought a complaint against his or her master or employer concerning any non-payment of wages, ill usage or improper dismissal. A judge could also order payment of wages due to the worker, with court costs.
A 1937 Yukon ordinance regulated the hours of work and minimum wages to be paid in mining operations. This law established the responsibility for employers at mining operations to furnish proper room and board or pay an additional daily living allowance to all Yukon mine workers.
The Yukon Employment Standards Act establishes and upholds employment standards and provides a remedy where these standards are not met. For example, Yukon employees are entitled to overtime pay at time and one-half for hours worked over eight in a day or 40 in a week. An employer who owes an employee wages can appeal a court-registered certificate of wages to the legislated Employment Standards Board without posting any bond. During the appeal process, a worker can wait an additional two months or more without receiving their lawfully earned wages. This is a hardship to individual workers and, where an employer does not pay the wages after being found in violation, albeit in ignorance of the law, it is an abuse of funds.
The 1992 Employment Standards Act amendments improved a few things for working people in the Yukon. A penalty could be assessed where an employer is found to owe an employee wages and has failed to pay. Responsible business owners who treat their employees in accordance with the law will surely not object to the provision of penalties for those who break the law. Minor changes to the Employment Standards Act bring it into compliance with the 1990 Yukon Human Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, including pregnancy, family status and sexual orientation. Similarly, another new provision in the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act would allow women to return to work after up to 27 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, which complies with changes to the federal Unemployment Insurance Act.
A woman must have one year of service to be eligible for her unpaid maternity leave. The womens right to keep their jobs when they leave the paid workforce to bear children is overdue in the Yukon. The federal government allows employees up to four years care and nurturing leave.
An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act has been described as controversial, but from what does this controversy arise? Some business people expressed the fear that First Nations employees would flock en masse to every potlatch, if they were allowed additional unpaid bereavement leave.
I know of no evidence to suggest that employees of any race habitually abuse bereavement leave.
Another source of controversy was a provision for unpaid family-responsibility leave. Yukon Legislators recognized that workers may require time to meet their family responsibilities. The people who most require these provisions can least afford to abuse them. A single working mother may take a day of unpaid leave that she can ill afford to tend a sick child. Should that cost her her job?
Under these minimal standards where an employee takes unpaid leave, the cost of substitute staff need not be a severe burden to employers.
Unorganized workers generally have very limited vacation leave. An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act raises minimum standards to two weeks for one year of service and three weeks after five years of service. This is not very much vacation time, when many people would like to travel long distances to visit family or friends or see the big city lights.
I find it difficult to believe that an employee of five-years standing will bankrupt her employer by taking a three-week holiday.
The 1992 An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act has been debated publicly and in the Legislature. It has, as have four other acts of the Yukon Legislature, been passed into law and I think that the responsible action for the Yukon Party government and the Minister of Justice to take would be to proclaim An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, not bring this amendment before the House.
In closing, I would say again that the government can apply for an averaging permit. The government can deal with the issue of overtime wages for teachers, together with the Yukon Teachers Association. The issue of the union having the right to complain over and above the grievance process can be addressed by the one complaint being held in abeyance while the grievance process continues, and I think that the Yukon government is fully able to meet the demands of the payroll system under the act: to provide wages within seven days of the end of the pay period and within three days of termination.
I will not be supporting this amendment.
Mr. Harding: I have been listening with great interest to the Member from the independent party of Ross River-Southern Lakes. I have been listening to the Ministers brief comments about the supposedly terrible agony that would be inflicted upon the Government of the Yukon if this act were allowed to go forward, justifying the need for the removal of the governments responsibility to put legislation where its mouth is - the act of binding them to the provisions of the employment standards legislation that is in existence at present.
We believe that it is incumbent on this Legislature to bring forward An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, and for the government also to be bound to the provisions of that new legislation, legislation that has time and time again been supported by all Members of this House at third reading. It was duly passed and should be proclaimed into law.
The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, which is a board that has important advice and recommendations to offer to the government, has made the recommendation that, The Government of the Yukon should lead by example and should be legislatively bound to adhere to the provisions of the Employment Standards Act. That was a recommendation made by the board. In proposing this amendment, the government is backing away from the recommendations of that important board that should be listened to, especially in this area, because I believe that it makes a lot of sense.
The people who are involved in the decision making came from all areas of business, labour, and the environment, and they put together some comments on the Employment Standards Act. I believe they are comments that should be adhered to, whether we are talking about the proposed amendments that were passed in the Legislature, or whether we are talking about the existing act.
The Yukon Party proclaims themselves to be friends of the business community, and I certainly do not have a problem with that. I also believe the New Democrats are friends of the business community. Whether or not a lot of people in business share the same philosophy, the fact remains that we have an economic philosophy that includes a strong economic framework. Our views on how to get there may differ at times, but we believe there is only one way to support a strong economic and social framework, and that is to concentrate on a good strong economy. With that, you need business that conducts itself in an appropriate manner, and that recognizes the contribution of employees and the sacrifices they make to the end equation, which is a strong economy and a healthy and profitable business.
We are friends of the business community. We do not have to suck up to the business community or do anything in that regard, because we just go about our jobs and do not rely on them to support us to the degree the government in power relies upon them to do so.
We feel it is important that we do have good relationships - as good as they allow us to have - with the business community, and we feel it is incredibly important that we strive to have the kind of relationship that results in positive works by both government and business. That will be to the benefit of all people in the Yukon, not just the government, and not just business, but all the working people in the Yukon.
We do not believe that the areas identified by the government as reasons for this action are sufficient to call for the action that they are asking to be taken. We believe that the government should lead by example and that the government should not have legislation that says one thing, as our existing Employment Standards Act does, and then not be willing to adhere to it in the public sector. It is not fair to the private sector, and government is absolving itself of the responsibility to adhere to the legislation that the private sector must adhere to. That is not fair.
We believe that the government has a responsibility to set a leadership example. We believe that they should be leading by example. To do that, they cannot be proposing amendments such as this, which absolve them of that responsibility. Rather than going through this legislative scapegoat policy, the issue of the teachers asking for overtime can certainly be solved by going to the Yukon Teachers Association and trusting in the collective bargaining process to work out an arrangement with the teachers. The teachers are well aware that, in no other jurisdiction in the country, is there any pay for the work that, without doubt, many of them do - before class, marking, and those types of things that teachers do. We do not believe that is something that cannot be worked out and requires this legislation.
We believe that the public sector must lead by example and not, as in the case that is being proposed, absolve themselves of the same regulations that are binding on the private sector. With regard to the payroll system having to be changed, I find it extremely unbelievable that it is a major undertaking or that, with the tremendous number of people, facilities and resources that we have in this government and the territory, we could not make arrangements to meet that particular requirement of the legislation. It is a minor undertaking, from my point of view. The resources that we have in that area of the government are quite good. In this day and age, with modern-day computers and the technology that we have, I do not understand how that would be a major undertaking and could justify this cumbersome and unnecessary provision to be added to the legislation, absolving the government of the need to meet the same standards that the private sector businesses have to meet.
As far as averaging permits go, a compressed work week can be applied for. We have it - or had it - in the Faro operation until this government was elected. We had averaging permits for a compressed work week. It is not something that is hard to get or do. I do not know why the government, when they expect the private sector to do it, cannot be bound by the same rules and regulations in legislation. It makes no sense whatsoever.
Numerous employers in this territory get averaging permits. I fail to see why the government, rather than dealing with the issues, chooses to legislate and take the shortcut, absolving them of responsibility. Once again, they are showing no leadership economically. They are showing no leadership by not taking responsibility for their decisions. They will not sit down with the teachers association or talk to their departments about what it would take to ensure that they could meet the payroll requirements of the legislation. There is no leadership shown; they are not even applying for or discussing what it would take to cope with averaging. It makes no sense whatsoever.
The other comments about the union representing government employees having the right to complain about matters not addressed to their satisfaction through the grievance process, I believe, is pure folly. It makes no sense whatsoever.
I believe that whenever they feel a pressure to do something that shows some leadership, they decide simply to legislate rather than deal with the problems. It makes no sense whatsoever.
Time and time again, the theme of this government is that whenever they feel the need to be responsible, they have some knee-jerk reaction. I feel that this falls into that category. This amendment was tabled many months ago. I was shocked when it first came forward in December. I wondered why we would be dealing with it at this time.
You would think a new government would have the wherewithal to investigate whether or not the conditions could be met. I believe they can be. Instead, they did not even take the time to do that. They knee-jerked this legislative change, which has absolutely no justification whatsoever, rather than deal with the problems - a band-aid approach, rather than deal with the problems.
Unemployment standards are incredibly important. They are important to working people - the kind of people the Member for Mount Lorne was discussing. They are the kind of people who cannot afford sick days most of the time. They cannot afford to take time off work.
I feel for these people. I believe in organized workers but, unfortunately, in our society, there are a lot of people who are not afforded the opportunity to become organized, for one reason or another, or choose not to be, and do not negotiate their own terms and conditions of employment with their employer. My heart goes out to those people but, for them, I believe there have to be legislative standards that are fair and reasonable. I will not go through what the Member for Mount Lorne went through in detail - the so-called outrageous requirements in the proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act. Suffice it to say that they were not going to bankrupt anybody; they were going to allow the business to remain profitable. After all, if the businesses do not remain profitable, nobody will be working, whether they are organized or unorganized.
I recognize that, and everybody in our caucus recognizes it, but there are still some injustices to working people out there. The point the Member for Mount Lorne made, and I made just a bit earlier, is that the kinds of things that were in the legislated amendments certainly are the kinds of things that would be difficult. Even if workers utilized them to the maximum degree, there would be problems, because they just cannot afford it. We have to allow for those situations in our legislation that defend these peoples rights, if the situation is serious enough, to take their sick leave or attend to urgent family business. That is very important.
