Wednesday, November 17, 1993 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will begin with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Opening of Northwest Territories Legislative Building
Today the Northwest Territories is celebrating of its first full-time legislative building. For the past 26 years it has operated out of temporary and leased premises, including schools, banquet halls and hotels. It is unfortunate that, due to our session, none of us could attend the opening. However, there will be a Yukon presence as our Commissioner, Ken McKinnon, is attending the ceremony.
On behalf of the Assembly, I wish to congratulate the Members of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly, the Northwest Territories Legislature Building Society and the people of the Northwest Territories on their new building.
Speaker: Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I have for tabling the Yukon Literacy Strategy.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills?
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
Yukon Literacy Strategy
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It is my privilege today, on Yukon Literacy Day, to table in the House the Yukon Literacy Strategy, and to honour the organizations and individuals in our territory dedicated to ensuring that all Yukoners are able to maximize their potential through the skills of reading and writing.
The completion of this strategy fulfills a commitment made in the Yukon Training Strategy, tabled by the previous government in May 1992. Our government has taken that commitment very seriously, and has worked closely with the Coalition for Yukon Literacy to bring the strategy to this point. It is in fact first and foremost the coalitions strategy, one which we are proud to adopt as the governments guiding philosophy in this area.
The strategy identifies five priority areas for action, and I stress that these are not in any order of precedence:
First is the continued expansion of community-based, basic literacy programming into more Yukon communities. As an example, the project begun in Ross River last year, which has proven very successful, will serve as the model for a similar program this year in Dawson City.
Second, the implementation of employment-oriented literacy programs will allow Yukoners to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. These programs must be able to be put in place quickly, and are key to relieving the unemployment that often goes hand in hand with illiteracy.
Third will be the integration of literacy into employment skills training. Too often, literacy training is treated separately from apprenticeship or other training programs, and is therefore often not given the time or resources it requires. Employers and educators are increasingly realizing that employment training needs literacy as an integral component.
Fourth is the expansion of workplace literacy programs. Literacy skills are essential not only as a prerequisite to employment, but to maintaining it and to progressing in ones career.
Fifth, is the expansion and integration of literacy training, adult basic education and life skills training. Again, it is essential that these fundamental skills be acquired through a coordinated approach. All are closely linked.
It is difficult to accurately assess the extent of our literacy problem here in the Yukon. It is safe to say, however, that no community is immune. In cooperation with the members of the coalition, we will work hard over the coming months and years to identify the areas where work needs to be done, and to put flesh on the solid skeleton of the strategy, with the right planning, programs and people.
At this time, I would like to salute the members of the Coalition for Yukon Literacy for their energies in developing the strategy, and for their excellent ongoing work in helping all Yukoners to develop the literacy skills they so urgently need. The coalition members are the Yukon Literacy Council, better known in the community as Project Wordpower, the Council for Yukon Indians, the First Nations Education Commission, the Association Franco-Yukonnaise, Yukon College and three branches of my own department: advanced education, libraries and archives and the French programs division of public schools.
I would also like to recognize the efforts of the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, who as the Minister of the day played a large part in putting the coalition together and initiating this strategy.
I congratulate these organizations and individuals on the release of the Yukon Literacy Strategy. I wish them well in their efforts, and this government looks forward to continuing to actively support all of them in their efforts to ensure that every Yukoner has access to that most essential and fundamental component of a basic education: literacy.
Ms. Moorcroft: It is with pleasure that we acknowledge the release of the Yukon Literacy Strategy. Literacy is essential for a healthy society, as well as for the well-being of individuals. The New Democratic Party, as the Minister noted, recognized the need for a literacy strategy some time ago. The efforts of individuals and groups over the past few years have made a difference. Coordinating these efforts, which is an important element of the Yukon Literacy Strategy, will enable even more to be done.
Literacy is one of the goals and the objectives of the Education Act. I hope that a key principle in the strategy - that everyone has a right to a basic education - means the right to an education, as provided for by the Yukon Education Act.
The strategy makes no mention of money, and money is necessary to underwrite the activities of the volunteers and the professionals who are part of the literacy effort in the Yukon. The strategy makes continual reference to what the government will support. I would hope that the Minister of Education is prepared to let literacy workers know what lies in store for them financially.
Support for literacy needs to be more than moral; active support must also indicate financial support.
I am pleased to see the recognition of workplace literacy and adult literacy in the strategy. Perhaps in his response the Minister can let us know what work is already underway, or is planned, in this area.
The New Democrats support the Yukon Literacy Strategy released today and we salute the efforts of the many individuals and organizations involved in its development.
Mr. Cable: I, too, would like to go on the record as supporting the strategy. I should point out that, in my view, Yukon College must play a key role in implementing the strategy; that the funding provided by the government must reflect the priority. If Yukoners cannot read, then they are unlikely to get ahead in the workplace and the territory will be so much the poorer.
I think in assisting people to read and develop their skills, the Yukon College should and hopefully will play a major role.
They also say that the speedy resolution of land claims will enhance opportunities to tie literacy and employment for First Nations more closely together.
Finally, I am pleased to note that the Minister, in his fifth point, recognizes the importance of life skills training. There was a perception, last February, that the Minister had minimized that facet of training and education, and I am glad to see that was a perception only.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I thank the Members opposite for their positive comments. The Member for Mount Lorne wanted to know what kind of financial commitment we had given to these particular projects. Last year, in 1991-92, the commitment of the previous government was $154,000. This year, the commitment, so far, has been $124,200 for core funding, and there is $10,000 for developmental costs of the Dawson City literacy. There is $3,000 for a literacy software acquisition, and $1,000 for the Gzowski tournament, which is a total of $138,000 so far this year. In the 1993-94 budget, it is projected that we will spend another $25,000 this year for the Ross River base funding, another $25,000 for the city base funding in Dawson City, $10,000 for rural literacy project development, $15,000 for more core funding adjustment for the Yukon Literacy Council, and $10,800 for workplace literacy development, and other miscellaneous projects. The total this year is $224,000 for the literacy projects. I think that shows a definite commitment from this government.
Speaker: This, then, brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Yukon native teacher education program, admission
Ms. Moorcroft: Earlier this year, the Minister of Education distinguished himself by threatening to cut off funding to the Yukon native teacher education program if the advisory committee did not admit a certain person to the program. Now that the Minister has had some time to reflect on this matter, could he tell this House how he plans to deal with the issue of altering the admissions criteria to the Yukon Native Teacher Education Program?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I never once threatened to cut off funding to the Yukon Native Teacher Education Program. In fact, it was exactly the opposite: I gave them assurances in every meeting I had been at that that program would continue and the funding would continue.
We have a program right now that has 80 positions available within it; there are less than, I believe, 40 students in the program at the present time. I wanted to sit down with the Council for Yukon Indians and discuss ways that other people, other Yukoners, who wanted to become teachers in the Yukon could access the program. I gave them assurances that it would not prejudice the First Nations in the program to start with - they would have preference on entry and preference on exit - but we do hire other teachers from time to time in the territory and that it would be better in Yukon schools to hire a teacher that was trained through a First Nations education program at Yukon College than to hire a teacher to go into Pelly Crossing, for example, from southern Ontario who knew nothing about First Nations. Those are the assurances I gave them, and the program funding is going to continue.
Ms. Moorcroft: The minutes of a meeting the Minister attended clearly show him saying, I have some hard decisions to make in the future regarding cutting programs. Why did the Minister think that he had the right to unilaterally change the admission criteria to the Yukon native teacher education program?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: If the Member had all the facts, she would see that I never did change the criteria. I never have changed the criteria. I asked the committee in charge of the program if they would be prepared to open the program up. They have said no, they are not at this present time, and I would like to discuss it further with them in the future.
Ms. Moorcroft: Could the Minister please answer my question. Why did he tell a student that they would be admitted to the program on his say so? Why did the Minister think that he had the right to unilaterally ignore the admission criteria and the recommendations of the Yukon native teacher education program advisory committee?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The day that I met with the committee, the individual in question attended to appeal to the committee. The individual knew that the committee concurrence was required, and the individual appeared to meet that requirement.
I did not tell the committee that this person would be accepted. I was there to ask the committee if they would accept this individual and others into the program.
Question re: Mathematics testing
Mr. Harding: I would like to ask another question of the Minister of Education.
Yesterday, the Minister told this House about an initiative that he approved some months ago and that was the new math testing program for Yukon high school students. I think that the Minister may have overlooked an important element in the math tests, and that is to ensure that the resources are there to help those students, who, as a result of these math tests, are found to require extra tutoring to bring their skills up to standards.
What step is the Minister taking to ensure that enough resources are available, such as tutors, texts and counselling to help students who are having problems with math?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: In the Department of Education, we are planning to second a math teacher who will provide the kind of services the Member asked about.
We have two superintendents who are overseeing the projects. Both of the superintendents are previous math teachers and have experience in that area. As well, we contracted with a previous math teacher that was here, Mrs. Davis, who is a very qualified math teacher who helped develop some of the tests, and if we have to carry out that kind of work in future we will.
The bottom line is to improve the math skills of Yukon students. I do not think that is a bad objective. I think that is a good objective and that we should be trying to do that.
Mr. Harding: I have no problem with that objective.
Yukon schools have many special-needs children, children who will have problems with math, English, social studies and even behaviour and socialization. This has influence on the development of special-needs children and also other students.
I would like to ask the Minister why he is not replacing the two school psychologists who have left the Department of Education this year, leaving only four psychologists to serve the needs of more than 5,000 students?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: When the psychologists were hired by the Government of the Yukon, they were hired into term positions. The purpose of hiring these psychologists was to carry out assessments on Yukon students. Over the past two years there have been an enormous amount of assessments completed on Yukon students. We have now assessed most of our students and in fact there was no need to carry on employing these particular psychologists.
Mr. Harding: My information is that the waiting lists are growing.
The Ministers attitude toward First Nations students is a troubling one. He has not replaced the native curriculum coordinator, he is not developing the Yukon stay-in-school initiatives for First Nations students, and now he seems to condone the appropriation of a math tutor at F.H. Collins for the use of all students, and not just First Nations students, even though Indian Affairs substantially underwrites the cost of this tutor for that specific purpose.
Could the Minister tell me what tangible examples he can give of his support for First Nations students, and particularly First Nations math students, given the examples of his tacit refusal to support them?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: If the native curriculum coordinator was so important to the side opposite, I would have to ask them why they left the position vacant for a year and one half.
The program the Member is talking about at F.H. Collins is a federal program. We are working with the First Nations to try and work it out. If we start jumping into all these programs that the federal government has pulled out from, we will have enormous costs for the future. We have to be careful about that.
Question re: Gambling
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader on gambling.
Early in the summer, it was reported that the government was being lobbied to permit slot machines in Yukon hotels and to promote a casino in Whitehorse. The Government Leader was quoted as saying that he thought it would be a real plus for the Yukon, especially in the summertime, and somewhat in the wintertime. Could the Government Leader inform the House as to whether he has had the opportunity to reconsider this position and that, on balance, gambling would be a positive stimulus to the Yukons economy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is quite correct; the government was approached on several occasions by various groups that are interested in legalized gambling and video lottery terminals in the Yukon. I told those groups at that time, as I have since in press releases, that this would be a major change in direction in the Yukon and would have to go to public consultation before anything proceeds. That is the stage we are at now. It will go out for public consultation through the Council on the Economy and the Environment at some point this winter.
Mr. Cable: I think it is well known that there are a number of negative social costs associated with gambling. These are primarily hidden costs, such as policing costs, family breakup costs and addiction costs. Could the Government Leader indicate to this House what instructions he has given to his officials to research into the negative social effects of legalized gambling?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The government has, over the past seven or eight months, accumulated a lot of information from every jurisdiction in Canada where there is legalized gambling. Information including both the pros and the cons of increased policing costs and the increased social costs will be made available to the Council on the Economy and the Environment for their deliberations.
