Tuesday, May 4, 1993 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will begin with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have a legislative return.
Mr. Penikett: I have a document for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have a document for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have two legislative returns to table.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I have a document for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Public Service Alliance of Canada, negotiations
Ms. Moorcroft: With considerable interest, I read the government news bulletin on negotiations with the Public Service Alliance of Canada and note that, for the first time in history, the government, as an employer, is talking about a strike before the union is.
My question for the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission is this: is the government trying to precipitate a strike as a cost-saving measure?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member for her question.
No, the government is not trying to precipitate a strike as a cost-saving measure.
Ms. Moorcroft: We have seen this government in action: not negotiating with the Taga Ku proponents and making all their statements to them in public; setting out the Curragh conditions in public, before talking with either the unions or Curragh and negotiating with them through the media; not negotiating at all with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation on Whitehorse land selections, claiming the selections were not balanced.
About the current PSAC negotiations, what is the governments policy regarding negotiations? Is it give and take at the table or is it a take-it-or-leave-it position?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not sure what the Member is trying to allude to; an impasse was reached last week and my information tells me that the alliance was choosing the option of going to conciliation.
Ms. Moorcroft: Merv Millers ill-fated financial review claimed time and time again that the collective agreement was the cause of the huge deficit that the Tory government discovered, which leads one to wonder what the real negotiating position of this government is. Will the government commit itself in a fair and respectful way to bargaining with the union and will it stay at the table and negotiate?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not sure which question the Member opposite wants me to answer.
As I said, there was an impasse reached last week at the bargaining table.
Question re: Public Service Alliance of Canada, negotiations
Ms. Moorcroft: It is our understanding that the outside negotiator for the government is no longer at the table and there is some question as to whether the negotiator had a mandate. Would the Minister explain if the governments chief negotiator quit or was fired?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We do not have a chief negotiator now because we do not feel we require one any longer. The talks have reached a point where the alliance said they were going to choose to go to conciliation; at that point, we let the chief negotiator go.
Ms. Moorcroft: As we have discovered in this House, contrary to tradition the Public Service Commissioner has been given only a six-month contract. Since the government has not explained the reasons for a six-month term, I must ask the Minister once again: was the appointment of the Public Service Commissioner for only six months designed to put undue pressure on a probationary employee to achieve concessions from the union during the current round of negotiations, and therefore part of the governments bargaining strategy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No.
Ms. Moorcroft: Under article 43 of the Public Service Staff Relations Act the union requested a conciliator. After the conciliator presents a report to the chair, the union can choose arbitration or the conciliation/strike route. Is it the intention of the government to predetermine the course of action taken by the union by including inflammatory statements in their press release?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not think there are any inflammatory statements in our press release. The only inflammatory statement to come to the House is from the Member opposite. The alliance has chosen conciliation.
Question re: Land Claims, land selection within Whitehorse
Mr. Cable: One of the messages that I got last Friday when I was at the Kwanlin Dun office meeting with the Kwanlin Dun officials was that the Kwanlin Dun officials and the chief were uncertain as to what the attitude of this government was toward the land claim in this area. Is the Government Leader prepared to meet personally with Chief Lena Johns with a view to getting the land claim back on the rails?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have said time and time again publicly and in this House that I would have no problem meeting with the chief of Kwanlin Dun, or any other First Nation.
Mr. Cable: In the event that the negotiations break down and are deadlocked, is the government prepared to consider the approach to dispute resolution that is referred to in the land claim agreement - that is, mediation?
Speaker: Order please. The Speaker understands that question to be hypothetical. If the Government Leader wishes to attempt to answer it, I will let him. Otherwise, the question is out of order as hypothetical.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Mr. Speaker, you have said it for me. I was just going to say that it was a hypothetical question.
Mr. Cable: I find it interesting that with land claims appearing to be deadlocked, the Government Leader would not be putting out some alternate solutions. Let me ask this question. The City of Whitehorse has been putting forward a position that it holds a third-party interest in the municipal lands, some of which may be under negotiation. To the knowledge of the Minister, is the City of Whitehorse still advancing that position?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I cannot say for certain what position the City of Whitehorse is advancing with respect to third-party interests. If the Member wishes, I can get back to him on that.
Question re: Curragh Inc., Asian investors
Mr. Penikett: I believe I am on record with a number of similar questions to the Government Leader, which I am hoping to hear about.
Yesterday, Curragh issued a press release about various initiatives toward restructuring, including references to the possibility of a substantial equity investment from a group of Asian companies.
Can the Government Leader give us any additional information about these developments, beyond that contained in the one-page release?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I wish I could give the House more information, but I have about the same amount of knowledge as what is in the press release, even though I have had talks with Mr. Pelly. I do not have any more information other than what the press releases states; there is an intent by some Asian companies to possibly invest in Curragh.
Mr. Penikett: I am sincerely sorry to hear that.
Can I ask the Government Leader this: does he know for a fact whether the Asian investors referred to in the Curragh release include their customers - Korea Zinc, Toho or other Japanese smelter companies - and does yesterdays news influence in any way the governments obdurate bargaining position?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, we are aware that Asian investors are talking to Curragh and its CEO. As for changing the position of the government, the government is on record saying that there is $5 million there to go ahead with the Grum stripping at any point that we can come to an agreement with the company.
Mr. Penikett: As the prophet said, that is the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg. The penultimate paragraph of Mr. Frames communique makes it clear that restructuring, new equity, and Curraghs viability may depend on financial support for Grum stripping. Given this movement by Curragh to restructure, and the related interest shown by Asian investors, for the good of the territorial economy, is the Government of the Yukon prepared to take any new initiatives to help package this deal?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have been working diligently, and I have been in touch with Curragh Inc. on a daily basis. What is in the press release is intent, and I think it is a very positive intent. I will be pursuing it to see what we can do to see that it does come to be a reality.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, rate increase
Mr. McDonald: The Yukon Electrical Company has been reported as seeking an increase in power rates, partly because Curragh welshed on its $790,000 March hydro bill, an approach that seemed to be supported in the House yesterday by the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation.
Is it the policy of the Crown corporation to seek increases in power rates to cover unpaid bills or bad debts?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I gather the Member is referring to an article on which content I had some research done. Much of it is simply erroneous reporting. The facts were not given to the reporter in the manner in which they appear in the article.
Mr. McDonald: That sounds like an almost incredible statement. Is it the Ministers understanding, then, that Curragh in fact did pay its March hydro bill and is not in arrears on money owing to the Yukon Energy Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That part of the story was more or less accurate, incredulous as it may seem. There is no question that there is concern right now about the situation with respect to collecting overdue accounts, but that is always a concern that the Energy Corporation has and acts upon according to its arms length mandate.
Mr. McDonald: The part of the story that is accurate is the part of the story that I am asking questions about. To get back to my original question, if I may: is it the policy of the Crown corporation to seek increases in power rates to cover unpaid bills or bad debts?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The Crown corporation, at this point in time, has not made any decision of the sort - that there is an unpaid debt. Right now, they are in the situation where they are looking at a bill that has been unpaid; whether or not it is collectible is a decision that will come once the court case has run its course.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, rate increase
Mr. McDonald: I do not want to get into a debate as to whether or not the bill was paid or unpaid because I am not certain I can get that kind of information from the Minister in Question Period. He seems to be doing a really fast dance with me. I am simply asking about the policy question. Can the Minister tell us whether it is the policy of the Crown corporation to seek increases in power rates to cover unpaid bills or bad debts? Is it their policy?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If there is a substantial unpaid debt, the corporation will very definitely be looking at its impact on the corporation and on its application to the Public Utilities Board.
Mr. McDonald: In the past, the Yukon Public Utilities Board has not accepted bad debts as an acceptable rationale for justifying increases in power rates. Is it now the governments policy to support the Crown corporations policy to support bad debts as a cost of service and pass them on to Yukon consumers?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The policy always has been that these kinds of costs are included in rate applications.
Mr. McDonald: I think that we will have to pursue this question at a later time. I do have a follow-up question that is of interest to me, which I would like to ask the Minister.
The Minister has said that the unused power left over from the Curragh operation will be used by other mining operations, such as the Casino property near Carmacks. Given that the governments economic forecast for the winter of 1993 suggested that Casino will not go into production for at least five years, what are Yukoners going to do during this period while they wait for another mine to take up the slack in terms of power consumption?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Once again, the Member - the former Minister - seems to be utterly dependent upon portions of news stories carried in the media. Certainly, he is not reflecting anything that I have said directly or in this House. I simply said - and I suppose it is reflected in various news reports - that I am fairly optimistic about the future of the Yukon and that there will be an increase in demand. I cited some examples: the potential for mining activity at Williams Creek, Casino, and Loki, as I recall.
Question re: Economic forecast
Mr. Harding: This government has a policy of giving up mines in the hand for deposits in the bush and I think we are seeing that quite clearly, whether or not the Minister disagrees with the content of that newspaper article.
I have a question-
Speaker: Order please. If the Member has a preamble to a question, not an editorial comment on the previous question, and will get to his question, I will allow him to ask it.
Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Last week the Government Leader said the effects of the shut down, combined with new taxes, increased electrical rates and increased municipal taxes had been analyzed and considered by his government. Yesterday, the Minister of Economic Development told the House that he was shown a paper. Why are the figures showing the impact not being made available to the Yukon public?
Hon. Mr. Devries: That particular document is a Cabinet document and is not available to the public.
Mr. Harding: The public has a right to know about what effect the closure is going to have on our economy. This information could have a major impact on the willingness of the general public throughout the territory to support a government initiative to help Curragh, jobs and the economy. This represents the entire Yukon; this is the important information that people need to make these decisions. Instead, we get a bland forecast from the government.
Will the Minister tell us when this information will be made public?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Many of our decisions are based on that information. We do not feel that it is necessary to make that information available to the public.
Mr. Harding: The Government of the Yukon is making a decision that is going to affect the entire economy of the Yukon Territory, on the basis of information of what would happen to the economy of the Yukon if the mines were closing, yet they are not prepared to introduce it to the public. I demand this information. When will they make it public?
Hon. Mr. Devries: When we were on the side opposite, we demanded a lot of information of the government, too. If they were Cabinet documents, they were not made public.
Question re: Emergency telephone number
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services. While in Opposition, the Yukon Party supported the 911 number, and supported it being paid out of general revenues. Many of the Members participated in the collection of the 5,000 signatures on the petitions. The other day, the Minister stood up in the House and said that he supported the 911 number. I would like to ask the Minister why the position of the Yukon Party has changed now that they are the government?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Yukon Party does support the implementation of the 911 service for Yukon. We believe that it should be a partnership between the users of the service and the general taxpayer in the territory.
Mrs. Firth: While in Opposition, the Yukon Party Members knew what people wanted and that they wanted a 911 number. Now that they are the government, they do not know what people want and they have to do a survey to see if people want the 911 number. I would like to ask the Minister why the survey is necessary, and why they are starting all over again to see if people want this?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Bureau of Statistics will be doing a scientific survey, which will be a sampling of a cross-section of people throughout the Whitehorse area. The signatures that did apparently appear before this House were only those people who wanted the service, but they did not know all of the details of the service at the time. We want to do a thorough sampling of the residents of the area.
Mrs. Firth: How many people is the Minister going to have the Bureau of Btatistics phone in this thorough sampling, compared to the 5,000 signatures on the petition?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not know how many people they sample. When they do a survey, they have the means and the expertise to do that. I am not exactly sure of the details of those surveys.