It is easy for people who have secure jobs, who are organized, who have their own business and have been highly successful, to take the position that it is not going to be beneficial to them. There is a trade-off. When you understand what the mind-set of your employees is, when you understand what is going on in their heads and what needs they have, employees recognize that. When they are allowed the opportunity to take care of their needs, whether it is sickness, family business or some other need, 99 percent of the time the employees will respond, be better employees, and make your business more productive.
We have this situation now where the government is not even prepared to live up to the existing legislation, let alone pass new legislation, which was passed in this House, let alone bring it forward. That is very bad, because it was passed democratically in this Legislature. It was taken to be proclaimed, but it was not - I believe wrongfully so. The new government has the opportunity to do it. They voted for it but, now that they are in government, they choose not to do it. They are now the only ones who can do it. They are the only ones who can honour the democratic process that brought that document forward and culminated in the amendments to the Employment Standards Act. However, they now choose not to do it.
Why did they vote for the legislation and why did it pass through this Legislature? I think that it is a very bad day for the democratic process.
You can say the NDP had their chance to have the act proclaimed - which they did - but I believe that the Commissioner refused to proclaim the act for the wrong reasons. I think that was a very, very bad day for democracy in this territory.
Further to that disparaging situation, the Members who are now in government, and voted for the act, refuse to honour their commitment through the democratic process. They should bring the act forward and say, yes, we did vote for the act and yes, we will honour that commitment. The government will no longer do that; they do not want to go forward, they want to go backward and absolve themselves of the things that they have agreed to in the Employment Standards Act and impose them only on the private sector businesses.
There is no leadership. I believe, without question, that the government should be taking the types of recommendations made by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment and lead by example, and this is a perfect opportunity for them to do that.
I know that the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes will provide us with one of his strong, navigational, rhetorical speeches when he finishes in this debate. The Member will probably yell, scream, rant and rave about the business community in the Yukon heading for the reef - the reef is the Employment Standards Act amendments that they voted for - but I do not think that the public will believe that. I believe that the public will expect government to lead by example; they will expect the government to live up to the standards that are placed on the private sector employers in this territory and I believe that the people would want - if all the facts were out - duly elected Members of this Legislature to honour commitments voted into legislation.
I urge the Members opposite to refrain from bringing this amendment forward and I urge them to continue to honour their democratically voted commitment to bring forward the amendment to the Employment Standards Act.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I also rise to support Bill No. 83 and this amendment to the Employment Standards Act. I found the debate up to this point very interesting. They keep bringing back the fact that somehow or other, the Members of the Opposition, when they were in government, forgot to have the piece of legislation that we debated last year, proclaimed. I just cannot help but have a gut feeling that there must be a serious problem with that piece of legislation that is sitting on the shelf, or I feel the Members of the Opposition would have had the guts to proclaim it prior to the election. I cannot help but think that there must be some serious opposition to that piece of legislation and this is the reason they have chosen not to proceed with it.
The act on the shelf also was reviewed, as several Members have mentioned, by the Council on the Economy and the Environment. Several of the recommendations they put forward were not acted upon. Again I stress, the fact that the NDP did not proclaim this act tells me that the act that is sitting on the shelf now needs a thorough review before it is allowed to go anywhere.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Devries: They can call me what they like, but the fact that they did not proceed with proclaiming it tells me that there has got to be a problem with it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will admit, maybe there was something there that I overlooked. The Commissioner refused to proclaim it after they found they had lost the election. Maybe they thought if they had had this piece of legislation proclaimed, which possibly has some errors in it, before the election, maybe they would have lost by another few thousand votes. We do not know.
Speaker: Order please. I seem to be hearing unparliamentary language. Even though it is not coming through the microphones, the Speaker is aware of it. I would ask the Members to refrain from using that language and allow the Member to complete his speech.
Bill No. 83: Second Reading - continued
Hon. Mr. Devries: The Members opposite seem to be very, very sensitive about this matter. Rather that provoke the debate, I would just say that I fully support this bill. I am certain that in the future we will have further opportunities to discuss the bill that is sitting on the shelf, due to the Members opposite not proceeding with it.
Mr. Cable: Unfortunately, I missed the debate last spring. I am hearing today a mixture of what is good for the goose is good for the gander and what is not good for the goose is good for the gander.
In my view, what is good for one employer is good for another, whether that employer is government or private. I do not think we should be pointing fingers at the private sector - with those pontificatory fingers that members of the public service and people in the public life often point at the private sector - that the private sector is composed of a bunch of evil people who do a bunch of evil wrongs and have to be regulated. If, in fact, that is the case, then that regulation should also apply to people in the public sector. I have met many managers in the public sector who would not stack up to managers in the private sector. I would have to say that there is an equal number of people in the public sector who abuse their powers and have to be brought into line as there is in the private sector.
My reading of Hansard indicates that the Yukon Party, of which there are four Members who were here last spring, supported the act and supported section 6. I see no reason to take this thing back to the drawing board. If there are problems with accelerating payroll payments or overtime, or any other problems associated with the act, then it is desirable that the public sector share these problems with the private sector. It is not the private sector that brings about and promulgates law; it is the public sector. If there is any pain and suffering in any area, then it should be shared. This will have the greater likelihood of collective head clearing.
Therefore, I am not going to support this bill.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I want to speak in support of the amendment that we have before us. I want to make a few comments on the words just spoken by the Leader of the Liberal Party.
The Member was a resident of this constituency for a good many years, and I think he can remember the massive controversy that took place when this act was developed.
In fact, many people were upset about the approach. This act was mainly to control and legislate the private sector. In fact, they came out with a discussion paper in the middle of December, when most businesses are up to their eyeballs. They expected an immediate response. They finally extended the response time. They heard from one group of business people. They did not like what they heard, so they formed another group.
What really surprises me today about the Liberal support of this particular initiative is that a relative of the Liberal leader was one of the people who stormed out of the committee, because he felt the legislation was absolutely ridiculous and the business community could not live with it. I find it quite surprising today that the Liberal leader is now in support of the Employment Standards Act amendment and that, if it was brought back into this House, he would support it. I can tell the Member that I would not support that act if it came back to the House today.
Employment Standards Act had many concerns and clauses. The Member for Faro spoke to us today about how we should have listened to the Council on the Economy and the Environment and what they should have said about it - that it was a great act and how it should be put in place. What he forgets about is the letter that the Council on the Economy and the Environment sent to the then-Premier of the Yukon - the now-Leader of the Official Opposition - telling him that they were very upset with the process as they picked and chose their way through the recommendations. That council was the one that the hon. Liberal leaders relative sat on and finally walked away from. They were quite upset at the way the Government Leader of the time implemented this particular act.
The business community in this town were very upset with that act. They were very upset with the way it was rammed through. I think that act deserves a close second look. We need some good legislation to protect the workers of the territory, but we do not need an act like that. It was virtually a union contract built right into a bill of the Government of the Yukon. That is what it was. That is why I am surprised that the Liberal Member is prepared to support that kind of legislation in the Yukon. I do not think the business community would be happy to see that at all.
I am surprised also because that particular Member was the president of the Chamber of Commerce at one time. I bet the eyes of some of the members of the Chamber of Commerce will be wide open when they find out about the position that Member is taking on this particular bill.
This amendment is a useful one. It is to exempt the government employees from this particular act. That is a wise move, and some of these issues can be discussed at the negotiating table, but they are not to be legislated by us. I urge all Members to support this amendment.
Mr. McDonald: I think I have heard everything, now that I have listened to the Member for Riverdale North talk about how he would never support the Employment Standards Act amendment that was passed last spring, that his concerns were that the bill was basically a union collective agreement legislated into law.
In Hansard, last spring, the hon. Member said no such thing. Last spring, the hon. Member said, on third reading of An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, being promoted by the Hon. Mrs. Joe, We will support this bill. That is an unequivocal statement.
He goes on to say that they did not like the consultation, but they supported the bill. The primary concern they had over the process was that the government had not accepted all 53 recommendations, but only 52. Their concern was the picking and choosing.
It is interesting to note that one of the recommendations the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment promoted at the time was, and I will quote from their submission, that the Government of the Yukon lead by example and should be legislatively bound to adhere to the provisions of the Employment Standards Act.
Now, we have a Member who betrays the fact that he is being inconsistent with respect to his support for the bill. He is also being inconsistent with respect to his reasons for not wanting to support the bill. Personally, I think it is truly unfortunate that this measure is now before the Legislature.
Over the past number of years, at least the years that I have been in the Legislature, there has been a new movement to bind the Yukon government to regulations that it is prepared to inflict on all the other citizens in the territory. Whether the law be the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Workers Compensation Act, the Human Rights Act, the Building Standards Act, the Electrical Protection Act, or even the Municipal Act, when it comes to municipal zoning, we have been agreeing to adhere to the same regulation and operate in the same regulatory environment as the citizenry. We have indicated that we are prepared to lead by example.
I have had some very interesting conversations with people in the past about how the government might keep the regulatory environment that this Legislature is responsible for reasonable. I have had conversations with people who have suggested that one of the ways that we might have a useful discussion about the regulatory environment is to ensure that the government itself has to live by the regulations it inflicts on others.
Ultimately, what that means is that if there are restrictions, rules or requirements to undertake paperwork, then the government, as an employer, would have to live by the same rules. As the Member for Riverside has indicated, that would give the government a new and fresh approach to understanding what it was doing to the public.
I have been very proud that, consistently, we have voted in favour of this provision. Up until now, I thought that the vote on those provisions in various bills, which bind the government, was unanimous. In fact, there is the Hansard record to suggest that it was unanimous, or at least that there was a majority of persons who voted for these provisions.
Not everybody voted for the Employment Standards Act on third reading. The Member for Riverdale South did not. If she stands and agrees with this, she will be consistent. I will disagree with her and I will respect her for her consistency.
If the Members opposite, from the Yukon Party, particularly those who were in the Legislature at the time the bill was passed at third reading, stand and vote for the measure, they will be inconsistent.