Mr. Cable: I have heard it said that governments in North America are moving increasingly away from regulating gambling into becoming investors and promoters of gambling, and that in the course of doing so the governments themselves are becoming the biggest addicts. Could the Government Leader indicate to the House if he sees his government simply regulating gambling, or becoming an active participant in the sense of being an investor?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe the Member opposite is trying to put the cart in front of the horse. I said, quite clearly and on numerous occasions, that this government will be doing nothing - absolutely nothing - until we see what the sentiments of the Yukon public are.
Question re: Faro school teachers, moving expenses
Mr. Harding: I would like to ask him about former Faro teachers now being asked to pay moving expenses. The Minister of Educations deputy clearly committed to the Faro school council and to the Del Van Gorder School staff that because of the forced nature of the transfers from Faro, moving expenses would be paid by the Yukon government. I want to ask the Minister why he is now breaking his word on this commitment?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am not breaking my word, because I did not give that commitment. This matter is now before the court, and also in the grievance procedure, and I am not going to comment on any matter that has gone to grievance.
Mr. Harding: Thankfully, the courts today have granted an injunction against this tack by the Yukon government. Two members of the school council have sworn depositions that this commitment was made to the school by the Minister, and a letter was sent by the school council to the Minister after the commitment was made that confirms that his department would pay outright for the teachers moves.
Does the Minister realize how important his word is, and that broken trusts will destroy the credibility of his ministry?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: As I said before, this is a matter that is before the grievance procedures. I am not going to comment on a matter that is being grieved by employees of this government. It is inappropriate.
Mr. Harding: His actions are the things that are inappropriate.
The depositions of the school councillors and the letter confirming the understanding of the move payment terms clearly show that, only if the teachers moved back to teach in Faro, would they have to pay for the move. This never happened. Why would the Minister go back on a promise to these teachers, who were forced out of Del Van Gorder, in the first place, by government delays in determining staffing levels?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: That former union member, who was a union rep before, would be screaming bloody murder if I was interfering in a grievance procedure, and I am not going to interfere in a grievance procedure. He is the last one in this House who should be asking me to do so.
Question re: Education travel
Mr. Harding: He made the commitment. I will simply leave it there.
I have a question regarding Education departmental travel policy. Has the government recently cut back, or curtailed, travel for the Education department to educational conferences and training opportunities?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We are looking at every conference where attendance is requested, and we are looking at their value to the Yukon. We are assessing them on that basis. We have not picked any specific conferences. We assess them on a conference-by-conference basis. Yes, the travel has been cut back, but it had to be. We cannot afford to run the kind of deficit we ran last year.
Mr. Harding: It is probably what you are running again this year. Aside from the deficit issue, can the Minister indicate whether or not members of his Education Review Committee will be travelling outside the territory, in the scope of their mandate, to carry out the task of the education review?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes. In fact, as we speak, the chair of the committee is going to look at three jurisdictions and what they have done with their education review. He is looking at British Columbia, Ontario and, I believe, New Brunswick; he is looking at the areas where they have just carried out reviews and is seeing what they are doing in changing their education.
Mr. Harding: This Minister will cut off learning opportunities for our existing departmental employees and then pay to have the committee travel around outside the country and all across the country when their mandate should be to hear what Yukoners think, rather than to tell parents what they should be doing. What is the purpose of this travel when their mandate should be to listen and present Yukoners views rather than their own or those of other jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Some of the questions we are asking in our review are the very questions that are being asked in other jurisdictions. I think it is important, and so did the chair of the committee, that he go to these other jurisdictions that have recently carried out reviews and see the areas they are looking at.
I might point out to the Member - and this is kind of unique to this individual, that the individual combined the trip with a personal trip and paid his own way to Vancouver - all we picked up was the airfare from Vancouver to Edmonton and from Edmonton to Toronto. It did not cost us anything for the individual to go to Vancouver and talk to the people in Victoria. He paid for that himself, and that is a comment on the dedication of the individual involved. It is too bad we did not have more Yukoners like that in the past, then we would not have had such a high bill for travel from the Government of Yukon.
Question re: FAE/FAS, education of children suffering from
Mr. Penikett: The Minister seems to be getting quite excited - perhaps I can calm him down with a straightforward question.
As a matter of Yukon Party policy, who is responsible for educating school-age children suffering from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Fetal Alcohol Effects?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can handle that one - it is the Department of Education.
Mr. Penikett: Does the Minister of Education agree that the Education Act, which is the law of this territory, guarantees that every child is entitled to receive a free educational program, appropriate to their needs, and an individual education plan where they have special needs?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: If that is what the act says, yes, I do believe that.
Mr. Penikett: I am a little concerned that the Minister does not seem to know that that is what the act says.
Let me ask him this question: through no fault of their own, or in some cases their parents, a small minority of students, including FAS children, create huge demands on the system. Nonetheless, the law requires that they receive an education, even if it cannot be safely provided in a regular classroom. I would like to ask the Minister what provision the department has made to guarantee this small number of children a quality education, without unfair costs to their families.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Obviously, the Member is talking about some specific concerns from some specific parents. It would have been nice to have heard about this before we sat; I could have brought the answer to the House. If I know of instances where parents have been denied an education, I will have my officials check into them. I am not aware of any children that have been denied education.
Question re: Education, special-needs assessments
Mr. Penikett: As with the last question, I am asking a policy question.
A key philosophy of the Education Act is equality of opportunity for all Yukon students to develop their potential to the fullest possible extent. As a consequence of the Ministers special program staff in the Department of Education, such as the two psychologists mentioned previously, can the Minister tell the House how much longer it now takes a student to get an assessment of his or her special needs?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I would have to get back to the Member on that. It is not something the department has informed me about. My understanding is that we are meeting the needs as they arise. I can get the exact time frame and bring that back to the Member.
Mr. Penikett: In the past, the department has provided extra resources to those schools that have extraordinary numbers of students with special needs. Can I ask why the Department of Education has not yet acted, after more than one year of pleading from the school administration, the school council, the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and others, to establish an education support worker, with or without the cooperation of other government departments, to help the students and their families in the Elijah Smith Elementary School?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am puzzled by the question. The Member asked me the question in a letter a few days ago and I replied. I talked to the Minister of Health and Social Services, and that issue is being addressed in a different way. Instead of putting someone in the school, they have a special unit that is looking after the Kwanlin Dun village and dealing with those problems in that particular manner.
Mr. Penikett: The problem is that my colleague, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, has a letter from the Minister of Health and Social Services saying that it is a Department of Education responsibility.
I want to ask the Minister this: earlier this year, the Minister of Education promised this House that nothing would happen to the level of service provided by his department. He even wrote a letter confirming this. However, it is apparent that cuts have indeed occurred since he became Minister, including the two psychologists we already mentioned.
Will the Minister give to this House a complete accounting of how many teachers, learning assistants, program implementation teachers, educational assistants, tutors and psychologists are now serving our schools during this session?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes, I will attempt to bring that information back.
Question re: Education review
Mrs. Firth: My question is for the Minister of Education regarding the education review. Ten months ago the Minister made an announcement at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon that his government was going to proceed with an education review. We are still waiting for the review to begin and now, 10 months later, the Minister has made an announcement that a survey will be done to find out what we should review in the education review.
I would like to ask the Minister a couple of questions. This survey is supposed to go to parents, school councils, students in grades 10 to 12, and the last two graduating classes. I would like to ask the Minister who is drafting the survey and how many are going to be distributed?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The survey was developed following a request by the chair of the Education Review Committee. He felt that he wanted to develop a survey and so that was done. The Department of Education and the Bureau of Statistics developed the survey. The survey will be going out in the mail early next week and my understanding is that there will be about 6,000 of those surveys given to students to take home to their parents and mailed to various stakeholders.
Mrs. Firth: Do I understand it then that the chair of the Education Review Committee has the liberty to change the original mandate of the Education Review Committee? I see the Minister shaking his head. I do not see anything in the original mandate that allowed this, unless the Minister is going to try to pass it off as some kind of consultative process.
Could the Minister tell us how much this review is going to cost, in addition to the $75,000 that was originally identified for the education review, because survey was not part of the original mandate of the review?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The questionnaire, as I said, was a result of a request of the chair of the Education Review Committee. He thought that that would allow those people who were not comfortable coming to a public meeting and speaking out to fill out their concerns and submit them to the review committee. The total cost of the review, with the questionnaire, is going to be a little more. We are expecting the cost to be about $130,000.
Mrs. Firth: So now we have an $130,000 expenditure because it includes some kind of secret survey so that people can express their opinions in a closed questionnaire.
I would like to ask the Minister: are there still going to be open public consultative meetings for this education review process and when are those meetings going to start?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is not a secret questionnaire at all. In fact, it is a questionnaire to allow all parents and stakeholders and people interested in education in the territory to respond without having to come a public meeting, stand up in front of the public and make some statements. People can respond in their own livingrooms and mail the questionnaire back to us.
Question re: Education review
Mrs. Firth: I would like to follow up with the Minister of Education regarding the education review.
I would like to know if the Minister will provide to us a copy of the survey that has been drafted and is being sent out, and if he will also tell us who is going to compile the information on that survey and when the government anticipates having that whole process completed.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Bureau of Statistics will be compiling all of that information and providing it to the review committee when it is complete.
We expect to get the information back by mid-December, prior to Christmas. I hope that the review committee will be appointed by the middle or the end of next week, from nominations received from the stakeholders. Then the committee will get together as soon as they are appointed and receive the analysis of the questionnaire.
I expect that they will hold public meetings and tour the territory. I expect that will happen early in the new year. That will be up to the committee as to when they go, but their intention is to travel to every Yukon community.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister make a commitment to provide Members of the Legislative Assembly with the assessment and analysis made by the Bureau of Statistics after they receive the survey results?
Personally, I have some concern about the timing. Many people will not be that enthusiastic about participating in this review process over the Christmas season, but that may not be the case.
Will the Minister give us the commitment that he will provide to the Members of the Legislature, prior to the next sitting, all of the information that has been compiled so that we can see what the new focus of the education review is going to be?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I do not think that I have a problem with that. My understanding is that the report will be given to the review committee and the review committee will be talking about that report as they tour the territory. I expect that it will be a public document, and I do not have any problem with providing that information.
I will also provide the Member with a copy of the questionnaire, once I receive a copy, which I hope will be the end of this week or the first of next week. I will provide all Members with a copy the day that it is being mailed out.
Mrs. Firth: I appreciate that commitment. I do not see why we could not have a copy of it now, since it is obviously a public survey. I would have expected to have it tomorrow, if it is ready.
I would also like the Minister to come back with a new time line - that is what it was called in the last education review mandate and outline the Minister gave us. Obviously, the time line has completely changed. I would like the Minister to give us a new update, including focus, proposals and mandate, if there has been any change to the mandate, membership of the committee, and the time line, tomorrow.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Yes. I will provide a copy. I understand the questionnaire is at the printers now. As soon as it is ready, I will bring it by and pass a copy on to the Member. I also gave a commitment to the YTA and the CYI that I would do the same. I told them that, as soon as it was available, they would get a copy of it, and I will do that.
As far as the time line of the review, I am getting really nervous about giving time lines. I gave one, and we have gone by it. I hope they will do most of their work this winter, and that the report can be completed before the end of this school year. That is what the chair, and others, are shooting for. As these things go, however, I know they can sometimes stretch on. That is our goal and what we are looking for now.
Question re: Alcohol and drug services
Ms. Commodore: The 1993-94 budget for alcohol and drug services was cut back by more than $300,000 from the year before. Also in that budget, there was a forecast of an increase in clients for the detox centre. Could the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services tell me if the cutbacks in alcohol and drug services have affected the detox centre services?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I do not believe they have. I will inquire about it, and get back to the Member.
Ms. Commodore: I am getting very concerned about all the cutbacks in this department. The Minister has stated previously in this House that he intends to build a new detox centre to replace the present facility, which is inadequate, both in terms of space and physical structure. Those were his words. Since this is not included in the new capital budget, which takes us to April 1, 1995, can he tell us when we can expect this new facility to be built?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: With respect to the cutbacks in the department, it is one of the few departments where the budget went up dramatically last year. In fact, it went from something like $67 million in the main estimates of the previous year to almost $100 million. There have not been very many cutbacks.
