Tuesday, November 16, 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. Phillips: I have some documents to table.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introductions 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?
STATEMENTS BY MINISTERS
Diagnostic Assessment in Mathematics
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I rise today to announce an initiative, the purpose of which, over the coming months and years, is to significantly improve the performance of Yukon students in key curriculum subjects, starting with mathematics as the area of highest priority. I refer to a series of diagnostic assessments that have been developed over the last several months, and which are now being used in Grade 8 to 12 math classrooms across the territory.
In some key areas, Yukon Grade 12 students have not performed as well on departmental examinations as have their peers in British Columbia public schools. The differences are most noticeable in mathematics. In comparison with their peers in British Columbia, over the past seven years, 14.6 percent more Yukon students fail mathematics and 8.6 percent fewer achieve excellence.
These results are not acceptable. I believe that Yukon students are no less able, and Yukon teachers are no less capable than their peers in British Columbia.
In the past, education was typically thought of as a system or a process. Improving education typically meant spending more, trying harder, and providing more services. Higher per student expenditures and lower student/teacher ratios were how the quality of education being provided was assessed. I can tell you that, despite have the lowest student/teacher ratio and the highest level of per student expenditure in Canada, we are not getting the same level of result in terms of student performance on Grade 12 departmental exams.
Education is increasingly viewed as the result achieved - the learning that takes place when the process has been effective and efficient. My view is that only if the process succeeds and learning occurs can it be said that education happened.
I believe, and I am convinced other parents also believe, that it is important how our Grade 12 students do on departmental examinations. Their performance on these examinations determines to a large extent the range of choices open to them for further educational opportunities. The issue then is what do I as Minister of Education do to change the persistent pattern of poor results in mathematics. I suppose I could have awaited the recommendations of the Education Review Committee, or I could have done nothing. Instead, I have chosen to take action.
Math assessments conducted earlier this year indicated that we needed to develop comprehensive diagnostic tools for math teachers in order to ensure that students at all grade levels were mastering the required elements of the curriculum. This we have done.
Mr. Speaker, our goal is very clear and very simple. Our students in Grade 12 will perform as well, if not better, than their peers in British Columbia. I do not believe we need to, nor should we, accept a lower level of achievement for our students. To accomplish this goal we have developed a cost effective approach to assisting teachers to assess student learning in a positive, diagnostic curriculum-based manner. By providing our teachers with the necessary diagnostic tools, we recognize and support their professionalism and their dedication to the best possible education for our children.
The measurable outcomes of this approach will be the improved performance of Yukon students on Grade 12 departmental examinations, and I stress that this improved performance will be achieved while maintaining or increasing the student participation rates in all examination subjects.
Feedback from teachers using this initial series of assessments has been encouraging. We hope to report some positive results in the near future.
Mr. Harding: I rise to make a few hastily prepared comments in response to this ministerial statement, as we did not receive this statement until after 12 oclock. This did not allow us much time.
To begin with, I would just like to say that we are somewhat disappointed with the politicization contained in this statement. Ministerial statements are usually reserved for new policy directions or initiatives of the government. This particular initiative was started some months ago by the Yukon Party government.
We are afraid that this is nothing more than a grasp for headlines. No one in the Yukon thinks that Yukon students are not capable of great things. Some of the politicization in the ministerial statement is unnecessary and unproductive for our children and our future.
The territorial New Democratic Party supports initiatives to improve the quality of education. We believe that parents want to know how well their children are doing. We also believe that parents want a system that teaches and promotes problem solving, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, as well as basic skill development.
The Minister should be very careful of bureaucratic statistic swapping. That could be a recipe for disaster. Statistic swapping has been known in the past, if followed by the government to the letter, to be a real problem, because it leads to political decisions being made.
Education systems are influenced by many factors, such as social and economic environments, as well as cultural differences. We are worried when this kind of an announcement is made, because everything that this Minister has touched so far has turned not to gold but to coal.
The education review started off disastrously due to poor organization on his part. Then the Minister interfered directly in YNTEP. As another example, he interfered directly in the Carmacks school situation. We hope that his track record is not indicative of his future endeavours as Minister of Education - an incredibly important portfolio.
In the Ministers response to my comments, I look forward to commitments from him that he has concurrence for this plan from parents, teachers, First Nations and all stakeholders in the education system. We hope that the concept of summative testing has been dropped. I hope he has lost his knee-jerk reactionary mentality and is now working with, instead of against, the systems important stakeholders. I also look forward to confirmation that the principles of teaching and curriculum and testing have been reconciled.
I also question if this does not fly in the face of his crippled education review. With the Members now being named, one wonders how this announcement will prejudice this review. It just seemed to be getting off the ground, as of the announcements last week.
We are also afraid that these words are a preface to future cuts to our system - future cuts to the services that would be devastating to the children who are now our economic and social investment in the future.
I would like the Minister to know that we will be watching the Minister very closely to see what he undertakes in the future. Education should not be politicized. It is critical as a building block for the social and economic future of the territory. We will be keeping a vigil.
Mr. Cable: I have some questions, rather than a comment as such. Just looking at the rules, they contemplate the Minister making a statement and then the Opposition Members giving a statement in reply. To do that, there must be some decent time interval between the issuing of the statement and the time when the reply is called for. This statement was being gestated this morning some time, at least as early as 10 oclock when some amendments were being made. My staff called up at 10 minutes to 12 to get the statement, and it was still not available. I think it came down at 12:10. The Minister has the vast resources of government to back him up and to discuss matters with him. The rest of us do not have those resources. We must ask people what their opinions are, and we cannot do that in an hour and 20 minutes.
Having said that, the statement does set out a reference to key curriculum subjects and it would be useful for the Minister in his reply to indicate what those key curriculum subjects are. Are they the three Rs the Minister has referred to previously, or do they include physical education and cross-cultural studies?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I thank the Opposition Members for their comments. The Member for Faro stood up and said very little about caring for improving the math marks of the students in our Yukon schools and talked about politicization of this issue and continued to talk about that through his whole speech, politicizing the whole issue. I am kind of disappointed in that.
The Member for Riverside asked some questions about the issue. This is not an extremely complicated issue; we had results this year of very low marks in math. We decided to do something about it. Recommendations from people in the system are that diagnostic testing was being done in other areas and was very successful, identifying the problems. Rather than wait for the review, as the Member for Faro figures I should, when I knew there was already a major problem, I decided to try and identify the problem to help salvage the marks of some of the young students in our schools this year and deal with it immediately rather than wait until the review is complete in a couple of weeks.
If you want to talk about politicizing the education system, the Member opposite accused the chair of the review committee - which, by the way, I have had many positive comments from people about - of being a Conservative because his father is Conservative and because he worked with someone else. When you talk about politicizing the system, that is really unfair for the Member on the other side to make those kinds of comments.
The other areas that were looked at and tested in the last few years are physics, chemistry and biology. Those were the other three areas of concern. The problems are not as severe as in the math area, but there are certainly areas that we should look at, and I am sure the review committee will look at these issues.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, management
Mr. Penikett: I am sure that we all would like to see the Cabinet pass the math test before it was imposed on the students of the territory.
I would like to ask the Minister responsible for energy in the territory a question. The Alberta-owned company, Yukon Electrical Company Limited is the contract manager for the publicly owned assets of the Yukon Energy Corporation, as well as being the Yukon Energy Corporations only competitor. I would like to know if it is true that the Minister has decided to transfer management staff, and therefore effective control, of the publicly owned Yukon Energy Corporation to the Alberta-owned Yukon Electrical Company Limited.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am trying to understand the question. I take it that the Member is asking whether or not I am transferring the management currently existing in Yukon Energy Corporation to Yukon Electrical Company Limited. If that is the question, the answer is no.
Mr. Penikett: Then perhaps the Minister could explain the media reports, as well as his own comments about reductions in staff that effectively lead to having no one to monitor the actions of the Yukon Energy Corporation. I understand that, according to public comments, he believed that that was not necessary.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Again, the question is a bit elusive and I am trying to answer the question the best I can.
The issue has to do with whether or not the payroll of the Yukon Energy Corporation is unjustifiably high, whether we have too many full-time equivalents working for that company. We are looking to ensure that the company is run as lean and mean as possible. We are also looking at whether or not all of the positions are necessary; it is not a matter of transferring them. I recognize that the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation, to some extent, have a role in policing the recommendations and adjudicating upon certain recommendations made to the board of directors of Yukon Development Corporation regarding what the Yukon Energy Corporation wishes to do.
We feel that is an obligation that will continue in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, the Public Utility Board plays an even more effective role, in many cases, in their obligations under the Public Utilities Act.
Mr. Penikett: If I was as elusive as the Minister, Question Period would take a very long time. The Minister has conceded that he is cutting the staff of the Yukon Energy Corporation - staff that was only minimal staff anyway - the minimum sufficient, in their view, to monitor the activities of the private company, which was not only our competitor but also the manager of public assets.
The Minister has just indicated that he believes that the Public Utilities Board is adequate to the task. Can the Minister explain to us how the Energy Corporation, without engineering expertise and financial expertise, can adequately monitor the day-to-day activities of his manager and make sure that expenditures are not made by the private company, which become a burden for the public, and make sure that the public assets are managed in the public interest, and not in the interest of the private manager?
Speaker: I would ask the Minister to as brief as possible in his explanation.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will do my best. The question indicates that the Member opposite either was not listening to my earlier responses or he is deliberately being misleading with respect to what I said. The statements I have made have to do with the payroll of the Yukon Energy Corporation - whether or not all the full-time equivalents are necessary at that corporation and whether they ought to more properly - some of them - be paid by the Yukon Development Corporation, which has a different mandate than that of Yukon Energy Corporation, and also looking at the respective roles of those within Yukon Energy Corporation, vis-a-vis the kind of policing he talks about, and the role of the Public Utilities Board. I would also add that, in my view, from my limited expertise and knowledge about economics, I think it is highly misleading to suggest that there is competition between YECL and Yukon Energy Corporation.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, management
Mr. Penikett: Yukon Electricals interest is, of course, to maximize its profits. Yukon Energy Corporations, a publicly owned corporation, ought to be to maximize the electrical service to the Yukon people - they are different objectives. The Minister has suggested cuts to Yukon Energy Corporations staff. He has also suggested that the public utilities can adequately protect the public interests in these questions. He just said that and reiterated it just now.
I would like to ask the Minister if he is aware that in the past Yukon Energy Corporation staff have consistently advised that this proposition was not only impractical, but potentially expensive, and could cost the Yukon ratepayers an awful lot of money?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I can understand that the Member may be receiving a bunch of questions from the former board of YEC and asking questions that would reflect their political agenda, but I have not said that it was adequate to rely upon the Public Utilities Board here today and I invite the Member opposite to review Hansard when it comes out tomorrow. What I have said is that in response to recommendations of the Public Utilities Board we are looking at whether or not the cost of the manpower at YEC can be justified. We are examining that and there are several ways to deal with the issue. One has to do with looking at whether one needs all the people there working on YECs agenda. We also look at whether or not a greater portion of the cost of those people and the office facilities ought to be borne by the Yukon Development Corporation. Those are the issues we are looking at and those are the issues that I would expect there to be some answers to in due course.
Speaker: Before the Leader of the Official Opposition asks his first supplementary, I would like to remind the Members that there should be a one-sentence preamble for the supplementaries and answers should be as brief as possible.
Mr. Penikett: I want to assure the Minister that neither Mr. Al Kapty nor Mr. Jack Cable, nor any other Conservative or Liberal who served on the board of the Development Corporation during our time, has suggested any question to me on this subject.
I am interested in knowing what steps, if any, have been taken to protect the publics interest in the utility, including reasonable power rates, in the face of the natural and logical interest of the private utilities, which is to maximize their profits. Who is protecting the public interest? If there is a reduced YEC staff and the Minister is suggesting the Public Utilities Board has a role the staff do not believe can be done, who is doing it? Who is minding the store?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The entire YDC/YEC setup, which was implemented by the side opposite when they were in power, was based on a couple of principles. One was that we would have an effective public utility board policing the operations. Another was that the corporation would act at arms length from government. On the first count, we finally did see a public utility board instituted after a long period when there was none because the previous board was fired by the Justice Minister of the day. On the second issue, the problems the Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Development Corporation suffered arose mainly because of day-to-day interference by the Minister in charge, and that is why the president, who is now in this Legislature, resigned.
We were trying to operate the utility in the way it was meant to be operated. We are trying to do this in a arms-length fashion - not daily telling the board to lend money to this or that person or to American interests who we might work for after we stop serving in this place. We are not doing that. I hope that answers the question.
Mr. Penikett: On the subject of arms-length decision making, I would like to ask the Minister who made the decision to have the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Electrical Corporation - the old Phelps family business - make a joint submission to the Yukon Utilities Board, when every advice we have always had was that it was patently necessary for them to have separate applications, because the interests of the Yukon Energy Corporation and the private utility with respect to rates were different? There is a difference between the public interest and the private interest. Did the Minister make that decision - did he interfere - or did someone else?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That application was made by the board that was appointed by the side opposite, a board that included, at the time it was appointed, the acting president of the NDP, a past president of the NDP as chair, and the principal secretary, newly resigned, of the Member who is asking the question. That is the board that made the decision. It was not an issue that came before this Minister or an issue that was addressed by this Minister.
Question re: Job opportunities
Mr. Cable: I have a question for the Government Leader.
The Government Leader made a speech to the Yukon Chamber of Commerce in October in Watson Lake. The speech was entitled Our First Year. He indicated in the speech that the government was looking at ways and means to maximize job opportunities for this winter and for the future. He stated in his speech, and I quote, We want to work with the private sector, First Nations and municipal governments to maximize employment opportunities this winter and to get their ideas as to how we, collectively, can better serve the Yukon public in a more cost-effective manner. I assume he was referring to the Yukon Chamber of Commerce when he went on to say that the association, has a seat on the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, but I would urge and encourage individual communities to make representations to the government and the council and to participate actively in the forums that are established.
My question for the Government Leader is: what are these forums that have been established to date or the Government Leader intends to establish in the near future in order to discuss job opportunities?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is quite right. The forum I was referring to in that speech is the new Council on the Economy and the Environment. As I announced in the House the other day in Question Period, and in public, one of the first undertakings of the new Council on the Economy and the Environment will be to facilitate the holding of an economic summit some time this winter.