They will have indicated their support for the bill and their support for the Yukon Council on the Economy and Environments resolutions, which included that the government should lead by example and be bound by the provisions of the bill. If they were to vote for the measure, it would demonstrate their true feelings - perhaps their honest feelings - about this provision and other provisions in the act.
In the previous debate, we heard from the Yukon Party that they wanted the government bound by the rules that the government inflicts on the private sector. Now when they are in government they give in to the pressures from the public service, which feels it is onerous; a public service that performs the duties of an employer and which has convinced the government that elements of the bill are too onerous for it to administer. Yet, they are prepared to command the private sector to follow those same rules.
We did take a position of principle; we did acknowledge that it would cause some anxiety for some persons who work in government and we did acknowledge that the administration would be required to perform new tasks and work harder, but we accepted that principle because we were prepared to inflict it on others. We were prepared - I thought most of the Legislature was prepared - to undertake this task because we felt it was the right thing to do, irrespective of the hurdles that we would have to cross.
The provision now to leave the execution of this particular clause up to the Commissioner in Executive Council - up to the Cabinet - will doom this provision, just as the rest of the provisions to which they previously agreed will be doomed, thanks to the comments made by the Members in this House today: that they would never have supported the bill and, if they had been truthful in the spring of 1992, they would not have supported the bill at third reading.
The inconsistency does not end there. Not only did it appear that the Yukon Party was angry because they wanted the government to listen to their boards and committees when it came time to debate this bill, and they took objection to the picking and choosing, in their view, of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environments recommendations - the government accepting only 52 of the 53; it should have accepted the full 53 - but the Yukon Party went on to make it an election issue. We have seen in this Legislature, over the course of the last few weeks, what the Yukon Party thinks of its election commitments: not very much. They certainly do not feel that they are bound by those election commitments, but there are a lot of people out there who do feel that the Yukon Party should be bound by their election commitments.
One of those commitments reads - and this is straight from the platform - that the Yukon Party in government will listen to and act upon advice and/or recommendations of government advisory bodies and give reasons in writing when the government rejects this advice or these recommendations.
The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment has made a recommendation about this particular measure before us today, and they have been very clear and unequivocable about it. That provision, quite simply, is that the government should be bound by the laws and regulations it inflicts on others.
Now we have yet another contradiction in a series of contradictions, and we are no closer to understanding how the Yukon Party feels about this measure, about the Employment Standards Act, either the old one, the new one, this provision or anything else. All we have is one long string of contradictory statements.
The operating assumption is that because they feel they will have the majority vote in the Legislature today, they can simply do whatever they want anyway, without having to explain themselves or answer for the contradictions or their actions.
I am very disappointed in the behaviour of the government. It is a sad day for this Legislature. It will build cynicism in the community about the way government behaves. The community will feel that the government, once again, is prepared to accept a preferred position in the community. I have heard from the Members opposite the concern that there may be provisions in this bill that may give the employees some rights that they do not currently have. Was there any suggestion that perhaps there are other employers in the territory who have union and collective agreements for which the provisions of this act will give something to the employees who are not currently contained in their collective agreements? No, there is no concern about that. There is only the selfish, narrow concern about the needs of the government as an employer.
I think this is a principle that is not sustainable. It is not intellectually consistent with where we have gone in the past and I am convinced that it is not what the public wants to see happen.
I am convinced that this is what the public wants to see happen and I feel strongly about this. I think that the Minister, the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, did not say very much in his opening remarks by way of argument or justification for this measure. Presumably, rather than make an argument because he knew that he was going to win the debate anyway because he knew he had the votes all lined up, he was going to simply act as a rebutter of arguments made. All we can do is anticipate those arguments, and perhaps provide some information that would help clarify in that Members mind what it is that we believe in response to his ultimate argument.
The Minister may indicate that this measure does not reject the principle of government being bound by legislation because it allows the government to fix in Cabinet, the date by which the government will be bound by the law. I am very, very worried about leaving that provision up to the Yukon Party Cabinet, with the one independent, friendly advisor they have in their group. The reason that I am concerned about it is because this government has, in its response today, indicated very clearly that they have no faith in this act. They do not feel bound by the recommendations of the Council on the Economy and the Environment. Whatever they said before in the Legislature is not what they believe today. If I was going to be unkind, I would impute motives to the Members, but I will not do that.
They have also indicated in the last few days that they feel that theEmployment Standards Act is some regulation that you apply to the private sector; it is not something that you apply to government; that government is special; government is distinct; government has its own rules. That is a principle that has slowly and consciously been eroded in this Legislature and supposedly supported by most Members in this House.
It is a principle that has been eroded only because we feel that we should be bound by the same regulatory environment that we, as an employer and as citizens, should be bound by the same regulations that have been inflicted on others.
People wonder why the public gets cynical about government operations, about the perception that government operates in their own environment, by their own rules, does whatever they want and inflicts misery on others. We know that, for the most part, that is not true. The Members opposite are prepared to inflict misery on the public on other subjects, but I will not get into that. For the most part, we have all agreed in the past that the government should live by the rules that it sets for others.
If I can paraphrase or reverse a biblical saying, the government would do unto itself what it would do unto others. There is some basic logic and common sense to that axiom. It is something that ought to be supported by this Legislature in the provisions that it passes so that there is no feeling, in our egalitarian society, that there are special rules for special people.
I would urge the Members opposite, particularly those who were in the Legislature last year, to not support this measure, to be consistent and do the right thing.
Mrs. Firth: I rise today to support this amendment and, as the previous speaker has said, I am being consistent with the position that I presented in this Assembly when we last sat, debating the employment standards amendments that had been brought forward by the previous government. At that time, I did not agree with the proposed amendments and I wanted to get that position on the record.
With respect to the proposal before us today, I have some questions that I would like to pose to the Minister, so he can offer some answers to them when he gives his final summation. I have some concerns about the way this initiative is going forward. The way I would have liked to have seen it go may be extreme and I look forward to the Ministers comments about that. It was this particular section that created the problem as it was going to affect the collective agreement. My preference would have been to see the government repeal all of the proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act.
I would have supported, and will support, that initiative if it does come forward and I look forward to what the Minister has to say regarding the rest of the amendments that are presently sitting in the Commissioners office. I will give the government notice that I will be supporting that initiative if they proceed in that direction.
When we originally debated these amendments, there were a tremendous number of concerns raised regarding the amendments. The debate was very lengthy and the public consultation process was very lengthy as well. I did not draw some of the same conclusions as did previous speakers with respect to whether or not the business community supported this initiative. I did not get any feeling from the business community that it was high on their list of priorities when it came to the total package of amendments that the previous government was proposing.
I have to disagree with some of the previous speakers who indicated that you should be treating government employees the same as you treat business employees, in that if business has to comply with certain laws then surely the government has to comply with those laws.
My feeling is that the problem may be that the law is bad and that is why the business community was saying, well, if we have to comply with this bad law, then the government should have to as well. I think that the government should be looking at the law and if it is not a good law, they should be changing the law and not saying, okay, the government should also comply.
We all pay for that, because it incurs more administrative costs and more operating costs. So, I do not buy the argument that the government should have to implement the same bad laws as the business community has to.
I want to raise a concern about whether we have perhaps stirred up the union with this amendment. I look forward to some of the comments that the Minister may have regarding why he chose this option, as opposed to completely repealing the amendments that had been proposed by the previous government.
I had some other specific concerns, but I have had an opportunity to phone the Minister and get clarification on all of those concerns.
I will look forward to speedy passage of this proposed amendment and perhaps further amendments to repeal employment standard amendments that have been brought forward by previous governments.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I rise in support of Bill No. 83, An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act. Although I was not in this House when Bill No. 13 was debated, I did have the opportunity to attend meetings on two separate and distinct occasions when citizens debated the provisions of that act - citizens who were both employers and employees. I did not hear anyone at either of those meetings who supported the act in its entirety. Therefore, I support the amendment before us today.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It was with great interest that I listened to the debate today, particularly that of the Members opposite. They say they feel strongly about the amendments they proposed in this Legislature in the spring, and passed, then failed to proclaim.
What concerns me so greatly is that those amendments were passed in this House in late May of last year. An election was not called until October. I believe, had I been in government and felt strongly about legislation I had passed through this House, I would have certainly seen to it that it was proclaimed prior to calling an election.
I believe there were some ulterior motives by the Members opposite in not proclaiming the legislation prior to calling the election. They knew how controversial that legislation was. Even the Council on the Economy and the Environment, which they now want to piggyback on, wrote a letter condemning the former Government Leader, the present Leader of the Official Opposition, for picking through their recommendations and saying that they were not acceptable in their entirety. I had a copy of the letter.
That is what really baffles me, being in government now. If I felt so strongly about legislation that I passed through this House, I would certainly take that final step and have it proclaimed, not leave it lying there.
The Member for Riverdale South said she would have preferred to see all of the amendments repealed. I can assure the Member for Riverdale South and this House that we are going to review the amendments in their entirety and possibly put them back out for public input. It is not popular legislation and the Members opposite are fully aware of that.
I am going to support the amendment. It is an amendment that we have to get through now because of the collective bargaining system. It is in the collective bargaining process that is taking place now, and we would have loved to have been able to review the legislation and brought in amendments this session, but we have a budget to get through - a capital budget that Yukoners are waiting to have passed through this House so that they can be put to work, instead of the filibustering that is going on by the Members opposite who do not want to be reminded of the $70 million more they spent in the last two years than they took in. We would have loved to have brought it in this spring, but we must get the capital budget through first so that Yukoners can go to work - including the people of Faro.
I just want to talk a little bit about the general concerns about this act applying to the Government of Yukon. It takes a minimum standard and looks at it in isolation without looking at the benefits that flow to employees through a collective bargaining agreement. That is one of the general problems with that act. The collective bargaining agreement was developed with employee input and where there has been a consensus, some benefits are traded off against other benefits. This clause does not take those into consideration.