Question re: Emergency telephone number
Mrs. Firth: At a meeting this morning with the Minister and his officials about the 911 number, I was told that Yukoners were going to be asked if they would like to pay for a 911 service. Yukoners have already paid for this with increased taxes. There should not be a surcharge on Yukoners to pay the capital costs over and above what they are already paying.
I would like to ask the Minister to tell us why he thinks that the money should be paid for as a surcharge, instead of coming out of the general revenue?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is similar to taxation, where people pay for the services that they actually get. In this particular case, with 911, we are suggesting that the users will pay for the capital portion of the cost and that the Yukon government - the general taxpayer in the Yukon Territory - will pay for the ongoing operation and maintenance.
Mrs. Firth: Here is a government who gives a tax exemption for recreational users, who gives $400,000 for 300 children to have a special gym, who buys computers in a mad spending spree for over $500,000 -
Speaker: Order please. Would the Member get to the supplementary question.
Mrs. Firth: I am getting to it, Mr. Speaker. We are asking for $200,000 for 30,000 people. How does the Minister justify not providing this allotment of money, when he favours all those things I just mentioned? How does he justify this?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Member opposite should be aware that the 911 service, if implemented, is only for the people in the greater Whitehorse area, which is not 30,000 people.
The Yukon Party believes in a user-pay system.
Mrs. Firth: Well, we sure know they believe in taxes.
The Ministers department has announced a public awareness campaign in his legislative return today. There are ads on the radio, and there are ads in the newspaper about a standardized system. They are doing a survey that is going to cost anywhere from $5,000 to $35,000.
Could the Minister tell us how much money it is costing Yukoners not to have a 911 number?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I cannot give the Member that figure. I have no idea what our advertising costs are, but I can find them out, if that is what she is asking me.
Question re: Conflict-of-interest guidelines
Mr. Millar: On April 29, the Leader of the Official Opposition said, I received a complaint to the effect that a Yukon Party organizer in Dawson City has solicited a donation from a local group in consideration of the fact that this group has in the past received grants from the territorial government.
Did the Leader of the Official Opposition get back to the Government Leader with more details, as he said he would?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member behind me for the question. In view of the seriousness of the allegations that were made by the Leader of the Official Opposition, I felt quite certain that he would contact me, but I am still waiting.
Mr. Millar: My understanding of the accusation, after having talked to the parties involved, is that there is absolutely no truth to it. Can the Government Leader confirm this?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: In view of the seriousness of the allegations made by the Leader of the Official Opposition, I did take it upon myself to do some investigating. I can tell the Member that there is absolutely no basis for the allegations.
Question re: Economic forecast
Mr. Cable: In response to a written question from me, the Minister of Economic Development returned with a Yukon economic forecast, winter of 1993. In the legislative return, it indicates that a number of events have transpired since the forecast was prepared that could affect its conclusions. Could the Minister advise as to what those events are?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Basically, that forecast would have been prepared sometime last November. Since then, the events that have changed would be in relation to the Curragh operation. Those events could have a substantial impact on this forecast.
Mr. Cable: The legislative return refers to events in the plural. Curragh is just one event. In the event that those are the events, is the government prepared to prepare an update and provide this House with an economic forecast that is up to date, taking into account whatever those qualifiers are?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It was the Faro incident and the Sa Dena Hes; that is why it is plural. I will have to get back to the Member on the other question.
Mr. Cable: The forecast refers very briefly to the land claims. Has the government modelled, in any of its forecasts, the positive effects that the land claims will have, once they are settled?
Hon. Mr. Devries: From the information I have received, there will be some very positive effects. I would have to get back to the Member to advise him if there was a model of some type.
Question re: Transition period costs
Mr. Harding: I have a question regarding the transition team now that the contract lists have been provided to us. The government was prepared to spend over $220,000 a year for Mr. Merv Millers services. The actual costs, as per the contract list, was over $76,000 for the short period of time - four months - that he was here visiting from British Columbia. This is the governments idea of fiscal restraint.
Will the government tell this House why they paid Merv Miller this extravagant sum of money?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I think the Member opposite has greatly exaggerated the numbers. I will check on it and then respond to the Member.
Mr. Harding: There is no exaggeration, except for the exaggeration in the sum of money paid to Merv Miller, the B.C. Vander Zalm Socred. This person was flown back and forth between Yukon and British Columbia. He came up and did his political work for the government. What government policies were developed from the work that he did?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Members opposite who are accusing somebody of paying a high wage only have to look at the former communications advisor who was getting about $98,000; plus, he was working for the Land Claims Secretariat at the same time.
Mr. Miller, in his capacity as part of the transition team, gave advice to Cabinet.
Mr. Harding: It is obvious the Members opposite value the communications position, because they gave him a $20,000 raise. Merv Miller produced a flawed financial review, wrote a politically biased article in the government workers newsletter The Sluice Box, misled the government in their financial analysis and then in turn misled the public in their claim of a $58 million deficit. Was his contract stopped because he was such a fast worker or did they realize the misinformation that he was producing was flawed and proving to be an embarrassment to the government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Once the Auditor General has had time to go over the figures, I think he will verify that it is a $58 million deficit.
Question re: McLean Lake zoning
Mr. Penikett: That is an awful lot of computers.
Can I ask a question of the Minister of Community and Transportation Services regarding the copy of the bylaw, which I tabled earlier, involving changes to the City of Whitehorse official community plan for McLean Lake. My question to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services is this: will he confirm that, contrary to what he told the House yesterday, there is in fact no area development scheme yet developed for the McLean Lake area?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The City of Whitehorse bylaw states that the McLean Lake area should be considered to be a primary area to be developed to meet the citys long term future needs for housing, subject to adoption of an area development scheme prior to development of the area. There is no area development scheme as such; however, the area development scheme for the City of Whitehorse outlines very clearly exactly what goes into each area development scheme that is carried out for a specific area.
Mr. Penikett: So the Minister is confirming that there is no area development scheme, there may only be correspondence with city officials about the possibility of an area development scheme, and that there is not even a draft area development scheme that has been seen by city council yet - can he confirm that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is not true. The City of Whitehorse has an area development scheme; it is called the development land disposal policy, and it outlines designations of development land and area development schemes. In there are several items that are part of an area development scheme for any area.
Mr. Penikett: Yesterday, the Minister implied that there had been an area development scheme developed for the McLean Lake Road. Can he now confirm, contrary to all his quibbling about zoning being different from changes to the official community plan, that the housing density he authorized for McLean Lake is exactly the same as the Granger subdivision, Hillcrest C and D and most of Riverdale and Porter Creek - in other words, it is a radical change in the lifestyle and situation for the people who live there?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, I will not confirm that. There have been no zoning changes. The people at McLean Lake are zoned country residential. The density for country residential is much different from what the Member opposite is telling us.
Question re: Community Centre Association
Ms. Joe: I have a constituency question for the Minister responsible for Economic Development. In May 1990, the government committed $300,000 from the community development fund to the Downtown Community Centre Association, now called the Whitehorse Community Centre Association; $60,000 of that was used to undertake a user study and conceptual design, an operations and maintenance model, a preferred site location and a fundraising strategy. Will the government honour this commitment and release the rest of the funds to help this group provide a much needed facility?
Hon. Mr. Devries: My understanding of that project was that part of the money was allowed to be used for the feasibility study. Once there was an approved plan in place, the balance of the money would be released. We have never received an approved plan.
Ms. Joe: It is my understanding that there is some support for this in Cabinet. I wonder if he supports this much needed community centre himself?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I would like to see the scope of the plan before I make any commitment as to whether I support it or not.
Ms. Joe: There has been much confusion in regard to where the government is going with this project. I would like to ask the Minister whether or not he would make a commitment to meet with the association to discuss the facility.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, once we get out of the House, I would be happy to do that. At this point, we are very busy with Curragh and other things so I would prefer to wait until the session is over. At that time, I would be happy to meet with them.
Question re: Drivers licence, organ donorship
Ms. Joe: I have another constituency question. My question is to the Minister for Community and Transportation Services about organ donorship. My constituent would like to know when organ donor consents will appear on drivers licences in the Yukon, as they do in other jurisdictions? There have been individuals who are interested in that kind of a program.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I will look into the matter for the Member opposite. I know nothing about it, but the idea sounds interesting.
Ms. Joe: Quite a number of years ago, when I was responsible as Minister of Health and Social Services, there was some consideration given to it at that time.
I would like to ask the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services if there has been any move in this department to look at that program?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Not that I am aware of.
Ms. Joe: I would like to ask the Minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services, since he appears to have some interest in it, whether or not he would give serious consideration to looking at that program because it is of vital importance to some people.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I will certainly look into it.
Question re: Government branches, relocations
Mr. Penikett: I have a question for the Government Leader. Some members of the arts community in this territory are concerned about reports that some officials are lobbying hard to have the arts branch returned to the Department of Community and Transportation Services. Would the Government Leader advise the House of his administrations plan in this area?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will answer that question as the Minister responsible for the arts.
I can assure the Member that there are no plans to move the arts division anywhere; we plan to leave the arts with the Department of Tourism.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Minister for the answer and I know that the arts community will be extraordinarily pleased to hear that.
May I ask the Minister, in his capacity as the Minister of Tourism, if the government has been considering a relocation of the heritage branch to another place in the government?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There has been no serious consideration to move the heritage branch. We have not got down to the nuts and bolts, but I can tell the Member that when I was visiting Dawson, there was a request from individuals in Dawson that a possible location for the heritage branch would be Dawson.
I have asked officials to explore that option, but other than that it was only a request. Dawson has a great deal of the Yukons heritage. There was a thought by some people in Dawson that the heritage branch should be moved to Dawson, and we are looking into that possibility.
Mr. Penikett: Given that the decentralization policy is on hold, I assume that move is not imminent.
Since the Department of Tourism has twice been merged with the Department of Economic Development - unsuccessfully, I believe - could the Minister indicate if his government has given any consideration to a recommendation received from a very helpful official inside the government some time ago, that the Department of Tourism be abolished and merged with the Department of Economic Development? In passing, I would like to indicate that I hope this is something that does not happen.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: There have been no discussions in Cabinet about merging the Department of Tourism with any other department, and as far as I know there are no plans in the future to do that.
There are changes from time to time in all departments in government. I think that the previous government made some changes; they moved the arts department from Community and Transportation Services to the Department of Tourism. To say that nothing will ever happen to the Department of Tourism, I cannot say, but right at this moment, as I am standing here, there have not been any serious discussions about doing anything other than leaving the Department of Tourism where it is.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that 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 that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
Notice of Government Private Members Business
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Mr. Chair, on a point of order, it seems that I forgot a little task that I have to do. I want to advise all Members that the business of the House tomorrow will not be motions. It will just be normal business, and we will be dealing with supplementaries, Bill No. 4.
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess?
Chair: I will now call the Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 4 - Second Appropriation Act, 1992-93 - continued
Chair: We are dealing with Bill No. 4 and we are on Government Services. Is there any debate?
Department of Government Services
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have some opening statements. The Government Services supplementary budget tabled today reports a $64,000 surplus in the operations and maintenance vote and a $600,000 surplus for the capital vote over main estimated budgeted amounts.
In respect to the operations and maintenance surplus, the following is the breakdown by allotment: personnel, $185,000 overexpenditure; other expenses, $229,000 underexpenditure; transfer payments, $20,000 underexpenditure.