Mr. Cable: The Minister referred to formus - in the plural. Perhaps the Minister could answer the specific question as to what forum or forums he sees the dialogue and input being received on behalf of the First Nations and from the municipalities.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I may have spoken in the plural and I guess that is quite correct. We just held a tourism summit that all parties were asked to participate in. The same will happen once the Council on the Economy and the Environment announces its recommendations about mid-term and long-term job and investment opportunities for the Yukon.
Mr. Cable: In his speech, the Government Leader went on to comment about the economic opportunities that will result from the settlement of land claims. This is a subject that the Government Leader has also alluded to in his budget speech.
The question that I put to the Government Leader is: What, specifically, has the government done to determine what benefits will flow to the communities - this is all communities, First Nations and otherwise - from the land claims.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Speaking off the top of my head, specifically I can say that implementation funding that will start to flow with the passage of the legislation through the federal House of Commons will be spent in the Yukon. It will be spent in the Yukon for surveying and other things. It will provide tremendous spin-offs to the Yukon; it is not money that will be spent outside. The implementation funding is to help the First Nations get on with the task of implementing their land claims and that has tremendous economic opportunities for all Yukoners.
Question re: Legal aid funding
Ms. Commodore: I have a question for the Minister of Justice. I am sure the Minister is aware, as am I, that funding for legal aid has been a problem for years and it now appears that we have another government program that is going to be well over budget, with four and one-half months left in this fiscal year. Can the Minister tell us what cuts he intends to make to try to balance this particular budget?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am sure the honourable Member is aware of the statements recently made in the media. The board responsible for legal aid services has met, has considered the options open to it and decided on its own to make certain cuts to the services provided under legal aid.
I am quite confident that in so doing they are acting in the best interest of all Yukoners. We will have to wait and see where those cuts in services lead with respect to the anticipated expenditures.
Ms. Commodore: A government document, entitled Options for the Delivery of Legal Services to Yukons Low Income Community was done over a year ago. Has the Minister read the document? Is he considering some of the options listed in future budgets?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If the Member is referring to the word done by her good friend, the former Deputy Minister of Justice, I have seen the various recommendations that emanated from that level of government during her tenure. We are examining all options that are open to us. As the public is well aware, as well as the people in this House, it is the federal government that made the cuts. They are the ones that capped their 50-percent contribution to legal aid after they had set up the program. It is their program, and we have to come to grips with the cruel realities of that decision by the federal government.
Ms. Commodore: It is a well known fact that some in the legal profession are opposed to a public defender program, possibly because of the revenue generated from that program. Will the Minister table in this House a breakdown of the costs of legal aid to individual law firms for this last fiscal year of 1992-93, and for the first six months of this fiscal year, 1993-94, considering that it is public money that is being spent?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will take that under advisement, not because I have much in the way of qualms about it, because I certainly lean toward tabling such information. I will check on it and get back to the Member.
Question re: Wood chips
Mr. Harding: I have a question with regard to the wood chipping and proposed clear cutting in the area of Jakes Corner. Why did the Minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation think the wood-chipping machine, purchased by his government, was a sound investment?
Speaker: That question probably deserves a much longer response than the Minister has time to give. I would ask him to be as brief as possible.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I did not catch whether he said it was a sound or an unsound investment in his view, but this was a decision made, of course, by the Yukon Development Corporation back in July of 1992, by the very infamous board that was appointed by the Members opposite that included a whole potpourri of very highly visibly political people -
Speaker: Order please. The answer should be strictly relevant to the question.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We did not buy it. We do not think it is sound, Mr. Speaker? I have asked directors of YDC to do what they can to get us out of some of these investments, because they are some of the worst investments I have ever seen.
Mr. Harding: That Minister will be able to fill up his steel hospital with excuses by the time he has finished his term.
That Minister wasted no time in cancelling the YDC board decision to build Chateau Jomini in Faro after they came into power, so stop with the red herrings, please. I asked him a simple question.
What position has the Minister or his department taken regarding the clear-cut logging proposed at Jakes Corner?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I think the Member opposite must think he is in a bull ring, waving that red flag at me the way he is doing.
There are no excuses. I will table the contracts, if the Member would like, that were signed in July of 1992 about purchasing this chipper - in my view, an investment that ranks right up there with the loan to Totem Oil and the Watson Lake sawmill. Great stuff, I tell you.
My understanding is that there was an application made for logging at Jakes Corner by two individuals and that application is going through a full environmental review panel-style hearing process. I can advise Members quite candidly that I knew nothing about the application personally until after it was a headline in the newspapers. I can also say quite candidly that the sooner we can get out of these kinds of silly investments - at the least cost to the people who paid for the investments, who are suffering because of them because these are investments made with monies taken from people who pay for their power in this territory - the better.
Mr. Harding: One hopes this Minister will soon learn that he should take responsibility for his decisions, as he has with the Chateau Jomini decision, which he cancelled, as a YDC board decision, after he came into power, which, if he wanted, he could have done with the enviro-chipper. But that was not the question I just asked him. The question I asked was his position regarding clear cutting. I am trying to get an answer from the Minister on that particular issue.
What is the governments position regarding the clear-cut logging proposed at Jakes Corner? He does not have to be so defensive.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: It is not a matter of being defensive. It is a matter, when we have these people charging at us with silly accusations, of simply trying to set the record straight so that the taxpayer knows the true story. There is no way I could have cancelled the purchase, after there was a signed, sealed and delivered contract, for delivery of the chipper. We are trying to get rid of it, but we are not simply going to sacrifice it for 10 cents on the dollar. We will try to get out of it as best we can. So much for the preamble. He is asking me what our governments policy is on clear cutting. I do not know why he is asking me. I am the Minister of Health and Social Services and of Justice.
Our policy, as I understand it, is one of looking at the renewable resources we have in the forest. We are eagerly anticipating the devolution of forestry from the federal government to this government so that we can sit down with all the stakeholders in the Yukon and develop a made-in-Yukon policy with regard to how we will husband our forests in the Yukon, and with a high regard to lifestyle values of each and every individual in the Yukon.
Question re: Essential government services during strike
Ms. Moorcroft: Yesterday, the Government Leader referred to the possibility of a public service strike as an unfortunate and unlikely event. It would be a far more unlikely event if this government was not taking some very disturbing steps that include instituting training plans within the designated workforce.
Does the Minister have the fully detailed report he promised me yesterday about this matter?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As an employer and the Minister responsible for services to the public in the Yukon, we would be very irresponsible if we were not taking actions in the unlikely event of a strike. No, I do not have that report ready today.
Ms. Moorcroft: There is no media blackout on this round of bargaining and the Government Leader is free to speak about this issue if he would. There is in fact no labour relations law that prevents the Government Leader from assuring this House and the public that his government is willing to negotiate with public service employees and use the conciliation process for what it is intended for - to avert a strike.
Does the government negotiating team have a mandate to come to an agreement with the employees?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite seems intent upon politicizing contract negotiations between the government and the union. She seems intent upon politicizing the issue.
I have more respect for the union, the people of the Yukon and for the people who are negotiating on our behalf. Those people have a mandate to negotiate and they have a mandate to come to a settlement.
Ms. Moorcroft: I think that putting information before the public de-politicizes issues, rather than politicizes them.
I am very concerned that the Government Leader is hiding his agenda behind some fully detailed report that is not forthcoming. Would the Government Leader please table, this week, a copy of the essential services agreement and any relevant documents outlining what kinds of services the Yukon public can expect in the event of a labour dispute?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know if I can table it this week. I will make efforts to do so. We are checking to see what we can give the Member. We will get what we can of what she is asking for at the first opportunity.
Question re: Custodial staff
Mr. Penikett: I have a question about respect for employees and I would like to ask the Minister of Government Services.
Many people have pointed out that the main government building has begun to look quite shabby lately. I would like to ask the Minister if he can confirm that he has cut the number of cleaning staff from 10 to six, and can he tell us why.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I am not aware of any recent cutbacks. I will have to get back to the Member with exact figures. I do not have them at my fingertips.
Mr. Penikett: Is the Minister denying that he has knowledge of the fact that two cleaners have been transferred out of this building, that another 0.7 person year has been cancelled, that four auxiliary workers have been sitting at home for months waiting for a call and that the remainder of the staff have been ordered to lower the cleaning standards in this building?
I would like to ask the Minister why, since the government is spending $100,000 per job for summer work, he has been cutting year-round jobs that cost a fraction of that amount?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I am not aware of any major cutbacks. I was aware that we have been looking at the janitorial staff. I have been assured that we could maintain the standards that we have enjoyed in the past.
I will have to get back to the Member with the figures.
Mr. Penikett: My information is that the staff have been told to reduce its standards - to only empty garbage buckets and clean the floors.
When the Tories were last in power, they contracted out the janitorial work in this building to a Vancouver firm. As a result, equity group employees were thrown out of work and, in a matter of months, this building was filthy. It was a disgrace. Can I ask for the Ministers absolute assurance that even this extremely conservative government will not contract out this work again and victimize, once again, those employees?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I can assure the Member that it has not even been considered.
Question re: Community development fund
Mrs. Firth: I have a policy question for the Government Leader regarding the community development fund. On the radio this morning, I heard the Government Leader interviewed regarding this program. Out of one side of his mouth, the Government Leader tried to give the message that this pork-barrel program, as he called it, was gone. Yet, in response to a question about the benefits of the program, the Minister spoke out of the other side of his mouth and said there would be money available for projects but, instead of the pork-barrel process, Cabinet was going to decide which projects would go ahead. Then, it was going to come to the Legislature, and the Legislature would have an opportunity to approve it.
Exactly what is the policy of the Ministers government regarding the community development fund?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thought I made it quite clear in my budget speech, and on the radio program this morning. I said that there is $1.3 million in the 1994-95 budget to phase out the community development fund. There will be that money for the one year. In the next fiscal budget, projects within the communities will go through the budgetary process, the same as any other line item. If they want to put up a recreation facility in Beaver Creek, or an unincorporated community, it will be dealt with in that manner.
Mrs. Firth: Canadians and Yukoners are looking for governments to reduce the cost of operating so that their taxes will not continue to go up. Yukoners who supported the discontinuance of this program did so for two reasons: to save themselves some money and because they opposed the concept of grants.
The Government Leader is saying there will still be money available for projects, only you get it by lobbying Cabinet.
At the end of the day, will the Ministers budget be less by $3.5 million because this program is going to be discontinued, or will there still be some little cash reserve in some department or departments for this kind of project?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Surely the Member opposite is not saying to this House that the unincorporated communities in the Yukon do not deserve any recreational or park facilities - or anything else. Yet, through their municipal grants, the incorporated communities get funding for these things. We have to somehow address the issue so we can deal with the unincorporated communities in a fair and equitable manner, and this Legislature will have a chance to examine those as line items in the budget.
Mrs. Firth: Perhaps I can approach the question in this way, because we all know that there are millions of dollars available in municipal services for all of the communities.
Could the Minister tell us exactly what his governments policy is regarding government grants and handouts? What is this governments philosophical direction, policy, position, or anything else regarding that particular issue?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is a very simple question to answer. The Member does not often ask me questions that are simple to answer.
We certainly do not believe in grants and handouts, but, by the same token, we have to have some ability to address the needs and concerns of the unincorporated communities in this territory. That is only fair and equitable as it is to the rest of Yukoners.
Question re: Faro, sale of mine
Mr. Harding: That is why they hired that consultant.
Last night the Economic Development Minister said that the government was pursuing a Faro mine sale, very aggressively, to use his words.
On Friday, the courts gave buyers until the 17th to make their intentions known regarding purchase of the mine. During this next, very crucial month, what steps is the Yukon government planning to take in aiding Northern Affairs and the receiver to sell the mine?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We have legal people who have been hired who basically monitor the mine situation very closely, and the Department of Economic Development makes various suggestions to them to ensure that the interests of Yukoners, which is the speedy sale of the mine, are considered in all aspects of the court litigation proceedings. If the Member wishes me to be more specific, I would have to table that in the form of a legislative return.
Mr. Harding: Very aggressively must mean having legal people hired to monitor the situation, to use the Ministers words. I cannot believe this.
Major creditors of Curragh have stated that they feel that the mine must be sold as a going concern and not in a piecemeal manner.
However, the other night as I headed home for Remembrance Day, the entire road was blocked off as equipment was being moved off the Faro mine site. Why is the government not putting a higher priority on the mines sale for the economys sake, rather than having lawyers monitor things?
Hon. Mr. Devries: In the first place, the Member has to realize that even if the mine were sold tomorrow, it would not start up until metal prices were at a point where they could break even or perhaps make a small profit.
Secondly, that equipment is leased and we have no control over the owners authority to remove that equipment. That is a decision made by the courts in Toronto and we are doing everything that we possibly can to ensure that the Faro facility and the Sa Dena Hes facility are sold as is, and not sold piecemeal.
I am well aware that the mine may not start up until metal prices rise. The point is if the Yukon government does not do anything, and the thing is sold off piecemeal, it will never start up, period.
Therefore, in the form of a legislative return - if that is what the Minister needs to get me an answer - can the government outline the specifics steps they are going to undertake? The Minister of Tourism is asking what they can do, and he seems to be a big proponent of marketing, so perhaps he could tell me a little bit about what he thinks he should tell the Minister of Economic Development to do, to try and market this mine.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will bring a legislative return that indicates what we are doing. As far as it being piecemeal, that was leased equipment. It was not part of the Curragh project.
Question re: Mayo Road maintenance
Mr. Joe: It is about time. I have been waiting here for the last two days. Could the Minister of Community and Transportation Services tell me why the Mayo Road between Whitehorse and Carmacks has not been ploughed in the last two days? This is the Ministers own riding. The road crew in Carmacks is doing a great job. I would like to know why it is not the same all the way down the road?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have to disagree with the Member opposite. The road has been ploughed. There was a heavy snowfall on Saturday night, and the crews were out on Sunday. Perhaps the Member opposite had driven the highway just before the crews came out. The road is ploughed now.
Mr. Joe: The Minister disagrees with me. This is not the first time that the roads have not been ploughed. As I said, the crew in Carmacks is doing a great job. I was coming in on Sunday. I must be seeing things. Every time a car passed me, they were pushing snow. That should not be happening at all. This morning, there was another complaint, yet the Minister said the road had already been ploughed. They are still complaining, and I do not know why. I think the Minister had better look into it.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I live a few miles down the Mayo Road. I know that section was ploughed, but perhaps just to my house.