A specific comment I would like to make on the legislation is that the casual and auxiliary, on-call employees would be captured in the Employment Standards Act definition of an employee.
That would be unfair and unjust. The Public Service Act definition of an employee excludes casuals. To include these classes of employees would require considerable enhancement of the benefits. Casuals currently receive only wages, vacation pay, and, in some instances, statutory holiday pay.
Another area is the banking of overtime. The Employment Standards Act proposed to allow for the banking of overtime, which includes all hours worked in excess of standard hours. If the time is not taken within a one-month period, it has to be paid. The Public Service Commission agreement excludes time worked on a designated paid holiday from the definition of overtime. It also provides for carrying over time to March 31 of the year following the calendar year in which it was earned. The Public Service Commission agreement also allows one to carry overtime hours for one year, where they can be taken as pay when earned.
These are all things that were negotiated under the collective bargaining process. It is the Members opposite who do not believe in unions. They wanted to legislate collective bargaining. That is what they tried to accomplish. The Employment Standards Act requires all averaging-of-hours arrangements to be approved by the director - talk about bureaucratic.
Our collective bargaining agreement provides for this. Therefore, we would have to apply for every change in average-hour arrangements. That is very cumbersome; talk about bureaucracy. The Employment Standards Act requires an employee to be paid off all wages owing, including vacation pay, within three days of termination. The equipment for our current pay system would not accommodate this schedule. We would have to put in all new equipment. The Employment Standards Act requires all vacation pay to be paid within 10 months after the year in which the vacation pay was earned. The collective bargaining arrangement allows for a two-year accrual of credits. This is an advantage to employees and the employees want to continue to have this advantage.
YTG employees who are dismissed would be provided another avenue of review and redress, in addition to what is already provided under collective bargaining.
The Employment Standards Act requires that all wages owing be paid within seven days of each pay period. All casuals, auxiliary, on-call and O.I.C contract employees are paid two weeks in arrears. The PSC agreement allows for four weeks for the payment of overtime. Casuals, auxiliary, on-call and O.I.C. contract employees are paid based on time sheets and paid bi-weekly. This would require major changes to our pay system - and probably, in the view of the Members opposite, this would create a lot more person years and jobs, and that would be fine with them; we could have a far larger bureaucracy to administer.
The Employment Standards Act requires a record of hours to be kept for each employee. The majority of our employees are paid on an automatic pay system and no records are kept.
Employment standards requires 24-hours notice for the requirement to work overtime, except in emergencies - and I really love this one. No sooner had that legislation passed the House last spring when the sponsoring Ministers department placed an ad in the local newspaper saying one of the criteria is that you may be required to work overtime with little or no notice. The PSC agreement requires that reasonable notice be given for operational requirements, and in some cases much less than 24-hours notice would in all likelihood be deemed to be reasonable.
I am voting in support of this amendment and I can assure the Members opposite that we will be reviewing the amendments that were passed in this House in their entirety.
Mr. Penikett: I want to say that I have just heard one of the most astonishing speeches in my time in this House. Not only has the government twisted itself around 180 degrees, then 270 and then 360, they are now going a full 440. The governments position is changing so fast on this, that it is hard to keep track. There is not even a shred of principle left in their principle.
Let us remember what the original Employment Standards Act was supposed to cover. I have a list of the provisions that were going to change.
The first change was going to bind the Government of the Yukon to the Employment Standards Act. As a matter of record, there was not a single Member of the Yukon Party sitting in this House today to oppose that. Not the Yukon Partys lawyer, the Minister of Justice - the Yukon Party government lawyer, Judge Phelps himself - nor any one of them suggested that there were any concerns such as were just listed by the Government Leader; not one.
They did not think it was important. In fact, their position was to heck with the government bureaucracy and, as the Liberal Member says, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If it applies to the private sector, it should apply to the public sector, too. That was their position.
What else did the act do? It limited the right to refuse overtime. It dealt with flexibility in scheduling overtime. It dealt with questions of vacation pay, flexibility for general holidays, definition of spouse, parental leave, notice of return from maternity and paternity leave, increase notice and pay-in-lieu, elimination of deductions from employee pay for not giving notice - and I will come back to that one, because that is one on which we have had some discussion - increased paid sick leave, increased paid bereavement leave, leave for family responsibilities, prohibitive set-offs, reduced period to file claims, interest on certificates, administrative penalties set up by the employment standards board, deposits required to file appeal of certificates, flexibility in the size of the board, fair wage schedule and so on. There were other amendments that were suggested that did not find their way into the final legislation.
The Government Leader, in his rather petulant, pouting way, is complaining again about the Opposition being so mean and unkind as to ask questions about his budget. Here they are a brand-new government and they are asking questions about policies before they have had any time to develop any. Gosh. It has only been six months - shucks - we are being so unkind.
He cannot do arithmetic. He keeps saying we overspent $58 million, yet he told us again today that we lapsed $15 million. He is not clear about whether that is $43 million, $58 million or $70 million. The most amazing thing is how the tune has changed. It was considered quite all right to sit here until June discussing the budget when they were in the Opposition. Now, we are doing a terrible thing; we are cutting into their fishing time or their hunting time - perhaps even their thinking time, if they have scheduled any time for that.
INow, the idea that they have to go through the appearance of democracy, appear in this Legislature, answer questions and respond to concerns from this side is regarded as the most outrageous imposition. Cabinet Ministers having to answer questions, respond to debates, attend the Legislature? What an awful thing we are doing to them. We are making them do their jobs - terrible.
I listened to the lawyer for the Yukon Party, the Minister of Justice, giving a totally inadequate explanation of his coalitions position on this bill. I was astounded, because it was a complete reversal of the position that he argued when he was in Opposition. He has not tipped over onto his head, he has twisted around and screwed himself into the ground.
The Government Leader mentions the Council on the Economy and the Environment and says that we were criticized, because we did not accept one of its recommendations. What was the reccomendation - the one recommendation that the NDP did not accept? We did not accept the principle that because an employee, perhaps someone who had been abused or harassed by their employer, did not give notice then the employer should be able to steal a weeks wages from them. We said that was unethical; it did not exist anywhere else in this country; it was a corrupt and evil provision and we would not put it in. We explained that to the Council on the Economy and the Environment, but the Members opposite said, Oh, no, the Council on the Economy and the Environment recommended that. This is a body that we support, one that we will continue to support, even if we come to government and one must accept their recommendations. If there is to be a board and we pay them money, then their advice must be accepted.
What did the Council on the Economy and the Environment say about this bill? They said, among many other things, The Government of the Yukon should lead, by example, and should be legislatively bound to adhere to the provisions of the Employment Standards Act. I do not seem to have caught the attention of Members opposite. Perhaps I could just read it again and more slowly this time to make it clear. The Government of Yukon should lead, by example, and should be legislatively bound to adhere to the provisions of the Employment Standards Act. The Members opposite told us that we had to accept the recommendations of the Council on the Economy and the Environment - it was our duty.
Now, of course, they say that this act was unpopular, controversial and that we demonstrated our own faint-heartedness by not pushing ahead with it.
The fact of the matter is that - for all the abuse that the former Minister of Justice got from the Members on the other side - she did push ahead with the act, she did consult, she listened to people, she made recommendations and she brought in an act that the Members opposite voted for. They spoke against it; they denounced it outside the House; they denounced it to the small business community and they voted for it. It is true that this act is designed to protect the rights of unorganized workers, in the main. It is interesting that, during the course of the act, none of the Tory Members said anything in defence of workers rights, the working people, chambermaids, dishwashers, servers, waiters, labourers or single women.
All they spoke about was the concern about the employers. That was their position then, and they voted for it. They said that they believed in it and wanted it to be law, all the while arguing that the bill should be stalled. The recommendation of the Member for Riverdale North - we have him on record here, quoted in the newspapers - was to stall and to do everything possible to prevent this act coming in. Then, he voted for it.
Now, what is their position? Their position is that it should be amended - not all the way through, but just a little bit - to prevent one section from coming into force. What is the real intent there? It is not so one section can come into force in sync with the rest of the act. It is quite clear that they are prepared to hide behind the skirts of the Commissioner and not do the brave and bold thing and come forward with amendments, to say that they were not telling the truth or being completely frank when they were in Opposition and voted for this bill. They now want to tell their true feelings, now that they have power and are in government. They want to take away all the benefits for employees, and make sure they again have an employer bill. They want to make sure that people can steal a weeks wages from some chambermaid or pot washer who has been hassled or abused by her employer.
They did not tell people that in the election, nor in this Legislature. They said that this bill should pass, it should apply to the government, and the NDP should have moved even faster in getting it proclaimed. Of course, they did not want it proclaimed because, if they had actually wanted it proclaimed, they would have proclaimed it when they came into office. They did not. Their real intentions are now clear. They were opposed to the bill all along. They were not being straight with us when they voted for it in the House, and they are not being straight with us now when they say they do not want it to apply to the government.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: The Member for Riverdale North says he goofed. Being goofy is not enough. The position was stall, stall, stall, by the Member for Riverdale North. We heard the concerns of small business then. We are not hearing them today. They are not doing anything for small business today. They have said nothing about the rights of workers; there is no concern for working people, at all, and no concern for the lowest paid people in society or for the people with marginal attachment to the economy; there is no concern for the single parent, struggling to get by, who might be having a horrible time at work; and there is no concern for the hundreds of thousands of dollars of unpaid wages every year, which is the main reason why we brought the bill in. There was a big problem with some employers not paying some employees. The government had to play a role.
In this incredible mass of confusion, contortion and shifting of positions and deviousness, we have to go back and say that they attacked the bill, then they voted for it. They said it should be proclaimed, then they did not proclaim it. They said that it should apply to the government and, now, they want to change it so that it does not apply to the government.