It should be noted that additional savings in personnel costs, estimated to be $258,000, have been realized as a result of the hiring freeze. The principal savings in the other allotment arise from deferred decentralization activities total $407,000 and representing $188,000 reduction in building maintenance, a $119,000 reduction in utility costs and a $100,000 reduction in lease costs for new space.
These savings are partly offset by increased expenditures for two initiatives involving the transfer of the Yukon government. There was a $500,000 increase in utility costs associated with Yukon Place and a $9,000 increase in maintenance and leases for the Alaska Highway devolution.
On the capital side of expenditures, the cost of projects not completed in the prior year, totalling $394,000, have been offset by repriorizing the planned program expenditures.
Other major reductions are as follows: there was a $200,000 reduction in the business incentive policy; a $67,000 reduction for pooled vehicles; a $172,000 reduction in renovations to public buildings; and a $73,000 reduction in energy conservation.
With these brief comments, I will conclude my remarks and offer to address any questions on individual items that Members opposite might have regarding the supplementary.
Mr. Penikett: I have a couple of general areas that I wanted to ask about. One is about computers. The Minister may recall that when I first raised the question about whether there had been any purchases of computers in the last quarter, he indicated that he did not know anything about it but he would undertake to get back to us.
It also appeared to be the case that the Government Leader was unaware of the system-wide purchases during the same period. Yet, given the sums involved, we were bound to conclude that these must have been decisions that had been made at the level of Management Board. I wonder if the Minister can tell us how it was that he did not recall the decision, if it was made in Management Board, or perhaps he could indicate whether or not it was the cumulative effect of many decisions made over a longer period of time? In other words, there was no single purchase order, but many stretched over a period of months.
Hon. Mr. Devries: It was the latter. It was basically the fact that through Management Board several requisitions had come up over a period of time. It just seems that some of these accumulated in the latter part of the year, in March.
Mr. Penikett: I am curious about the decision-making process here. On the one hand, we have both the Government Leader and the Deputy Government Leader indicating some suspicion about people who use computers - I am not quite sure what the source of the suspicion is, but the Government Leader told the media a day or two ago that he felt more comfortable himself with paper and pencil - but we also know that these acquisitions were made during a period of so-called restraint.
I wonder if the Minister could indicate to us something about the process that operates under his government for analyzing computer requests, recommending them to Management Board and making the decisions. As the Minister knows, several hundred thousand dollars worth of computer hardware was purchased; was there no system in the Department of Government Services or in Management Board to do a running tally on these numbers?
Let me just ask the general question: why were they all approved at a time of restraint?
I want to make it clear to the Minister, if I can before he answers the question, that I do not have any hostility to computers; I find them a useful tool. I am not hostile to computers. I just want to understand how it came to be that this series of large purchases was made during the time when we had been given to understand the government was under acute and protracted restraint.
Hon. Mr. Devries: First of all, it is very similar to the process used by the previous administration, under which most of these computers were purchased, and that is basically where it first goes through a systems board review; then it goes to the systems priority committee and they basically make the decision of whether it is the proper type of computer and things like that.
Whether some of the purchases being put forward by the various departments should proceed and whether expenditures are being made in a wise fashion is given the overall view. Since then, this systems priority committee has been replaced by the information resource management committee.
At the beginning of the year, my understanding is that Government Services had only purchased $100,000 worth of computers, and it was understood that the client departments were going to come up with their own allocation system.
As the Leader of the Official Opposition knows, I believe a personal laptop computer for him was included in that expenditure.
There was a 3.7 percent reduction in the total amount spent on computers for 1992-93, compared to 1991-92. It is not as if we went to town with these expenditures.
After the systems priority committee reviews the requests, they move on to Management Board. Management Board sends many submissions back to the client departments for additional review, noting extravagant expenditures. Quite a few computers were cut out during this process. The expenditures were re-submitted to Management Board and the expenditures were approved.
This is another reason why some of the computers were accumulated until March. As early as December, some requests were sent back; they went around and around through the system and finally were approved in early March.
Mr. Penikett: It is indeed the case that some systems go round and round. Even if I had never been a Minister and watched the television series Yes, Minister, I think I would know that.
I want to ask the Minister a question. He makes the point that many requests were rejected and yet he said that there was only a 3.7 percent reduction. When the House met in December, we were told that there was a financial crisis of monumental terms and life as we knew it in the Yukon was about to end, the sky was falling and it was a calamitous situation of proportions that were inconceivable in Yukon history, going back to the days when the first humans set foot in the territory. Could I ask the Minister to explain this simple question: why did Management Board approve several hundred thousand dollars worth of computers at a time when the government was supposedly in a financial crisis?
Hon. Mr. Devries: If the Member looks back at the prior year purchases, there were some major upgrades done to the mainframe computer. One of the problems we were running into was that many of the departmental computers were obsolete and did not have the ability to connect to the mainframe. Basically, they could not talk to each other.
For example, there were situations in Tourism, which was across the road at the time, where if they received information from another department, they had to take the disk and literally run down to the basement of this building and have the information put onto a disk that would fit into one of their obsolete old computers.
I think we can realistically say that some of these purchases led to not having to fill vacancies and other benefits. As far as personnel goes, in some areas the computers do lead to net savings as computers normally do not get sick, although they do break down once in awhile. Also, they are very necessary tools for Members like ourselves. Often we get requests for information that other Members want the next day. It is usually through computers that we can access the information, especially when it comes to financial information and statistics.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Minister for his answer. It was very interesting, but he did not answer my question. I guess I will have to put it to him again.
I understand what he is saying about computers being obsolete. I also understand, from my own experience sitting on Management Board, that there are a fair number of personal computers in the government that are terribly underutilized. One can very easily monitor the extent to which computers are being used, and I know for a fact that there are many that are not, perhaps for no greater a reason than that the persons using them have never been properly trained.
The Minister suggested there are net personnel savings from having computers. I think, during my time in government, that we did a study on that and found that there were no net personnel savings whatsoever from having computers. One of the functions of computer technology, faxes and xeroxes is, in fact, that the volume of paper usage increases.
I do not want to spend a lot of time on the new information system the Minister talked about, because we can talk about that in the main estimates. However, when we get to the main estimates, it would be useful if the Minister would come back to us with an explanation of how that new system is operating. Some of us know it reasonably well, because it was a project begun when we were still in government. We know how it started out, but we do not know how it ended up, and the Minister may want to provide a written answer to that.
I have a direct question. If the government was in a state of financial crisis - if the sky was going to fall, if life, as we know it, was at risk, if we were in a calamitous financial situation - why did Management Board approve several hundred thousand dollars worth of computer acquisitions in this year past? Why did neither the Government Leader nor the Minister remember doing it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: If I remember how that question came about, the Member had asked if we had purchased 50 or 60 computers from Radio Shack. I knew that we did not use Radio Shack computers, so I motioned no to the Government Leader. I was thinking of the name brand. At the time, I did not realize that H&O Holdings was one of Radio Shacks distributors. That is how that misunderstanding came about. I hope that answers that part of the question.
As far as the purchases go, Government Services only controls the computers it purchases. It only purchased six, and much of this was related to the upgrades we needed to access the mainframe. The client departments, as much as they purchase them through Government Services, made their own decisions, and Management Board made those decisions.
Mr. Penikett: I am reminded of the fact that the Government Leader said, just a day or so ago, that he did not remember Management Board making those decisions. I do not know if the Minister opposite is on Management Board, but I assume he attends it even if he is not formally a member.
The main question I am interested in having an answer to is: why, if the territorial government was in a state of financial crisis, was several hundred thousand dollars spent on computers? Could they not have waited until this year, if there was really a crisis?
Hon. Mr. Devries: In the budgetary process, it was important to get rid of some of this obsolete equipment. My understanding is that there was a catch-up from 1990-91, because they were anticipating an upgrade of the mainframe. What was needed as a desktop would depend on the decisions made surrounding the mainframe.
Mr. Penikett: I know for a fact that not every desktop computer in this government can access the mainframe. I know that is not even necessary. I also know that probably no party represented in this House campaigned on the basis of buying lots of new computers. I am not even going to claim that anybody took a hard position one way or the other on that question. What I am asking is, given the alleged financial crisis, given the hostility of the Government Leader and others on the front bench to computers, why was several hundred thousand dollars spent on computers in this fiscal year?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, my understanding is that it was money that was within the existing budget at the time, for those particular departments. It was not like that there was a bunch of new money coming from the supplementary. The other thing is that, for instance, the computers for the Justice department were needed for the child maintenance programs. There was an upgrade of computers needed for the new licensing system, which is going to save the government money overall. Now, when the Members go to get their vehicle licences, they are basically handed their registration. They no longer have to be mailed. There are cost savings there.
As well, I mentioned the child maintenance payments. It is very important to be able to track these. Some of the computers were purchased for the extended care facility. It was part of the process of getting the furniture and some of the equipment for that. If the Member thinks they should not have computers over there, that is fine and dandy. That is his choice, not mine.
Mr. Penikett: I have a horrible, sinking feeling that the Minister is either deliberately misunderstanding me, or deliberately trying to provoke a long debate by poking me with a sharp stick or something. I do not think that has ever proved to be a successful strategy for him in the past, and I would not recommend it now. Let me ask him the simple question again.
This government, of which the Member opposite is a member, has claimed, ballyhooed in the media, and on the floor of this House, that there is a huge financial crisis and a big deficit. If it were not for the Yukon Party riding to the rescue on their little wooden horses, the territory would just be going down the tube. They had to get back in power and restrain the government. Forget for a moment that their restraint arguments look a little silly in light of the biggest budget in history that they have presented to the House. The claim was that they were going to get control of the expenditures of this government and they were going to make massive cutbacks. I remember the Government Leader saying there was lots of fat that could be curtailed.
They were in power for half the year that we are talking about here. The Minister has just told us that he justified the expenditures on computers during this year by the departments and Management Board because they were out of existing budgets. If the government is arguing that existing budgets were overexpended, surely the rational, sensible thing for a serious, dedicated fiscal conservative to do would be to postpone the expenditures - not cancel them forever; postpone them - and say, We are not going to spend this several hundred thousand dollars on computers this year. We had better wait. Even though there are long-term savings for certain kinds of system improvements, system enhancements, we had better wait because we have this terrible, terrible, life-threatening, current-year deficit and we should be controlling expenditures by postponing the acquisition of these computers. Was that never the subject of any debate in Management Board, when they were going to spend several hundred thousand dollars for computers?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, and that is exactly why many of those Management Board submissions went back to the departments - for the departments to take a second look at them, for the Ministers personally to review them, and that is how those decisions were made. Like I mentioned earlier, we did cut the budget this year by 3.7 percent compared to what was spent in 1991-92. As I also mentioned earlier, there was a lot of obsolete equipment, there were employees who were totally frustrated by the equipment, and this was also a way of improving the employees working environment and things like that.
Basically, I feel I have answered the question to the best of my ability. My departments are Government Services and Economic Development and I feel that I justified the purchases that those departments made and I am comfortable with those decisions.
Mr. Penikett: I am glad the Minister is comfortable. The fundamental problem we have here is that either that the former government was, as the people over there claim, irresponsible wastrels who were just throwing money around all over the place without any regard for the taxpayer or the public purse and the territory needed some new iron-fisted rulers who would do the big cutbacks, or, the expenditures that we had planned to make, including some on computers, were sound, rational decisions, which the Minister is now not only going to defend but also contribute to with his own batch of purchases, in which case the claim that the territory was in a great financial disaster and the Members opposite had to come and lay on hands is essentially nonsense.