For the benefit of the Member opposite, I will check to see if they had not ploughed beyond the Hot Springs Road cutoff. However, I really think that it probably happened that the Member came through just before the ploughs went out.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now lapsed.
Notice of Private Members Business
Mr. Cable: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the item to be called standing in the name of the Liberal Party on Wednesday, November 17, 1993. It is Motion No. 48.
Mr. McDonald: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to identify the order in which the items standing in the name of the Official Opposition are to be called on Wednesday, November 17, 1993. They are Motion No. 50, standing in the name of the Leader of the Official Opposition, and Motion No. 40, standing in the name of the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 12: Second Reading - adjourned debate
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 12, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Ostashek. Adjourned debate, Mr. Penikett.
Mr. Penikett: Listening to yesterdays debate reminded me of something, but I could not think quite what it was until the honourable Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes intervened with his straw man observations. I then realized that listening to the Members opposite defend their capital budget reminded me of nothing so much as the wonderful movie, The Wizard of Oz. It occurred to me that, if you were casting an amateur production of this movie, you could do a lot worse than to conscript the entire Yukon Party Cabinet.
I do admit that I would be a bit torn as to who should actually play the wizard. Should it be the gentleman who the Faro miners affectionately refer to as Johnny Zero? After all, it does not take much imagination to go from zero to Oz, the Great and Powerful Oz. Or should we cast the wizards near-namesake, the gentleman from Carcross, who seems to have inordinate influence over the governments agenda, not only in respect to this capital budget, but in all other matters.
Remember, there is a role for everybody. We have to find someone to play Toto, someone to play the scarecrow, someone to play the Tin Man and the Lion. Remember that Scarecrow wants a brain but, in the end, he only gets a diploma. I point out to the Minister of Education that he does not even have to pass a test to get it.
Also, in this time of rumours of cuts to special education, threatened cuts to the native teacher education program, postponement of various school projects, a cap on home care hours, the delayed opening of the extended care facility, and so forth, you inevitably have to think of the tin man. People will remember that the tin man desires nothing more than a heart. However, in the end, the great and all powerful wizard gives the tin man a testimonial, instead, much like the one the consultant gave the Minister at the recent tourism summit.
Then there is the Lion, the Lion who wants to be King of the Forest; the Lion who confuses wisdom with courage, but gets a medal anyway. And the medal, if one remembers the movie, is the triple cross - not the double cross, the triple cross.
I confess that after watching their auditions in the hours of yesterdays sitting, I could go either way on the role of Dorothy. It could be the Yukon Party leader or the former leader. The Government Leader tells us that he never takes any work home but just imagine him in the shower in the morning singing, Were off to see the wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz. Of course, the backbenchers could play the Munchkins and, given their appetite for infantile demonology, the front bench opposite would almost certainly insist that the Opposition Leader play the role of the Wicked Witch of Whitehorse West.
The point of this is that I really like that movie, and the part I really like best is the happy ending. At the end of the road, the Yellow Brick Road, which, of course, is not paved in gold or even copper, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion and Toto gain an audience with the wizard, and the wizard makes a lot of noise - terrifying, fire-breathing sounds - and really rattles them until the hapless crew get a chance to peek behind the curtain. What do they discover? Not a great and powerful wizard but an addled old man with a microphone and a problem pronouncing big words.
I do not know about anyone else, but that scene sure reminded me of the Yukon Partys election promises and their famous four-year plan. Maybe what they should have entitled this capital budget speech is Follow the Yellow Brick Road, because this capital budget is not really about jobs or economic development. It is about roads and about politics - tired, old-fashioned Tory politics.
I saw someone on the street yesterday who said to me, in respect to this roads theme, which runs right through this capital budget address, that this government never saw a road that it did not like, unless it was in an Opposition Members constituency.
The theme of this budget and the theme of this economic statement - because that is what it was that the Government Leader gave - was roads, roads, roads. As a number of Members have pointed out road construction will create many summer jobs for a lot of Yukon men, if local contractors bid low, but of course, as free trade comes upon us - and the Members opposite are great believers in free trade - then local hire will be more difficult to achieve, because you cannot have free trade and local hire; these are two mutually incompatible concepts.
I want to say for the record that roads are good, but as Yogi Berra might have said, roads are a two-way street. Roads make it easier for people in rural Yukon to shop in Whitehorse, which is good for Hougens and Kelly Douglas, but it is not so good for the general store in Ross River, or Arctic Drugs in Dawson City. It is easier for Alaska bound tourists to pass right through without even staying for a night, perhaps not even stopping for more than a meal or two. That can have a negative impact on our tourism industry rather than a positive impact.
It has been said before, but it is worth pointing out again as we talk about this budget in which roads play such a large part, that the territorial government spends more per capita on roads than any other jurisdiction in the country, and that has been true for quite a few years now. It was true under the previous NDP government and it was also true of the Conservative government that existed before the present government.
With so many employment needs within our community, the need for jobs for men and women in this town and in the small communities - people who work in the construction industry, but also in other industries - it is a reasonable question to ask: are we spending too much money on roads in this budget? That question is even more appropriate when you think that we are spending something like $100,000 per job.
You have to ask if that is too high when you look at the decision, as I mentioned today, to cut back janitorial services, people who earn a tiny fraction of that amount - four jobs gone, four fewer people working. To replace those jobs, even for the summer, in this budget, we have to spend $400,000.
One of the good things - and I know the Minister of Community and Transportation Services will know this - about road construction is that, in theory at least, it decreases the governments operating costs. This is not immediate, but when the new road is in place, the maintenance costs are supposed to go down. Unfortunately, it is true here, as it is true in other jurisdictions, that those savings are not always returned to the whole government. If they are captured by the highways department, the government, as a whole, does not benefit. The cost pressures on areas like education, health and social services continue to climb.
Instead of dispersing such savings to areas of real need, I fear that it appears this government is moving in the opposite direction. I fear, worse, that it appears that the road building program is being financed by the economically weak in our community: the single parents, the unemployed workers in places like Faro, special needs kids, the home care clients who cannot get enough hours and people like the janitors who are being squeezed out of their jobs since this government came into this business. They are people who work hard, want to do their job and are loyal public servants, but they are frustrated and unhappy because the government will not let them. It is forcing them out and our building gets dirty so that, in a real economic sense, it could potentially lose value. These are the kinds of people who potentially suffer from the operating cost cuts that the Government Leader has bragged about in his speeches.
In my view, there is a danger, if that pattern continues, that this not only becomes a heartless policy, but it also is ultimately a mindless one.
I say with respect to the Government Leader - and with all sincerity - that I do not think he has learned the difference between investment and expenditure when it comes to government budgets. If one fails to make a timely investment in the education of a child with special needs, society may face crushing social, policing, court and correctional costs a decade or two later. Cutting such services, as the Tories have always advocated in this House and elsewhere, constitutes, in my mind, a penny-wise, pound-foolish decision.
Delaying investments in health promotion will only cripple health services a generation from now. Those health services are already under great financial pressure. If we do not make the appropriate investments in health promotion and disease prevention now, we will exacerbate those problems, not for the people who will be governing in our political lives, but for the people who succeed us.
Postponing school projects, while our competitors in the world are improving theirs, is self-destructive, in that it undermines our competitiveness and sends a signal to the world that, as a government and legislature, we do not respect learning.
After a few years of this kind of policy, we will have the kind of deficit that really ought to worry us: an educational deficit, a health deficit, an equality deficit.
Once again, in this debate, just yesterday, we heard the same old bogus claims about the territory being in tough financial shape. This years territorial budget is the biggest ever. It is the fattest budget in history. The capital budget proposed for next year is huge - $126 million. Yet, this jurisdiction may be the only one in the country that does not have to borrow to finance its public works to carry out its capital program.
I fear that, on this score, the Minister of Finance has been seduced by his bookkeepers. From the point of view of the ordinary citizen, government accounting is totally bizarre. Let me use one example.
If government builds a $10 million school, it does not show up on the balance sheets as an asset. On the balance sheet, its value is zero, - zip, nothing, de nada - which is ridiculous. If the government borrowed money to build the school, the debt would be listed as a liability. If, in future, we had some loony, right-wing government elected, and they decided to privatize schools, the school that had been worth nothing, according to the bean counters, might suddenly produce millions of dollars, and those millions would appear in the revenue column of the ledgers, assuming it was not a gift of some valuable public property to friends of the administration, like the recent Toronto airport deal.
Over the years, in this territory, Conservative and New Democratic governments have built schools, college campuses, recreational and health facilities, and plenty of roads. They built and rebuilt roads all over the place. The cost of doing this work has been millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions even, and they are, by any commonsense appreciation, worth millions of dollars still. In fact, if we have to replace them, as we do from time to time, we know what the cost will be. The notion created by some Conservatives, including the leader opposite, that somehow over the last years all these public assets have been squandered and we have nothing to show for our public expenditures, is not only wrong-headed but is downright deceitful - as if we were all idiots and he were the only elementary school graduate in the room.
The Government Leader warns us about debt, and it is appropriate to worry about debt when one looks at the national situation, or even the situation in most of the provinces. But the Government Leader seems to forget that if it were not for debt there would not be a home-building industry in this country. For that matter, there probably would not be a banking industry, but that is another question.
Without mortgages, only the rich would enjoy the standard of housing most of us take for granted. Having a mortgage is not a crime. It is not even a sign of mild insanity. It is a commonsense conventional way to provide housing for our families - for people who are not rich, but who work for a living and pay taxes. Of course, people should not, if they are smart, pay for their groceries with their Visa card, but that is not the situation the territorial government is in, and to pretend it is is profoundly dishonest or is a case of right-wing ideology triumphing over common sense.
Remember, like the rich man, we did not have to borrow a penny to pay for this capital budget. The Yukon is not broke; it is not even close, but it is the case that a lot of our citizens are in financial trouble - at least in part because of this governments policies: the gloom-and-doom pronouncements of last fall and the tax increases that followed.
Before I pursue that theme, I want to make this point and I want to join my colleague from McIntyre-Takhini and the other MLAs who have spoken on this side, in agreeing that there are some good things in this budget. We all said it would have to be a pretty awful capital budget for there not to be.
I support some of the road projects in this budget, although, if the Government Leader would permit me a light observation, it is now obvious what the Leader of the Yukon Party meant when he misrepresented Robert Service in his spring budget speech when he talked of the roads less travelled by. He must have been referring to projects in Conservative constituencies, not busy access roads like the South Access Road, which of course is used by thousands of people every week and is in urgent need of repair, but did not get any money in this budget.
I go on record as saying I support the expenditures for the Whitehorse sewer and water project; it is extremely important. I support the money for the Golden Horn School and for other school initiatives, even though it is obvious that education has had to take a back seat in this budget.
I feel less charitable toward $5 million being spent on cars, computers and furniture, which may create more jobs in Japan than it does here. I want to say to the Minister of Government Services that, in spending this money on furniture, I hope that every penny that can be spent with local furniture manufacturers will be spent; that it does not leak outside to make jobs for people out there. I hope that we will be spending it here. There is no reason to be spending this kind of money unless we are putting Yukoners to work.
There is a claim in this budget that it will create 700 jobs. I sincerely wish the government had chosen another number, because we have heard this one before - just in the last sitting. In fact, as my colleague, our House Leader, said, we waited a long time for proof of the 700 jobs, and when we finally got the detailed information from the Minister, the numbers did not add up. The jobs were not all there. So, I hope he will not be surprised if we insist upon receiving that detail in an earlier stage of the debate from the government opposite because I think it is a debatable point.
Last year, the government opposite hiked taxes to the tune of $7 million. Just recently they found $7 million in savings - magically. They claim that this $7 million will create 3,700 person weeks of work. If you divide 3,700 person weeks by 50, assuming 50 working weeks in the year, you get 74 jobs. I do not know why they did not say that. Later, they claimed another department would create 650 person weeks of employment, which, by my arithmetic, is something like 13 jobs. That sounds fine, until you remember that there are literally hundreds of people out of work in the Yukon Territory right now.
On that point, I want to say that it is astonishing, for all the rhetoric about jobs in Economic Development, that Economic Development expenditures seem to have been cut. The one program that provided a rapid response to community needs - the community development fund - is soon to be chopped. Given our friend - the Health Ministers - bluster on the hospital project, it is interesting that it is already millions over budget, and he has not even started to build it yet.
The real deficit on this project will be the Yukon jobs. You might even say that the Minister is steeling himself to steal Yukon jobs. It could have been built with locally available materials. It could have been built by local trades people. However, the government chose to go to a steel structure, and that will inevitably give jobs to iron workers from Vancouver that could have gone to people here.
This debate does not provide enough time to ask all the questions one would want of the Minister in charge of land and housing. We have a lot of questions on this point. As we said last year, when the government budgeted $20 million for land development, in the middle of the recession, there was a real danger that the taxpayer could get stuck with the carrying costs of such a large inventory, just as it did in the last recession, at the beginning of the 1980s.
Following that recession, the government had to write off a lot of the carrying costs. My constituents, of course, are interested in knowing about the governments plans for country-residential subdivisions, for example, because that is still one of the most popular options around.
As always, in budget speeches - and this is certainly true of the speeches of the government of which I was part, and it continues to be true of the government opposite - the speeches contain promises that the settlement of land claims will bring great benefits.
Of course, nowhere in the governments economic statement is there any explanation of why, after a year in power, the Yukon Party has not yet successfully negotiated a single band final agreement. Worse, we hear disturbing rumours that there are people about in territorial government circles who dream of clawing back some of the gains made by First Nations in the umbrella final agreement, and that First Nations waiting to come to the table have begun to worry aloud about where this government is really going.
That is not an unkind question, since we have yet to get a real throne speech from this government, from this allegedly new, but now one year old, no-name brand Conservative administration. This is not a trivial point because, as I tried to point out yesterday in Question Period, it is the custom in parliament, going back to the earliest days when the King would come before a legislature and say, I want to raise an army to go off and kill some foreigners, and I want the parliament to do some other things, and that was what the throne speech was. The King and his representatives then had to sit and listen to the commoners, the representatives of the people, complain about the needs of their constituents before the Kings government was allowed to get on with the business of taxing the people or passing laws.
We have yet to have a real throne speech debate here, but more importantly we have yet to receive a real statement of the governments intentions. Especially since the government seems to be changing its position so often on so many things, this is a real concern.