Why did they not just do the straight thing and stand in this House last spring and say, we are opposed to this bill, we are voting against it. They did not even have to bring this legislation forward today if they wanted to solve the problem. They could have solved the problem that we have today by proclaiming the bill. They could have done that; that was one of their choices. They could have proclaimed the act and then if they were worried about some of the things that the Government Leader says he was worried about, they could have applied for exemptions.
Guess who has the final say on the exemptions under the act? I will tell you a secret, Mr. Speaker; you may have forgotten this: it is the Minister of Justice; it is the lawyer for the Yukon Party.
That is the final court of appeal - no problem. Review it and it ends up on his desk. We have no illusions; he would not have protected the rights of workers, he would have gone with the employer. That is where his heart is. Who is the employer now? It is he. What a perfect situation. He does not need to bring a new law in.
If there were problems in different languages and different provisions between a collective agreement and the Employment Standards Act, there is another option. He could have gone to the bargaining table. Guess who is bargaining with the teachers and with the government employees right now? It is the Government of the Yukon, led by the great Government Leader, the head of the Yukon Party, leader for life, president of all he surveys, master equivocator of all time, a new position every month on every major issue, the Leader of the grand and happy coalition, lawyered effectively by the Minister of Justice. They could have amended the act in substance. They could have said, Well we were just kidding people; we really did not mean to vote for that act; there were a lot of things we did not like about it. We did not say so at the time. We ranted and raved and we tried to stall. I know then we said that the NDP should have proclaimed it. I know that we have not proclaimed it afterwards and we know that we said back then it should have applied to the government, but it did not. And we said that the government should always listen to a board like the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment and should never reject their recommendations. The NDP rejected one and they were terrible, awful, evil people for doing that. Now we have rejected one of their main recommendations, but, you know, times change, new governments, new times, new philosophy; we have got to have some flexible Toryism here. We will dispense with a few of these expensive details like principles, and we will do what is convenient.
Now, what does this amendment do? This amendment does not help workers, but they never intended it to do that. It does not even help the small business community, whom they did speak for - very effectively, I might add - during the debate. This bill does not do anything for small business.
Who does this bill help? It helps them. It does not help workers or small business, but it helps the government. Whose agenda is this? This is not the NDP agenda; it is not even the Liberal agenda. This is not even from the election, because I went through the literature. It is not even the Yukon Partys agenda. It is completely opposite to what they promised to do during the election campaign. This is the Commissioners agenda - he did not want the act proclaimed - and it is the bureaucracys agenda.
So, who is in charge? The Commissioner and the bureaucracy? My goodness, we have gone back 25 years - back to the past and the bad old days of bureaucratic Commissioner government. Perhaps that is what these guys really wanted. Perhaps they never really liked responsible government, because you know what can happen with responsible government - the darned people might elect the NDP, or the Liberals, or someone else. The only way we can keep things unchanged and just the way they always were back in 1945 and 1955 is to go back to Commissioner government, bureaucratic government, and that is the way it will always be.
Let us compare the two agendas. This is the Yukon Party agenda - what they promised in the election - and this is the bureaucratic agenda. It was interesting hearing the Government Leader read out all the reasons why this could not apply to the government. When we were government, we received lots of pieces of paper from the bureaucracy saying the same thing.
During the election, the Yukon Party said that what was good for the government was good for the private sector, and what was good for the private sector was good for the government; YCEE recommendations must be respected; and if you are going to take advice from the boards, you have to accept their recommendations. The NDP rejected one out of 53 recommendations - those dirty dogs; those bounders; those cads; those scandalous villains.
Now, of course, the Yukon Party wants to reject one of the main provisions - in fact, the one affecting perhaps the most important provision in this act, that which applies to government. Oh, that is different - there are new circumstances, a new change. We have an NDP Opposition that is filibustering the budget, and we have a supplementary that has some things in it we are not going to spend, but it is way over budget.
What is the quote? Let me read the relevant quote. The Yukon Party campaigned on the question of advice from boards, Listen to and act upon advice and/or recommendations of government advisory boards and give reasons in writing when the government rejects this advice or recommendations. They spoke strongly in favour of this provision in the Legislature. That was the Yukon Party position before the election. It is just an historical document now; we can send it up to Archives, although perhaps they are not going to proclaim the Historic Resources Act. The Yukon Party lawyer is against that, so perhaps we will just have to send it somewhere else. Perhaps we will send it to the National Archives.
What are the bureaucratic objections?
We heard them today from the Government Leader. It is amazing how they have not changed. They are concerned that the Public Service Act definition of employee excludes casuals, and they have different definitions. They are concerned about the banking of overtime, that if the time is not taken within a one-month period, it has to be paid - God, what an earth-shattering concern; would not the bureaucracy just crumble to pieces if they had to make an adjustment on that one?
The PSAC agreement excludes time worked on a designated paid holiday from the definition of overtime. Boy, we had better change that Employment Standards Act; this is going to be the end of civilization as we know it if it stands.
The Employment Standards Act requires that all averaging-of-hours arrangements be approved by the director of employment standards. The government could never live with that. The Cabinet would be all tied up in knots having 12-hour meetings to figure out that one.
The Government Leader said, Our current pay system equipment would not accommodate this schedule. We have the biggest computer in the territory and the most sophisticated pay system in this territory right here in this building. We have a system that can apply to the smallest business in the territory, but the biggest computer, the biggest payroll department and biggest personnel department in the territory cannot handle this provision; it is too difficult and too complicated.
I know what my reaction was when I got that advice from the bureaucracy. I said bunk em, but no, what do they say over there, bureaucrats have a concern with this. Aye aye, sir; yes, sir. Got to take our instructions. The Commissioner does not like this bill; the bureaucracy does not like this bill; let us make sure we change it.
We have to remember that on all the things that the Government Leader spoke about - vacation pay to be paid within 10 months, the provision in the collective agreement allowing for two-year accrual of credit; employees being dismissed and being paid on time; the review and redress; the question about auxiliaries, on-call, O.I.C. contract employees; arrears pay; the requirement that a record of hours of work be kept by each employer for each employee; the Employment Standards Act requirement of 24-hours notice to work overtime, except in an emergency - we asked with the greatest of respect to our personnel advisors, Are you telling us that it is absolutely impossible for the government to live by these provisions? Are you telling us that you cannot meet with the bargaining agent for the employees and work out some accommodation to these questions? Are you telling us that it is not possible under the same act to apply for exemptions, and, given that the Minister of Justice is the final court of appeal, deal with the matter that way?
Well, no we are not saying that, they would reply, frankly, we just prefer, because bureaucracies do not like change, Minister, and we do not want to do anything that is complicated, to keep it the way it is. We like it better that way.
The previous government took the position of having consulted with people, including employees, but the people who argued, including the Tories and the Yukon Party, that the act should apply to the government as much as it does to private employers were right.
In this case, the bureaucracy is wrong. What was the position taken by the Members opposite? It was, All hail the bureaucracy; public be darned. They are not going to listen to the consultation, the citizens or the workers. In this case, they are not even going to listen to the small business people. They are going to listen to the bureaucracy. They are going to be good little boys - I was going to say boys and girls, but that would be inaccurate - and they are going to do what the bureaucracy tells them to do. They are going to go back to the good old days of Commissioner-government, bring in whatever legislation they want and dutifully pass it.
The sponsoring Minister will not even give the Legislature the courtesy of a real explanation. The Government Leader will not give the Legislature an explanation about why he has made incredible equivocations and done complete about-faces in terms of his election promises and his practices now; between the commitments they made to respect the recommendations of boards then and their activities now; and between promises they made about the application of this law to this government then and what they are doing now.
What happens in passing this? All the reforms and modest slight improvements that were made for ordinary working people in the act are shelved, as the Government Leader said. They are shelved not because they are a new government that has brought in amendments to the act and changed it. It is not because this is a new government that has reviewed the act and decided that, philosophically, they want to take a step backwards, or want a more right-wing agenda and really hurt working people - set them back and put them in their place - they want to do it the easy way. They want not to proclaim the act, even though they voted for it, even though they stood in this House and said yes to the act; they are going to use the power of the Cabinet and Commissioner to defeat the democratic wishes of this Legislature and bring in this piddling amendment to make sure that the act is changed in a way that is very consequential.
The Council on the Economy and the Environment, in their report, said a very interesting thing. They said that the reason this act was so important was that it would apply to the vast majority of working people in the territory. I quote the two first sentences, The Employment Standards Act is a far-reaching piece of legislation. The Yukon Department of Justice estimates that three-quarters of the Yukons working population fall under its provisions. What are they doing here today? They are making sure that that statement is no longer true; they are going to remove the employees of the largest employer in the territory from its provisions.
It is not going to help working people, but it is going to help the government, the bureaucracy, and betray every promise they have made in respect to this legislation, in respect the recommendations of boards, the application of this law to the government and their own integrity when they voted for the legislation, which they are now going to shelve, except for one provision: the provision that the law should apply as much to the public sector as the private sector. By trying to sneak this through the House this afternoon they are betraying every promise that they, as a party and as people, made on the subject.
This is a very sad day for democracy in the Yukon.
Speaker: The Minister of Justice will close debate if he now speaks. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I did not think this would be a controversial bill. Of course, I have been wrong in the past, and I guess I am wrong now. There are a few modest points I would like to make in response to some of the speakers who raised questions this afternoon.
For example, there was concern expressed by the Member for Riverdale South that we were going forward without dealing with the substantive amendments that were never proclaimed. It is our intention, in due course, to deal with the whole issue of all amendments to the Employment Standards Act and, in particular, with the balance of Bill No. 13, which was passed last spring in this House, but not, however, after a lot of proposed amendments by Members of the Opposition being turned down in Committee of the Whole, and not without a good deal of controversy from the business community, which was not adequately consulted. Also, the feelings of small business people still run high about Bill No. 13. We on this side have received all kinds of briefs with respect to Bill No. 13, and we have been implored not to let that bill go through without adequate consultation.