With respect to the issue of the facility the Member is asking about, once we have completed the consultation on the Alcohol and Drug Strategy, we will be looking at where we are going with respect to the detox facility.
Ms. Commodore: Personnel in Social Services have been told that detox services will be privatized. This means that many more jobs will be lost. Can the Minister tell us when he expects that change to take place?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There has been absolutely no decision taken with respect to the detox centre at this time. The entire strategy for dealing with drug and alcohol abuse is under review right now, and we are in consultation with the public at this time.
Question re: Forestry transfer
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Government Leader on the forestry transfer. In his speech to the Yukon Chamber of Commerce in Watson Lake in October, the Government Leader stated that he expected the transfer of the forestry resource to be concluded in the near future. This is the transfer of control and management of the Yukon forests to our Yukon government.
Would the Government Leader indicate when he, in his view, thinks these negotiations will be concluded?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The negotiations are concluded. The agreement in principle has been concluded for some time. They were concluded during the summer and my understanding was that the documents were lying on the Minister of DIANDs desk in Ottawa. I had a letter from the Minister saying that she would sign them, but the election came along so they are still on the DIAND Ministers desk in Ottawa. I will be talking to him about them when I am there on the 30th.
Mr. Cable: In his speech, the Government Leader went on to say that one of the governments ideas for immediate action was the maximizing of the economic spin offs of the forestry transfer agreement. What has the government done to ensure that we Yukoners will receive maximum economic spin offs as soon as the forestry transfer has been concluded and signed off?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will answer that question as best I can as the Minister for that department is not here; he is away at a meeting. Once the agreement is signed off in Ottawa, my understanding is that $2 million or $3 million will come to us immediately for renovations to forestry facilities in Watson Lake and Dawson City. We were hoping that we could have that agreement signed so that that work could go on this winter.
That will be one of the first economic benefits to the territory - the infusion of another $2 million or $3 million into the economy this winter when we really need the jobs, and we hope it will not be delayed and that the transfer will go through shortly.
Once that occurs, and after we sit down and draw up the policy and regulations with the stakeholders as to how the forestry assets in the Yukon will be managed, there will be tremendous economic spin offs, especially for rural communities because, as I believe I also stated in that speech, there will be regional offices created in Dawson City and Watson Lake that will take in all of the Renewable Resource department, not only forestry.
Mr. Cable: I think the Government Leader is of the mind, and I am sure that is the case, because he has stated on many occasions, that a clear policy and regulatory framework for the mining industry is necessary to get the maximum benefit from that industry. I suppose that theory would apply to the forestry industry as well. Why has the government not moved the policy and regulatory framework aspect of the transfer forward, while waiting for the formal conclusion of the turnover?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: First, we have to take over responsibility for it. Then we have to sit down with First Nations and other stakeholders in the Yukon to draft the proper regulatory and management regimes that will be in place, so that we can get the most economic benefit from our Yukon forestry resources. Putting those regulations in place will be an extensive process.
Question re: Health and Social Services, briefing for Opposition
Mr. Penikett: Following my appointment as Opposition health critic in August, I wrote to the Minister of Health requesting a briefing on health programs, and in late October the Minister replied saying that such a briefing would be contrary to parliamentary law. Can the Minister of Health tell this House of any jurisdiction in Canada, or even the Commonwealth, where this revolutionary interpretation of parliamentary law is in effect, or can the Minister at least refer me to any citation in Beauchesne, Bourinot, Patrick Michael, which would justify the denial of the request for reasonable information to an Opposition MLA - information that ought to be available to any citizen in the territory?
Speaker: Could the Minister of Health and Social Services be as brief as possible under our guidelines?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The Opposition Member has neglected to mention the last part of the letter that said that if he would be more specific about the information that he requires we would do our best to get him that information in a timely manner.
Mr. Penikett: I was quite specific. I wanted a general briefing on the departments programs. I would like to ask the Minister, since he is no doubt aware that a briefing took place on November 10, 1993, in the Legislative committee room for Members of the Opposition by officials of the Department of Finance on the budget, if he could advise us, as the Minister of Justice, whether this briefing was contrary to parliamentary law?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The Member is talking about parliamentary law, and we are really talking about tradition. I think the Member, from time to time when he was on this side, took steps to ensure that MLAs would direct their questions of departments to Ministers and not directly to officials. I remember that being an iron-clad rule in the first couple of years of his reign. I always directed my questions to the appropriate Minister when I was in Opposition.
Mr. Penikett: Just because the Minister of Justice did not make it a law, or even a behaviour common to his colleagues - for the record, we did away with that rule when we were in government - the point is that staff from our office called the Department of Health and Social Services the other day and were told that any question from the Official Opposition, even questions of fact, would have to be directed to the Minister. I would therefore like to ask the Government Leader if this is government policy or just the former leaders policy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: When the request came in, it was discussed in Cabinet. The Minister is quite right in the last paragraph of the letter, where he asks the Member to be more specific before addressing the issue.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now lapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Motion No. 48
Clerk: Motion No. 48, standing in the name of Mr. Cable.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Riverside
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the Human Rights Commission should appear before this House, during the current session, to report to this House and advise on:
(1) The status of race relations in Yukon;
(2) What activities have been carried out by the Commission to foster improved race relations; and
(3) What the Members of this House, and community leaders, may do to improve race relations in the Yukon community.
Mr. Cable: There have been two incidents recently of a highly public nature that have had about them an air of racial tension. I speak specifically of public comments made by a municipal councillor and an incident involving supposed loitering at the Qwanlin Mall. Whatever the real facts, motivations and intentions are of the people involved, there has been a perception of racial discrimination. Both incidents have attracted a fair amount of comment in the media in the form of articles and letters to the editor.
As Members know, in the areas of racial tension and racial discrimination, perceptions have a habit of becoming realities.
I do not cite these two incidents to sit in judgment on the people involved, but simply to say that they reinforce my own sense of what is going on: that there has been a deterioration of race relations in the Yukon. Perhaps this should not be surprising. In times of economic downturn, when people become threatened and unsure, blaming minorities is a common result.
I think that it is interesting to note, in passing, a newspaper article of November 20, 1992, reporting on the appearance of the Director of the Human Rights Commission and the President of the Yukon College appearing before the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. I quote from that article; Seeth Seethram and Margaret McCullough agree on three things: racism is flourishing in the Yukon, it is hard to pin down, and solutions are not readily apparent.
I know that my own sense of what is going on is shared by others. I suggest to the Members that it is incumbent upon this House to collectively review this matter and take advice on what we collectively and individually can do to reduce racial tensions.
As the land claims work their way through the legislative process and into our everyday lives, it will be necessary to ensure that the information strategies on the agreements and the implementation plans are adequate to combat the fear of the unknown that may arise.
It would also be useful in the land claim context to discuss what other strategies could be evolved to provide some glue between the races.
There is any number of public forums that can be used for us to receive advice on race relations. One of the forums that I recommend to you, as Members of the House, is an appearance of the Human Rights Commission before this House.
One of the objects of the Human Rights Act, as set out in section 1(b) is to, and I quote, discourage and eliminate discrimination. The Human Rights Commission, in section 15, is specifically charged with the promotion of education and research designed to eliminate discrimination.
This House, on March 15, 1989, passed a resolution put forward by the Member for Riverdale South, and I quote, That it is the opinion of this House that provisions should be made for an annual appearance by the Human Rights Commission before this House, in order that an opportunity is provided to Members of the Legislative Assembly to call the commission to account for the expenditure of public funds.
This House has not taken the opportunity for some time to receive a report from the commission, in the general forum suggested in that resolution or otherwise.
I would say to the House that it would be useful at the present time to hear from the commission. The purpose of my motion is to carry through with a desire to have the commission report from time to time, but have that report and advice focus at this time on the issue of race relations.
The Commissioner has recently proclaimed December 10, 1993, to be International Human Rights Day in the Yukon. I am told the Human Rights Commission has elected to celebrate International Human Rights Day by honouring the Year of the Indigenous People. I would suggest to the Members that, if they are prepared to support my motion, consideration be given to sitting on that day to discuss the issue of race relations and, in so doing, celebrate International Human Rights Day, and join with the commission in honouring the Year of Indigenous People.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I was somewhat surprised when this motion appeared on the Order Paper. As the Member has stated, the practice has been, when Opposition Members ask, and during the operation and maintenance budget debate, that the government is in the practice of asking the Human Rights Commission to come before this House as witnesses. There is ample precedent, and we are quite prepared to bring them forward. I would suggest to the honourable Member, though, that the more appropriate time would be to do it this spring when we are going through the operation and maintenance budget, unless the Member, for some reason, feels there is an extreme urgency to having it heard from at this time.
The motion is a curious one and, perhaps unintentionally, the Member seems to be indicating that, somehow or other, the Human Rights Commission has the power to direct community leaders and others on how they ought to improve race relations in the Yukon community. The whole issue of race relations and attitudes toward minority groups is something we are all responsible for. Certainly, in this government, there has been a very strong attempt to improve the position of aboriginal people in society and within the government. This is not something that has been started recently; it has been an ongoing practice for a good many years.
We are concerned with issues that are public that cause stress between Indian people and the other people in the Yukon. I think that it is very easy to overstate the issue, and I would remind the Member that this government is working on many fronts to try to improve the situation of the First Nations people in their communities and within the government.
I have no difficulty with supporting this motion. I would like to hear from the Member with respect to the timing, because it seems to me it is appropriate to have the commission appear once each year and the appropriate timing ought to be when its budget is being discussed.
So, with those few words, I will resume my place here.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Official Opposition will be supporting this motion. The New Democrats are proud to have legislated the Human Rights Act in 1987 in the Yukon and this, I must say, in the face of strong opposition from some of the Members who are now sitting opposite in government. I know my colleague, the Member for Whitehorse Centre, will be recollecting some of that debate so I will not dwell on it.
Yukon has a multi-cultural community. Our visible minority population includes Filipinos, Iraqis, Sri Lankans, Vietnamese, Koreans and people from all over the world. The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes spoke of minorities, and what we must also recognize is that, although aboriginal people are now only 30 percent of the Yukon population, they have been living here for upward of 20,000 years while the Euro-Canadian civilization has only been here for approximately 160 years. The Gwichin people, the Na-Cho Ny-ak Dun, the Tsawlnjik Dan, Tlingit and all the First Nations have generations of history, culture and tradition behind them. They have their own languages and their own place names. I think we have a responsibility to understand and respect people of all races.
The key to respect is honesty, open communication and tolerance. All too often people take offence and we have to take that seriously. The Yukon Human Rights Commission can play a role in improving race relations; they already take a role in public education. We would be interested to hear from the Human Rights Commission on how they have done this.
There are also many ways Members of this House and community leaders can improve race relations in the Yukon community. In particular, in the Department of Education presently, the Council for Yukon Indians offers a teacher orientation at the beginning of the school year. This cross-cultural orientation makes teachers aware of different learning styles and of some of the history and tradition of our First Nations people. CYI has also developed curriculum in the history and cultural practices of our First Nations.
This week is childrens book week. Also, within the Department of Education, we can see that our elementary and secondary schools around the territory include works by and about people of all races.
Some of those recent publications would be the Secret of White Buffalo and How We Saw the World, by C.J. Taylor, A Coyote Columbus Story, by Thomas King, and publications of the Dene Cultural Institute, which include a booklet called Mom We Have Been Discovered.
Within the Public Service Commission, training includes cross-cultural training for public servants. This is certainly a valuable exercise for public servants. Another very valuable exercise in improving race relations is employment equity. We need to see a representative public service and I would like to encourage this government to work on improving race relations to give meaningful support to employment equity, not just verbal support of it.