The budget address finished with a Diefenbaker flourish about vast mineral potential. Whenever I hear that phrase - I have been hearing it all my life - I wish the politicians who make those statements, especially the Tory politicians who make them, would take the time to read the pre-eminent living Conservative historian in this country, Michael Bliss. He has warned Conservatives and everyone else who reads him that from the time the first settlers landed in this country, people have been using that kind of rhetoric to the serious disadvantage of a realistic assessment of their regions real potential.
It is what the Member for Faro called the Mother Lode mentality.
Anyone who has lived here for any length of time knows that every mineral has its day, and in the right place, time and price, Yukoners shall mine gold, silver, lead, zinc, copper and coal. I do not think anyone believes that it will all happen at once.
When we learn of problems like the $100 million-plus environmental liability at Faro, we are all reminded that we have to carefully assess the costs and the benefits of every future development for, as anyone who has lived in this country knows, too often the benefits have been to the few and the costs to the many. For that reason, even though they were promised in the last election in the famous four-year plan, I am glad that there is no money in this budget for a gas pipeline from Watson Lake or a railway to Carmacks. I want to say that to the Members opposite. I am extremely glad to see that those are not in the budget - or any other Yukon Party pipe dreams.
More remarkable is the absence of any published expenditures for the mining ventures the Yukon Party has been busy promoting, such as Casino. Since we are told that these developments are just around the corner - to quote one of the Members opposite from yesterday - people are bound to wonder why the government has not put its money where its mouth is.
I remember the wise, old gentleman who happens to be the Minister of Renewable Resources these days - the man who would be King of the Forest - who told us that mines come and mine go. The economy is like a yo-yo. The trouble is, a lot of people are wondering if the Members opposite understand that to get a yo-yo to work, you have to pull the string; you cannot push the string.
Many Yukoners are struggling to survive. Many are at risk of losing their homes, many have lost their jobs, many businesses are in trouble - I will not list some of the ones that have gone out of business recently.
Many people are concerned about where the territorial government is going. Many people fear that the government does not believe in the public interest, broadly defined. They fear that the government believes only in private interests, those that they support and special interests they do not. They fear that we are going back to the dark old days of rewarding friends and punishing enemies, known as the Neanderthal approach to politics.
We see in the capital budget how much money has gone to the community of Faro, which still has 600 people in it, and compare it to how much money has gone to other communities. We look at the way Faro has been crying for help and were told, one year ago, that there was a contingency plan to help them - but they had nothing by July. I remember writing to the government asking them what they had done for Faro. They claimed they had done a lot. I received a reply, which I showed to some people in Faro. It was a short list of largely ineffectual actions. The people I showed it to in Faro almost wept with bitterness.
Questions about mines, both present and future, lead logically to questions of power. Developers will tell anyone who listens that Yukon power rates are exorbitantly high. The government has, before and since its election, insisted that it will provide cheap power. What they have not done is told us how. We suspect, from what we have seen so far, that we are talking about public subsidies. What we have not been told is who will pay for this cheap power - who will provide the subsidies. In this time of free trade, as I am sure that will be on us finally and completely with Mexico as well as the United States within a few days, the question of subsidies and this kind of subsidy will be a hot issue.
Some of the answer may be indicated in the Cabinets recent decision on power rates. The governments policy seems to be that we taxpayers, the law-abiding working stiffs that may never own any mining or any Yukon Electrical Company shares, are going to get stiffed for the cost of subsidizing outside interests once again. We are going to be subsidizing the profits of a private company from outside the territory with taxpayers money at a time when people here are hurting. That company, which, in my view, has not earned the money and does not need it, will be getting our money.
In the budget speech, the Government Leader said something about how he would not tolerate the misuse of ratepayers money, but he seems quite happy to see the same people send millions of dollars of our money south by guaranteeing and subsidizing the profits of an Alberta multi-millionaire, who does not need our money, and doing that at a time when Yukoners are struggling to make ends meet. That sounds pretty tolerant to me.
Of course, the multi-millionaire is a nice man. He gave me some jam once. However, he does not need our money. He certainly does not need it more than our people here. I believe that the power companies - both the one we own and the ones that are owned in Alberta - should be sharing the pain in this recession, not gaining from it.
I want to say that we saw, in the recent federal election, a lot of anger about people - the wealthy and the powerful - benefitting from the situation while ordinary people suffered - where the injured worker or the single mother or the housebound senior pays through the nose while privileged people protect their own positions.
I worry that sometimes the Members opposite are trapped by their own free enterprise, anti-government rhetoric. They do not see or do not understand one very obvious thing: namely, that we live in a mixed economy - that government and business and labour and our communities are interdependent. Since the gold rush, and even before, government has been a big player in the economy here. This is not a question of ideology; it is a question of reality. In the Yukon, government cuts can hurt, not help, business. When government employees are threatened with a strike, hundreds of consumers stop spending and Main Street merchants suffer. When a Government Leader preaches gloom and doom, as one did last fall, business confidence can get shaken; and when, in the middle of a recession, a Government Leader tells people not to worry, they will inevitably laugh at him. Government is a balancing act. A good government attends to the concerns of all its citizens, not just its friends. A good government protects the public interest, not just selected private interests. A democratic government worthy of its name strives to reflect the publics priorities in its budgets and programs. And a good government is fair to all and listens to everyone - which leads me to the question: is this budget balanced and fair? Has the government got its priorities right? Has it listened?
Consider this: according to my friend, the Member for Faro who is good at math, something like 80 percent of the expenditures in this capital budget for rural Yukon will be spent in Conservative constituencies. In the United States, they would call that pork barrelling. When it comes to the question of listening, we have had an economy in a crisis now for a year. Why did the government wait a whole year to appoint a new Council on the Economy, to have a review, a summit, on the economic situation, and then why did they stack it with Tories? Our dear friend, the Minister of Justice, today was busy pointing out that there had been some New Democrats on the Yukon Development Corporation board - that is amazing.
Of course he never mentions the fact that there were Tories and Liberals, too. I sure would like to know who some of the New Democrats are on some of the boards, because during our time in office I remember 10 boards that were chaired by people who were political opponents.
This government has not appointed a single board that has not been headed by an absolutely loyal supporter. They only represent a third of the population, but they want to have all of their friends on the boards.
My party, which also represents a third of the population, has no representation. According to them, they are not entitled.
Even people in the Chamber of Commerce - I am going to say this to the Government Leader politely - complain about this government not listening. They say that the Government Leader hears only what he wants to hear, and I guess that is what the Minister of Economic Development meant when he told us that the Government Leader was a stubborn old bugger.
It explains his approach to boards and committees. As I have said, the boards appointed by the government are all chaired by Tories, and worse, even when the law required a balance of interests, this government has manipulated the processes so that political friends dominate every board that they have appointed.
In Canada, we call this patronage. In the recent federal election, Canadians banished to oblivion, practically, the national Conservative caucus for exactly this pigs-at-the-trough approach.
Now, I hasten to add that the New Democratic Party did not do that well during the election either, but we did do better than the Conservatives.
There are things that can be done. We would like to play a constructive role in this debate, but we have not been encouraged to. We have not been consulted about anything of substance on the economy.
We need a real-jobs budget; we need a government that does not go home at five oclock; we need a government that works overtime sharing and caring about some of the pain of other people. We need not only jobs for Japan and summer jobs, we need year-round jobs and jobs for men and women. Every dollar that YTG spends should be squeezed for its employment potential. That is not happening. We are not looking at job sharing, we are not looking at value-added and import substitution, and we are not trying to plug the leaks in the energy, food or building materials account. We are not hiring locally; we are not using local materials; we are not maximizing the use of local energy or conservation.
There are a number of things that can be done. Instead of the Development Corporation winding up its affairs as it seems to be doing, it could be helping people replace the electrical heaters in their homes. Energy conservation and job creation are something that makes sense. It has been done by utilities elsewhere. People pay it back in their power bills and save money.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: I will conclude, because the Government Leader is trying to cut into my time.
We should be recognizing the purchasing power of civil servants, not punishing them. We should be encouraging them to spend their money here by treating them with respect. We should reach out and be working together, instead of using the tired old blame-the-previous-government attitude, which is all we have had from the Members opposite, instead of a policy, instead of a program, instead of any rational approach to the economic crisis that persists.
Speaker: If the Member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: After the tirade I heard from the benches opposite yesterday, and from the Leader of the Official Opposition this afternoon, I think it is about time to close debate on this subject.
It is ironic that the Leader of the Official Opposition - the man who spent all the profits of the Yukon Energy Corporation in the seven years he was in power with all his dilly-dallying in the private sector and with his economic diversification programs, such as the Watson Lake sawmill, and investments in Taga Ku and Totem Oil - is the man responsible for the energy increases in the Yukon, and Yukoners know that.
In closing debate on the budget, I have listened to the Members opposite, and I can say that I felt at times a sort of mellowing on the other side of the House, and even some indications of cooperation by some of the Members. Then, this afternoon, the Leader of the Official Opposition spoke, and I congratulate him on his speech. At least he has finally come out of the closet and said that the NDP do not give a damn about a balanced budget. We can just spend all the money we want, just like he did during his administration, just like the Bob Rae government in Ontario, and the Harcourt government in British Columbia. It does not matter if you balance your budget - just spend it. Well, they did, and that is why we are in the situation we are in today.
They had the opportunity to do things right, but they did not do them. Our first capital budget of last spring, and this capital budget for the next fiscal year, are budgets to set the groundwork for working toward a more self-sufficient economy in the Yukon. I agree that government spending does play a major role in the economic health of the Yukon. It can flatten out the highs and the lows, if it is used properly.
I want to go back to some of the comments made yesterday by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini. The biggest concern I have with the comments are the misleading and misuse of figures and statements. They speak of me putting out doom-and-gloom messages. I put out a message last year that was not doom and gloom about the economy of the Yukon. I put out a message to tell the people of the Yukon what the previous administration had done with their money. It was a message I had to put out to be able to take the corrective measures that were necessary to put this territory back on track. We did not speak about the economy of the Yukon. We did not speak in devastating, doom-and-gloom terms. It has been the Official Opposition that has been speaking about these things.
Not satisfied that we have a downturn in the economy - and we all realize that - the Member for McIntyre-Takhini has to make statements because claimants for unemployment insurance are people who are drawing unemployment insurance, when he knows it is a false statement.
He uses terms like fraudulent, dishonest. I believe the Member for McIntyre-Takhini is an honourable and principled man, but I take exception to statements such as that for political gain.
He also asked what we had done in one year to diversify the economy. I would like to ask the Members opposite what they did in seven and one-half years to diversify the economy in the Yukon. Every economic endeavour they undertook fell flat on its face. There were millions of taxpayers dollars wasted.
Ill-fated ventures such as the Watson Lake sawmill, the MV Anna Maria, and many, many others - none of them are around today. We saw the glowing ads every time they undertook some economic development participation and the jobs they were creating - where are those jobs today? They certainly are not in the Yukon.
The Member for Riverside, I thought, asked some valid questions in his statements on the budget debate. He needs more information. He wanted to know about the jobs in the budget, and those are valid statements, valid questions, and we will do our best to answer them in the upcoming debates.
The Member for Riverdale South started out on a very positive note. She supported the budget, she supported the direction the budget was taking, but then she just could not help herself. She fell back into her old ways and made personal attacks on Members opposite. She does not believe statistics that are gathered - statistics that she well believes, if they favour her argument - and she, too, uses figures in a political manner. I can give her an example of her doing that last night. She was talking about the mining facilitator we have had ads in the paper for. She said it is an $85,000 job. She does not say what the ad says - that there is a range from $65,000 to $84,000-something; but she has to dramatize and make the worst case scenario she thinks she can make about this government. That is immoral and not right.
I thought the Member for Whitehorse Centre was the most constructive in her criticism of our budget and I commend her for her speech. She raised some very valid concerns, and concerns that we will address. She raised concerns about the community development fund; she raised concerns about the Whitehorse sewage lands - legitimate concerns that deserve answers in this House, and we are prepared to answer them.
The Member for Faro was his old negative self - negative, negative, negative, negative. Not one positive comment. Oh, sure, they all support the sewage programs; they all support the sewage programs.
I do not mind criticism from the other side of the House, not at all, but I really would like to see some constructive criticism. In all their attacks on the government of the day, not one alternative was uttered for us to consider to look in a different direction. What could they see that would create more jobs than what we put out in our jobs budget? There was no constructive criticism - just negative, negative, negative feedback.
There were comments made by the Leader of the Official Opposition this afternoon, and also last night by, I believe, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, that said our jobs estimate in our last capital budget was false - was totally false and did not add up. A survey done on August 1 of this year showed 608 people working on capital projects directly, and the new Shakwak project jobs started on September 1.
We calculated those jobs. This does not include the spinoff jobs, which, as I understand it, works out to be about one-half of a job for every job that is created by the capital budget.
Surely the Members opposite do not think that anyone would believe that kind of rhetoric from that side of the House: that a $126 million budget does not create 700 jobs. This budget will create 700 jobs, and perhaps more.
I would like to go back over some of the comments that were made last evening and just talk about a few of the things that were said. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini said that the economy is down. Of course it is down. Our two major mines are down. No amount of government help would have them running today. There is a downturn in metal prices. We could have stripped the Grum deposit and put a few people to work for a few months, but that would not have solved the problem. We would still be in the same position we are today, and a darn sight poorer.
In the last year of their mandate, the NDP government spent $64 million more than they took in.
It is not government spending, as the Member opposite accused me of saying, that creates a false economy, but it is government over spending that does it, and that is what they were doing. There were two deficit years in a row. There was $19 million in the previous year and $64 million last year, and we are left with a $13 million accumulated deficit. That is the problem.
Then they ask where the government was able to find $7 million in savings to create employment? If they could find it why did they raise taxes? Is the Member for McIntyre-Takhini saying that government should not try to save money? I know they did not - total chaos. There was absolutely no control over government spending.
Some of the money for the job-creation tax force recommendations that we just announced and are implementing, which will create 3,700 person weeks of work this winter, work that will be needed this winter, was financed by savings in government. We are going to continue to streamline government to try to find savings. The bulk of it came from the reallocation of funds, less labour intensive areas that the government is going spend money on.