We intend to deal with amendments of substance to the current Employment Standards Act in due course. It is going to be a lengthy process and there will be consultation with all the stakeholders.
Before that can take place, we are simply dealing with one clause that we feel would bring unnecessary expense and hardship onto government at this time. It is simply a matter of our wanting to do a complete job with respect to reviewing the Employment Standards Act, and that is going to take some time to do.
We did not have time to prepare a bill and go through consultation for this sitting. A lengthy debate on a substantive bill, which in time will come forward, is something that we do not have time for in this sitting. Strange as it may seem to the side opposite, there are a good deal of business people, and others, in Whitehorse and throughout the Yukon, who are concerned about the filibustering that has been taking place by the Official Opposition, and who are concerned that the capital budget go through so jobs can be created and the economy can be given a chance.
I guess our answer to that question is that we do intend to proceed with new amendments, in time. We do not intend to allow the current Bill No. 13, as it presently stands, to proceed or be proclaimed into law. That is our position on that particular score.
I get concerned, although I should not, when I hear the Leader of the Official Opposition give a very emotional speech about principles and such. I am beginning to learn that the more animated the speech is, the less dedication he has to the principles being articulated. That is something that one learns over time. Sometimes, one gets a little short-tempered with all the talk about democracy and parliamentarianism. We have been here in this place and have watched that Member bully the Chair in his decisions. We have listened to that Member attack officials at the table, and these are things that are not democratic and are considered unfair by all parliamentarians. We, as a House, did have the opportunity to hear apologies - not from that Member, but from other Members on the other side.
I have a little difficulty with the position that one side is all principle and good stuff and the other side has none.
It is interesting that the bills that ended up not being proclaimed are now so staunchly defended by the side opposite. I would have loved to have been privy to the discussions in Cabinet when the decision was made to pass part of one of those bills - to have part 4 of the Public Government Act proclaimed - but not Bill 13, nor the rest of the Public Government Act, nor the rest of the legislation that has not yet been proclaimed. I would have loved to have heard that discussion.
I suspect the real reason it could not be proclaimed was that an election was pending. Part 4 of the Public Government Act could be proclaimed, as it would gain some votes. Thus, of such strong principles, the Members of the former Cabinet did not have the courage to do the rest of it. It is two blocks down to the Commissioners office. It would have taken a few minutes in Cabinet to pass the necessary paperwork to have those bills proclaimed, but they did not do it. Why? Because they did not want to put forward and have proclaimed any legislation that was controversial, just the good stuff that they were sure would get them votes. That is the only possible explanation for part 4 of the Public Government Act being proclaimed, but not the rest of it; not the Employment Standards Act amendments; and not the other bills. What other possible explanation could there be? That is some principle.
They were really concerned about the worker. Let us just let this go by because it might cost us the election. Let us trick them once more. We will be quite safe after the election and then we can pass it. People will have four years to forget about it.
Unfortunately, it did not work. They were thrown out of office. Now, there is a new government.
I remember the preaching from the Member who spoke before me about how it is a new government. This government has its own agenda. It is not the agenda of the side opposite. People voted for change, and they are going to get it. They do not have to worry, because we are not going to take our marching orders from the NDP. That is how they voted. They voted the NDP out. That is how democracy works.
This particular bill is a very modest bill. It is designed to buy time - because it will take time to go through Bill No. 13 and the existing act - so that we can come forward with some meaningful, appropriate amendments and ensure that all the stakeholders are consulted in an adequate fashion and heard.
I realize that this is terribly upsetting to some on the side opposite. I understand that. That is what democracy is all about. If they had the courage of their principles and their convictions, they would have had these acts proclaimed before they went to the people. It was only the timing that was wrong, nothing else. They did not have the guts; they did not have the stomach for it. When they stand up and preach, I hope that those whom they are preaching to will fully understand just how hypocritical that stance can be.
I commend, once again, this bill, in principle, to all Members of this House. It is not intended to be a cure-all. This is not a session in which we intended to bring forward heavy-duty legislation or all kinds of acts. There has to be time to consult and prepare. We will, in due course, deal with the substance of the amendments in Bill No. 13 and come forward with amendments that will be good not only for the worker, who is sometimes oppressed by big business, but for everyone in the Yukon. That is a pledge we make to the people of the Yukon.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Are you agreed?
Speaker: Division has been called. Mr. Clerk, would you kindly poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Agree.
Mr. Abel: Agree.
Mr. Millar: Agree.
Mr. Penikett: Disagree.
Mr. McDonald: Disagree.
Ms. Joe: Disagree.
Mr. Joe: Disagree.
Ms. Moorcroft: Disagree.
Mr. Harding: Disagree.
Mr. Cable: Disagree.
Mrs. Firth: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are nine yea, seven yea.
Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 83 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call the Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the Committee to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
The Committee will be dealing with Bill No. 83, An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act (No. 2), 1992.
Bill No. 83: - An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act (No. 2), 1992
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Very briefly, this is a rather modest amendment to amendments. Clearly, the position we are going to be taking with Bill No. 13 will take some time to address. We do intend to look at Bill No. 13 and give all the players a chance to speak to amendments to the existing Employment Standards Act.
In the fullness of appropriate consultations, we will be coming forward. I am sure in my mind that some of the principles and the amendments contained in Bill No. 13 will go forward with our amendments, and I am sure there will be some changes to the principles contained therein. At this time, rather than trying to project in any way what will stand and what will be changed, this amendment is simply intended to give us some time to go through that process.
Mr. Penikett: Could the Minister of Justice explain why the Yukon Party has done a 180-degree turn on this question since their election promises and the vote in the House last spring, to this measure now? Last spring they voted for having the law apply to the government, now they are taking a different position.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The Member has a different understanding of geometry than I, when he talks about 180-degree turns. During the debate on Bill No. 13, 1992, the Members of what is now the Yukon Party had a great deal of difficulty with sections of the act. It comes through in that amendments were proposed and voted down by the then-government. I have had a look at the short speeches in third reading and the speeches by Members of the Yukon Party, who clearly stated that there were very deep concerns about aspects of the bill. The Member for Riverdale South stated in her speech that she was opposed to the bill.
With the greatest of respect, there was no call for division, and the dissatisfaction by those who spoke to the bill and proposed amendments to the bill come out clearly in the debate. I regret very much that the Member for Faro is not running the government, and I am sure he also does. However, facts are facts, and that is the way it is.
If I get run over by a railway train, I will probably suffer injury. I would not like it and may regret it, but it is the way things are.
Mr. Penikett: According to Yukon Party policy documents, you would have to wait until the 22nd century in order to be run over by a train in the Yukon Territory.
Could I ask the Minister of Justice as a matter of fact, is it not the case that, at second reading and in Committee, he and his party and his colleagues on the other side voted for the measure that would have the Employment Standards Act apply to the government?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am afraid I am not getting through to the Member opposite. All we have now is a situation where Bill No. 13 is not going to proceed in its present form. The time is substantially different from the time during which that bill was passed. Right now, we are in a situation where this government is bargaining with the Public Service Alliance of Canada. When we deal with the old Bill No. 13 - the bill that was not proclaimed prior to the last election because it was not politically convenient or expedient enough to do so - we will change that act and we will be looking at the principle of the Government of Yukon coming under an amended Employment Standards Act. Surely, the Members on the side opposite will recognize that the current act is substantially different from the act that is contemplated by Bill No. 13.
Mr. Penikett: The Member is making this more painful and taking more time than is necessary. Since we are not bargaining now, this legislation is not necessary to deal with any problem between him and the government employees or the government and its employees at the moment.
As a question of principle - and I am not talking about a school principal now - is it not the case that, when he and his colleagues were in Opposition, they supported the principle that the Employment Standards Act should apply to the public sector as well as the private sector - to government as well as small business. Is it not the case that, when they were over here, they supported that principle?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I answered that previously. Clearly, what we said was that we supported, in a very qualified way, a bunch of amendments to the existing Employment Standards Act. This is one amendment.
We are taking the position that we will go back and deal with the entire package of amendments with a fresh start. We will look at the principles and do it all at once, in consultation with all of the players. That is what we intend to do.
Personally, I am not going to stand here and say that we are simply going to pick and choose principles at this or any other time. We will come forward with a complete package. The side opposite, when they were in power, took just under eight years to do that. I am sure we will accomplish it in a much shorter time frame.
Mr. Penikett: The issue before us is not picking and choosing principles. If it is, it is the shoot the one principle, which the Members opposite appear to have supported when they were in Opposition. Now, out of all the principles in the act, they have chosen to deal with the principle of the application of the employment standards law to the Government of the Yukon. Is it not the case that, when the Member was in Opposition, he and his colleagues supported the principle that the law should apply to the government as well as to the private sector. Forget his qualifications, his equivocations and all the other principles in the act. I am just asking about this one principle. Was it not the case that the Member opposite stood over here and said that he supported that principle?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I certainly did not stand there and say anything of the sort.
When the Official Opposition was in government, they came forward with a comprehensive - in their view - package of amendments to the existing Employment Standards Act. Everyone in the Yukon assumed that, upon passage, within a very short time frame, the act would be proclaimed.
Clearly, the portion of the act the government-of-the-day had the most difficulty with was the principle that the Government of the Yukon would fall under the amended Employment Standards Act, because the section of which we speak entails a lengthy delay from the anticipated time of proclamation to that section coming into force. In other words, we had every right to expect - as I am sure the supporters of the side opposite expected - that Bill No. 13 would have been proclaimed prior to last fall.
The section that we are dealing with today had to do with the timing of the coming into law of a principle in that bill. That clause substantially delayed the coming into effect of that principle, I suspect it was, because the government of the day wanted time to consider the bill and commence negotiations in such a way as to make the transition for this government as smooth and as cost-effective as possible. Now, we are talking about timing.
This bill has to do with timing, and this bill is saying that the timing of government coming under an amended Employment Standards Act will not be prior to the amendments going through. That is what this amendment is about. It is not about the issue of the principle of whether, at some time, done properly, the Government of the Yukon would not come under the auspices of an amended Employment Standards Act.