Earlier today I asked a question about the Yukon native teacher education program. I think it is very important that we recognize the changing roles that the land claims legislation and the Education Act have to play in recognizing the rights of First Nations.
The Yukon native teacher education program exists because there is such an abysmal shortage of aboriginal graduates in our public school system and of aboriginal teachers. Right now, although 30 percent of the students are of First Nation ancestry, less than one percent of the teachers are of First Nations cultures. We can also support Yukon College programs and the Yukon Native Language Centre, which does a number of projects.
With that, I will say that we are supporting this motion: that the Human Rights Commission carries out public education to improve race relations, but that we as Members of the Legislature also have a responsibility to work on that in our daily lives and in our Legislature.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I also support the motion from the Member for Riverside, though I was under the impression that the Human Rights Commission did appear more or less on an annual basis before this House.
I would like to remind the Member for Riverside and the last speaker that improvement of race relations should not be merely limited to First Nations people. We should also keep in mind a very large number of people in the Yukon who are neither white nor First Nations. It is important that we remember those other people when we are discussing this. With those few words, I would like to lend my support to the motion.
Ms. Commodore: As the Member for Mount Lorne said, we will be supporting this motion. As a bit of history, because there were some people not in the House when the Human Rights Act was introduced, the act at that time endorsed the NDP governments commitment to the fundamental human rights guaranteed to all Canadians by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and ensured that those rights would help shape the Yukons future. It would give all individuals, as well as all minority groups, guaranteed protection for their rights and freedoms. It would ensure that every one of us would be free and equal by discouraging and eliminating discrimination.
The government at that time had the courage to address those fundamental issues such as minority rights and pay equity, openly discussed these issues in public forums and consulted with many interest groups.
History speaks for itself. We all know the problems we faced when introducing this legislation in the House. There was much opposition to it, not only by the 2,500 people who signed the petition opposing the legislation, but also from individuals who were in the Opposition at that time.
They spoke very strongly against a number of things that were included in the legislation. I am sure the Minister remembers that. The reasons I gave for introducing the bill, at that time, sound good, and it was, and still is, our hope that the things I spoke of would happen and that someday, but probably not in my lifetime, discrimination will end.
The Member for Lake Laberge mentioned that we should not only talk about protection for aboriginal people, but for people of all colour, and I agree. We are not saying that the Human Rights Act was introduced in this House to just protect aboriginal people. We are not so naive to think that that is exactly what it was for.
Many discriminations have taken place over the years, and I have spoken in the past about some of the things that aboriginal people had to endure. There were many aboriginal people across the country who lost their status because of many discriminatory sections of the Indian Act. It was only in 1985 that that wrong was righted and many aboriginal people, as well as their children, were able to regain their status.
What a lot of people do not know is that aboriginal people of Canada could not take part in the election process. They were not allowed to vote until 1960. Thirty-three years ago, you would not have seen myself, or the Member for Tatchun, nor the Member for Vuntut Gwichin, standing in this House, because it was not allowed. I can remember my parents not being able to vote, and that tells you what the Canadian government was trying to do to the aboriginal people of the country.
I really believe that, when the Indian Act was changed, a lot of people were made aware of the discriminatory sections in the act. They did not really know before. For many reasons, aboriginal people were put down, not understanding that the personal problems were related to that very act.
I would like to say that many changes have taken place, but we all know that is not the case. The Member for Riverside talked about comments that were made by a municipal councillor, not only in regard to the grave sites in downtown Whitehorse, but also other comments about aboriginal people, as he was sitting in council.
I was so upset at some of his comments about graveyards that I wrote a letter to the Whitehorse Star, condemning him for the words that he said. There are some people here today who do not remember that this government took it upon themselves, without the consent of the Yukons aboriginal people, to advertise the aboriginal grave sites as tourist attractions, and there is much evidence that those grave sites were ravaged by tourists who felt free to go in there to open up some of the spirit houses and take out things that were put in there for the deceased.
I remember the day that we chose to let the Yukon public know that we did not appreciate what they were doing and organized a demonstration at the graveyard downtown. Everyone turned out - all of those individuals who were heading Indian organizations at that time to support the Indian Womens Association that took it upon themselves to do that - and people supported us as they were driving by in their cars, but I also remember people who were giving us the finger and other people who were yelling racial remarks at us. This gave us a good indication of what people were actually saying.
I know for a fact that racism is rampant in the Yukon. I also know that it is rampant across Canada. It was evident in the last federal election, evidenced by remarks made by federal Reform Party candidates across Canada about immigrants. These remarks were also made by the Reform Party candidate for the Yukon; although it was not made public at that time, there was evidence that he had made remarks about a race of people. That is very scary, because we know it is real.
It brings me back to the 1970s when people came out of the closet and openly made remarks about aboriginal people. It appears that the same kind of thing is taking place again, where people feel free to express their views. There was a fellow on television the other night during the newscast making a racial remark about immigrants in Canada. I thought not only does he speak for himself, he speaks for thousands of other Canadians. The problem is something that we are all going to have to deal with, and I would like to be able to find out from the Human Rights Commission, when they appear before us, the extent of the problem, as they see it.
I know that they table a report in this House every year - an annual report - and it gives us information about how many things they have dealt with. I think that there is much information that is not included in that report. I think that it is important for us to hear the kind of things they have to say and the kinds of problems that they are facing, because the conversations I have with individuals are telling me that the problem is much greater than most of us believe.
I also hear from many aboriginal people and people of colour about treatment that they get from some of the businesses in town. We would like to believe that all of those people who provide a service to consumers are treating individuals properly, and we know that is not the case. We know that young aboriginal children are chased out of stores.
I recall standing in a store one time and my daughter saying that a women was staring at her. I told her to walk around so I could see how closely the woman was watching her. She never took her eyes off of my daughter who was wandering around the store. She was not the only person who was in the store. There were dozens of other people there but, for some reason, she kept her eye on my daughter. I watched it happen. That is a very bad feeling to have, and yet we wonder why aboriginal people are hostile about that kind of treatment.
Certainly the problem is there. It is a concern to me, as it is a concern to the Member who introduced this motion. I look forward to finding out if there is any way that we can work together to improve race relations in the Yukon. I think that there is, and I would like to be able to find out if there is some way to go beyond listening to the Human Rights Commission in this House during a period of time when they will be answering questions. I hope serious consideration will be given to looking at how we can at least ensure that the Human Rights Act is being dealt with as it should be, and that people are treated equally.
Mr. Abel: I would like to say that there are no racial problems in Old Crow. Ours is a very open community and we know how to talk with one another. If it appears that there is a problem that might involve some sort of racism, and we recognize that by talking to one another, we can resolve the problem quickly.
I can tell you of a recent case that really demonstrated to everyone that there is no racial bias in many Yukon communities. That was a response by individuals, Yukon businesses and many groups to the recent tragedy we experienced in Old Crow. Many people from all cultures came together to help the Blake family in that community.
I therefore support the motion in that regard.
Mr. Joe: I want to speak to this motion today because I believe that we must treat one another with respect. It is something on which we need to work hard. We need to speak to one another as equals. We need to respect one another so that our lives may be better. If we do not treat one another with respect, we cannot go forward as a society.
If we do not have this kind of respect for one another, we will not respect ourselves. Everyone should treat one another as equals and not put people down.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I also rise to speak in support of this motion. As I have watched the Human Rights Commission evolve over the years, I feel that many of us, as individuals, have matured in our thinking about these issues. As well, the Human Rights Commission has matured considerably in the role that it plays.
Originally, when the Human Rights Commission first started, it tended to be more confrontational. As it has evolved, it plays more of a mediation role and now tries to bring people together. This is very important in this day and age.
I directed some individuals to the Human Rights Commission on one occasion. They still found it overly bureaucratic and very frustrating. I think that the Human Rights Commission should look at ways to be a little less bureaucratic and a little more understanding of the various issues. Perhaps I should talk to them about this particular instance one day.
The way I understand it, upon completion of the land claims process, the Indian Act will be phased out. I can see where the Human Rights Commission will be facing some new challenges when this takes place.
In closing, I have found the Member for Whitehorse Centres comments interesting. She mentioned working together. I would love to see that button that says, Lets stop racism replaced by a button that says, Lets work together.
Mr. Harding: I rise to support this motion. Not having been involved with the last Human Rights Act, and being a new Member of this Legislature, I would like to know a bit more about what the Human Rights Commission sees as its mandate and learn about how they feel things are progressing with regard to race relations in the Yukon.
Personally, I see a lot of things that disturb me. One of the things I am very proud of our party for is that we take a strong and sincere view of the promotion of good race relations and in breaking down barriers that have held our country back for some years in many areas. Squabbling between races, or peoples creed, colour, sexual preference, or whatever the case may be, very often takes away from some of the positive things we could be doing in this country.
I know that it exists strongly in my community. I deal with it quite a bit in talks with my constituents. A lot of them are good people, but some of them are quite ignorant about the issues. I try my best to educate them about the other side of the issue. I have been taught it, largely from dealing with the people I have gotten to know in my own party in the territory. They have certainly given me a much stronger social conscience.
Our party is often criticized for our views on employment equity or race relations, rights for people who do not have the same sexual preference that others do, and things like that. We are criticised for that, but I defend it, and I am proud of it, because I think that there are bigger and better things in the country we can be talking and even arguing about, that will have a more positive benefit for our community.
We have one problem close to home in Faro. We have had some problems, from time to time, in our history with some of the people in Ross River. They do harbour some resentment, and rightfully so, because they feel their lives have been changed forever as a result of the Faro mine. The people in Faro do not really have enough of an understanding of how that has happened. They have published an extensive report about that, which I have looked through. There are a lot of good things in there that people in Faro could use to try to understand some of the historical problems and feelings the First Nations people there have.
We have started to work together on a more positive relationship and I hope it will pay off. With respect to the community development projects that we had last year, there was a working partnership between Faro and Ross River that I think, although it had some hiccups, worked quite well. I know that there are other things underway that the community and the council are doing to work with the Dene Council and let them tell us more about how they feel about things and make sure that we, in Faro, know where they are coming from and know what views are. I am pretty proud of that.
I saw some things in the last federal election that quite frankly horrified me, and that makes this motion fairly timely. In the election campaign in the territory there were two of the candidates, in my mind, who ran messages in their election campaign that I feel were pointed at something - quite clearly pointed at something. To me it was the promotion of long-time feelings of racism. Whether it was the sign on the Reform billboards saying, special status for none; equality for all, or whether it was the ads the PC party ran about the NDP pandering to the special interests. I knew who they were talking about. They can say all they want about it not being the First Nations people or that it was not this or was not that.
I know exactly what they were trying to promote. Even in my community in the last election I had people saying that our party does too much for Indians. I do not agree; I do not think our party does any more than should be done for native people. According to a lot of First Nations people, we could do more.
They want some rights to self-determination and quite clearly they are entitled, even under the laws that we have created in this land. The Supreme Court has said that we have absolutely no control over certain rights that they have. That is what I try and tell people in my community when they talk about land claims. I will say to them that even the British system of laws that we have created have, at their highest level, said that native people have these legitimate claims.
There is nothing government can or should do to stop this process. We should actually promote it and recognize their interest. When I see things like I saw in the last election campaign - the promoting of these feelings and for political purposes the capturing of votes on the basis of racism - I think it is a horrendous trend in this territory. I hope that in the next election we do not see more of that.
Then I hear about the Reform Partys policy on immigration. I have had people tell me that they are voting for the Reform Party because they believe that all the immigrants are the root of all evil in this country.
Most of us are immigrants in this country. Here before us were the First Nations people. We all came from somewhere. My family came from England. We were immigrants. To try and say that the root of all evil lies in immigration and the immigrants are coming in and doing negative things to the growth of this country is wrong. It is quite simply wrong; it is populist politics, not leadership. It is pandering ignorance votes, as far as I am concerned. People should not always be criticized for being ignorant, but if they refuse to consider other views, then one can justify criticism.