The bottom-line question here is that if we were in such a financial crisis, why did we spend several hundred thousand dollars on computers? Perhaps the answer was that the financial crisis was not that bad so that they could carry on with these expenditures. Would the Minister agree with that proposition?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No, I do not agree with the Leader of the Official Opposition. I feel that these computers are very important tools for the employees to work with. The supplementaries that we are discussing today show an underexpenditure of $664,000. The Leader of the Official Opposition seems to be implying that I have been throwing money around like a drunken sailor.
Mr. Penikett: The Member opposite is not listening. I did not say that about him; I was reporting the accusation made by his colleagues of the people on this side.
Quite obviously, it does not matter how times Management Board rejected requests or sent them back to departments for review, in the end, if there is only a 3.7 percent reduction; that does not indicate to me that there is a very serious financial crisis - other than a rhetorical one.
Let me move on then to something I know the Minister will be interested in, and I know he has expert advice with him so we will be able get an answer fairly promptly. As the Minister knows, attendant with every purchase of computer hardware there is some acquisition of software. I do not think the report the Minister gave us on computer purchases provided any detail of software acquisitions. Can he tell us in approximate terms, to a round hundred thousand dollars, what the value of the software purchases were that were attendant on the hardware acquisitions that were listed in his legislative return of a few days ago?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Printers and the software would total around $200,000.
Mr. Penikett: In addition to the several hundred thousand dollars that the Minister described already in his legislative return, there is another approximate $200,000 on top of that as a result of these hardware acquisitions. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Devries: That is correct, although if I had to do a comparison of last years purchases, I would have to go back to increase that figure, too.
Mr. Penikett: A review of the historic computer expenditures of this government will bring the Minister much peace of mind. Let me tell him that even though I pointed out that no party, as far as I know, has ever campaigned on the basis of purchasing more computers, it is a fact of life in government that, after one has been there awhile and reviews capital expenditures, one will find that an amazingly large percentage of the capital expenditures happen to be on computers.
I am here to confess that I have some grave doubts about the wisdom of some of the computer purchases that we made during our time in government. I would say that one of the most difficult things for a Minister, as an amateur in the field, to do is effectively evaluate the wisdom of the purchases.
I leave the Minister with this: if there is going to be a theme to my questions in the mains about the new information management system, it will be just that - how does the government evaluate and demonstrate that it has value for money, or that it is meeting real priority needs or is ranking the needs. I will not get into that right now, because I do not want to spend Christmas with the Minister or, at least, not in one continuous session.
Perhaps I could change the topic and indicate to the Minister that I am not only interested in computers, but also in tables, chairs, shelves and things like that.
I want to ask about local furniture manufacture. If I can take the Minister back a bit, he was not in the House at the time, but our government, in its first term, tried an experiment with the purchase of quality furniture from woodworking and cabinet-making shops locally. We found that we could not only buy furniture of comparable quality at a competitive price from local woodworking shops, but also it had a measurable benefit in terms of local employment. It was, while not a major event in terms of total numbers of jobs per year, I thought, an extremely worthwhile import-substitution initiative. If I remember correctly, the evaluation that we had done on the program demonstrated that if one compared the leakage from the Yukon economy for locally manufactured furniture and imported furniture, it was quite remarkable in that it was something like 27 or so cents on every dollar, whereas the leakage from the outside furniture was something like 72 or more cents on every dollar. I may not be precise on the numbers, but I remember it being in that area.
I recall that tenders for furniture, for the most of the term of the previous government, were let on an invitational basis to Yukon-based businesses. This was designed to encourage the development of a secondary Yukon industry. My belief is that this approach was quite effective and it was established with a number of Yukon manufacturers - I think a five-year standing offer, I am not absolutely sure of that, but I think Ms. Mann would be able to confirm that.
As far as I know, there is some belief expressed by Mr. Alcock and others that some change in policy began to take place last fall. My Cabinet colleagues and I do not seem to know anything about it, but it was quite possible that it is a new administrative policy.
We do know that there were new contract regulations that were introduced while we were still in government, which would allow plenty of flexibility for invitational tenders of the kind used to purchase furniture that would have enabled the government to continue to provide a supportive environment for manufacturers.
I asked the Minister the other day about his philosophy on import substitution, which has been deleted from the Economic Development mains, but which did exist in the supplementary - and the governments support for free trade, which some people believe is inconsistent with import substitution. I am particularly interested in furniture acquisitions as an example of government purchasing policy - there are other areas that I could go with the Minister, but I do not want to do that in the supplementaries. I think, from evidence that I see in just this building, that there is plenty to demonstrate or to prove that local manufacturers were able to provide solid-wood office furniture of a very high quality for prices that compare favorably to the kind of melamine-covered composition board units that were manufactured outside.
A constituent of mine has brought to my attention a recent contract for furniture that was more broadly tendered than previously and went to outside manufacturers, despite what my constituent believes was a lower-quality product and despite competitive bids from local suppliers.
I am concerned that in this case an award was made to an outside supplier, which was the first time that this happened in a number of years for this kind of furniture. I am also concerned that Supply and Services had been instructed not to make any more purchases under the existing standing offer agreement with local suppliers.
I am also advised - and this may not be accurate, but the Minister can correct me - that this shift in policy, which favours outside manufacturers over local manufacturers, has been confirmed at the political level. I want to ask for the Ministers thinking on this. Is it the case that they have decided not to encourage this local industry any more and want to take the free market approach, with things entirely based on price, which will mean that most of the contracts will go to outside suppliers, or whether the Minister has any faith left in the possibility of the governments purchasing power being used to stimulate a worthwhile industry, which keeps, admittedly not hundreds, but perhaps dozens of Yukoners working, particularly in the winter months, providing a quality product of which we can all be proud.
Hon. Mr. Devries: First of all, most of this discussion seems to pertain to the main estimates. Government Services will no longer be making overall purchases of furniture. It is up to the client departments. If they wish to use locally manufactured furniture, they have that prerogative, depending on how it fits within their budgets. In the existing supplementaries, of which we are speaking today, nothing has changed.
Mr. Penikett: I have to press this with the Minister, because the information I have is that the policy we are talking about changed in the year of this supplementary. When did the policy change? I want to ask the Minister to table some documents.
The policy of the previous government was that we would encourage local manufacturers and encourage local supply. It was part of the economic strategy, which is still the law of this territory, that we would encourage import substitution.
I know the Members opposite opposed that when they were in Opposition, but they have been strangely silent on the subject for the past three or four years. What is the policy of the Government of the Yukon during the period we are talking about? As at March 31, 1993, what was the policy of the Government of the Yukon with respect to purchasing furniture from local manufacturers versus outsiders?
The Minister has just said that every department can do whatever they want. That is a radical shift in policy from that which operated under the previous government. I want to know if that is the statement of government policy, when did that policy change, and is it documented in a Management Board minute or a manual somewhere, and can that document be tabled in the House?
Hon. Mr. Devries: There is no shift in the policy. Basically it is value-for-money purchasing. My understanding is that there was already a shift to departments purchasing their own furniture. That was a policy change that was made by the previous administration.
Mr. Penikett: The Minister is wrong. The policy of the previous government was that, while departments might budget for the purchasing of furniture, the purchasing agent was the Department of Government Services. It was the policy of the previous government that Government Services should encourage the purchase of locally manufactured furniture. The Minister has just said that has changed and that the departments can get whatever they like, from wherever they like. I am curious to know - when did it change, and much more importantly, why, for Gods sake, when our economy is already in trouble?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The purchasing has been decentralized, but Government Services still makes the purchases and Government Services is in the position to make recommendations to the departments to buy locally, if they so desire.
Mr. Penikett: The Minister may feel like I am hounding him, but I am trying to get a clear statement of policy here. The Minister accepts that it was the policy of the previous government, according to the Economic Strategy, which is still the law of the territory, to achieve import substitution at this stage. It was to encourage local furniture manufacturers, and to encourage them by purchasing from them. The Minister said a few minutes ago that has changed, because departments can now purchase from wherever they like. There is evidence of some change in this tender document that I have in front of me where an outside company won the award based on price. I do not know whether it is comparable quality or not. My constituent does not believe it is, but I will allow for some debate about that, which I do not want to get in to now.
What I want to know is, if the government is now simply taking the price as the only factor, and encouraging the free-trade approach where anybody can supply us, rather than the local manufacturers, when did the policy change, how is it documented, and can the Minister table that document in the House?
Hon. Mr. Devries: There is basically nothing to table. We are trying to gear more toward value for our money. If those local furniture manufacturers can produce a product that fits within our needs, we would be purchasing from them. The business incentive policy does apply to furniture purchases.
Mr. Penikett: I asked the Minister some questions the other day about the extent, under his other hat of economic development, to which he would encourage local suppliers. He indicated to me that price would not be the only factor; there was some margin where, if the local person was roughly competitive, they might still get the work. The Minister would not define what that margin was, according to his policy - I am not talking about the business incentive policy now, but his own value judgment. Could he explain why, then, when we have products of high quality, which are competitively priced, being offered to the Government of Yukon, the government would go to an outside supplier knowing, based on previous studies done by the government and specifically by the Department of Government Services, that the leakage from the territorial economy for outside purchases is at least twice that of the leakage from locally purchased products?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, I am not certain which tender he is speaking about. If the particular manufacturer or whatever would like to contact me, I would be happy to sit down and discuss some of the concerns he has.
Mr. Penikett: It so happens that one of my constituents who is in this business has contacted the department but has not got any satisfaction. There are, in fact, three Whitehorse-based companies and one based in the constituency of the Member for Mayo-Tatchun who bid on this particular tender.
I do not want to get into this particular document; I am trying to find out what the policy is. I do not want to nit-pick about one contract; I want to find out about the policy direction of the government. The Minister will understand that I am a little confused, because at first he indicated there was a change and subsequently he said the government was trying to get more value for money; later he said the policy had not changed. Of course, from my view, import substitution has a very high economic value. It is not just simply a question of price. I said three companies - actually, five local companies bid on this, but I think the contract was awarded to an outside company.
Let me put it this way to the Minister: since we are not clear as to what the policy of the department is with respect to local furniture - and I could use other acquisitions - would he be prepared to come back at the mains with a legislative return, a written statement or perhaps make a statement on the floor to the House about what the governments policy and intentions are in this area?
I speak from a concern of local suppliers who are concerned that if the government stops purchasing, they may not be in business for very long. If the government is prepared to purchase a slightly inferior product for a slightly lower price, they will have trouble competing, as will be the case for everyone in this market.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will see what I can do.
Mr. Penikett: I am a gentle and kind person, but I do not want the Minister to be that vague. Will he come back at the mains with a statement of government policy or would he prefer that we continue to pursue it now?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I prefer to get back to him.
Mr. McDonald: I have a couple of questions and then I will give the Minister notice of a few other areas that I will pursue in the main estimates.
The first question I have is with respect to the issue of tendering and the capital programs for the coming year. The Minister will know that there is some record tendering in the Department of Community and Transportation Services for road contracts and so on. At the same time, they are about to consider tendering for the Whitehorse General Hospital.
What I would like is a policy statement from the Minister about what the government proposes to do with respect to letting the contracting community know what is available for construction. In the past, the tender has been made public in the Yukon. It has also been filed with contracting associations outside of the territory. Could the Minister indicate what his governments policy is in this respect?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We are not proposing to get back into going to outside contractors the way the previous administration did a few years ago. If outside contractors ask for the tender documents, they are given them. We are not making a point of going outside the Yukon.