Mr. Penikett: The Member opposite and I were both, at one time, at different Ontario universities as philosophy students. If what the Member has just said had been presented as a first-year philosophy course essay, I am fairly certain it would have had Sophistry, D minus in big red letters scrawled across the top.
There are two questions, one about timing and one about the principle. I am going to spend some time later on the question of timing, but the Member opposites position on timing resembles a Mobius loop. On one hand, he is saying to us that the NDP should have proclaimed it last fall.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: I will get to the Government Leader later, when I have time.
The Commissioner should have killed the bill, and the Government of the Yukon now should never proclaim it. So, it is backward, forward, sideways, over and under. The fact of the matter is that, at one time, they voted for it, whatever their reservations; the party is quite clearly on the record as voting for it, but they say they did not really agree with it at the time. They voted for it, but they did not agree with it; it should have been proclaimed, but they are never going to proclaim it.
The timing question is worth some time to debate, and we will get to it. I want to stay on the question of principle for a moment, if I can keep the Minister of Justice on the topic. I want him to choose his words very carefully, because we have the record of all the statements of his party. Is he now saying that the position of his party has always been that they were opposed to the employment standards law applying to government, as well as to private business? Is that what he is claiming his position was, even though that is his position today, obviously, because otherwise he would not bring in the bill. Since they are at the bargaining table, they do not need to bring in the bill, if it is simply a question of negotiating the difference between the Employment Standards Act and the collective agreement. However, he has brought in a bill here today, which clearly indicates this government is divorcing itself from the position the party took when it was in Opposition.
I want to know if he is going to stand here in the House now, today, and tell us, or try and claim, that it was always his position and his colleagues position that the Employment Standards Act should not apply to the government.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The Member opposite should know better than to try to put words into my mouth. I think the point that I made about the lack of the proclamation was very simple. If the side opposite were really truly principled, and really truly had wanted to see this act in force, they would have had it proclaimed at the same time they had part 4 of the Public Government Act proclaimed, and not have dodged the issue because they were worried about the controversy. The impact of the proclamation of this act on the election, in their minds, clearly outweighed whether or not this act was good for the people of the Yukon and ought to be put into law.
They took a risk. Political expediency won out over principle in this case. They lost the election.
We are fortunate enough to be on this side and we are saying, look, we had strong reservations about aspects of Bill No. 13. We are the government now. We are going to take our time, improve it, consult and bring back a package embodying all the principles that we agree with. The issue of whether or not at that time government will be subject to the amended Employment Standards Act, is one that right now is open. In Cabinet we have not made any decisions about any of these issues, but nothing that we are doing today, in any way, means that we will have changed our mind on the complete package with respect to that principle.
Bill No. 83 speaks to the issue of times, speaks to the issue of being practical, speaks to the issue of this government having its agenda and moving on principles such as amendments that we think are in the best interest of Yukoners, including an amendment that would place this government under the ambit of the amended Employment Standards Act.
We are now in the situation where we have the luxury of being able to make those choices. We will be able to come forward with a better bill than Bill No. 13, 1992 was. Saying that does not, in any way, foreclose the possibility of any of the principles in that bill coming forward in the bill that political expediency doomed. The bill that political expediency doomed does, in my view, have a lot of principles in it that I share and can support. We will come forward with a better bill. I do not think that the side opposite has to worry. If we do pass the bill, we will make sure that it is proclaimed before we go to the polls. We will not let political expediency undermine our principles. That is the type of precedent that we do not feel is binding upon us.
Mr. Penikett: I suspect that, for someone who worked in the mining industry, it would be extremely difficult to undermine the Member opposites principles, because you would have to dig so deep to find them that it would be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to get underneath them.
The Member opposite says that we wanted to avoid controversy by not proclaiming the bill. Of course, that is ridiculous, because we took the normal period to have departments writing regulations to take legislation to the Commissioner to proclaim. That is not normally a controversial subject. The only time that becomes controversial is if a vice-regal officer holds a press conference - an extraordinary unprecedented event and quite improper, in my view. That is another subject.
The controversy was joined in this House, and there was no attempt to avoid that. The previous government brought the bill to the House. The controversy, such as it was, was aired on the floor of this House, in the media and in the public. Proposals were subject to consultation, debate took place, the bill was changed, amendments were made, the law was passed in this House, and it is on the record that the Members opposite supported it.
We went to the polls having understood in this House that they had been in favour of it. The Member opposite talks about consultation. I think it was a few weeks ago when he told us his view of consultation was that it happened on October 19, 1992, and that was it. He said it right in the Hansard.
This is a Member who did not tell his electorate that he was running for a Cabinet post in the Yukon Party government. He told people he was running as an independent to represent their views alone. I do not recall, in his election manifesto, that the Minister of Justice ever said that he was going to bring in a bill to take away the application of the Employment Standards Act law to government. I do not believe he said that at all. He has now told us there has been no decision on this point.
On the face of it, it is impossible to believe that there has been no decision on it. Why else would the Minister of Justice, at the time when the government is bargaining with its own union, bring forward a bill to make it clear that the Employment Standards Act does not apply to the government and its employees, unless it had two objectives: one, to make sure that the bill did not apply to the government, and two, a consequential objective that it was not benefits that could be claimed by the employees at the bargaining table?
I think this has something to do with bargaining, the malleability of the Members opposite to the persuasive powers of certain persons in the bureaucracy, and it also indicates that they are quite completely prepared to abandon any promise they made before the election in respect to this bill and its provisions.
I want to allow the Minister of Justice a minute to reflect on his sins: the conversion on the road to power, the evolution from Paul into Saul, and to ask the Government Leader when he changed his position that the recommendations of boards and committees, like the Council on the Economy and the Environment, on questions like the Employment Standards Act, should not be respected.
The Council on the Economy and the Environment quite clearly recommended that this law should apply to the government. I heard the Government Leader quite clearly say, during the election, that we should listen to the boards and that the NDP were awful people for having rejected one of the Council on the Economy and the Environments recommendations. When did he change his position that all the recommendations of the Council on the Economy and the Environment should be accepted?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is ironic that the Leader of the Official Opposition would ask me that question. First of all, they did not accept the recommendations of the Council on the Economy and the Environment. In fact, they got a letter condemning them for not accepting them.
I believe in boards and committees. The recommendation was made to the Members opposite, not to this government.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader who has time and time again demonstrated an extremely poor understanding of parliamentary government is, interestingly enough, giving lectures to Members over here.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: The Government House Leader is quite prepared to heckle, advise and try and prevent other people from asking questions - he does not even want other people to speak. That is the kind of behaviour for which we know him. He just wants to talk, not listen. He is the most intellectually challenged Member on the front bench and he wants to give advice to people on this side.
Let me ask the Government Leader...
Chair: Order please. Mr. Penikett is speaking.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader, during the election, advanced the view, as I understand it, that the Cabinet-of-the-day should simply be the rubber stamp for a board or committee. Whatever a board and committee recommend, the government should just stamp it approved and send it on to the Commissioner to stamp it again, except, of course, if it was during an election period. That, as I understand it, is the logic of his position. He says, again, that we were wrong not to accept the Council on the Economy and the Environments recommendations.
We only rejected one recommendation and we did so on moral grounds. We defended it in this House and I would be prepared to defend it anywhere. Fifty-two recommendations out of 53 were accepted.
The Council on the Economy and the Environment made another recommendation about the same matter. They made it not just to our Government - the government that existed in October - but to the government of the Yukon as it continues to exist: to the Legislature, the bureaucracy, the Cabinet then and the Cabinet now. The recommendation was that the Employment Standards Act should apply to the government as much as to the private sector.
When did the Government Leader change his position that governments should accept the recommendations of boards and when did he change his previous position that the Employment Standards Act should apply to the government as well as to the private sector?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Without getting off the topics at hand, this is Bill No. 83, and it deals with one section of a bill that was not proclaimed prior to the last election. The bill deals with section 53 and changes the timing of clause 6 of Bill No. 13, and its coming into law from the dates certain in Bill No. 13 to a date to be fixed by the Commissioner in Executive Council.
I do not know how many times we have to go over this ground; Bill No. 13 was an imperfect piece of legislation from the point of view of those on this side of the House. We now form the government; that was a choice that the people made. We intend to go back and consult with the people with respect to the principles in the existing Employment Standards Act, the principles in Bill No. 13, and we will be coming forward with new legislation.
I hope, when we complete the consultation, we will not have entire segments of our population feeling that they were not fully consulted or given the chance to put their views forward, or feel that they were ignored or that they were the subject of some kind of misplaced ideology - the them-against-us mentality. We hope to bring forward legislation that will be a fair compromise between the varying interests of the stakeholders.
Certainly, the issue of the Employment Standards Act, which is meant to be a safety net for workers, can be there at the end of that exercise for government employees as well as the other employees in society.
I understand that the Opposition does not fully appreciate the fact that they are now the Opposition and that their time has passed and there will be new laws passed.
The former Minister of Justice says, Well, just wait until the next election. Well, that could be, but I am talking about now. We will see in the fullness of time.
I recall, when the government changed in 1985, the side opposite making it very clear that they had their agenda and they were not going to dance to the tune of the Opposition. Let me play it back to them: we are the new government now and we are not going to dance to the tune of the NDP.
We value their constructive criticism, but I do not see anything constructive about this.
Mr. Penikett: I wonder if I could just take the propositions of the Member opposite one by one. First of all, he has argued that they had the right to form the government. I do not know who they is, although I think that must mean the Yukon Party. The Yukon Party had more votes and more seats, and it had the right to form a government. In the parliamentary system, an independent, such as he, had the right to do whatever he liked. Even if he had promised his constituents he was going to sit as an independent and ask questions and be a constituency Member, he had the right to change his mind and join the Cabinet of another party. We do not question the right of the Members opposite to form a government. We do not question their right, or their belief, that the law they voted for might be imperfect from their point of view.