We certainly have, in our party, people who feel very strongly and have racist views, but one thing that scares me about the Reform Party is that I see so many people in that particular party joining that party for that very reason. They feel that party stands for anti-immigration, anti-land claims, special status for none, equality for all. I have had people in my own community come up to me and tell me that is what they might like about the Reform Party. I have also had people tell me they do not like that about the Reform Party.
When I read the comments after the election that took place at the Reform Party headquarters about nail the faggot up to a tree and shoot him, well, that kind of thing just scares the hell out of me because that is their reason for joining this party. When someone spoke in French - the candidate who won from our party - at a victory celebration, what did they say: This is the Yukon; speak in English. No understanding for Quebecs culture. That is their reason for joining a party. When one has that kind of populist politics, it is dangerous.
In London, England this year, a party won a municipal election in the city that is incredibly ultra right wing, full of racism; their whole platform is a plank of racism, and they got populist support for it and now have a member sitting on the council who out and out espouses the supremacy of the white race and reduction of all others in the communities as the way to economic and social prosperity.
That is also seen in Germany with some of the ultra right wing skin-heads and some of the parties over there. I, for one, do not profess to be the most progressive of people in this territory by any means, but I would really hate a situation where that kind of thing continued to snowball just when I thought things were starting to get somewhat better here in this territory.
We saw, during the last Remembrance Day ceremony, that there were some people from - I am not sure if they were Sikhs, but I think they were from Pakistan or India or Northern Punjab - but they wear turbans, which is a religious ceremonial garb, and they were not allowed into the Legion to celebrate Remembrance Day. These men were veterans of the Second World War, decorated veterans, and should have been treated with respect, not be asked to take their turbans off. It is not a hat; it is a religious garment.
It is similar to a nun going into a Legion - would she take her habit off? Would she have to do that? No, she would not because it was part of her religious garb, just as a turban is.
When I hear things like that I become quite perturbed. I understand where some of the people from the Legion may be coming from, and it is their Legion, but I really felt bad for those people.
I think that if you want to talk about the issue of the RCMP and whether or not the RCMP officers should be required to wear hats or their turbans, surely to God we could work something out that reflects positively upon our views of their right to religious freedom, as well as our right to ceremonial uniform and also practical uniforms worn by the officers.
I will support this motion quite strongly.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: It is the luck of the draw, I guess, that I have to follow Trevor Winston Churchill Harding again, but I guess that is the way that it worked out.
I want to speak in favour of the motion that is before us today. The Human Rights Commission has come before the House in the past and it has been a useful exercise. I do not believe that we have had them come before us since the last election and we now have so many new legislators here. It will be very useful for us to hear from them about their activities. I am sure it will help us gain new insights into and understanding of the Yukons concerns and the concerns expressed to the Human Rights Commission.
I will be very interested to hear from the Human Rights Commission about the activities they have carried out to improve race relations and what they advise us, as community leaders, to do with respect to this motion.
I think that the Member for Old Crow said it well about working together in communication. I think it is important in race relations that we do talk to each other. From time to time we seem to be battling these things out in the press and I think that we all lose when that happens. We are far better off if these kinds of problems, concerns and issues can be dealt with face to face, rather than in a more open and public forum where sometimes only one side of the story is actually heard.
As stated in the Yukon governments employment equity corporate report, First Nations people want the chance to bring their knowledge and skills to the workplace so that Yukoners can benefit from programs and services that reflect and respect Yukon-rich native and non-native cultures. I think that it is important that we realize the concerns that they have there.
There will be many opportunities that First Nations people will be able to capitalize on in the near future with land claims, and they will be involved in many ways, in many of our lives, with the economic opportunities that will come about as a result of that land claim.
In fact, I would suggest to most of us in this House that, with the settlement of the land claims, they will be taking the lead role in many of our communities. They will be taking the lead role in building strength and diversification in those communities.
We checked with the Human Rights Commission, and it is my understanding that they were not aware, until a few moments ago, that this motion would be discussed in the House here today. I am sure they would have appreciated some advance notice of this so that they could have had an opportunity to take part in, or listen to, the debate.
I would like to give the Members of the House some examples of cooperative programs that my departments are engaged in with First Nations. The issues of discrimination and race relations were not a priority concern for most First Nations or non-aboriginal women who were interviewed during the Womens Directorate survey of Yukon womens priorities and concerns. However, a number of First Nations women were asked about the quality of their lives, and they identified discrimination and racism as a problem they had faced. Several First Nations and non-aboriginal women also identified the need to improve communication between the races as an issue. I think the key word, again, is communication.
What are we doing in the Department of Education to address the question of race relations in the Yukon? We have a number of initiatives. The curriculum programming in our schools, particularly in social studies, focuses on fostering respect for others; harmony in relations in multi-culturalism. We have some specific projects, including the play Rainbows, which is a dramatic production developed in the school system, which toured Yukon schools, and centreed on the question of improving race relations. There is participation with the Human Rights Commission on an ongoing basis in activities to end discrimination, and joint participation with the Yukon Teachers Association on the Global Project. It is a grade six program promoting the understanding of people of different races.
In the department, we have specific programs developed to address the inequities in employment, including the employment equity program designed to promote fair representation including First Nations in the government. Of course, as has been mentioned by others here, we have the Yukon native teacher education program, which prepares First Nation candidates in Yukon schools, which is designed to remedy underepresentation of First Nations teachers in the schools. It is a program whose funding will continue. That was a question which came up in the House today, and I will say it again - it is a program that we intend to continue.
In the area of tourism and the arts, we have an extensive arts policy consultation, which is being carried out at the present time. It also includes visiting First Nation communities. In fact, a very prominent First Nations person is on that art consultation committee, which is touring Yukon communities.
We also have consultations with First Nations regarding the interpretive sign text, and topics including the direct production of text in contracts for this.
We have a recruitment emphasis on employment equity in the Department of Education. One of the individuals just hired in the Department of Tourism is a First Nations person.
First Nations cultural awareness is included in the tourism literature we put out. I can table these for the information of the House, although I do not have copies for everybody. We have Pathways to the Past, which is a lot of information about First Nations people. We have the new Yukon Visitors Guide, which has four pages devoted completely to First Nations people and some of their history and culture. We have a guide book on scientific research in the Yukon, which is prepared by the heritage branch and has a lot of input from First Nations people, as well as a book prepared on the Frenchman and Tatchun lakes people of long ago. It is more information for people on First Nations history and culture. I will leave those with the table officers. If Members wish to look at them or obtain copies, I would be more than happy to provide them.
We have also initiated a process of consultation on the living First Nation cultural centre which, when it comes about, will be a project that will greatly benefit First Nations and non-native people in the understanding of First Nations culture and history of the territory. It will serve many purposes. It will be an avenue for the First Nations to teach their young people about their history, stories, culture and past, and it will also allow them to showcase it to non-native people, to allow them to better understand what the history of the First Nations people is. It will also be an economic opportunity for First Nations people to teach their culture and heritage to Yukon people, as well as to gain some monetary reward for doing so. That is a project about which I have had preliminary discussions with the Council for Yukon Indians, and it is something they are very interested in and something we would like to proceed with in the coming years.
In cooperation with First Nations, the heritage branch has been facilitating an increased awareness in the nature and importance of First Nations culture through programming in oral history, archaeology, historic site development and resource management. For example, this year, there is the Rampart House oral history project that the Vuntut Gwichin carried out at the Old Crow campus of Yukon College; a moosehide oral history project with the Dawson First Nation was carried out on the Dawson campus of Yukon College; the Fort Selkirk historic site development is an ongoing project.
This year, in the budget, Members will see that there is an increased amount of dollars on that particular line item to develop an interpretive plan so that by 1995-96, the interpretive signs and the type of work that has to be done on the interpretive plan will be complete - teaching people and letting people understand a little more about the history of the First Nations people in the Fort Selkirk area. That is a very positive initiative that is going to take place.
As well, our department is involved with work with First Nations on the Fish Lake archaeological project in 1993 with the Kwanlin Dun and preliminary work at Canyon City, which has already begun. As well, there is the book I talked about on the Frenchman and Tatchun lakes long-ago people booklet that has been produced.
We are also coordinating scientific research projects, consultation and involvement with First Nations through the Scientists and Explorers Act administration process. That is ongoing work. We have been involved in the promotion, preservation and application of Yukon First Nations geographical place names for landscape features. That is an ongoing project that we have a First Nations person and others working on in the Department of Tourism.
As well, we have a lecture series that the heritage branch staff carry out. This year, they took that particular lecture series on First Nations history to the Na Dli detention centre in Whitehorse for young offenders.
Obviously, the various departments in the government that I am responsible for are doing some work toward the promotion of better race relations in the territory. I would be more than happy to support the motion put forward by the Member for Riverside. It would be a very useful exercise to hear from the Human Rights Commission in the House. I look forward to it.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to begin by thanking those other Members in the House who have taken the time and trouble to express their support for this motion. Even though a motion such as this seems like a motherhood statement from the Legislature, it often is an important statement to many people who look to this Legislature for some leadership.
I am one of those people who feels that a dialogue between the Legislature and the Human Rights Commission might be a very good thing, even if the dialogue were to take place on a regular basis, and not simply when the Human Rights Commission comes forward to the Legislature looking for operating funds for its support. That certainly has been our experience with the Human Rights Commission in the past. To have the commission speak to legislators directly in a public forum, before the media and on the record, about some of the more difficult issues of our day - and particularly about race relations - may not be a bad idea at all, particularly if Members and the Human Rights Commission are encouraged to be honest about their feelings and are prepared to speak freely about problems they have faced in the past and about their own feelings about racial equality in this territory.
It is not at all curious for us to be asking the Human Rights Commission to come before the bar of the House. I do not think it is curious, either, that we should be asking them to come before their normal allotted time, which is some time in May.
Some Members have spoken about the need for all of us to bear some responsibility for improved race relations, and I could not agree with them more. Certainly, the Human Rights Commission has been charged with the responsibility to improve relations in the territory as part of its mandate, but there would be many in the public who would expect that, of all people in the territory to speak regularly and forcefully on behalf of improved relations, it ought to be this Legislature and the people here. This should not be considered what was once called by a previous Member for Klondike, a wasteland Wednesday motion. This should rank right along with our discussions about budgets, deficits, the actions of public servants, and that sort of thing. This should rank along with all those debates as being extremely important business for this Legislature.
I, for one, probably would not have minded if the motion had even been a little more strongly worded, to not only ask the Human Rights Commission to come along and explain what they are doing, but to also have a statement coming from this Legislature, and from Members and all who speak, that they are opposed to racism. It never hurts to say it once in a while, because we have all been exposed to even some of the milder forms of racism that are expressed in the workplace now and again, or on television, or even in community centres. Clearly, some of the actions that took place during the federal election campaign did make one wonder whether or not someone, or some people, felt it might make good politics, or at least convenient politics, to extract a little of that latent racism in people in order to garner a few votes. If that was the case, if that was the intention, it should be condemned, because that kind of behaviour is inappropriate.
We do not have to dance around this subject too much, but there are a number of things that have been happening recently, over the last few months, that would cause one to suggest that things are not all wonderful on the race relations front. We should not pretend, through the use of words, that the problem does not exist. We should be able to feel free to identify the problem and to actively work against it.
One of the things that has caused an improvement in race relations in this territory, this country, and around the world, has been that there have been principled people who have been prepared to speak out, even when it is unpopular. I know that is difficult for some politicians to do, because they are in the business of attracting votes and speaking - in a sense - to their bosses virtually every day of their working lives. It is important for them to say things to people, or to object to comments from people, even when they know they are not on the record, even though they know it may cause some friction between them and persons who are expressing, perhaps even thoughtlessly, comments that are designed to hurt others.
We in this Legislature have come a long, long way - even in the time that I have been here, from the early 1980s to the present - in terms of our tolerance of others, our expressions of support for First Nations people and for others in this territory who may not be a member of the most numerically populous ethnic group.
I did participate and witness some of the worst, meanest, nastiest debates that I have ever seen in my life right here in this chamber. It did not take place in the street, or in front of the liquor store - it took place right here, where we are standing right now, on some of the most important legislation that this territory has ever considered.