Recently, we had a meeting with all the contractors in Whitehorse. At that time, the normal, annual booklet of all the contracts was released. A question and answer period with the various projects managers was held. There are, I believe, monthly meetings held by the Department of Government Services and the contractors association.
I feel that is very well covered and is very similar to what the previous administration was doing at the tail end of its mandate.
Mr. McDonald: I think the Minister has confused a number of different things. First of all, the policy with respect to the tabling of tender documents with outside contracting associations was not started by the NDP administration at all, but by the Progressive Conservative administration prior to that.
The suggestion that somehow outside contracting was started by the NDP and then abandoned has never been the case. The policy had never been changed through the period of the NDP administration.
I will point out, by the way, something that came to mind only recently - a couple of years ago, Mr. Lang, the Leader of the Yukon Party, actually made a representation in the House that we go on a road trip to other jurisdictions to try and drum up some business in order to make sure that there is a process to ensure that bids are competitive. I did not know that when the NDP was taking heat in the House; I had forgotten that particular event, but I have since discovered that and I wanted to put it on the record now.
Is the Minister saying that for the $40 million spent for the hospital construction project, he will make this project known only to the local building construction industry, and that he will be satisfied with bids received exclusively from the local building construction industry, hoping that it will be a competitive process? Is that what the Minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Attempts will be made within the Yukon. For instance, on the Teslin prison, it is my understanding that there were almost 100 tender documents out, and many of those were received from outside.
The request for tenders are advertised in various papers and outside contractors have access to these papers. I am sure that outside contractors will hear about the project and that they will be bidding on it - if that is what the Member is concerned about.
Mr. McDonald: I am not making a representation one way or another; I am trying to understand precisely what the government is going to do. I have heard a number of different positions being taken by the Members opposite while they were in Opposition.
Now they are responsible for some very large projects, particularly the hospital project, which, as a single-building construction, is probably the largest that we have undertaken.
I am going to be very interested in knowing how the government is going to proceed and if they do change their policy and take a position that is contrary to the one that they took while they were in Opposition, they can expect to get roasted for it by me.
All that I am trying to do is get a sense of direction from the Minister; I am not trying to get anything more than that.
I want the Minister to make it clear for us now that, with respect to the tendering process, the government will only tender projects - such as the Whitehorse Hospital construction project - in Whitehorse in the following manner: advertise the projects only in the Whitehorse papers; make the projects known only to the local construction industry; do not contact in any way, shape or form contracting associations or companies from outside of the territory, and only deal with the local construction industry. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The way I understand it is that if we get asked by an outside firm for the contract specifications, then we are obligated to give them the specifications and the opportunity to bid on it. We will not only be advertising in the Whitehorse Star and the Yukon News; we will also be advertising in the Watson Lake News. Perhaps we will advertise in some of the other papers in the Yukon, because it is very important for rural contractors to have the opportunity to bid on these contracts. I am not sure if this was the previous administrations policy, but it is our policy.
Mr. McDonald: I would not be so foolhardy as to ask the Minister about the previous administrations policy, because he has trouble explaining his own. The Minister indicated that if a construction company based outside calls up the government, they will send out tender documents. Fair enough. The Government Services department, or any representative of the Government of Yukon will not, in any way, initiate contact with outside construction companies or associations with respect to the hospital construction project - is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Devries: From my understanding, that is correct. It is part of our contract regulations that we do that.
Mr. McDonald: Maybe the Minister could check on that last statement. I am not aware that it has anything to do with contract regulations. In terms of contracting procedures he has it clear. In summary, the contract information will be advertised in Yukon papers and consciously made known to Yukon contractors, but there will be no initiation of any kind of contact outside the territory with anyone for this $40 million project - that is correct, right?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Correct.
Mr. McDonald: That is on the record.
There was an appeal procedure built into the contract regulations. Can the Minister indicate if it is up and running and whether or not there have been any appeals to the committee?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I think the Member is confused. It is a review process, not an appeal process. If someone feels there is a problem with a tender that has gone out, they have the opportunity to have it reviewed and recommendations of this review committee are then put forward to the Department of Government Services. Those recommendations are used in preparing regular reports sent to the departments on the findings. There have been four or five done up to this point.
Mr. McDonald: Is the Minister prepared to make the conclusions of the review process public?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Some of the information could be confidential. If there are changes made to the policy or the procedures for tendering, that would become public in this House.
Mr. McDonald: What does the Minister anticipate would be confidential about the process at all? What would be confidential about the process?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not think we should get into names of various companies and things like that. Again, many of the tenders Government Services handles are for client departments. Some of this information would also go to individual Ministers so that when evaluations are prepared, along with the tendering guidelines, they have this information at their fingertips if some problems developed over the years.
Mr. McDonald: I am frankly astounded by that. The whole purpose of the review process was to ensure that there was public accountability to the tendering process. If some contractor had taken issue with a decision made, then the whole purpose of the process was to ensure that there was a committee, made up of citizens and government, that was supposed to review the circumstances of the tender and make recommendations to the deputy minister, ultimately.
There was never, at least in my mind, an idea that this process or the results would be confidential in any way. The whole purpose was to let in as much fresh air as possible, so everyone could be reassured that everything that was done was on the up and up.
For the main estimates, if the Minister would like to think about it a bit - I think it is important - I would like his or his departments thoughts on what possible information should be kept confidential as a result of this process. I am certain that, based on my knowledge of the committee that was developing the process, they were not inclined to want to see the information being kept private.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I think I misunderstood the first question. The recommendations would definitely be available through the public process. We would have to be cautious about some of the details that lead to the recommendations. I do not see why anyone would be interested in those in the first place.
Mr. McDonald: I am not particularly interested in them myself. I am certain that if a particular contractor had a complaint, they would want to know the details and would probably ferret through every single detail on every single page.
I go back to my original question. The Member indicated that there were four reviews, and I asked if the Minister could make the information public. I take it now that both of us have clarified our intentions and that he can make the results of those appeals public. Is that correct? That is correct - he is nodding his head.
I would like to ask the Minister about the community purchase policy. Basically, I would like to know whether or not the government is committed to this policy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, we are still committed to that policy.
Mr. McDonald: Good, I will not pursue it any further for fear that I may lose some of that commitment through obfuscation.
I have one quick final question on the contracting regulations. I note that after the contract regulations were passed by the previous government, the Yukon Party, during the election, made it clear that they took issue with the contract regulations. I presume that the contract regulations, which I think came in last September were passed prior to that, were of concern to the Yukon Party, now that they are in power. I am interested in knowing how the government wishes to change the contract regulations to better meet what they consider to be a more appropriate regulatory environment?
I believe that the government, in the end, was quite successful in achieving a set of regulations that seemed to be acceptable to the various contracting communities in Yukon and to the client departments, the departments who had the vote of authority given to them by this Legislature.
Having made the contract regulations public, receiving very little feedback from the Yukon Party Opposition at the time, but then to face them in the election with the claim that the contracting regulations needed an overhaul, I was puzzled as to what the Yukon Party might have meant by that. Now this is our opportunity to ask the government what they mean by those claims, and I am doing that now. Is the Minister saying that he is not aware of any problems with the contract regulations? If he is not saying that and he does have a problem or some problems, can he please identify them? I would like to hear what he considers are the problem areas.
Hon. Mr. Devries: At this point, like I said, we are proceeding with the contract regulations the way they are. Just a moment ago, the Member seemed to indicate that it was important that the recommendations be made public and I would suspect that, at times, those recommendations may suggest changes to the contract regulations. We cannot have it both ways, but I certainly feel that a very important tool we have to work with is the fact that we have the contract review committee. It is a new regulation and there could be some problems with it. We do not know. Again, this is why the contract review committee exists and if they make recommendations I think we seriously have to look at possibly making minor changes as we go along. It will be a continuous review process, I feel. Nothing is ever perfect.
Mr. McDonald: Far be it for me to suggest that anything I have been responsible for in this Legislature is perfect. I am not saying that at all. I am not saying that the contract review committee will not make recommendations for their improvement, but it appeared to me that, before the contract review committee had even uttered one word or reviewed one case, the Yukon Party had passed judgment on the contract regulations, which incorporated the concept of the contract review committee for the very first time. So, I am puzzled by the nature of the furious rhetoric about contract regulations during the election campaign and the positioning of the government at this point. Clearly, the Minister does not want to explain the contradiction, or perhaps he cannot explain it -. I cannot.
I have been abandoned by all the others, so I had better just continue on here. I will let the Minister off the hook, but I may bring the issue up again in the main estimates.
The business incentive policy, I understand, is still in effect and will still be applied. It was a subject of severe criticism by the Yukon Party. What is the Yukon Party going to do about it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: My feelings are that it seems to be working relatively well. I have no intention of changing it at this point.
One interesting thing to note is that we do have $250,000 in this supplementary that was not spent. It seems like the uptake on the business incentive policy has been relatively slow, but it has been improving in the last few months.
Mr. McDonald: I do not know how to put this, but I would have preferred to have had the Minister expressing his true feelings about these policies and regulations while I was in government and not now that I am in Opposition asking him about them. If the Members had been somewhat honest - I guess I should not say that, as it is unparliamentary - or if they had been candid about their feelings about these policies, we could have shortened the debate on things like the business incentive policy and contract regulations by a considerable amount.
The Member made some comments during Question Period with respect to the preventive maintenance program. He indicated that it was still in effect. Is it still fully in effect or as fully as it was, say, last year, when it was operating? Is the preventive maintenance program fully staffed and in effect?
Hon. Mr. Devries: For the period of this supplementary, I believe it was pretty well fully in effect.
Mr. McDonald: Based on that answer, I think I am going to have to ask, during discussion on the main estimates, about the governments plans for this particular program. If there are planned cuts in this area, I think that the government has made a very unwise move, and I will be stating that at some point.
The mandate review for the Department of Government Services is to make it more service oriented. Can the Minister give us an update as to whether or not they are continuing with the mandate review? Is there an update he can give us with respect to improvements to services? Does he have any thoughts about that?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We went beyond the mandate review, and we are now trying to address some of the recommendations that would be coming forward. I would be happy to discuss that further in the main estimates. It would not pertain to this supplementary.
Mr. McDonald: If the Minister would be prepared, I would like to ask him for a list of recommendations for changes in the orientation of the department that emanated from the mandate review. Perhaps the Minister could then give us an update on what they intend to do about making the department more service oriented. Is he prepared to do that?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I could perhaps produce a status report of where we are at.
Mr. McDonald: That status report will contain the individual recommendations that have been made by the department for making the department more service oriented, and the Minister will then communicate those individual recommendations to us as well.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, I will.
Mr. McDonald: Last year, the Yukon Contractors Association, the Building Trades Council and the department came together to try to improve the potential for there to be local hire on building construction projects. At one point, they came up with something they called supplementary conditions to building contract tenders.
Can the Minister indicate what the status of those is?
Hon. Mr. Devries: For instance, on the Teslin correctional facility, much of that was used to ensure there was more local hire, and it seems to be working very well.
Mr. McDonald: There are so few Members in the House, I feel I can do this. I will give the Minister some credit for being consistent, at least in this respect. I remember when supplementary conditions were announced, the Yukon Party did support them. I believe there was at least one independent who did not.
I am glad to hear they are still in effect. I would like to give the Minister notice that I would like to spend some time talking about local hire and the tendering process in the main estimates, particularly with respect to building construction projects, not that there are a lot of them in the main estimates; nevertheless, I am thinking about it in the context of government policy.