I hope the Minister of Justice would still accept the view that he used to advocate at one point, that the government in the parliamentary system is accountable for what it does. If it has promised to do one thing before an election, and then does something completely opposite afterward, we here, without having to suffer calls of being filibusters and obstructionists, should be able to ask questions about the change in the position, why they took a strong, principled decision in one direction before the election, and why they have gone in a completely different direction afterwards.
The point is that, under our system, the Cabinet - the Ministers who make these decisions - are accountable to the House and to the public. The Commissioner is not. The Commissioner can do whatever the Commissioner likes. He is not accountable to us at all. He is a federal employee. We have no recourse to Commissioner decisions.
The government is taking one clause - one principle - out of a bill and trying to give to the Cabinet the power to make a decision about that principle, whether it ever comes into law or not, on its own timing. It is going to make that decision behind closed doors, and it will only be accountable after the fact. At some future point, when the House may not be sitting - in the middle of the summer - it is going to ask the House to quietly consent to reversing their position, changing a major principle in the bill, undermining the intent of the legislation, and allowing them to go off and do it behind closed doors.
We have had a little lecture from the Minister of Justice about how we should have proclaimed the legislation before the election. They do not believe it should have been proclaimed. In fact, they did not like the bill, but we should have proclaimed it. It makes one wonder what they would have done if the election results had been different because, while saying we should have proclaimed it, they were simultaneously arguing that proclamation should be delayed. Their many friends in the business community were arguing for a delay to give time to develop the regulations, develop education programs, and do further consultation about the regulations.
Of course, the position has changed now, because it is politically expedient for them to do that. However, let me remind the Member opposite that, in 1985, when the government changed, the outgoing Cabinet of that day - the outgoing Conservative Cabinet - passed some regulations about highway signs. It was a very controversial decision. Many people hate those signs today - some people love them, some people hate them, some people chop them down. That was done after the government had been defeated. The Commissioner-of-the-day happily proclaimed the regulations. It was a precedent in the Yukon. However, what is good for the Members opposite is, of course, not fit for people on this side of the House because, from the Members point of view, we are an inferior form of life, because we do not accept their view that everything that happened in the 18th century was superior to what is happening now. We are not real Yukoners, because we read books or do other things that are wrong.
The Minister keeps telling us this is a question of timing; it is not about timing. This has to do with submitting to the bureaucratic will; it has to do with collective bargaining with the employees; it has to do with a fundamental question of principle in this bill and whether the bill should apply to the government as well as the private sector.
I want to know why the government has changed its position?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I do not know how many times I can say the same thing in different ways. Clearly, this bill deals with the timing of a certain provision coming into effect.
The intent of the previous administration was to delay clause 6 from coming into effect until a time long after the amendments in Bill No. 13 would be proclaimed. Unfortunately, political expediency won the day; the bill was not proclaimed ahead of the election, because it was deemed to be a bill that might hurt their chances at the polls and, principles be damned, they delayed it.
The consequence is that the new government has a chance to revisit this issue and come forward with better legislation - legislation that we feel will be acceptable to achieve a consensus among most of the players in Yukon society, not legislation that largely ignores the wishes of employers and is used to show that we are kowtowing to our union friends as was done by the side opposite. We would like to see legislation come forward that is satisfactory to all fair-minded people in the Yukon. That is what we intend to do; we have the opportunity and we are going to do it.
Mr. Cable: I have a question that may be a little bit of legal niggling, but just before getting to that, I would like to assure the Member for Riverdale North that my son-in-law supports my position today and so does my grandson and my granddaughter, so there is no trouble within my family on my position today.
Section 6 of Bill No. 13 really talks about the removal of the previous section, which exempted the government from the application of the Employment Standards Act and it indicates that the act binds the Government of the Yukon. Then section 53 stages the proclamation of the act really contemplated, if I am reading Hansard correctly and reading the bill correctly, that the act would be proclaimed into force first and then there would be some catch-up with the Government of the Yukon, which I think is what the Minister of Justice indicated. It does not really say that the bill is in force; it simply says that section 6 is in force.
My question to the Minister is: is this whole exercise this afternoon even necessary? Have we received legal advice that the removal of section 6 is necessary - that section 6 operates to proclaim the bill in force with respect to the government - or does it simply say it binds the government?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It brings clause 6 into force without the rest of the amendments contained in Bill No. 13. It leaves them behind now, instead of what was contemplated - that the bill would be proclaimed except for section 6, which would come into force on the date certain. Our position is simply this: we want to revisit the entire matter and come forward with a new bill in place of the old Bill No. 13. At that time, we will be looking at the principle. I do not want to speak for Cabinet, as we have not made a Cabinet decision on this, but I presume that we will be looking favourably on the issue of government being bound by the amended Employment Standards Act.
Mr. Cable: I would simply like to draw the distinction between the act binding the government and the act being in force.
Has the Minister taken the legal opinion of his solicitors in his department as to whether or not this is really necessary? I draw the Ministers attention to the fact that the government could be bound by the act, but until it is proclaimed into force, it is simply bound in limbo; it is out in the ether there.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I think I understand what the Member is getting at. In clause 6, it says that this act binds. The opinion that I have received is that this act means the Employment Standards Act. There is an Employment Standards Act in effect now, so this act does not apply solely to Bill No. 13, but to the Employment Standards Act.
Mr. Cable: The point I make is that there is nothing proclaimed into force to bind the government, right at the moment. So, there is no necessity to bring in the amendment.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The interpretation is that this act binds the government in that it applies to the Employment Standards Act, which is in force. I think I understand what the Member is getting at. The interpretation that the Justice Department has provided is that, without Bill No. 83, the impact of section 53 would mean that government would be bound by the current Employment Standards Act.
Mr. Cable: What we are saying is that all the provisions in Bill No. 13 are not at issue, it is simply the old Employment Standards Act that now binds the government. This is an entirely different perception of what I got today, listening to the debate.
Ms. Moorcroft: I took great exception to the Minister of Educations comments earlier this afternoon that, because a relative of the Member for Riverside held certain opinions on the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, the Minister was therefore surprised by the Members position.
I believe that a person, and in particular a Member of this Legislature, is responsible for what she or he says, and how she or he votes. To claim that a Member should hold certain views, because of the action or beliefs of any person to whom the relative may be related, is the most insulting and offensive show of disrespect that I have yet heard in this Assembly.
We live in a small community and, particularly in a small community like the Yukon, people could find relatives who hold different views. I have relatives who hold different views from my own. Everyone has relatives who hold different views from their own.
I believe the Minister of Education has relatives who may hold an opinion different from his and, frankly, to suggest otherwise surprises me. I would hope that the Members of this House would not be so foolish as to say something like that in the future.
Mr. McDonald: I have been listening intently to the exchange between Mr. Phelps and Mr. Penikett respecting the intent of the legislation, and I listened assiduously to the questions put by Mr. Cable with respect to what the bill actually means.
The Minister has indicated, on a number of occasions, that this bill has nothing to do with the principle of whether or not the government should be bound by the act. The Minister has indicated that the motion before us has everything to do with timing and nothing to do with the principle of the act.
Despite the fact that I cannot disagree with the Member more, I would like to ask the Minister a few questions, and I would like to preface this by noting one point. In the past, when we have passed legislation or considered a particular measure before this House, it has always been considered appropriate for Members of the Opposition to ask the Minister what the intentions of the Minister and the Cabinet are, when the Minister seeks consent from the Legislature to transfer some of the power from the Legislature to the Cabinet. In that respect, quite often, it means that there are regulations anticipated, and it is expected that, at least in general terms, we will get some indication of what the government intends to do by asking for some powers of this Legislature to be delegated to a minority of the Legislature.
This particular provision does not repeal the Employment Standards Act. The Members opposite say they want to go back, start from the beginning and do it all over again, but this measure does not repeal the Employment Standards Act. It deals with only one provision of Bill No. 13 - the provision respecting whether or not the government should be bound, at a particular point, by the Employment Standards Act.
In this particular provision, what we are essentially doing is saying that, rather than fix the date at which the government would be bound by the Employment Standards Act, we are saying that we should leave that decision to the Cabinet.
It is perfectly legitimate, consequently, that we ask the Minister the question: what does the Cabinet intend to do? We are not asking when it wants to bind the government, because that is all they are asking to be able to do. They are not asking to rescind the act or do anything with any of the other principles. In this measure, they are only asking that the Cabinet be allowed to decide when the government should be bound.
It must be legitimate, under the circumstances, for the Opposition or other Members of the Legislature to ask the obvious question. The first question is: does the government intend to be bound by the act? We did not bring this provision forward. It is not good enough to say that the policy discussions about this bill have not been fully discussed; it is the Minister who brought this provision forward. Presumably, the policy implications of this have been discussed by the Cabinet; otherwise, they would not have brought it forward.
So I would ask, therefore, does the Minister and does the government intend to be bound by the Employment Standards Act?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I understand the desire of the side opposite to filibuster and, of course, that is their right in a democratic institution. I have answered that question very clearly, in that we will be coming forward with amendments to the Employment Standards Act. We will be looking at all these principles and coming forward with a better package, in our view, than was designed by the Official Opposition when they were government.
Mr. Chair, in light of the time, I move you report progress on Bill No. 83.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move 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 of the Chair of the Commitee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 83, entitled An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act (No. 2), 1992, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Commitee 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 Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion Agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday next.
House adjourned at 5:29
The following Sessional Paper was tabled on April 22, 1993:
Fire Marshall Annual Report for calendar year ending December 31, 1991 (Fisher)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled April 22, 1993:
Statements of Allotments and Appropriations for the 1992-93 fiscal year (Ostashek)
Written Question No. 5 by Mr. McDonald dated April 1, 1993
911 Emergency Service status and funding (Fisher)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 620-624