Is the Member for McIntyre-Takhini suggesting that we should not entertain those type of thoughts, that we should just spend money on items that are not labour intensive, stuff that could be delayed so that we could put people to work now? The remainder came from turning a small surplus in the mains into a relatively small deficit.
Let us now speak about the hospital - the hospital that they signed off to be built out of steel. It was probably the only good decision that they made in the seven and a half years that they were in power. They condemn us now for following through on their decision.
Let us take a look at the Arts Centre. What is it built out of? Is it built out of bricks and mortar? No, steel. Let us look at the infamous visitor information centre for which they hauled laminated beams from British Columbia. That is job creation. What about the copper roof; from where? It certainly was not from Williams Creek - unbelievable.
The facts remain that it was a sensible decision to build the hospital out of steel. It gives you more floor space in the hospital. It gives you a better building and as the Minister of Health said, it is easier to add to, easier to change the floor plan for, and it saved $1 million.
We could have gone the route that the Members opposite are suggesting, but, incidentally, there has not been one built in Canada for 15 years. They talk about us being archaic - the Members opposite are archaic.
That million dollars would have had to come from somewhere. We would have had to take it away from another capital project that was creating jobs. So what is the difference? Why not have two projects going instead of one?
I believe that it was the Member for Whitehorse Centre that said this was the largest capital budget ever. That simply is not true. The operation and maintenance estimates for the capital budget last year were higher than this one. The actual estimates are not, but it was $128 million.
The Member opposite is asking if we are broke; where did the money come from to have such a large capital budget? Again, that is a good question and maybe I will provide some good answers.
The Members opposite know full well where the money came from. Out of this $126 million capital budget, we have $51 million for discretionary spending. That is all that we have control over.
The Members opposite are fully aware that about $20 million of that budget comes directly from the United States government and that money has to be spent on the Shakwak project, and I am happy that it is going to be spent there. It will make a good highway.
The Members opposite, not that long ago, negotiated the Alaska Highway transfer.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Very sensible and we praised the Members opposite in the House for that transfer.
Now, along with that transfer that the Members opposite negotiated, they also negotiated extraordinary funding for the upgrading of the Alaska Highway. Now, they are telling us that we should not be spending that money on the Alaska Highway, we should be spending it somewhere else.
Because of the previous governments irresponsible handling of the public purse, we have had to take away from that project two capital budgets in a row now.
We took about $10 million last year, and about the same amount this year that had to be used somewhere else.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: They do not want us to build roads. They should tell us what roads they do not want us to build.
We also negotiated the $10 million infrastructure agreement with the federal government. We have to match that 50/50. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini mentioned that it is over four or five years - thank God it is or we would not be able to take advantage of it because we would not have the money to match it.
The fact remains that, as the Minister of Community and Transportation Services said last night, spending money on highways creates more jobs than putting up buildings. It creates more employment.
The Member for Faro, who is always kibitzing in the background there, made a totally irresponsible statement in this House last night. He said that the Yukon Party has spent over $800 million - $800 million. If we added it up on a pro-rated basis month by month, we were responsible in the 1992-93 budget for about $166 million dollars, and so far, in the 1993-94 budget we spent $302 million for a total of about $468 million. Those are the kind of exaggerations that come from the other side of the House.
The Member for Faro made some other comments. He was critical about the fact that there is nothing for his community in the capital budget. He was comparing Faro to Keno City, but he conveniently forgets that Faro, notwithstanding the fact that the population had dropped dramatically, is still eligible for $1.3 million, almost $1.4 million, in block municipal funding - municipal funding comparable to funding for Dawson City and Watson Lake. They are still eligible for the comprehensive municipal grant of $1.2 million and a grant-in-lieu of another $124,294.
The Leader of the Official Opposition said that we pork-barrelled our own ridings. That is not what it says in the capital budget. It seems like it has been distributed very evenly through the territory, with a big portion in Whitehorse, where this party only has two seats. Thirty-six percent of the capital budget is being spent in the City of Whitehorse. It is unbelievable.
I have a few more comments to make. The Member for Riverdale South made some comments last night. I guess I will have to sit down and talk with her, because I do not understand exactly what she meant when she talked about how capital lapses were being used to compensate for overspending on O&M. I do not understand that. It generally does not happen that way. Generally, both O&M and capital have lapses. There are revotes every year. It is very seldom that it is taken to pay off overexpenditures in O&M. Nevertheless, they are all identified in the supplementaries. The Member opposite has the ability to criticize them and make comments when they are entered in the House. I will sit down and discuss that with her.
The Member also made quite a few comments with respect to the figures that the Minister of Health and Social Services was using when he was talking about how the doom and gloom being preached by the side opposite on retail sales and the number of people unemployed did not add up. She said she did not believe the figures and that she had done her own surveys. She said she talked to lots of people who were having problems, sales were down, people were leaving the territory, and so on. I do not know who she was talking to. It was certainly not the people with whom we were talking.
She went into hiding in June and did not surface again until October. Maybe she has a telephone on her tractor.
Two mines shut down in the territory, and yet our labour force is larger than it has ever been. There are 15,100 people in our labour force. That means that people are coming to the Yukon looking for work. With two mines shut down, in August of this year we had more people employed than we did in August of 1992 with both mines going.
We know there is a downturn in the economy and we are doing everything we can to create jobs to get us over these tough times, but they are not nearly as tough as the Members of the Opposition are trying to make out.
I want to talk a little bit now about the Leader of the Official Opposition condemning us for not bringing in a throne speech and not following parliamentary tradition. The Leader of the Official Opposition is very, very high on parliamentary tradition. We have seen by his actions in this House how high he is on parliamentary tradition - by how he acts in this House and how he makes personal attacks on the Speaker and on the deputy ministers when they come into this House. We have seen his parliamentary procedures.
We published a throne speech in December of last year.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Four pages - a lot longer than the first one he presented, Mr. Speaker.
We talked about good government and what we were going to do for responsible government for Yukoners. We talked about effective social programs that we are implementing. We talked about a Yukon land claims settlement, which we have carried through on. We talked about greater control over Yukons affairs and the devolution of powers from Ottawa. We talked about investments and infrastructure. We talked about economic diversification and environmental stewardship.
We are still working on those things. We have not changed the direction in which this government is going and we have addressed it in our capital budget speeches.
I do not know who he is to condemn us for not coming in with a throne speech now. I looked at his record and twice in the seven and one-half years he was in power he was 20 months between budget speeches - one of them when he had a minority government - 20 months; another time 18 months.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is what the papers said: the same old stuff, the same old garbage; boring, nothing new.
November 1987: Why did the government bother with a throne speech? There was nothing new there. Our understanding is the throne speech is designated for government to lay out new direction. Promises, promises, promises.
March 25, 1988: Throne speeches are, as a rule, difficult to comment on. So, as usual, there were not too many details in the throne speech, just those promises. A disturbing oddity of this Wednesdays throne speech, however, is that, while the government is willing to provide some very fine details on minor things, they are unwilling to reveal many details about their major promises.
March, 1989: For the second time since January, the government sets out its agenda for the coming years in a Speech from the Throne delivered by the Commissioner. There are no new surprises in the Speech from the Throne, Penikett said, because it does not make sense for government to change course after winning an election.
Those are the comments and content of those throne speeches.
Our budget will create a lot of jobs for the Yukon. It will put plumbers to work. It will put carpenters to work. It will put a lot of people to work.
I want to comment on one program that we are doing a little bit differently than the previous administration. That is the one that the Minister of Community and Transportation Services talked about last night. Basically, that is facilitating the home ownership program for low-income families. I think it is a great program at a very low cost to government. There are 15 units.
Prior to the request going out to the contractors, they had 26 families pre-approved for their mortgages. I think it is great to have small, modest homes. People said that it could not be done in the Yukon, that you could not build houses in the $100,000 range. Well, it is being done. These are modest homes, 870 square feet, but they are homes that Yukoners can get into, get out of subsidized housing, qualify for mortgages and have pride in home ownership. We will be looking to do a lot more of that, and I think it is a remarkable program.
When we get into line-by-line debate, we will be quite happy to answer questions that the Members opposite have about the budget. There was a request last night from the Members opposite stating that they had requested information in the lockup. I believe that information was delivered to their offices today.
It was delivered to their offices today. They are looking for some revenue projections. We will be able to give them those as we go into the House.
I have a couple of other things I would like to address. Some of the criticism from the other side of the House is valid; I am not saying that everything they say is invalid. I would like to talk a bit about the $5 million for computers and office furniture. I can recall, about one year ago when I first took office and had a meeting with the Leader of the Official Opposition. One of the things he told me was that in his seven and one-half years in office, he could never be satisfied that he was getting his moneys worth in computers and software programs. I share his concerns. Even after one year, I do not know if we are getting our moneys worth. I have talked to the departments and they can all justify what they are doing. We have to upgrade the programs, but I am concerned that we may be building a Cadillac computer service when a Chevrolet would do. We will be trying to address that. Nevertheless, it has to be put in the budget because, until I get someone to tell us that there is something better, we have to address the issue.
Some of the computer programs that were bought, and we were criticized for, were bought toward the end of the last fiscal year. The fact remains that the money was in those budgets to buy them. It was all approved by the Members opposite, prior to our taking office. The spending was already there. Some of those programs will save the government money in the long run. That is where we have to find that trade-off. We have to think of what will save us money and what is really just something the people in the departments desire. It is a serious problem and a very expensive one. There never seems to be any end to it.
The Members opposite talked about how we are not building enough schools. We would like to build more. We only had $51 million in the discretionary capital budget. I believe that we allocated it as fairly as we could. They talk about pork barrelling, but I believe that they are the masters of that. If we look at the capital budget, I do not know how they can make that kind of accusation. The one school that is being built is in one of their constituencies. It is not the Grey Mountain School being built or the Dawson City expansion taking place, which would have been politically correct for this side of the House. We built the one that was the most necessary and pressing.
Not the planned school, as it is not in the budget. They say we do not need it. They know the school was full before it was completed. That was the kind of planning they did when they were in power.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: He had his turn. It is my turn now.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Good for you.
We tried to do what we could. They talk about $51 million being an astronomical amount for discretionary spending. In their 1992-93 capital budget, they had almost $60 million in discretionary funding, and they also ran a $64 million deficit.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, and one of them is a monument to the Leader of the Official Opposition. We could have built two schools for the one that was built there. Talk about pork barrelling - there you are.
The Members opposite condemn me for the appointments to the Council on the Economy and the Environment, that we loaded it up with our party people. I defy the Members opposite to name me one person on the Council on the Economy and the Environment who is a Yukon Party member. There is not one who is a Yukon Party member. We have Liberals, NDP and people whose political affiliation I am not aware of. It is certainly not a board that was loaded up with Yukon Party sympathizers.
The Members opposite talked about pork-barrel politics. They talked about the federal government in Ottawa being thrown out because of pork-barrel politics. I think they only have to look back to last October in the Yukon, and it may be one of the reasons why they were turfed from office - talk about pork-barrel politics.
I believe this budget is a well-thought-out, well-crafted document that is going to put people to work throughout the Yukon; it is going to help to set the groundwork in place so that in future years the Yukon can be more self-sufficient. It is a long road to self-sufficiency and cannot be achieved in one budget or two or three budgets, but I believe that we have to continue to work in that direction. Government can facilitate and can help and put the budgets out there to help over the bad times, but when the economy picks up it is the private sector that should be creating the jobs in Yukon.
I look forward to line-by-line debate on the budget and hope we can answer questions to the satisfaction of the Opposition Members, and I ask for their support in this budget.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Speaker: I believe the ayes have it.
Motion on the second reading of Bill No. 12 agreed to
Bill No. 10: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 10, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Ostashek.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that Bill No. 10, Third Appropriation Act, 1992-93, now be read for the second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Finance that Bill No. 10, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 1992-93, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The purpose of this bill, Third Appropriation Act, 1992-93, is to vote additional sums for the year ended March 31, 1993. These monies are required because four votes were overspent at fiscal year-end. Three departments overspent their operation and maintenance vote authority: the Department of Education by $1.755 million, the Department of Finance by almost $5 million, and the Department of Tourism by $30,000. Only one department, the Public Service Commission, spent more than its authorized capital vote, and then only by $3,000.
The overexpenditures amounted to $6,733,000. While other departments were underspent well in excess of this sum, it is necessary that the overexpenditures themselves be approved by this House retroactively.
The Department of Education requirement is due to higher-than-anticipated school base salaries and the underbudgeting of various other school expenditures.
Finance overexpenditures are due entirely to making provisions for the potential uncollectibility of the Faro stripping loan.
The remaining two requests are a result of small expenditures for administrative purposes.
The Ministers will be pleased to answer any questions Members may have about these matters in Committee debate.
Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, do you remember the debate around these estimates that was held only a few months ago? Do you remember the Ministers standing in their places saying that they had exercised good fiscal management; that they had finally gotten a handle on the finances of the territory; that finally someone had gotten a handle on the wheel-of-fortune for each department, that they had worked carefully and prudently to assess every expenditure and determined that, even though they had cut $2 million or $3 million out of the budget estimates by exercising controls and travel expenditures and some hiring freezes, that they absolutely had to have every last penny in this budget in order to balance the budget? They did not want to overspend their budget estimates, but they felt that because the NDP had such wild spending plans that somehow they had to add even more money to the budget estimates.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: This is the supplementary for last year. The Member thinks that we were discussing the wrong supplementaries. I just listened to the Government Leader talk about saving $7 million out of the capital estimates for next year - talk about confusion in the supplementaries. We are talking about the supplementaries for last year. They had asked for $47 million in the supplementaries. They told us that after their careful analysis of that supplementary - and I went through the Hansard today just to be sure that I was reading the figures right and understanding their comments correctly - they said that they had to have every last penny in order to balance the budget. They said that they had looked at it very carefully and that they were not padding this budget in order to make what they called, or what we called, the NDP look bad. They needed this money; they were going to spend this money.
You know that 63 percent of the money they asked for they are turning back today. The wizards of money management have now decided that they do not need all the money that they requested and consequently, they are now prepared to turn that money back. These are the same wizards who announced in December that there was a fiscal crisis, which had the expected effect of causing tremendous consumer crisis in the confidence in this territory, only to have the all-clear signal let out in June, just six months later. There was a fiscal crisis in December, there is an all-clear signal in June and then there is a free float of $7 million in September. That is only nine months worth of record.