The Member for Watson Lake said, quite correctly, that we have matured since those days and I agree with him. A lot of us have matured and we are wiser for the debate in which we have participated. But, as I said, good things do not come without principled people taking a stand, and asking the Human Rights Commission to come and speak to us about race relations is perhaps a minimum activity that we, as a Legislature, should support.
I would like to say one thing about race relations that has been an important guiding principle in my life, from the time I started working in the Yukon, back in 1975, to the present. When I was working in the mines in Elsa, I can honestly say, even to the point that it embarrasses me, that some of the lunchroom conversation underground - out of sight; out of mind - was not very progressive. I am embarrassed, not because I feel that I encouraged that to happen or made comments myself, but because I did not resist those comments; I did not stand and try to resist them. I smiled along with everybody else and that is a condition I matured out of, so to speak, because I have come to realize how important it is not to simply play along with certain kinds of behaviour but to discover that good race relations is not only a matter of smiling, being nice, and simple tolerance, it is also showing the ability to move over a bit, to accept other people on their terms, to sometimes change some of the actions and ways of things that we have in order to make room for different things or actions that other cultures may want to pursue.
For an example, it may be that we have always played soccer with our heads bare, but if someone comes along with a turban and wants to play soccer, there is nothing wrong with that. We should not feel limited. We should not feel put upon. We should not feel belittled because someone else wants to express themselves differently - even in activities that count to us, activities that we consider to be an essential part of our culture and our way of doing Ithings. If we are not prepared to move over a bit and make some room, we have not learned a lot and the tensions that arise from time to time, certainly tensions that may arise as a result of economic stagnation that this country faces today, will always plague us and always cause us to wonder whether or not we are truly the good people on this earth that we believe Canadians to be.
I know others may want to speak about this, but there is some suggestion, now that the economy is a little flat, that people may be of the mind that we should be considering, for example, that jobs should be provided to what some people popularly refer to as Canadians first and foreigners next. I saw on the news the other day some fellow saying that he had no problem with East Indians coming in to Canada, as long as they did not take work from what he called us, meaning white people. He does not think he is racist. He does not think he is expressing racist sentiments. I think he is.
It does not necessarily mean that this person is an ogre, or a mean s.o.b., but it does mean that we should be reminding people who say those things that it is not right, it is not tolerant. We should be reminding ourselves, particularly those of us who are not First Nations people, where we came from, what our lineage is, what our roots are, and wondering whether or not our forefathers would even have had work, had the dominant culture resisted our participation in their economy when, for example, Europeans came to North America.
There are some tough questions we have to ask ourselves. I cannot express moral superiority, or anything of the kind, but I can say that my own views have been evolving over time, and I have come to the conclusion that it is hard work, and sometimes very unpleasant, to do the right thing when it comes to race relations. Because the 17 elected people in this Legislature are considered to be among the most important leaders in this territory - at least, some people in the electorate seem to think so - we should be prepared to do the tough things and express the appropriate sentiments.
I thank the Member for Riverside for raising the issue for us. I look forward to what I hope is an honest and free-flowing conversation with the human rights commissioners, or whomever attends for the Human Rights Commission, presuming they agree to come and have a dialogue with us.
I hope this is only a part of a continuing dialogue we have with each other, and with the public, about this important matter, so we do not sleepwalk our way through some major moments in Canadian history.
Mr. Millar: When I first learned that we were going to be talking about this motion today I really did not know what it was all about. I guess I grew up in a pretty sheltered life because I never had anything to do with racism. I did not even know, to be perfectly honest, that it existed.
I spent my early years in Dawson City. Both of my parents worked. I was raised a lot by a native lady. I played with her children a lot and her friends children. To this very day those people are some of the best friends that I have in the whole world, and they are native people.
As I continued on through my life I certainly became aware that there were tensions. I spent part of my time in the military back east, in London, Ontario. I think that is when I first really became aware that there was such a thing as racism in the world. There was a lot of racism between the French- and English-speaking people within my regiment and my company. It was a pretty mild thing. As the Member for McIntyre-Takhini was stating, I never really paid much attention to it. I carried on with my own life and I ended up back here.
A year ago, I was elected to this Legislature. I am certainly aware of what was going on with the First Nations and land claims, et cetera. I was probably one of those people who was going ultra right wing, as the Member for Faro said. I think that people have to ask themselves why that is happening; why are people turning ultra right wing? I certainly do not know the answer to that question.
I agree with the Member who brought this motion forward that there are some serious problems in the Yukon right now. I think they are much more serious now than when I was a youngster growing up in this territory. I see it in the schools a lot now and I do not think it is just the white folks. I think there is a prejudice on the other side too.
I am one of those people who does believe in equality. I do not think that one race should be above the other. I think that we should be able to walk down the streets together and participate in things; maybe there is poor communication out there. Maybe there is a perception that the pendulum has swung too far.
I do not know if it is true or not, but I would just like to tell you something that has happened to me in the last week. I sit down, when I go back to Dawson, and I talk to my friends that are in the First Nations to get a sense of how they feel about things like the land claims and other issues that are going on in the Yukon. I was talking to a friend last week about it and it was brought to my attention by a native fellow, who is starting to become involved in the land claims, that in Dawson there are two friends, like me and one of my native friends - we grew up together and did things together, and all of a sudden - well, not all of a sudden, these two people work in the mining fields in the summer and they both trap in the winter, spending a lot of time in the bush, one of them, the native fellow, can go up the Dempster and hunt right off the road. The other guy has to drive a mile off the road to be able to hunt. I have since been told by my colleagues from Ross River and from Vuntut Gwichin that this is actually not true - the native fellow is not allowed to do that either. I did not know that, and I am sure that a lot of people in both the native and white communities throughout the territory do not know they are not allowed to do that, because it is something that is happening right now. That is causing friction between these two friends. They are having a hard time getting along. The one guy just does not understand why one can do it and the other cannot. It may be a miscommunication, but on that basis, what is going on here is extremely important.
I look forward to hearing what the Human Rights Commission has to say and participating in the process.
It has been mentioned here a couple of times today that people have to speak out and make tough choices. I could not agree with that more. One of the things that is happening - although I am not going to judge this - is that a political person on city council spoke out and said something. He was immediately branded a racist. I do not know if that particular individual is or not. In his view, he was just stating facts as he saw them. We have to be careful on both sides, and listen to what everyone has to say. We must look forward to a fair time down the road when everyone is treated equally. On that note, I think I will sit down.
Mr. Penikett: I do not plan to intervene in this debate for very long, because there is another important motion we want to discuss this afternoon. I would like to contribute a couple of thoughts to the debate about racism, race relations and the Human Rights Commission.
The Member for Klondike may well be right when he implies that the use of terms like racism or the tack that some position or point of view are examples of racism can be overused. I do not doubt that the useful effect of such criticism is dulled by excessive use. However, my own view is that it is a great mistake to believe that racism is a new phenomenon or even an old one. It has been with us in some form for a very long time. It is with us still.
When the Minister of Education, earlier on, jokingly described my friend, the Member for Faro, as Winston Churchill, I immediately hoped that he was referring to the grandfather and not the grandson, because the grandfather was not only the wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain but also a noted orator. I was concerned he was not thinking of the grandson, as he has recently become a pariah in British politics by attacking non-white immigration in that country. Then I realized Winston Churchill Sr., the grandfather, had at one point in his career described the legendary and visionary leader of the Indian independence movement, Mr. Ghandi, as a half-naked fakir.
While nobody at the time would have described it as a racist remark, it certainly was not a term of endearment.
The fact is that this question is not just a question of law; it is a question of our attitudes, our education, and our socialization. I heard that Zbignew Brezinski, an ex-Canadian who has achieved great prominence in the United States, said recently that television is now a more important socializer of children in North America than the family, schools and churches combined. There is plenty of evidence that kids are learning more attitudes from television than they are from the traditional providers of values.
It is not surprising that a lot of the feelings about race have been coloured by developments in the United States; not only the civil rights movement in the 1960s, but also the backlash against some of the achievements of the civil rights movement, whether it was employment equity or voter rights, registration drives or other such initiatives that have happened in the last few years.
It is interesting when you think of the United States, because as a result of slavery there are 12 million blacks in the United States. I also saw a statistic the other day that said there are one million people in United States jails, and half of them are black people.
Obviously, it would be called a racist attitude to describe that phenomena as a function or failure of the black race in the United States, although people point out that not only victims of crime are usually poor, but the perpetrators of crime are usually poor. We would probably find that very high Afro-American prison population a function of poverty and indeed many would argue that poverty is a function of racism.
I think that the Member for Klondike is quite right, that there has been, in the last few years, a rise of extremely reactionary right-wing movements everywhere in the western world. Perhaps we have been fortunate in seeing less of it in Canada than there is evident in the United States, Britain, France and Germany and most western European countries where the backlash has been against immigrants, particularly non-white immigrants, immigrants of a different religion or different colour.
While I know this is not at all Mr. Preston Mannings stated intention, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Reform Party, for example, has attracted a lot of people who harbour similar kinds of sentiments. One would not have to sit very long in coffee shops in Whitehorse before one could hear Reform Party supporters talking, I hope carelessly and not seriously, about shooting yappy Indians or spiking environmentalists to trees.
The Member for Klondike is right in a sense that the pendulum has swung in quite a different direction and I think it is for the reasons that were articulated by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini; namely, that it is a function of a depressed economy and a certain kind of anxiety and anger felt by people who are feeling marginalized or seeing their position suffer as a result.
It is interesting that one of the things that are always said by defenders of the Reform Party is that the Reform Party and its advocates, it is claimed, are saying what people really think. What I understand is meant by that is that that party and other right-wing movements in the world are making respectful again the expression of certain sentiments about other groups in society, racial minorities or religious minorities, which, in recent years, as a result of legislation like the Human Rights Act of the Yukon and elsewhere, have become disreputable and unfashionable.
I remember, as a young person in this territory, it was quite common to hear words like nigger and squaw and kike and wop and so forth used in the workplace. It is far less common now and even though I have heard the Government Leader denounce what he regards as politically correct attitudes, the fact of the matter is that almost everybody who uses the term politically correct these days seems to not understand the origin of the term at all. I am grateful to that great British writer Orwell who always reminded people that the term politically correct was originally used to describe lies told by the Communist Party to describe things that obviously were not true but were necessary to advance the position of the Communist Party in some debate. That is the origin of the term.
The sense in which it is used now is to describe attitudes or manners of speech that try to be more sensitive, more civilized, in the form of address or description of other groups in the community, other races, people of a different gender, people of a different religion, and try to be more respectful. I would be the first to admit that the efforts to do that do not always produce elegant turns of phrase or particularly poetic forms of expression, but I am one of those who believes that it is a thoroughly useful and admirable thing for opinion leaders in society to try and use forms of address or terms to describe groups and peoples in the community, our friends and neighbours, that do not demean them but that are respectful.
The Member for Watson Lake talked about the Indian Act disappearing as the result of claims. I doubt if the Indian Act will disappear in the country. It will not have application here for the purposes of governing First Nations and that is, of course, a good thing that we all applaud. I think it is significant to realize, when you are mentioning land claims and land claims legislation and self-government laws, that part of what those measures achieve is an affirmation of the aboriginal identity - a positive statement affirming the rights and the distinct character of First Nations. It does no dishonour to Mr. Trudeau, who is currently around the country promoting his book, that he, at one point early in his time as Prime Minister, issued a white paper, which was essentially an assimilationist document. It essentially said that we should not respect the character and the distinctiveness of aboriginal people, but we should try and make them like everybody else. In other words, like the non-native majority. It said that if we fully assimilate them into Canadian society, their problems will disappear. Of course, so too would their identity, and that is what First Nations objected to. That Prime Minister and his Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Mr. Chretien, now the Prime Minister of Canada, were persuaded of the wrongness of their proposal, and withdrew it. There were people, at that time, who made the point that to address a problem of a group in society by trying to render them indistinct by assimilating them was, in itself, arguably a racially inappropriate act.