I would like to ask the Minister one final question now. What new policy areas is the government working on now? What are their priorities with this particular department during the period under review?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We are looking at some policy surrounding publishing; for instance, a different way of looking at office space requirements and things like that. There could be some changes, but it is a slow, ongoing process. It is not like there is a major change that is going to take place today and be gone tomorrow.
Mr. McDonald: We can talk about those during the main estimates review. If the Members have questions they can ask their questions now.
Chair: Is there further general debate?
We will proceed to O&M expenditure.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Administration in the amount of $134,000 agreed to
On Systems and Computing Services
Systems and Computing Services in the amount of an underexpenditure of $135,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
Supply Services in the amount of an underexpenditure of $184,000 agreed to
On Property Management
Mr. McDonald: Can the Member give me an explanation as to the reasons for this underexpenditure?
Hon. Mr. Devries: In personnel there was a $39,000 overexpenditure and in Others there was a $102,000 overexpenditure.
I can provide the Member with further details if he would like.
Mr. McDonald: I do not know if there is going to be any detail yet, but perhaps the Minister could provide the information in a legislative return or in the main estimates. That will be fine.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will go through it, it will not take long.
There was a $125,000 decrease as a result of the hiring freeze; a $122,000 underestimated for shift bonus, sick leave, vacation and maternity leave, so that would be an increase; a $35,000 increase to fund an SED position in Haines Junction; a $7,000 increase for overtime relating to security guards and staffing special events; a $188,000 decrease resulting from decentralization and some of the maintenance being on hold; a $119,000 decrease in utilities since decentralization is on hold; a $101,000 decrease in leases to permit programming transfers to administration to fund SED positions; a $93,000 increase in internal recoveries as recoverable leases that were underestimated; a $7,000 decrease in various other small items; a $500,000 increase in utilities resulting in the transfer of Yukon Place from the Department of Education, as I am sure the Member is very well aware; a $99,000 increase in maintenance and leases resulting from the Alaska Highway devolution, which would be looking after the buildings up on the hill; and an $11,000 increase in other various small items.
Mr. McDonald: Could the Minister give us some further information about the position in Haines Junction?
Hon. Mr. Devries: This an operations assistant that would be like the office manager for the decentralized office there, or for Government Services.
Property Management in the amount of $121,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of an underexpenditure of $64,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Business Incentive Policy
Business Incentive Policy in the amount of an underexpenditure of $250,000 agreed to
Administration in the amount of an underexpenditure of $250,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
On Office Equipment
Office Equipment in the amount of an underexpenditure of $39,000 agreed to
On Pooled Vehicles
Pooled Vehicles in the amount of an underexpenditure of $67,000 agreed to
On Queens Printer Equipment
Queens Printer Equipment in the amount of an underexpenditure of $11,000 agreed to
On Central Stores
Central Stores in the amount of an underexpenditure of $24,000 agreed to
Supply Services in the amount of an underexpenditure of $141,000 agreed to
On Property Management
On Design and Construction Overhead
Design and Construction Overhead in the amount of $41,000 agreed to
On Renovations Public Buildings
Mr. McDonald: Could the Minister indicate which projects did not proceed?
Hon. Mr. Devries: In the figures here we have them lumped together, so I would have to bring the Member back a list of the specific projects if that is okay.
Mr. McDonald: That would be fine, thank you.
Renovations Public Buildings in the amount of an underexpenditure of $172,000 agreed to
On Energy Conservation
Mr. McDonald: Can the Minister give us an indication here of what projects did not proceed?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It would be the same thing. I have all the figures lumped together here, so I would have to get back to him.
Mr. McDonald: That will be fine.
Energy Conservation in the amount of an underexpenditure of $78,000 agreed to
Property Management in the amount of an underexpenditure of $209,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures in the amount of an underexpenditure of $600,000 agreed to
Chair: The rest are recoveries. I guess we will finish with the Department of Government Services.
Department of Government Services agreed to
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: At this time, we will take a brief recess.
Chair: I now call Committee of the Whole to order. We are dealing with Bill No. 4. We will proceed with Health and Social Services.
Department of Health and Social Services
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am pleased to present this first supplementary funding request for Health and Social Services. As the Members will note, this request is for $13,964,000 and additional operation and maintenance funding, which is partly offset by an expected increase of $2,933,000 in recoveries. That additional O&M funding being requested therefore is $11,31,000. The department also expects to lapse $2,975,000 in planning capital expenditures during this fiscal year. Of the $13,964,000 requested for O&M, 33 percent, or $4,685,000, is for social assistance. Client volume in the territory increased by 47 percent in 1992-93, over 1991-1992.
There is 23 percent, or $3,243,000, for increased contributions to the medical services branch to support health programs delivered by the federal government. A further 23 percent, or $3,257,000, will be used for expected price and volume increases in health insurance programs. The remaining 21 percent, or $2,779,000, is made up from a number of increases to various programs, which will be discussed in the line-by-line debate.
Generally, they include Policy, Planning and Administration - $309,000 for outside recruitment, health promotion survey, and to support positive employment and host program training initiatives; Family and Children Services - $665,000 for outside specialized treatment, increased counselling services, a new child care training initiative, and conversion of term positions to permanent; for Social Services there is $579,000 for additional auxiliary staff required to support rising client volumes related to social assistance, home care, rehabilitation and supported independent living services; for Health Services - $429,000 for health transfer negotiations, speech and hearing services, Macaulay Lodge and the new continuing care facility; for Regional Services, there is $797,000 for increases to the Champagne-Aishihik child welfare project, Ross River Dene Council child welfare project, client escorted travel, increased family support workers, additional counselling treatment services, Dawson and Watson Lake shelters, McDonald Lodge in Dawson and wilderness camps.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to raise some general issues and get a sense of the direction that the new Minister is taking in overseeing the large and important Department of Health and Social Services.
I would like to thank the Minister for providing me with a partial breakdown of the supplementary estimates ahead of time, which helped make everyones job easier.
Although we do not have as much time as we would like to debate the estimates, I will attempt to cover as much ground as possible this afternoon. I still have many questions, some of which I would like the answer to now, and there are others that I am prepared to wait until the mains debate.
The government is asking for a $2,975,000 reduction in capital expenditure and $13,964,000 more in operation and maintenance. Although the Minister has indicated some of this is recoverable, it is a huge increase in the O&M - the budget has increased to $80,789,000.
I would like to refer to some general policy areas. We all know that unemployment has risen dramatically in the Yukon lately and that social assistance costs across the country are rising dramatically. Since he took office, what actions has the Minister taken to contain costs in this area?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There was an interdepartmental committee formed prior to the election in October. When we took office we continued with that initiative and made it a top priority of this ministry.
The interdepartmental committee has accelerated its rate of progress, so we will be in a position very shortly - I hope within the next week - to be able to table in this House the overall report with respect to social services generally - the rationale for the various services that are being offered by government, and at the same time the areas that government ought to be examining with respect to change to contain the costs.
The report was finalized almost two months ago, it has been taken to Cabinet and approved, and there has been a readers guide developed, which will be made available at the same time as the overview of the interdepartmental committee.
The committee is in the process of going step by step in examining, on a priority basis, the areas in which costs can be contained. Those areas vary from looking at employment initiatives such as the social assistance recipients agreement, which is accounted for in the new budget. They look at issues such as the enforceability of unemployment insurance loans where the department has, as have most departments across the country, been making loans to families in need during the period from when they leave work to when they receive their first cheques.
We have entered into an agreement with the Government of Canada with respect to that issue. The only other jurisdiction that has done this and receives a portion of the backlog of cheques that go to the recipient is the Province of Alberta.
The department is completing the development of a computer system known as LISA, which is very similar to the Alberta computer system for social services, which has the capability, among other things, of not only keeping us more abreast of the expenses and how they occur and so on, but also enables us in certain ways to track beneficiaries and clients of social services systems in other areas of Canada, such as Alberta and B.C. This enables us to look at fraud and, through computer linkage with the rest of Canada, get the information that is necessary to ensure we get paybacks on the loans. Those are some of the things we have already addressed. We are moving through this complete study at a fairly fast rate.
Some of the initiatives we will be taking will require consultation with the public and stakeholders before we initiate them. We intend to commence a consultation process through the summer and fall on some of the initiatives, coupled with some other initiatives that we are taking in the department. There will be a Yukon-wide consultation process on some of these initiatives.
I look forward to specific questions on the document when I table it. It will be well before the mains.
Ms. Moorcroft: I will look forward to the Minister tabling the report on his cost containment initiatives and the work of the committee.
During the election, the Yukon Party platform said that it would change the social assistance regulations for single parent families to receive a basic, adequate living allowance that would not include any money earned from employment or cottage industries, subject to an overall monetary limit. An equitable share of spousal support payments would also be retained by the single parent. What does the Minister think of this promise?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That is an area that will be reviewed in the process of reviewing social assistance. We are certainly keen on training and incentives for people to go to work and there will be a fair amount of focus on ways of achieving that goal. That is all I can say about that right now.
Ms. Moorcroft: I was not asking a question about training yet. That was going to be my next question. What I had asked was the Ministers position on the Yukon Party platform to not deduct, from a single parent, money earned from employment or from cottage industry, subject to an overall monetary limit. I would like to know what is being done to meet this promise.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The trick is setting a limit, and it is an area that will be addressed in that portion of the review. It is identified as something that would be looked at and taken to Cabinet, and it just has not occurred yet.
Ms. Moorcroft: We will move ahead to the Yukon Party advertisement, which said, to encourage single parents who wish to further their education and training, provide them with financial assistance over and above the living allowance, as the Minister just referred to in his previous answer.
Can the Minister tell me how this program will work and when it will be in effect?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Part of that money will come through the social assistance recipients agreement, which is identified in the main estimates for next year. We will be looking at training allowances, in addition to the SARS money.
Ms. Moorcroft: Have there been any other new policy initiatives or program reviews since October 20?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Is that with regard to social services in particular, or just generally across the whole department?
The other area that is a priority is reviewing the health costs. The two top priorities for this department have been to get a handle on these two escalating areas of cost. We have put into effect a process for reviewing the various aspects of health costs through the formation of a joint management committee with the Yukon Medical Association. Health care reforms is looking at three major areas right now: extended health benefits program, chronic disease and pharmacare, the medical travel program and utilization - the various issues surrounding the manner in which the professionals carry out their work.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to explore some areas where I would like the Minister to provide more complete information. The Ministers information on recruitment policy and eligibility criteria for the new continuing care rehabilitation centre was sketchy. I would like to ask him for more specific information on that. He came back with a brief document that did not speak to the list of jobs or to the administration costs between the hospital and the extended care facility. Perhaps the Minister could provide a more complete legislative return, such as he tabled today on suicide prevention.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I simply got that sketchy information back quickly because I knew she wanted the overview of the job descriptions and so on. I will be tabling a legislative return to answer the question more clearly - I hope, this week.
Ms. Moorcroft: I will be asking the Minister a number of questions about the construction of the Whitehorse General Hospital - questions that I have not received full answers to during Question Period. I will also have questions about negotiations and the transfer of regional health services. I am interested in the new alcohol and drug strategy being developed in the department, the departments relationships with non-profit agencies, and child care initiatives. I have concerns that needs are met to provide victim counselling and safe homes in rural Yukon. For the mains, I would also like the Minister to have a progress report on implementation of the new Health Act.