The Members opposite do not know what in Heavens name I am talking about. They do not even remember the remarks they made last spring when we passed this supplementary budget. Do the Members opposite remember this supplementary? This is the supplementary that the Members opposite brought into the Legislature. This is the supplementary that they said they needed in order to balance the budget. I remember that supplementary - have the Members opposite forgotten the rhetoric of only a few months ago? They have forgotten about much of the Conservative rhetoric from before the election.
I went through the rhetoric for this budgets estimates before I came in here today, trying to understand precisely what the government was attempting to do in requesting this amount of money in the supplementaries.
We were given the same speeches about fiscal controls, about tight money management, which are the same speeches that we heard just now from the Government Leader.
When the Government Leader expresses some anxiety about our claims that their claim of 700 jobs for a particular budget are fraudulent, the Government Leader has only to go back to his own comments and the comments of his Ministers who made the admission that the 700 jobs were not to be expected. In this fiscal year, the hospital was not going ahead and land development was not going to take place, and there were not going to be 700 jobs and consequently, when we heard them talking about 700 jobs today we thought, Well, good Heavens, what are they saying and why are they saying that? We are only taking information that is provided to us, because we have limited opportunities to conduct research.
We have to take what the government says as accurate. We use that information and try to understand the directions the government is taking.
The government says that they have done everything in their power to keep spending under control and undertake prudent fiscal measures to keep spending down and that every last penny is absolutely required.
We presumably must take that at face value. To come back later and turn back 63 percent of what they asked for, after having claimed that every penny was required, makes one wonder. It justifies some skepticism on our part about the latest claims of prudent fiscal management, of trying to keep the costs down and target money as well as they possibly can. Certainly, there will be some skepticism about those claims.
The Government Leader has just been talking about what the NDP did over the course of the last years and during the year we are debating now. What did the NDP do to promote a healthy economy? First of all, what we have to do is understand the circumstances we currently face, which is economic recession, and the impressive economic growth the NDP was experiencing while it was in government. If one does not accept the fact that there is a difference between the economic circumstances of today and those of even two or three years ago, then that person ought not be a policy maker in this government, particularly when it comes to the economy and government finances.
The Ministers opposite seem to have enveloped themselves in some warm, bureaucratic cocoon that prevents them from seeing the reality on the street. I have many people in my constituency who are out of work. I have probably at least 100 families in my constituency who used to work for Yukon Alaska Transport. They are real, living people. They have been sitting in their kitchens for the last 10 months wondering whether or not they are going to continue to have a kitchen. This is serious business. They expect me to come in here and rag the Ministers to death over what is happening. So far, the Ministers have gotten off very lightly.
In this particular budget, a number of expenditures are being proposed for the year-end expenditures.
Let me get back for a moment to what the NDP have done. A couple of mines started while the NDP was in government. They had a whole lot to do with activist government, getting things to happen, making things happen. Literally tens of millions of dollars were spent on the same kind of infrastructure development that the government is doing now but we did not pretend that this infrastructure development was going to start a mine or was going to guarantee the economic prosperity of the territory well into the future. While we were in government, the whole Klondike Highway, right through to Dawson, was rebuilt. We did not pretend that this expenditure, in and of itself, dedicating millions of dollars toward the project, was somehow going to guarantee economic prosperity well, well into the future and reduce our dependency on the federal government.
The Campbell Highway was being upgraded while we were in government. We dedicated $10 million to mining roads alone, a program the Members opposite cancelled - roads for mines. The Members opposite do not even claim to have that in their forecasted plans for the future. We did not wait for something to happen.
A lot of expenditures were made in tourism, in economic development and in education. We did spend a lot of money supporting the future of our children. We spent a lot of money training adults and youth because we did not believe that that was debt creation; we believed it was wealth creation, because if anybody believes in the prosperity of this territory, they have to believe in the people of this territory. It is not a mine operated by a bunch of computers or industries that are run by robots that are going to carry the prosperity of this territory. It is people, here; it is us. What is the purpose of prosperity if we do not believe in ourselves, if we do not invest in ourselves, in who we are, in our education and in our training?
Six schools were built during that period. What did the government do. The Government Leader says the government did nothing during this period. Six schools were built. A brand-new college facility was built. These were things that related to education and training.
From many of the signals we get from the Members opposite, they do not really have a lot of faith in that kind of expenditure. Certainly, it is not a priority in their expenditures. They spend money in that area but they have never claimed to make it a priority. The most seminal words that the Government Leader said last year, which I will never forget unless he retracts them, were that education spending was debt creation, road building was wealth creation.
For me that summed it up. We did build sewage systems. We built lots of sewage systems. Even with every penny that the government proposes to spend in the next budget, they cannot even come close to matching what the NDP spent. Now they are saying that the NDP had seven years. Maybe the Members opposite, no matter how they want to characterize themselves - no matter what kind of party cloak they want to put around themselves - they were of a same political stripe, members of the same government of that which existed between 1978 and 1985.
So by the time the current cycle of budgets is over, the Conservatives will have been in government for nine years, the NDP will have been in government for seven years, and we will then be able to determine what the records are - even with the NDP having a handicap of two years. We will see what has happened. We will compare.
We have spent a lot of money on much of the kind of infrastructure that the Members opposite say is basically their only economic plan. Not only that, we did other things as well. We operated, in most years that we were in government, with a surplus - a large surplus. We tried to keep it to a minimum because it was obvious that the federal authorities would not be interested in providing transfers to this government if we simply socked it away year after year and never invested it in this territory.
The Government Leader said today that the record of the NDP government was that it is not government spending that creates a false economy but government overspending that creates a false economy.
It is that margin of overspending that is the false economy and the rest of government spending is not false economy, but is real spending. Besides being completely inconsistent with everything the Yukon Party has said for the last seven years - or since 1985 - we have a situation now where only the overspending part is the false economy.
So, if the government of Yukon has a deficit of $5 million, there is only $5 million of false economy. What a self-serving argument. It has no ideological underpinning. There is no intellectual value to that argument. All I can think of is that it is a self-serving argument because they happen to be in government now.
When it comes to analyzing budgets, we will talking a lot more about pork barrelling and we will be considering very carefully their claims that there is no pork barrelling and that there will be no pork barrelling in other budget estimates that we will be debating.
The Government Leader is going to have to listen to the comments of the other Members on his side before he makes those allegations, no matter how enthusiastically he believes in them.
The Member for Watson Lake said yesterday that, when he was a Member in Opposition, he never once felt that there was pork barrelling going on. He never once felt that the Town of Watson Lake was being poorly served because it was represented by a Member of the Opposition. After only two budgets, we have a Member here, with a lot of evidence, who feels that perhaps there is some reason to believe that the government is spending less in a particular constituency. In any case, there will be all kinds of opportunities to discuss those kinds of things.
In this particular budget, this is the beginning of a government talking about having no money for anything. They say they are in a tight fiscal situation. We can set aside all the issues about lapsed funding, poor forecasting and all that sort of thing. I will just talk about the issue of tight money. The Members always fall back on the fact that they feel there is a lot of contingent money - money that must be spent in a particular direction - as if this is a brand-new occurrence in territorial financing and has never happened before. Now, the federal government is telling them they have to spend money in a particular area.
Have they not heard of the engineering services agreement which, while we were in government, determined the kinds of capital expenditures for all the highways in the territory, with the exception of the Alaska Highway? That was contingent funding.
What about airports? Has the government ever heard of those? There have been a lot of expenditures in the past that have been the result of contingent funding. Every time in the past that we have said, as a government, that money was tight and priorities had to be made, we were lambasted by the other side of the House. They accused us of spending so many hundreds of millions of dollars, and how were we not able to free up $1 million or $2 million for a school?
There is a lot of flexibility, if one wants to change priorities. If this government was going to be straight with the public and the rest of the Members in this Legislature, they would say that there is a lot of money in the budget, but that their priorities are different. They would not say that there is no money, and they consequently cannot do it, but they will spend record amounts of money in this or that area.
For the year that we are now discussing, the Members opposite requested $456 million, when only $370 was free and clear in terms of discretionary spending. The Government of the Yukon could spend it and this Legislature could decide how those expenditures should be made.
Of course, much of that money is being spent on wages, student financial assistance and medical care. Of course that is the case; that has always been the case.
Now the government, for the current year, has a spending authority of $481 million. The government in future years is going to have a spending authority of $550 to $600 million and we are still going to be hearing that there is no money and that money is tight. The government is going to continue to say that we cannot give you what you want because money is tight.
Money will always be tight and there will always be priorities. There will always be the tough decision of choosing one project over another, having to disappoint someone, because that is what government is all about.
The Ostashek government did not invent this concept; it has been around for years, and for every year that I have been in this Legislature, including the years when I was first in Opposition, the government was making that same statement during that time. Government is about setting priorities.
Instead of saying to someone that we cannot spend money on cleaning in government buildings and that we are going to make you work harder, the government says, sorry, it is a time of fiscal restraint and we have no money. This is despite the fact that they are operating within large, record budgets.
Whether the Members opposite think the expenditure of so many millions of dollars of continued funding is money that they control, they still take credit for the fact that it is having an impact on the economy.
For example, if there is $26 million dedicated to the Alaska Highway, that is $26 million of activity that the government is taking credit for, yet it is part of their budget estimates.
The fact of the matter is, there is a lot of money that does not require them to follow the marching orders of any other government to spend; they can decide for themselves. This does not mean that it is free and clear and that it is fun money, because in order to spend the money somewhere else they are going to have to make difficult decisions on what to cut. If they want to change priorities, they are going to have to live with those difficult decisions.
I have a number of comments that I would like to make about government budgeting, but I am going to save them for the next supplementary because I think I would probably be in danger of crossing over budget years too much during those comments. Consequently, I do not want to be called out of order for that reason, but I will have a lot to say in the next supplementary.
Just for the record, we will be asking some questions about the estimates that are being proposed here, and about the governments expenditures last year. A lot of what we did say we still stand by. In the case of information we provided to the House, or statements we made in the spring, they are still valid, in large part. I would refer anyone reading this debate today to look back to those comments and see it all there.
I would simply say, about the estimates that are sitting before us, that there have been many things said about the plans the Yukon Party government has made to explain their economic forecasting and economic plan for the future. The comments the Government Leader made today about the situation being chaotic is truer than he could possibly know when it comes to our attempts to understand what it is the government stands for and what it is doing.
Much of what we were saying may be cloaked in partisan rhetoric and in a manner that is irritating to the government, but there is a lot of meat in that criticism, and there are a lot of people out on the street who are simply transmitting their concerns through us to the government. If the government is only going to respond by dismissing the allegations or the suggestions, then the government can only expect that there will be fractious debate in the House. The people on this side of the House, particularly, have nothing to do but talk to the public and, based on the comments I have personally heard, they are expecting that there should be a lot of tough discussion going on here.
I hope that, particularly, the Finance Minister, and the Minister who has been the spokesman for the economic plan of this government, will take the comments we make at face value, and at least understand where the inspiration for those comments is coming from. We do not have a finance department. We do not have oodles of policy people to provide advice. All we have are the citizens, who talk to us. That is the extent of our policy team, so to speak, and they care about what is going on in here, because they know it is going to have a very real impact on their lives in the future. That has had a very real impact on our lives in the past. So, I hope the Government Leader will have that much understanding of at least the tone in which the debate is carried on in this Legislature.
Mrs. Firth: I want to make just a few comments about this supplementary budget. I recall when we were discussing the first supplementary budget and the operating and maintenance budget, I specifically asked a question that I had a great deal of difficulty getting an answer to. You, Mr. Speaker, will of course remember that the debate of the day was: did the NDP really spend all that money or did they not? As an Independent Member of this Legislature, I was trying to get an accurate answer. I was trying to get a fair answer. I asked the Finance officials and the Government Leader how much money there was going to be in lapsed funds. I know you, Mr. Speaker, were at some of those discussions and briefings, and we were told by the Deputy Minister of Finance that there could be as much as $10 to $13 million in lapsed funds.
This group of individuals, this Cabinet, had already announced how broke the government was and whose fault it was. A year later, we are still hearing them harp on that same theme. Now, we find that there were underexpenditures of almost $30 million.
As far as I am concerned, underexpenditures give me just as much concern as overexpenditures, because it all has to do with the governments ability to bring accurate estimates into this House. The Government Leader talks about us manipulating figures and them manipulating figures - they never manipulate them, only we do. They never try to present figures in a positive light or in any other way except the right way; the way everyone else does it is the wrong way, the way the government does it is the right way. I wanted some answers to some questions. I wanted some information - some of it I was given, some of it I was not - so that I could get an accurate determination of what the balance was actually going to be.
When a government demonstrates a lack of ability to get a handle on realistic levels and types of government expenditures, talks about these great expenditures and deficits plunges the Yukon into an economic recession. Then, six or seven months later we find out that the government underspent by $30 million. That does not give me a lot of confidence as a Member of this Legislature, and I know it will not give a lot of my constituents a lot of confidence about the governments ability to manage the territorys finances. All the time they are underspending by $30 million, every single Minister is going around the territory telling people how broke we are - except for one, who I pointed out yesterday: the Minister of Economic Development. He goes around telling people, We have all this money to give away; come and get money from us.
I am trying to be fair; whether the government Members want to believe that or not is up to them. I am trying to be fair about this. I am trying to get an accurate picture on the governments finances.
I have poured through the budgets. I have poured through these supplementaries. I have been through the Public Accounts to try and find out where the underexpenditures were.
I came to the $4.9 million overexpenditure for the Curragh loan in Finance - it is in this supplementary. The government knew about that in the last supplementary. Why did they not bring that forward then? They knew about this, and yet they have waited until now to bring it forward. Why was that not in the first supplementary in March?
I look at the Department of Economic Development, which I think should be somehow playing a lead role in any government plans to assist the economic recovery of the Yukon, and I see that they have indicated that $2.7 million in capital spending was cut prior to the first supplementary budget and now an additional underexpenditure of over $3 million is being identified. It is also identified in the notes in the supplementary budget that $2.2 million of the current underexpenditure is actually money that was spent, but it was loaned to various groups and businesses, and the government hopes that it may be considered in long-term receivables. They cannot assume that this money is going to be paid back, particularly when the Public Accounts report shows that significant portions of these loans are being written off each year.