One of the things that a few of the critics of the claims process that we have been going through here in the last few years have done is to argue that the process itself was ethnocentric in the sense that it was being done in the context of British parliamentary and legal tradition, rather than a synthesizing of the two traditions. That may be a fair comment.
The problem with suggesting that the difficulties in relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, such as those described by the Member for Klondike, have no element of racism in them is that, I suspect, it is wrong. Notwithstanding all that Members of this Legislature have done to try and improve the social and economic circumstances of the disadvantaged people in this community, the fact of the matter is that it is a pure, simple sociological fact that the majority of poor people in the Yukon Territory are still aboriginal people, and the majority of aboriginal people are still poor. That is inescapable, and I think that it is a mistake to ignore the element of race in it.
I was very fortunate, some months ago, to be invited by the Bahai community in this territory to attend a speech given by Nathan Rutstien - I will have to check the spelling of his name. He was a gentleman who had originally been a broadcaster, and has now devoted his whole life to the cause of fighting racism. In the lecture he gave in this town, he made a couple of really important points, among them that racism is very definitely a human invention. It is not an accident. It was, at one time, a conscious policy. He defended that view by saying, in respect to the situation in the United States, that it was necessary, when people in that country were bringing large numbers of Africans on to the continent to work for nothing, as slaves, to deal with the fact that the community that was doing it was a fundamentally Christian community, and very devout community, in a time when the religious leaders were prominent in that community. He cited plenty of evidence, and quoted from sermons of religious leaders of that time, who were urging their flock of European immigrants to understand that black people were not humans, that they were animals, sub-humans, who therefore did not need to be treated as people, with respect. They did not have souls; they would not go to heaven. They were not entitled to the kind of treatment that people who were human ought to be.
That conscious policy to describe the African populace - the unwilling immigrants - as sub-human was a necessary concomitant of the whole slave trade and the continuation of the use of slaves, until the American Civil War. It was also interesting to hear this gentleman talk about how, while they were consciously provoked, most racism is, at heart, a set of irrational fears. He felt it is, in psychological terms, a sickness that affects everybody and to which, to some extent, everybody suffers from.
He also made an interesting point that some of the people who were most irrational about contact with people of other races, or communication with people of other races, failed to understand that the very air we breathe is filled with the cells of other human beings of other races and other religions, and we literally take it inside our bodies every day, without it obviously doing any harm to us. If you went back far enough, through enough generations, it would be possible to demonstrate, at least mathematically, that every single one of us is related to everybody else.
As disturbing a thought as that may be, we are, in that sense, all connected by blood. That is a very sensible and rational view, but it is quite clear that is not a view that has taken hold everywhere in the world. We only have to look at the murder of Bahais in Iran, the continuing religious carnage in places like Ireland or the unbelievable genocidal activities of some people in the former Yugoslavia to realize how relatively fortunate we are in this part of the world. However, as the Liberal leader said, we are not immune to some of the nastier passions that beset people.
For all the discussions of this type of issue that are taking place around the dinner table in my household, it is wonderful to see how children see these things and interpret them. I remember some years ago spending some time with one of my daughters in her class at school. In the middle of showing me something on the computer that she was doing, she turned around and suddenly asked me, Daddy, am I half-Indian? I said, Well, yes, you are. Then she looked me straight in the face and asked, Daddy, are you half-Indian too? It suddenly was clear to me that she did not understand what she had been hearing from other people at all. She did not know what it meant.
Children, at least when they are very young, are remarkably immune to some of these more negative attitudes. It is only as they grow older and are put down by other people and as people are colonized - and I mean that in the sense that they are always being told that their way of doing things, their beliefs or their group is inferior in some way - do they start to get victimized by it.
One of the things that is so disturbing about the influence of television and its socialization powers is that it is very difficult - other than trying to be selective about what kids watch, which is almost impossible - to make sure that young people see positive images of not only their own race, but also of others. There is very definitely a role for parents, schools and governments in this. There is a role for human rights institutions and human rights commissions, such as ours. However, as I said at the beginning, I doubt that legislation is the whole story, because we are talking about changes in attitudes, which take a long time to change.
As the Member for McIntyre-Takhini said, we can, as individuals, do things that are worth doing even though they are difficult, such as standing up to bigots, not laughing at racist jokes and trying to resolve misinformation and misunderstandings, such as was passed on to us by the Member for Klondike about his friend.
All of us - and this is a lesson to us as legislators are well - can play a role in trying our best to understand other points of view even if we do not agree with them. At least if we understand them there is some prospect that we will be less than violent in our responses to those different points of view.
In the end, someone once said that we should all remember that there is nothing in the world so alike as two human beings. I suppose if everybody would keep that in mind we would be a lot further ahead.
I would commend the Member for Riverside in bringing forward this motion and providing this opportunity for all of us to enter into a brief discussion, and I would look forward to hearing from the Human Rights Commission at a seasonable time to hear what they have to say, and learning about what they would have us do in response to this continuing problem.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I rise today in support of this motion in principle. I believe the motion is a good one and that the Human Rights Commissioner should appear before this Legislature, as has happened in the past.
I believe that we, as legislators, should do all that we can to promote and develop race relations in the Yukon. It is essential that we do that so that we can have a harmonious relationship that is so essential to the social, cultural, and economic health of the Yukon.
This government is committed to improving race relations in the Yukon and I believe the depth of that commitment is evidenced by our four-year plan, and the objectives in that plan, mainly: to meet the needs of the First Nations people, settlement of land claims, the implementation of self-government, promoting a better understanding between all Yukoners and to respect Yukon traditions and values, including the traditions of tolerance and protection of the rights of others.
This government is strongly committed to achieving true, responsible government that is open and accountable to, and representative of, all Yukoners.
The opportunity for the House to be advised on the activities of the Human Rights Commission is in keeping with the principle of open and accountable government and being responsible to the Yukon people that we serve.
As I said, although I support the motion in principle, I agree with my colleague, the Minister of Justice, that the commissioner should be asked to present this information when called before the House to review the expenditures.
The timing would allow for a full and comprehensive reporting of their activities in relation to the commissions overall expenditures.
I also agree with the Minister that although it is important to hear from the Human Rights Commission about its activities respecting race relations, it is also important to keep in mind that there are a number of other activities and initiatives that the Yukon government is involved in that impact on race relations in the territory.
Since taking office, this governments top priority has been to work toward the settlement of the Yukon land claims and the self-government agreements with Yukon First Nations. The umbrella final agreement, as Members in this House are aware, recognizes, encourages and protects the cultural distinctiveness and social well-being of Yukon Indian people.
Settlement of the land claims will provide certainty for all Yukoners and I believe that will go a long way to improve race relations in the Yukon.
In addition to our efforts in respect to land claims, the Yukon government continues to promote better race relations in a number of ways, such as making appointments to government boards and agencies that are representative of the population of the Yukon as a whole. Some Members of the Opposition may not agree with that statement, but it is a fact.
We are making our best effort to achieve a representative public service. Employment equity principles have been integrated into training courses on race relations and First Nations. We are reviewing all legislation and policies of the government to ensure that they comply with human rights legislation by working with the race relations council at other agencies, in order to provide cross-cultural training to the public service employees and to ensure Yukon government programs and services are sensitive to the needs and cultural values of the Yukon Indian people.
The Yukon government is unquestionably committed to the promotion and development of positive race relations in the territory. I believe, as part of that commitment and in accordance with the principles of openness and accountability, it would be beneficial to have the Human Rights Commissioner appear before this House to answer questions put forward by the Members at the spring sitting when the budgets are tabled. I understand that the commissioner has been invited here several times before and I do not know why that tradition should not continue.
In closing, I commend the Member for bringing this motion forward so that we could discuss it in this forum today, to restate our commitment to good race relations in the Yukon.
Speaker: The Member will close debate if he now speaks. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Mr. Cable: I have just a few comments. The Minister of Justice indicated that he was not quite sure what the motion was intending to do, if I recollect his comments correctly, and he read the motion as suggesting that the Human Rights Commission come here and direct us to do certain things. Of course, that is not the case. I would suggest that is not how one would read the motion.
Obviously, the Human Rights Commission, a creature of this House, is not going to come here and direct us in any direction. The motion clearly sets out that the Human Rights Commission is being asked to report and provide advice to us - advice as to whether, in the view of the Human Rights Commission, there is a problem and, if so, how we might go about solving it; and whether the information I am picking up on the street and what other Members are picking up on the street is accurate - whether there is an increase in racial tension. That is a first order of business, and then advise us on what the commission itself is doing to improve race relations. This is one of its mandated roles.
I would have to say to the Government Leader and to the Minister of Justice that I do not think it is appropriate to deal with this subject in the midst of the lightning and storm of the budget debate. The whole point of the exercise would get lost in the midst of the budget debate. This is not a dollar and cents issue. It is a people issue and it is an issue that I would suggest that Members of this House should be prepared to devote a morning or an afternoon to, or a morning and an afternoon, to hear what the people who are on the front lines dealing with this issue have to say. As the Member for Whitehorse Centre suggested, or alluded to, there may be other people we want to hear at the same time.
I am under no illusion that the Members of this House are going to change human nature overnight, or perhaps at all, but I think we have a role in forming attitudes. If we make a statement, as the Member for McIntyre-Takhini has suggested, that statement, I think, will be listened to. It is easy to coast and let a problem grow. We have many examples in this century where problems have been allowed to grow because good people - if there are good and bad people - have sat back and have done nothing about it. They have remained silent. This is an issue where, if we as, in some peoples view, some leaders of the community, sit back and do nothing and do not talk about the problem, then the problem will get worse. I am of the view that talking about a problem will, on many occasions, reduce the intensity of the problem or make it go away.
The reason I suggested Human Rights Day is that it would have the collateral benefit of giving the Human Rights Commission a podium through which to reach the public, through the media coming here and talking to us. They have had some budgetary cuts and advertising problems, and this would assist them in getting their message out and, in the long run, this Houses message out on race relations and other associated objects of the Human Rights Commission.
My suggestion to the Minister of Justice is that he get together with the Human Rights Commission, talk to them, and determine whether they are in a position or are willing to come to this House - not in the midst of the budget debate, but at some particular time that suits their convenience and after they have had sufficient time to prepare for it, and find out whether they are in agreement with talking to and advising this House. If that takes place, this House and the Human Rights Commission will be giving a clear signal to the Yukon population that we believe in harmonious race relations, that we are promoting them, and that we see a problem that should be resolved.
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I believe the ayes have it.
Motion No. 48 agreed to
Motion No. 50
Clerk: Motion No. 50, standing in the name of Mr. Penikett.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Leader of the Official Opposition
THAT it is the opinion of this House that the profit guaranteed by the Public Utilities Board and Cabinet for both Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd. and the Yukon Energy Corporation should be set at no more than five percent for the duration of the current recession so as to reduce the burden of rising electrical costs for both businesses and the residential consumers.
Mr. Penikett: Yesterday, as we were concluding the debate at second reading on the capital budget, the Government Leader invited Members of the House to come forward with positive proposals and seemed to promise that any positive proposals put by Members would be responded to positively. I sincerely hope that will be the case today.
Yukon taxpayers are saying very loudly and clearly that scheduled rate hikes in electricity are simply too much to bear on top of the tax increases, which they have already experienced this year, and especially when the territory is in a very painful recession.
Part of the evidence for that concern is the petition organized and gathered by Leah Ziegler, which obtained, to this date, more than 4,000 signatures protesting the rate hikes. I want to say at this time that, since the organization of the petition has been wrongly attributed to me, the work that went into it has been entirely Ms. Zieglers. In bringing it to this House, I was simply the messenger for the people who signed it.
It is important to review, at the outset, the situation in respect to power rates, because a lot of misinformation and confusing claims have been put forward. Even the Government Leader, last night, was not immune to that.
Some of the governments friends are at it again today and I may have more to say about that later.