I am prepared at this time to go through the lines and, as we go through the lines, perhaps the Minister could indicate where he expects the $2 million of lapses he referred to in his opening statement to occur - unless my colleagues have some other questions.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I appreciate that agenda the Member has given me. I will be making a ministerial statement on Thursday about the alcohol and drug strategy, which will answer some of her questions, I hope.
Mr. Harding: I believe the figure indicated for lapse was just about $3 million - $2,975,000 in the capital side. Are there any expected lapses on the operating and maintenance side?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The difficulty with coming up with any figures at this time is simply the nature of the department, particularly with respect to social services and health, and the way it is billed by the federal government and the billing that comes in from outside - from out-of-territory doctors and hospitals. These bills come in for some period of time, so to have a firm fix on that right now is simply not possible for the department.
However, we do expect to lapse some money in social services and health; very roughly, somewhere in the order of $500,000 or $600,000 in social services is anticipated - and that is a very rough guess - and in health, somewhere between that and $1 million - again, that is a very rough guess.
We are entering estimates and trying to get the accruals, and so on and so forth, but again, at this point in time, it is poor information on which to make any final kind of estimate.
Mr. Harding: I am very interested in the social services problem that we have in the territory, and it looks like we are going to continue to have it for some time, based on the proposed budget and the unemployment rate that we have right now. Was I correct in hearing that the Minister has taken the initiative to continue on with the interdepartmental committee that was started by the previous administration as the method for determining where they could find possible solutions to this growing problem?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That is correct. We have accelerated it in terms of the top priority. The basic report is complete. I will be tabling it soon, along with the readers guide. We are therefore looking at the issues raised by that report and dealing with them in a methodical manner by going through them one by one, in accordance with our priorities as set by the interdepartmental Ministers. We are working on that very issue.
I think though that the social assistance increase and the problem that has been reflected right across Canada is not simply a function of budgets or employment opportunities in the Yukon. There are a whole bunch of other very serious problems that cannot be lost sight of. There are a lot of other factors that contribute to the social assistance issue, such as spiralling costs that we are trying to get a handle on. We cannot simply create more jobs and that will go away. That is not the case at all. One example are those people who end up on the social assistance roles because of all kinds of social problems like family violence, alcohol and drug abuse, FAS/FAE children becoming adults and entering into the workforce.
There are just a whole host of things that we have to look at. There is inadequate training and the issue of single parents and what can be done with respect to them besides simply trying to buy the problem off with money, but rather trying to encourage and motivate people back into the workforce. There is a fairly heavy strata of service industry jobs in the Yukon, which are jobs that are very, very low paying. People who work for a living still have to go to social assistance in order to provide for a family, because the wages are not high enough to cover that. That is a structural problem in Yukon, which is quite considerably more noticeable than in some of the southern jurisdictions.
Mr. Harding: I can take from that that the Minister of Justice will be bringing in an An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act raising the minimum wage. The Minister could take that as a suggestion from the Member for Faro.
I certainly share some of those concerns, but I do think that, in determining what action has been taken, it is important that it is pointed out that the Minister has found that the appropriate method for dealing with it is to use the action taken by the previous administration. From that, I derive that the Minister must obviously feel that was an appropriate action to be taken. I would like to state that I am pleased that the Minister supports the area that was started by the previous administration with regard to addressing this problem through this committee.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Without getting into the politics of the matter, perhaps it should have been done sooner, but it was the appropriate way to address the problem.
I think that it ought not to go unnoticed, in defence of the department, that time and time again the main estimates of the previous administration were unrealistically low in terms of the money that was given to carry out its mandate. If you follow the history from the actual expenditures in a year and then the actual main estimates dropping down considerably from what actually happened the year before, you will appreciate, over the course of the last number of years, what happened in the department. The department was starved to the extent that some of the policy work went by the boards.
Mr. Harding: I will look forward to watching the Minister wave that magic wand.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Policy, Planning and Administration
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask the Minister for a breakdown of the subcategories covered under this line item and the amount in each. I would also like to ask the Minister to go into what the personnel cost increases were for.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Of the $309,000 allotted for policy, planning and administration, there is $168,000 required for recruitment costs.
The previous government decentralized responsibility for recruitment costs from the Public Service Commission to the other departments. Since the Department of Health and Social Services is dependent upon out-of-territory recruitment to maintain its professional counselling staff, the effect of this policy was to increase the departments requirement for recruitment funding. Recruitment costs were associated with staffing.
There are six social workers, one health transfer manager and one ambulance service manager who was hired locally. There were no qualified, local candidates for these positions, except for an ambulance manager. A secondment arrangement with the federal government is now in place for the health transfer manager. Recruitment costs include advertising, interview and relocation costs.
Yukon College Bachelor of Social Work, the BSW program, is scheduled to begin in September with expected enrollment of 20 to 25 students. There will be an access program to upgrade and prepare students for a BSW program; it is scheduled to run in July and August.
There is $42,000 for the health promotion survey. This is part of a two-year research project that is examining how Yukon people experience and talk about health and how factors such as personal behavior, income, education and social and physical environment affect health in the Yukon and what the main health issues are.
The information will assist in forming health and social policy development in the territory. The federal government provides most of the funding for the project and YTGs Bureau of Statistics is providing technical expertise and support. The $42,000 reflects salary costs for one staff person dedicated specifically to this project and working within that bureau.
There is $103,000 in additional personnel costs, host program training for two employees and the retention of a positive employment function following completion of that term under PSC, which resulted in additional expenditures of $45,000. Backfill for personnel director secondment to work on health transfer, recoverable from the federal government for health transfer, and extended leave for an ADM position resulted in $36,000 in additional expenditures.
Additional accounts payable and data entry for increasing social assistance volumes has resulted in $22,000 in extra costs. This is offset by a $4,000 reduction in travel costs.
Ms. Moorcroft: On the health promotion survey, I would like the Minister first of all to confirm that it was one staff member who was hired for this, and where are the results of the survey?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It was for one person in the bureau. It was not the full salary, but a portion of it.
The surveys completed results are coming in and should be available at the end of June.
Mrs. Firth: Just before we move away from the health survey, I was one of the Yukoners who was phoned. There was a question about whether or not a person had firearms in the house and whether or not they were locked up. I wonder if the Minister could tell us the relevancy of that question. I have mentioned it to the Bureau of Statistics and did not receive an answer.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have been advised that it has to do with the concern about the prevalence of suicide in the territory. Within that issue is the issue of access to firearms.
Ms. Moorcroft: I was taking notes while the Minister went through that breakdown but I would like to ask him about the $168,000 for outside personnel recruitment. That is a significant amount and I would like him to explain how it has been spent?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: What it comes down to is that it costs about $20,000 to $30,000 per person for recruitment. What we brought in - which was decentralized from PSC - were seven positions: six social workers and one health transfer manager.
Ms. Moorcroft: What about local hire? What was done to recruit for those positions locally?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Just word of mouth within the department.
Policy, Planning and Administration in the amount of $309,000 agreed to
On Family and Childrens Services
Ms. Moorcroft: Can the Minister break down the subcategories and amounts within that line?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The $665,000 in additional funding is broken down as follows. There was $375,000 in personnel costs related to seven positions, which were converted from term to permanent but for which the salaries were mistakenly left out in the 1992-93 mains. The error was finally discussed in the Legislature during debate on the 1992-93 budget. Those seven positions include two child care licensing staff, a child care services clerical position, three social workers and a research and development officer position for the safe places program. There was $100,000 in contract services to provide training to child care workers. This training is provided under the agency of the federal child care initiative fund. All expenditures were fully recoverable from the federal government. The sum of $132,000 was required for outside specialized treatment costs. A number of children required some outside specialized treatment while awaiting the opening of the new in-territory specialized treatment group home. That group home was opened in December of 1992; $58,000 were for additional transfer payments. The contribution to Yukon Family Services increased by $34,000 because of increased volume. Post-adoption subsidies increased by $12,000. A $12,000 contribution has been made to the Community Youth Talking Circle; this was a First Nations initiative under cultural programming for staff and youth directed at strengthening relationships in youth service facilities.
Ms. Joe: I do not know whether this comes under this line or not, but it is in regard to the situation that has occurred as a result of the conviction of an older person, also known as Ben Gay. There are horror stories in the Yukon about those victims he has left behind, ranging from a young age to a very old age. Because of the court cases that have come up in the last couple of years, a lot of those individuals have been identified and I am not exactly sure whether or not some of them are still young people. I am wondering whether or not the department has looked into that very serious situation with a view to considering programs that could be available to the hundreds of victims who have been affected by this person.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: With respect to the juveniles and adolescents, we are looking at that now. With respect to the adults, we will be working on that issue through the victims program in justice.
Ms. Joe: I am sure a lot of these individuals are ending up in our secure and open facilities as well, and I know there was a lot of controversy in the past about programs that were available to our young people who end up in our care, either in group homes or in facilities. I wonder if there have been any new initiatives, knowing that there were a number of victims out there who were not identified but are identified not only from this one person but from other sexual abuse actions against them in the past. I wonder whether or not there are any new initiatives available to these young people?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The child abuse treatment services program, which I am sure the Member is aware of, is stabilizing and we are going to be beefing it up in response to this problem. There is more programming planned for people in custody.
Ms. Joe: How soon can we expect the beefed-up and new initiatives to start?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The process has begun. We are trying to divert money within the department. I hope that it will be over the course of the next few months.
Family and Childrens Services in the amount of $665,000 agreed to
On Social Services
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The majority of the $4,366,000 is required to meet rising social assistance costs. There is $3,787,000 in additional social assistance costs that are expected to be incurred in the 1992-1993 fiscal year. The increase is directly attributed to rising client volume. There is $551,000 in additional personnel costs that will be incurred. All of these costs are due to additional auxiliary staffing required to support rising client volumes in several programs delivered by Social Services. With respect to social assistance workers, the increase is $136,000. The base was $235,750 for an increase of 58 percent. With respect to home care workers, the base was $702,321. There was an increase of $166,000 for a 24-percent increase. In regard to supported independent living workers, the base was $113,762. The increase was $114,000 for a 100-percent increase. With vocational rehabilitation counselling, the base was $135,000. The increase was $71,000 for an overall increase of 53 percent. For alcohol and drug counselling, the base was $178,000. The increase was $64,000 for a 36-percent increase.
The increase in contributions to Teegatha OhZheh, for additional residential care services was offset by a reduction in contract services to Headway House, which was closed. The department is negotiating with DIAND for better recoveries related to rehabilitation services for status Indians and is looking at increasing the effectiveness and efficiencies of rehabilitation services through restructuring and by maximizing cost-shared arrangements with the federal government.
There is $16,000 required for increasing in-territory travel costs for home care staff in Whitehorse. A $17,000 contribution was made to the Polar Express Club, to help make remaining in the current location feasible. This was a one-time payment with no expectation of further contributions. The program is still operating. All this is offset by a $5,000 reduction in supply and communication costs.
Ms. Moorcroft: I thank the Minister for the breakdown. I would like to ask him how many people are on social assistance and what he considers the cause of this increase in social assistance - the increase in the rising client volume.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I do not have that number with me. I will bring that to the Member. There have been a number of variables for the increase of volume and duration, and I can read some of those out to the Member: economic recession, restructuring within the economy and the workforce, which is a national trend; delayed and insufficient unemployment insurance payments, which we are dealing with on a loan basis to some extent; decreased ability of the working poor, i.e., particularly the service industry, to meet their needs through part-time and full-time earnings; lack of welfare services that increase employability and get people off social assistance - those are the things we are looking at with SARS and increased training grants, and so on - disincentives to get off social assistance, such as the single-parent policy, and that will be under review as to the time it is in effect.