I am going to have a lot of questions about economic development and about health and social services. I would like to finish up by saying this one thing: if there was one thing I found out this afternoon, it was what the rules of the debate will be in this House - the rules the Government Leader has set out, his own rules. He enunciated them very clearly in the presentation that he gave. I used to be a Member of part of that caucus and I understood fully what the rules were when I was a Member of that caucus. It was a very dictatorial, centralist approach, where the leader was the almighty and whatever the leader said went, and everybody followed what the leader said. The Leader of the Government now has made it very clear to us this afternoon in this House, what he thinks the rules are.
This is my interpretation of what he has told us this afternoon. Number one: if you agree with what the government is doing, you are positive; if you disagree with what they are doing, you are negative. Whether what they are doing is right or wrong has nothing to do with it.
The second rule: if you point out inconsistencies, or comments made by individual Ministers or Members, you are launching personal attacks - that is the second rule. Thirdly, if you are a government member, it is okay to make personal attacks. That is the next rule. That is the way this government is going to proceed with debate in this Legislature. The fourth rule is: if you ask any questions that may embarrass the government - any legitimate questions you raise on behalf of your constituents, things that they are doing - you are automatically perceived to be against them; you are against the government. The last rule, and it is kind of a frivolous one, is that if you drive a tractor, you cannot keep in touch with your constituents and other Yukoners.
I have never heard such a bunch of nonsense in all my life. I agree completely with what the previous speaker said. The people with whom we speak, our constituents, expect us to raise issues in this Legislature, and there are a lot of very angry, emotionally upset and torn people living in the Yukon right now.
These are people without jobs, people who are losing their houses, who are running out of unemployment insurance benefits and are facing having to apply for welfare. These are very proud people, and they do not feel that they can talk to the government. I have had many people phone me this summer because they went to specific Ministers in this government and could get absolutely nowhere with them. I, in turn, have phoned those Ministers offices and I could not get anywhere with them.
The Government Leader cannot expect us to play by his rules. I am going to have some very pointed questions in both of these supplementary debates when we get them into Committee of the Whole and line by line. I hope that the Minister does not interpret that as meaning that because I am asking questions, I am automatically opposed to what they are doing, or that I am being negative. I am simply asking the questions on behalf of the people I represent and other Yukoners who ask for my assistance. That is my job. It is not my job to say what a great bunch of guys the Cabinet is. I take my job very seriously 24 hours a day, 12 months of the year, every week and every hour.
Listening to people and being informed about what is going on takes a lot more creativity, energy and work than sitting in an office in the government building with the lights on, summoning people in and having extended caucus meetings - I gather those caucus meetings have not been working out too well - which does not constitute keeping in touch with Yukoners.
If the Government Leader and the Ministers can get past their own set of rules and take, with some seriousness, the concerns that are going to be raised by all Members of the Opposition and deal with them in an intelligent and fair way, we will have a more constructive debate and get on with the business more quickly.
If the Members opposite can open their minds a bit, perhaps we can make a few good suggestions for the benefit of all Yukoners. I have made positive suggestions, but as long as the Government Leader continues to follow his set of rules, if a positive suggestion I make is not absolutely and consistently what he wants to hear, it does not necessarily mean that it is wrong or a bad idea.
I have a lot of questions about this particular supplementary budget. I think that this supplementary budget does, in some way, show that perhaps the NDP were not as bad scoundrels as some of the comments that the Members opposite make them out to be.
I do not want to get the NDP off the hook either. I do not want the Members saying that Bea is supporting the NDP. We all know the NDPs track record. It is time to get past that.
I see the Minister of Education shaking his head and expressing great puzzlement. The Minister of Education says that I am patting them on the back. I did no such thing. I simply said - listen very carefully to this, Minister of Education - that maybe they were not as bad scoundrels as the Members opposite tried to make them out to be. That does not mean they still were not scoundrels, or that I do not think that they overspent, but maybe what the government Members did when they were first elected was overstate the situation.
The Minister of Education wants to make light of this. He will have his turn. We will examine his budget. We will examine the things he is doing and where the priorities are. We will examine all his rationale for taking away the Grey Mountain Primary School that he has to stand up and sing songs about in this House - sing songs and wear their T-shirt.
There is a lot of money being sent to us by Ottawa. The chorus from the other Members about tough economic times, tight times, no money is wearing very thin with Yukoners. My first positive recommendation to all the Members opposite is to get a new speech writer - someone who talks to people a little bit and finds out what is really going on out in the community, maybe someone who gets out to the business community and finds out some of the problems that they are having - not just the select few people who come to see the Government Leader who have his favour.
If they show the initiative to do that, they will find out that the concerns that the Opposition Members are raising are valid concerns.
Maybe we will then be able to get on with business, get somewhere and do some good things for the benefit of all Yukoners, not for the benefit of a few.
Speaker: If the Minister now speaks he will close debate. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will deal with the comments made by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini first.
The Member said that he had a lot of questions and that he was furious that the government underspent the budget by $23 million. The fact remains, recoveries were down by $29 million. The bottom line is that there is a $64 million deficit and that is the bottom line.
We will answer the Members question as we get into line by line. I do not have any problems with answering those questions; however, that is the bottom line and that is a fact.
The Member went on to say that his government did many good things while they were in government. Sure they did; they built a lot of good buildings in the Yukon, there is no doubt about that, and they well should have. The Member is trying to add our term to the previous governments term, and I do not believe that any Member in this House was there at this point - I am sorry he is not here today; he was there in 1982.
We can sit here and spout rhetoric back and forth, and I am sure that at certain times we will continue to do that, but I am sure that we will get some work done also. The fact remains that the circumstances are quite different from when that government took over from the previous Conservative government and from when this government took over from the previous NDP government.
I believe there was a $60 million surplus in 1985 when the previous government took over. As well, there was a very lucrative formula financing program that had just been negotiated with the federal government. So there is quite a bit of difference.
I am not condemning the previous government for building buildings. We have tremendous buildings in Yukon. We also have the O&M an those buildings now.
Speaker: I would just like to remind the Minister to address his remarks through the Chair, not directly to Members. I would not want anyone to think that I had $60 million when the previous government took over.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I am trying to address it through the Chair to the Members opposite. I apologize for that.
The Member for McIntyre-Takhini said that a couple of mines had opened up while they were in power. Well, six also shut down. There were six mines operating in the Yukon when that government took over - six mines, employing about 400 people. It works both ways.
I do not see anything that they did in the seven and one-half years to diversify the economy or to show that the private sector is up and running any better now than when they came into office in 1985.
The Member for Riverdale South wants to know why we did not make allowances for the Curragh loan in the last supplementary. We could not. The company was not yet in CCAA and, even if they were in CCAA, they were not bankrupt; there was still a chance they could get their act together and the money could be collectible. We wrote it off when we had grave doubts it could be collected.
Again, as I say, the bottom line is that we underspent this budget by $23 million; recoveries were down by $29 million, and the bottom line is that there is a $64 million deficit as of March 31, 1993.
Speaker: Are you prepared for the question?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Speaker: I believe the ayes have it.
Motion for the second reading of Bill No. 12 agreed to
Bill No. 11: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 11, standing in the name of the hon. Mr. Ostashek.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1993-94, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government Leader that Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1993-94, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: In this supplementary, we are asking for a number of changes to the vote sums previously requested in the 1993-94 main estimates. In both O&M and capital, total anticipated expenditures are down somewhat from those voted in the main estimates for the current year.
In the case of operation and maintenance expenditures, this total underexpenditure amounts to $66,000. The capital is under considerably by more than $15.5 million. Much of the reduction in spending is also accompanied by a reduction in recoveries.
The net result of all the projected changes for the current year is to reduce the small surplus, which we projected in the main estimates, by $3.7 million. This will result in a small deficit at the end of the year of $3.2 million.
In general terms, I believe it is fair to say that this deficit is a result of revoting non-recoverable capital projects, for which the funds lapsed at the end of the 1992-93 fiscal year, and bringing forward some projects from the 1994-95 fiscal year to create employment in the current year.
However, it is likely that we will be in a balanced budget position by the end of the year, because I expect, as is customary, that there will be some net lapses from the figures presented in this supplementary. In any event, the projected deficit of $3.2 million is a significant improvement over last years performance.
The bulk of the reduced spending requirement is, as I have already mentioned, in capital votes. The Department of Community and Transportation Services is showing a reduction of almost $10 million. This is largely due to reduced spending on land development and highway construction, offset to some extent by an increased requirement for monies for the Dawson water and sewer system.
The Department of Health and Social Services is also showing a large $8.7 million reduction, due mainly to less being required this year for the new Whitehorse General Hospital construction.
The Yukon Housing Corporation requires additional funds in excess of those previously voted. More than one-half of these funds are recoverable.
I have not commented on the numerous other small variances contained in the supplementary, since I am certain we will get into greater detail during the Committee debate, when the Ministers will be explaining them at great length.
Members will note that our locally raised revenues are very close to the main estimates figure, although there is considerable variation between the individual line items comprising the total. Our established program financing income is down several million, based on projections provided by the federal government. At the same time, the transfer payment is increased by almost $5 million. Part of this increase is a result of the decline in the established program financing. The remainder is due to updates on the numerous variables used in the calculation of the formula financing grant.
Members will be aware of the fact that this supplementary reflects the work of the employment task force. That body reviewed the proposed government spending initiatives, with the aim of maximizing employment creation for this coming winter.
Particular attention was devoted to seeing if equipment and other purchases that have little labour content could be delayed, and the money spent on more labour-intensive and necessary projects.
Future years proposed expenditures were also examined to gauge whether or not they could be rationally brought forward into this year. Departments cooperated fully in this exercise and I am happy to say that approximately $7 million in projects were identified for implementation in the current fiscal year. This should result in approximately 3,700 person weeks of additional employment this winter.
The availability of this funding is largely a result of the relocation of money to labour-intensive projects for the current year. However, several of the identified initiatives are the result of bringing projects forward that were originally planned for next years budget. This has had an impact on our bottom line and is one of the reasons we are now projecting a smaller deficit for the end of the year.
We have been fortunate enough to have had some construction bids and other cost estimates that came in below budget. This has been a source of some of the funding for these labour-intensive projects.
I am pleased that we have been able to implement this initiative, and I would like to thank the departments of the government and the members of the employment task force for their hard work in making that possible.
Mr. McDonald: Mr. Speaker, do you remember the estimates debate that took place last spring on this particular budget? Do you remember the claim made at that time about how the government was going to be fiscally responsible and that, after analyzing every revenue source, and after toughing it out with the federal government and only accepting the need for an extra $7 or $8 million in tax increases, this budget was going to be as tight as it comes, and was characterized as a jobs budget? Do you remember when there were claims made by Members of the Legislature that perhaps the tax increases were not needed, the government took great exception to that? They claimed the Opposition Members did not know what they were talking about. Do you remember when the federal government made its concerns known to the new government about how they felt the Government of Yukon was undertaxing its population and the Yukon Governments response was to raise taxes? When some Members of the Legislature criticized the Yukon government for rolling over in the face of the request by federal Finance officials, they said that the money was extra revenue required for new taxes, it was not required to satisfy federal Finance authorities. Instead, this money was essential to balance their budget.
At that time, there was no talk that there was flexibility within the budget. There was no talk that the forecasting of certain expenditures might be a little optimistic and, consequently, there might be a little room for movement. There was no talk at that time that we should depend upon the statistical probability that there would probably be a surplus somewhere down the road because, in the past, surpluses had been the order of the day. We just debated a budget in principle that had some money being turned back. I remember all those debates very well. Even given the fact that I have had the opportunity to separate those debates from this debate with a fun-loving summer of mini-golf and selling ice cream cones, I can still honestly say that I remember those debates well.
I did take the opportunity to pick up the Hansard that recorded those debates to refresh my memory on some of the details. In particular, I picked up the rebuttal comments made by the Government Leader, because those comments are always the most interesting, and those are the times when the Government Leader separates himself from his bureaucratic support workers and speaks his mind.
The Government Leader has a tendency to make some absolute statements about his commitment to certain things, and how he will not tolerate some things, and how he believes in some things.
Some of those comments made for some really fascinating reading. The Government Leader did talk about the fact that the government had engaged in a tight exercise to pursue control spending and improve government management in the streamlining of government operations. However, given the size of the budget, and given the tendency to historically lapse funds that he is now talking about, and which will ultimately cause the budget to be, in his view, a surplus budget or a balanced budget, at the moment when we were talking about tax increases, there was not a penny to be had in this budget.
When the government was requesting $8.8 million, and had to turn back $1.8 million due to the efforts of the Government Leader, and probably some other Members in this House who had some special influence on the government, we went through the process of amending the main estimates over 40 times, just so the government could rub in the fact that certain things were going to be cut in order to account for every bit of those taxes. We had to pay the full price, amendment after amendment, adding up to a full $1.8 million, because no money could be had without a cut to services.
I said six months later and I said in October that the Government Leader came up with a $ 7 million savings. He corrected me and said that it was September. It was even sooner than that. They had discovered that after only a few months of operation they had already found savings. We were debating this budget in May and June of this year. They were only two months into the fiscal year; three months after that, a $7 million savings was found. At least we would have had the choice of no tax increase or this job program. At least we would have had that equation to deal with, and the Government Leader could make a case, one way or another, for expenditures by government providing for a true economy. We have a new definition of true or false economy and we will take some time to try to figure that out.
The point is that the absolute claims championing good fiscal management were made at that time, which suggested that the tax increase was essential.
Can the Minister, if he just takes off the partisan hat for a moment, not see that it suggests to us, given that he has now accepted the argument about the statistical probability of running a surplus because there have always been lapses, given that the Minister is now saying that savings can always be found and we should always be looking for savings, and given what the Minister has said in the past and is saying now, would not a reasonable person think that perhaps the true justification for the tax increases was to respond to a federal request to raise taxes?
Perhaps the Minister has a good argument because the perversity factor in the formula was going to penalize us so much that it was something that we had to inflict on ourselves. He could have said that - come clean - and we could have all decided if that was appropriate.
Certainly, the perversity factor is well named. While he was making that argument there would be other Members on that side of the Legislature who would have to step outside for a moment because they were the ones, while they were in Opposition, who were saying that there is nothing wrong with the perversity factor. It is not perverse at all, you are already getting too much money from the federal government; live with what you got. They could not have participated in that debate, but the Government Leader could have.
He could have made a logical argument and, if he had made that logical argument, I think we would all have understood that there would be some logical strain to what is going on. We would have understood it, and perhaps as reasonable people, we might even have accepted that argument. I do not know.