Transients comprise 22 percent of the cases, but only three percent of the expenditures. Those exempt from participating in the labour force - elderly, disabled, single parents - comprise 16 percent of cases, but 40 percent of the expenditures. Single parents who are exempt from participating in the labour force account for only eight percent of the cases, but 23 percent of the expenditures. The number of people in this area has shown the biggest increase over the past number of years, according to the study.
Unemployment insurance related cases is a significant 17 percent. The number of people working who require social assistance to top up their income is increasing rapidly. It is 10 percent of the overall cases, and it has increased by 276 percent over two years.
Forty-eight percent of the expenditures and 53 percent of the cases are individuals unable to find work. Services to increase employability and help people get off social assistance represent only eight percent of expenditures, while direct assistance payments account for 92 percent. That is something we really want to change quickly with this review.
Ms. Moorcroft: Could the Minister explain his vision of social services? What objectives does the Minister have for the department in this area?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Essentially, what we have done is develop a mission statement for the department, which will be made public with the ministerial statement, and agreed upon by Cabinet.
The social assistance programs are the safety net that is there when other areas have been exhausted, particularly in directly federally funded areas.
In the Yukon, we want to deal with all the recipients in a compassionate way, but we want to work specifically on a couple of things. One is getting employables - that narrow band of people who can, in our opinion, get back into the workforce - working again, through various initiatives, including training and some steps that will make it less palatable to be on social assistance for too long a period of time.
Another area we are very concerned about is in our dealing with DIAND on training initiatives and other areas of welfare cases, ensuring that we get speedy and prompt payment. In all areas of the department, we are working to sort out the difficulties the department has had in recovering money from the federal government for status Indian people in the Yukon. That is a significant area in which I think we can make progress fairly quickly, and have in the health area, when one looks at the status Indian billing agreement, which was that lump of money of $6 million that has been rolled into the formula financing base.
Those are some of the areas we are looking at. Really, what we want to do, wherever possible, is to see individuals, who can be involved in the normal societal workforce, develop their potential to the best degree possible. At the same time, we are looking at seniors and continuing some of the policies and direction taken by the previous administrations to try and encourage seniors to stay in the Yukon with their families, in their home as long as possible and enjoy a productive life as long as possible. Those are some of the elements in the overview.
Ms. Moorcroft: I note that there is $551,000, or more than half a million dollars, in personnel costs for auxiliaries. I would like to ask the Minister where this money has gone and with what were these people involved?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That is the list that I read out; I can go through it again. The increases are as follows: social assistance workers, $136,000; home care, $166,000; supported independent living workers, $114,000; vocational rehabilitation counselling, $71,000; and alcohol and drug services, $64,000.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Polar Express Club has been given $17,000 from the department. What is the relationship between the club and the department? The club has ongoing funding challenges and I want to know if this funding will be ongoing?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: This is a one-time contribution of money to permit them to remain in the space that they are renting and to make improvements. The club raises its own money; they do not receive O&M funding or base funding from us on a yearly basis.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask the Minister for a breakdown of the money being spent on alcohol and drug services. Are there plans for a residential treatment centre and does the Minister believe that there needs to be a residential treatment centre in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Minutes before I came into Committee, after the break, I signed the contribution agreement that has been signed by Crossroads. As we will be seeing when we release the alcohol and drug strategy, the skeleton policy that will be fleshed-out through consultation that will be released on Thursday, residential programming does have its place in a continuum of care or activities.
Ms. Joe: I just want to follow up on the funding for the Polar Express Club. The Minister has stated that it received a one-time grant. Because it is in my riding, I go down every once in a while to say howdy. There is always a need for funding. They raise their own at different fund-raising activities but I also know that they live from month to month because the funding is not adequate. Has there been any request by them for further funding in regard to anything in the future? I understand the Minister has already said it was a one-time grant and that O&M funding would not be provided, and I understand that, but I would just like to know whether or not they have contacted the Minister again.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Of course, the one-time injection was by the previous Minister, Joyce Hayden. There has not been a request, but they know we are here and we are interested and concerned about them continuing. They do provide a good service. We naturally are happy when people in groups such as this are able to raise their own money, but if they get in a bind they can always come to see us.
Social Services in the amount of $4,366,000 agreed to
On Health Services
Hon. Mr. Phelps: This can be broken down as follows. There was $3,243,000 in increased funding that was required to support the services provided by the medical services branch. Prior to last year, no increase had been made to the medical services branch for approximately five years. Of that money, 86 percent, or $2.8 million, was actually added to the contribution agreement of the previous fiscal year. Due to timing, this was not reflected in the mains for 1992-93. The actual increase for the 1992-93 year is therefore $424,000.
With respect to the $3.243 million increase, for in-territory hospitals, the increase is $2,119,000; community health, $697,000; mental health, $42,000; dental health, $129,000; environmental health, $6,000; health education, $6,000; communicable disease, $10,000; doctor visits to communities, $103,000; visiting specialists, $131,000.
Price and volume increases are expected to result in further health insurance expenditures of $3,257,000. The breakdown there is as follows: out-of-territory hospitals, $1,113,000; doctors in territory, $523,000; doctors out of territory, $137,000; chronic disease program, $570,000; pharmacare program, $218,000; extended health benefits, $162,000; medical travel program, $279,000.
An additional contribution to the Yukon Medical Association, re-education, rural visits and insurance was $70,000. Increases in laboratory tests is $110,000. Of that, mammography is $23,000; pap smears, $18,000; sexually transmitted disease, $69,000; chief medical officer, which is fully recoverable, $75,000.
Increases in other programs include costs associated with the health transfer negotiations, recoverable, of $198,000; Macaulay Lodge increases in costs of supplies, repairs and maintenance, $34,000; speech and hearing, $93,000, and that is broken down into auxiliary audiologist, office supplies, communications and programs materials for $59,000 and hearing aids for $34,000, which is fully recoverable from WCB; the new continuing care facility, $120,000, of which $60,000 is for utilities and salary cost for the administrator is the other $60,000. This is offset by a $16,000 reduction in costs for supplies and communications.
Mr. Penikett: I have one question. The Minister may not have the answer to this at his fingertips but, on the other hand, being an intelligent sort of chap with the best memory on the other side of the House, he may recall the number.
For some years, going back to before the New Democratic Party was in office, there was a dispute between the federal and territorial governments about hospital services. A large sum of money was at issue. We had booked a liability of a certain amount, although the federal government believed there would be a much larger sum involved.
As I understood it, when we left office, this was an issue that was still to be resolved in the hospital transfer negotiations. At least, I think it was the hope of both governments, certainly the Department of Finance in Yukon and the federal people, that some negotiated agreement would be reached on this question since, once we assumed responsibility for the hospital, it would be ludicrous for the feds to continue to have this on their books and it not be on ours.
Can the Minister tell us if, during the period of the supplementary, an agreement was reached on this question? Can he tell us what the agreed-upon number was?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It has not been formally resolved. In the course of negotiations over the last fiscal year, we have a reserve. I am sure the Member knows there is some $5 million on this item. It was indicated that this number would go away. It was not being brought forward by the federal government in the course of negotiations. We have every expectation of it being resolved without any hit coming with it in the course of the fiscal formula negotiation discussions and phase 2.
Mr. Penikett: Let me say that I do not want to compromise at all the confidentiality of the deputys advice to the Minister. I cannot only see what she was saying to the Minister, but I could hear it. So, she may want to bow a little deeper when advising the Minister.
Could I ask the Minister if he could indicate to us what the parameters of the potential agreement are? If my memory serves me correctly, the feds, at one point, were trying to claim as much as $12 million or $13 million from us, while we were booking a much smaller number. From the Ministers answer, are we to believe that the whole amount might be written off, or are they going to - as the federal government sometimes do - have it reappear in some other form somewhere else as a charge against the government?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is our expectation that it will be written off. It is an uncomfortable position to be a lawyer in ones former life and not have something that says quit claim, but there is enough indication in the way negotiations have been going that I expect it will die, although I cannot promise.
Mr. Penikett: Just to finalize the point, it was clearly understood, when we were government, that it would be resolved as a function of the agreement on the hospital transfer. The Minister is now suggesting it may be resolved at another table - perhaps at the formula financing negotiations, or in some other way. Could the Minister clarify his answer on that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If it did come back, it would be in the fiscal formula forum, not phase 2.
Mr. Penikett: It is delightful to overhear advice to Ministers, but I do not want to compromise either of the parties over there, because I was taught that the function of Cabinet government was that deputies could give confidential advice to Ministers, and Ministers could discuss it confidentially. Then, when they say it in this House, it is no longer confidential.
Could I just ask this one final question: what is the entire governments intention? How much does the government intend to book, given that there is not a final agreement on this? How much does the government intend to book as a liability for the time being?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Just the historical amount. The Member probably has a better memory about that exact amount than I do, through bitter experience.
Ms. Joe: I have a couple of questions with regard to information that the Minister had given us about hearing aids. I thought the Minister mentioned that they were fully recoverable from Workers Compensation, and I am wondering whether or not that would include hearing loss, if the hearing loss was not work-related.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: In this case, the overrun was work-related, and that is why it was fully recoverable. We do have a program to provide part of the cost of hearing aids to other members of the public.
Ms. Joe: The other question I have is about the controversial chronic disease program.
When the program was set up, I was the Minister, and we did not anticipate that it would cost even $100,000 per year. I know that there was a committee set up to review applicants who wanted to come under that program - I do not know why the Member for Klondike is rolling his eyes, maybe he is thinking some nice thoughts in his head. I know that costs have escalated, and they are much higher than anyone imagined five, six or seven years ago.
I am wondering whether or not the department is looking at a way of trying to bring those costs down. If the department is, could the Minister let me know how?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The first time that program and some of the others have been taken by the joint management committee process, the Yukon Medical Association and the department will be receiving recommendations and perhaps consulting after that time with the public.
Ms. Moorcroft: This line is the largest amount in the O&M expenditures in the supplementaries. I would like to ask the Minister how many person years are here and what is this now in FTEs.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will have to bring that information back to the Member.
Is it the wish of the House to report progress right now, or are we moving into the final line?
Some Hon. Member: It is almost 5:30 p.m.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I move that you report progress on Bill No. 4, Mr. Chair.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 4, Second Appropriation Act, 1992-93 and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:28 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled on May 4, 1993:
City of Whitehorse Bylaw 89-34 to amend Official Community Plan Bylaw to change the designated land use for the McLean Lake area from Country Residential to Urban Residential (Penikett)
Emergency calling made easier through standardized numbers (Fisher)
Evaluation of the 1992 Alaska Highway Anniversary dated March, 1993, prepared for Yukon Anniversaries Commission by the ARA Consulting Group Inc. in association with Inukshuk Planning and Development Ltd. (Phillips)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled May 4, 1993:
Balanced land selection: Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Final Agreement: Chapter 9 - Settlement Land Amount (Ostashek)
Oral, Hansard, p. 484
Suicide prevention in northern communities: protocol for coordinating responses to suicide, suicide prevention training workshops, programs for detection and treatment of potential suicide (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 557
Faro Contingency Plan re assistance with relocation costs and agreement to repay if recipient returns to Yukon (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 696