Based on the information that we have today, and based on the claims that have been made over the last four or five months - the time that we have been debating both the current year and, now, the supplementary estimate - there are many different conflicting messages being sent. We have to sort those out.
This budget was cast as a jobs budget. The Government Leader said that this budget was going to create 700 jobs. I think it is probably true to say that, not only will there be 700 direct jobs, or maybe 500 direct jobs, there will certainly be a lot of spinoff jobs. You cannot spend this amount of money without having a lot of jobs, and the Government Leader is absolutely correct about that. It has to create some jobs. The only issue that we have ever taken with the Government Leaders claims is that they claimed there were going to be a specific 700 jobs. Then, they came in and said certain major expenditures were not going to go ahead - a hospital, $10 million worth of land - and they still claim 700 jobs. So, we are trying to understand and use their statistics to make some sense of the budget.
The point of the matter was that this was going to be a jobs budget because, when we were debating the economic situation of this territory, it was patently obvious that things were in decline - even separating out the governments message in December of gloom and doom. He said today that this message about gloom and doom was only meant to respond to government finances. It was not meant to have any effect on the territorial economy - what naivete. When the government says that they are broke - the largest single participant in the Yukon economy says that it is broke - that is not going to have any significant impact on the territorial economy? That is ludicrous. Every time the Government Leader turns around in his chair, something happens out there in the economy. That is just the way things are.
Government spending in this territory has a significant impact. When the Government Leader says he is broke and then, six months later, says it is all okay now, think positive, one has to wonder about that kind of statement in the context of all the rest of the discussion that has taken place in this country about deficits and deficit financing. Can we expect Jean Chretien to say, six months from now, All clear, no deficit, no accumulated deficit. Everything is okay? No, we cannot. Things are much more bleak than that. Is he using the rhetoric that the government today is broke? No, he is not. Why is that? There may be a couple of reasons. Maybe, technically, it is not true, and maybe he understands that, if he says something like that, it is going to create a large ripple effect throughout the Canadian economy.
In any case, this budget before us was tabled as a jobs budget. This budget was going to respond to the economic circumstances of the day, and every Minister attempted to demonstrate how this budget was going to create jobs and provide that stabilizing force that every Yukoner was searching for.
When we finished this budget - wrapped it up, put it to bed at the beginning of June - who was to know that, three months later, a blue-ribbon committee was going to be struck to make it into a jobless budget. The Government Leader has said so far that the reason for that was that the jobs budget they were referring to was a summer jobs budget, and something had to be done for winter jobs.
One of the things we do here is budget on the basis of a full fiscal year. The Legislature gave money to the government to spend on the grounds that it was going to cover a full fiscal year - not three months into it, in terms of the time we finished debating the budget to the time we were going to recast the budget into a jobs budget.
I am not saying, for one second, that a blue-ribbon committee, or some advice from the public, should not be sought to try to improve the budget.
It does suggest that perhaps the grand claims of last spring were not as accurate and did not match the rhetoric as much as they should have.
The Government Leader reiterated today in Question Period what he said in an address to the annual general meeting of the AYC on September 25, that they were going to, and I quote, . . . work with the private sector, First Nations and municipal government to maximize employment opportunities this winter. We have a blue-ribbon committee working on this budget. Now we have a commitment that municipal governments and First Nations are also going to work on it to refine it and continue making it into a jobs budget. What the Minister has to understand is that we are sitting here on this side of the Legislature technically being the persons who are to approve the budget and give it sanction. Meanwhile, the Minister is making claims about it being a jobs budget, revising it with blue-ribbon committees and committing to revise it even further.
We want to know whether the Ministers stand by the expenditures they have or if they feel that they should be continually amended right through to the end of the fiscal year through various consultation processes. If they are suggesting that it should continually be refined, they should come clean and say that. One might say they should have done it before they tabled the estimates. We might also say that they should get out and consult because they have not been doing enough of that; however, to simply stand there and say that the expenditures are necessary, that the forecasts are perfectly accurate, blah, blah, blah, and then to have some significant changes within a matter of a couple of months is difficult for us to accept.
The Minister has said that this budget is going to allow them to have a much better performance this year than the last.
One might argue that even though they are turning back $15 million, the fact that they are going to spend $32 million more this year than last year, even given the final tally for last year, suggests that maybe this exercise is not going to be that hard, and certainly not as hard as the government is making it out to be.
The story of this budget and this legislative sitting is all about the economy, jobs, anxiety on the street about where the Yukon is going and whether or not we have a future.
We have been treated to the Yukon Partys four-year plan. We have the Toward Self-Sufficiency in the 21st Century, both the Carmacks railway version tabled in December and also the version tabled in April.
We do not have any sense that the government is prepared to take true economic leadership and discuss with the public the problems that the territory is facing with respect to its economic future.
We now have the government consulting on housing. Presumably, the government felt that housing was important and significant enough that there should be some discussion with the public about where we go.
You have the government consulting on social assistance and health programs. Presumably, the Minister felt this was an important matter and something worth talking to the public about.
At least we have the government making some attempts to consult on education matters. We have the government not only making an attempt, but pulling off some consultation on tourism. All are important fields of endeavour and all are things that the public is thinking about, but in my experience - and the Members can take it for what it is worth - virtually everyone I meet talks about the economy. They are all concerned about what is going on, they see some economic dislocation, so even though there may be jobs in road-building, they see that the jobs for which they have skills are not there. Many people are on unemployment insurance and you see many vacancy signs.
They are crying out to discuss the problems of the territory just to find out what is going on. This is the one area where the government has taken very much a hands-off attitude.
Having talked to the Minister of Economic Development, I am convinced that the Minister wants to do something, wants to participate and wants to see some action there, but unfortunately nothing is happening.
We saw the government hastily put together the Council on the Economy and the Environment in September. They were doing things virtually right off the bat. We had an educational review within weeks of the new government taking office. We had all kinds of things happening just lickity split there for a little while. We have had much work done, for example, on housing consultation. I have seen not only community consultation plans, I have seen the publication of fancy documents to explain the character of the problem, to explain what the federal government is doing and what the Yukon government is doing, the history of programming - all this has been published and presented to the public. I guess consultations are going on now or will be wrapping up soon.
I have nothing but praise for the Minister for taking this project on. He may not come up with any solutions that anybody likes, but he cannot be faulted for trying.
The thing that seems to matter most, at least to the most people in this territory, is something the government does not want to talk about, does not want to have people talk about and does not want to talk to the people about.
We now have the government saying that a committee will review the matter with the public. The Ministers may participate, but they certainly will not take a leadership role, and I think that is wrong. I think they should be leading the discussion. They do not have to manipulate the discussion, they do not have to engineer the discussion or pre-determine what the results are going to be, but they should lead it, they should facilitate it and encourage it to happen, because people want discussion to happen.
If the government felt that their document entitled Toward Self-Sufficiency in the 21st Century, is worth communicating to the public, the government should do that directly in meetings such as that. If the government takes a few lumps because some of the people in the public have some good arguments and suggest that it may not be broad enough, or thoughtful enough, then the government should lay themselves open to that input. There are a number of people who felt that the Government Leader and the Minister of Economic Developments performance in Faro was not stellar, but virtually everybody I met said that you had to give the guys credit, because they came into this situation and they bore the criticism.
What I am respectfully suggesting to the Members opposite, and to the Ministers who have taken lead roles in terms of explaining the governments position on the economy, is that they ought to be providing an opportunity for people to have direct discussions with them, their officials and others. They should be talking about the economy and the prospects for this territory. It is not good enough to reserve your statements to this Legislature and make a few economic statements with respect to the capital budget and depend upon some capital spending to carry it through. That is just not good enough, and people expect more.
The Government Leader indicated that things have evolved over the last 10 years, and we should all be aware of that, that when the Conservative government was in power from 1982 to 1985, they did not have as much funding as the NDP had when they came into office in 1985 and 1986. Consequently, that funding allowed the NDP to do a lot of things that the previous government could not do. There is no question about that, there is absolutely no question that the money was better in 1986 in 1984. No question. I think that we can thank the Liberal government, in part, and it will probably be the last time we have the opportunity to thank a federal Liberal government. They certainly had a major hand in drafting that agreement.
If the Member wants to go and talk to the Finance officials, he will understand that, by 1987-88, that advantage had been whittled away through inflation, changes to the formula and, certainly by last year, that money was gone. Any advantage was gone. The reality now is that the government is going to be spending, through contingency funding or discretionary funding, even more than the NDP spent.
Now, the Member wants to say that only two mines were open during the NDPs time in office. That is not technically true at all. Some mines opened and some closed. United Keno Hill Mine closed again. However, things were a lot better than they were in 1982 when United Keno Hill Mine closed. In 1983, the government was asking us to look at what they had done: they had opened United Keno Hill Mine. In fact, it was the opening paragraph in the governments throne speech. United Keno Hill Mine was open and 100 people were back to work. They had done nothing to make that happen. During the time the NDP were in office, a number of mines opened up. Some of them closed. United Keno Hill closed. They still have good reserves and there is a good ore body exposed that needs no preparation work, but, unfortunately, the silver price does not accommodate them. Canamax ran out of ore and only had sulfides left. They had to close. Erikson tried and did not make it. Was there help on the part of the Yukon government to encourage them to open? Absolutely. Was there funding spent to encourage them to open or do exploration work for those mines? Absolutely.
The Members talk about Williams Creek and Casino. Were those mines given any support by the government? Did they have exploration funding provided to them? Was there any work done on the Casino Trail? Yes. By which government? By the NDP government.
There has been a lot of work provided to support the mining industry. Presumably, if the Members rhetoric matches their actions, they will be prepared to support mines when they come close to production. However, the only thing I have to say is that the folks on the government benches can get used to the idea that life is all about tough choices. The Minister of Education smirks at that, saying, boy, you do not know the choices I have to face. Things are really tough for me now, man.
Good heavens, these folks are spending $465 million. Does that mean that the Members opposite do not have tough choices to make? It absolutely does. It means they have tough choices to make. If they were to accede to all the demands put upon them, they would be spending a billion dollars. They could spend $2 billion and they would not be making people happy. The fact that they only have $465 million to spend makes it all the more difficult.
Are they saying there were no demands placed on the NDP government that were turned down, that somehow we did it magically; we met everybodys demand. Every interest group that ever walked through the door - we satisfied all their demands with less money than the Members are working with now. This is not realistic; it is not believable.
The Member says that all these people came up this summer, looking for work, and they have to live with this burden of inmigration. Whose reputation was it that encouraged those people to come up the highway? Did they say, There are some excellent fiscal managers just elected to the Yukon government. Let us get up there. No, that is not the way it happens. Some friends said there was some work in the mines up there, so get moving. Maybe somebody in Kelowna or Canmore or some place else decided that the best social assistance policy was to provide people with bus tickets.
Consequently, people just rolled into town. I heard about a case where a person came into town with his whole family in the car. They did not know anything more about the Yukon other than it was the Yukon. The family and all their goods were in the car and they had a mattress on the roof of the car. All they had heard was that there were jobs in the north; things were going great. That is the reality. They did not come up because they had heard that the Yukon Party was here.
The point is that the government has got some tough choices and let us admit it, but to continue to say that they do not have any money, makes one wonder why we should give them $465 million if they characterize it as being no money. If they said no, we do not want a child psychologized, and no, we do not want clean floors, we want an extra half a kilometre of road on the Alaska Highway, that is our priority, we can argue with them about that, but at least they are being true. At least they would be saying what they believe in. At least they would be coming clean.
The Leader of the Official Opposition says that I am going too far.
The point is that in this particular budget there are some tough choices being made, and I recognize that. What we want to hear on this side is what the governments plan of action is, whether or not they are going to stick to it, whether or not that what they say now with all the force and vigour they can possible muster will be dependable next spring when we review the record of what they are saying now to determine whether or not the government can be believed. That is the bottom line.
Mrs. Firth: I will be brief; I got everything off of my chest with the last presentation that I made, so I will be fairly brief.
One thing is that if the Minister of Education would like to come and see me, I would write him a new speech for nothing, just so we could hear him say something other than $61 million overspent. He chants this back and forth across the House. The Minister of Education and I can talk about that later.
I want to go through this supplementary estimate in Committee of the Whole in quite a bit of detail. I would like to ask the Government Leader if he could provide a couple of things for me prior to that. I, of course, have the written questions on the Order Paper that are outstanding. If I could get some of that information prior to the supplementary debate, I would appreciate it. It would make the debate go much more quickly. I am particularly interested in the impact of Curragh being shut down, and where the $7 million for the jobs creation program is coming from.
Last session, we had some discussion with the Minister of Education about his departments ability to accurately estimate capital projects. At that time, the Minister indicated to me that his deputy minister was doing a review of the departments inability to accurately estimate capital projects, and that recommendations would be coming forward to the Minister. I would like to ask the Minister if he could also provide that to me.
I believe the Minister of Justice had similar concerns. I would appreciate having any information that the Government Leader and the government Members have, in total, with regard to any changes they have made to estimating capital projects and ongoing O&M costs.
There was another outstanding issue that the Government Leader and I discussed in the House about rewards for employees with good ideas. There was going to be a policy developed about this. It was a fairly extensive program. The Government Leader referred to it as something to do with suggestions coming forward from government employees and a reward system he was going to give to public servants who had cost-cutting initiatives and ideas about increased efficiencies. He said that, when the policy was developed, it would be announced. I have not heard any announcement, so I would like to know if there is a policy in place. If there is, I would like to see it, and I would like to see some evidence of any efficiencies or cost-cutting measures that the Minister could table in the House.
I know the Government Leader has said this is the smallest supplementary budget in the history of the Yukon, or something to that effect, but the last budget was a sizeable budget, one of the largest in the history of the Yukon, so I look forward to quite a thorough debate on the supplementary estimates, and I hope we will be able to find out quite a bit of information from the government, particularly as to the direction they are going to be taking Yukoners.
Speaker: If the Minister now speaks he will close debate. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not know if I can finish in the time that I have, Mr. Speaker. Do you want me to start and go to 5:30 or do you want to adjourn and start tomorrow?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that debate be now adjourned.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that debate do now adjourn.
Motion to adjourn debate on second reading of Bill No. 11 agreed to
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 now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:24 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled November 16, 1993:
Diagnostic Assessment in Mathematics (Phillips)