The facts are that the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Electrical Corporation, in a joint submission, originally asked for a rate of return in their application to the Yukon Public Utilities Board that would have seen consumers power bills rise by close to 60 percent - I think the number is more precisely 58 percent.
The Yukon Public Utilities Board, in dealing with this application, slashed that request so that the power bills would go up by approximately 30 percent, still a very large price increase.
The territorial government, the Cabinet, intervened with a proposed rate relief program that will use public funds - or taxpayers money - and will allow power bills to climb by something between 12 and 16 percent. According to the information in our power bills, I think the number used there is 15 percent.
Yukon Electrical Company, I gather, is now telling consumers who may have the misfortune to live in an electrically heated house that using 2000 kilowatt hours will cost over $200 to heat for one month, this December, and that, typically, many power bills are in the $100 to $200 range. Many, many citizens are complaining that on top of the tax increases that the government recently imposed, this is too much to bear, especially in times of recession.
Our submission is really very simple. It is that the Yukon Energy Corporation - the public company - and Yukon Electrical Company Limited - a private company - should share in the pain experienced by the general public in this current recession. They should share the pain along with the rest of us: individuals, businesses and municipalities.
In talking to citizens about this issue over the last little while, I have been reminded that not everyone understands the role played by the different utilities.
Some people are not even clear about the difference between Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Electrical Company Limited. I should, therefore, briefly say that the Yukon Energy Corporation, of course, is the publicly owned, taxpayer-owned, utility, which acquired the Yukon assets of NCPC back on April 1, 1987. The Energy Corporation has a rate base that was originally $95 million; now, I think, it is $112 million. The capacity of the Yukon Energy Corporation system is 119 megawatts. The Energy Corporation is basically in the hydro business.
Yukon Electrical Company is in the diesel and distribution business and has a capacity of around 16.6 megawatts in its system. It is a company that has been around here for a long time. It was originally founded by members of the Phelps family and is now controlled by Alberta Power, which is owned by Canadian Utilities, which is controlled by probably one of the most successful business people in Canada, Mr. Ron Southern, who lives in Calgary.
When the Energy Corporation was formed, and took over the assets of the electrical company on April 1, 1987, the Yukon Electrical Company took on the responsibility of managing those assets on our behalf. It was a policy decision made by the government of the day that Yukon Energy Corporation, the publicly owned company - the hydro company if you like - would be managed by the privately owned Alberta company, Yukon Electrical Company, which was already in the distribution business here and a very big player in the community served by diesel, and a company that still had a small hydro interest.
From the beginning, the Cabinet of the day realized that this was a complex relationship. Not only was the Yukon Electrical Corporation the manager of the public assets, but they were also, in a very real sense, the Yukon Energy Corporations competitors, and that we had to keep clearly in mind the potential conflict between those two roles.
During all the time we were in government, we were constantly being reminded by the staff of the Yukon Energy Corporation of the need to make sure that they had adequate staff, even though our government had promised to keep it small, to make sure we were looking after our own interests, protecting the public interest and that there was no diminishment of the public interest to the benefit of the private company.
This is not an old issue. It was an issue joined on behalf of the Liberal Party at the time by those who questioned the wisdom of involving Yukon Electrical Company in the management of the public utility at all.
The power company we own, and the Cabinet - which has a duty to represent the shareholders, the people of the Yukon, who own that company - had several options for dealing with the rate hikes that are now facing us. Among those approaches were options that did not involve rate rebates. As has been said before in the House, those options, including the possibility of reducing the equity base against which the rate of return is being applied, from all the Yukon Energy Corporation assets, which are approximately $40 million, and which would produce $4 million profit, if we had a 10-percent rate of return, to only those Yukon Energy Corporation assets in use now that the Faro mine is down, a situation that involves about $24 million worth of the assets which, at a 10-percent rate of return, would involve a profit of $2.4 million.
We have the option of reducing the rate of return - in other words, reducing the profit - rather than reducing the availability of the YEC/YECL to provide service, or there was the option of doing a combination of the above approaches.
In our view, the rate rebate approach is a problem, because the private company, YECL, will probably still make the old rate of return, which has been in the neighbourhood of 13 percent. That depends on how the Public Utilities Board reports, but it has been at 13 percent, despite the fact that it has been a virtually risk-free investment.
At the same time, the Energy Corporation, which we own - which has almost all the risk - will make relatively little profit on the same terms. We have argued publicly, and will argue here today, that Yukon consumers should not be subsidizing Yukon Electrical Companys profit margin in the middle of a recession. Yukon Electrical Company and Alberta Power and, ultimately, Canadian Utilities make a profit in other ways out of the Energy Corporation - the one we own - aside from their rate of return on equity. They have, over the years as a result of the management contract I mentioned earlier, also earned millions of dollars and that sum may be currently in the $4 million range. I was not able to establish the figure today.
I know from past debates in this House that the rebate is a politically charged issue. I looked at the timing of the announcements and I looked at the process we have been through - a process where we went from a 60-percent rate application to where it was knocked down to a 30 percent, moderated by Cabinet to 15 percent. I looked at that process, throughout which we ended up spending essentially $1 million to get that result, and wonder if, in light of the recession and in light of realities here, we could not have made a different decision.
I am, of course, aware of certain ironies here in my relationship with the Minister, because it is not so long ago that he was on this side of the House arguing that the profits for the public utility were too high and the electrical prices were too high. That was in a time when the economy was still growing and we believed that we were having to have a sufficient rate of return to be able to go to borrowers as necessary in order to finance a new hydro utility.
The situation we are in today is starkly different. We are talking about much larger increases and we are talking about those increases coming at a time that is much more painful to consumers because of the recession.
We may be treated to some of the traditional rhetoric on the side opposite. That is fine, I still intend to make it available to my constituents. I heard the Government Leader last night, for example, suggest that it was the wicked witch of the west who was responsible for these power increases as a result of decisions that were made umpteen years ago.
I think it is important not to anticipate that kind of response and to respond to the Government Leaders invitation to be positive today and to put on to the record the statement of the Yukon Electrical Company, on behalf of itself and the Yukon Energy Corporation, the government-owned company, about the reasons for current rate increases. They are described in a newsletter to all their customers as having caused the proposed rate increase driven by the shutdown of the Faro mine. In the body of the document that was provided to their customers they have said, The companies have recalculated the application on the assumption that the Faro mine would not recommence operations prior to the end of 1994. The application also reviews measures taken to reduce rate increases, if events at Faro mine prove to be more favourable than the assumptions made in the revised application.
The point here is, not withstanding anything that may be said by politicians in a political arena, the Yukon Electrical Company, speaking on behalf of both itself and the Energy Corporation have attributed the shutdown of the mine at Faro as the single cause for the rate increases that we are now facing.
That is an important point because obviously the mine shutting down has contributed a lot to the depressed economy that we are now living in, but it has also caused us to make the kind of case that we are trying to make today.
We could have proposed several options, and I am not making this case strongly today, but I do remind the Minister of Energy that one of the reasons why the Cabinet, of which I was part, established the Energy Corporation with the very healthy debt/equity ratio that it has - I am told it is still the healthiest of any utility in the country - was to provide some cushion or protection in the event of a turndown in the economy.
That is why the government of the day put the money it did into that company.
The point about the Faro shutdown must not be lost here. The Yukon Energy Corporation and Yukon Electrical are saying that is the reason for the rate increases. We have to look very carefully at what has happened as a result.
It is important to remember that, in negotiating the transfer of NCPC assets to a Yukon public utility - the Yukon Energy Corporation - we all had to recognize the possibility of the Faro mine being shut down for one reason or another. We recognized the loss of the single, large industrial customer, taking 40 percent of the power, would have profound implications for us and for the territory. We negotiated certain arrangements to try and take care of that. I would like to take a moment to remind people what they were.
We incurred certain debts in that transaction, but that debt was structured in the following way: there was a fixed debt of $16 million - a so-called hard bond held by Canada - that required the payment of principal and interest at the end of each year, regardless of system loads. There was also a flexible debt of $40 million, known as the flexible bond, to be held by Canada. This would allow annual principal and interest payments to change, depending on the system loads, in order to protect the customers. An absolutely essential part of those arrangements was that there was to be no principal or interest paid in any year when the Whitehorse/Aishihik/Faro system sales were below 200 gigawatts. In other words, when the mine at Faro was shut, we did not have to pay on the principal or interest of that $40 million.
Why is that important? It is important because, if Canada was willing to forego principal and interest on the Curragh portion of the Yukon Energy Corporation assets when the mine was down, why should our own corporation not forego the profit on the dormant equity? We could maintain the present rate of return allowed by the Public Utilities Board in that event, whatever that may be, without such severe impact on the customers.
Remember, if the federal government is going to be forgiving of us and not require us to pay the principal or interest of most of the debt involved in the transfer, why should we, the Government of the Yukon, the owner of the Yukon Energy Corporation, not show similar forgiveness to our own people, our own consumers and our own customers. Why should we be charging them for something the federal government is not charging us?
We are arguing that a reduced, reasonable rate of return for the duration of the recession is the only sure route to ensure that neither the Yukon Energy Corporation nor the Yukon Electrical Company profit handsomely at the expense of already hard-pressed consumers.
We have to remember that the Yukon Energy Corporations owners, the taxpayers - the people who signed the petition and own the power company - are not demanding high profits; only the Yukon Electrical Company is demanding those profits.
What the Cabinet is proposing in its arrangements for power rates is that the taxpayers - the citizens; the customers - should guarantee those Yukon Electrical Company profits, and not only guarantee those profits - they are guaranteed by the Yukon Public Utilities Board - but also subsidize them when everyone else is suffering.
We are arguing that the kind of rate of return that we have seen for the last few years for both companies is not justified. Neither the Yukon Energy Corporation that we own nor the Yukon Electrical Corporation that is owned in Alberta are entitled to receive that kind of rate of return in a recession.
The argument that we have used in the past to justify the high rate of return was one that was based on a so-called normal situation, a situation where the utility was busy, the economy was growing and we had to contemplate new sources of supply and going to markets to finance that supply. I will say more about that in a minute.
I would like to say something in support of the argument that the utilities are not automatically entitled to the normal rate of return during the current economic situation.
I cite from a document quoted by my colleague, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, in an appearance he made before the Yukon Utilities Board on June 23, 1993, in making the point that it is not reasonable, in a time of economic emergency, for utilities to receive the rates of return comparable to what they are allowed during times of prosperity.
My colleague cited a gentleman by the name of Bonbright in his text, The Principles of Public Utilities Rates, who said, Most of the detailed development of rate-of-return analysis has taken place since the end of the last war and during a period of high prosperity, interrupted only by short recessions that have not seriously affected public utility earnings, but this prosperity may not last forever and the question may arise, what rates of return will be deemed fair, or even whether the whole conception of a fair rate of return must give way to the exigencies of an economic emergency. Indeed, this question is pertinent at the present time. With rare exceptions, public utility tariffs are not raised and lowered year by year with the object of maintaining a constant or stable rate of return on capital investment. Instead, they are set for the indefinite future, subject to revision possibly in a year or less, but more probably only after a period of several years. But the occurrence of a major business emergency presents a quite different problem, and one that simply cannot be solved in advance by the present fixation of rates designed to yield any pre-determined fair average rate of return. A commission, during a period of prosperity, is pretty well limited to approval during prosperity of rates of earnings on equity capital which will attract stocks or subscriptions from an investment market on warning that even utility companies cannot expect to go through major depressions with unimpaired earnings and undiminished rates of dividend.
The point Mr. Bonbright was making, and the point that was being made by my colleague, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini before the Public Utilities Board, is that we are in tough times. Businesses are having a tough time, individuals are having a tough time, and this rate of return may be unjustified and unnecessary in these tough times.
We want to take note of the fact that the YECL has cut staff, that some of the capital spending in their operation is going to be deferred. The Power Smart program seems to have been cut. At least, the offices are closed. That may be of questionable wisdom, but we will talk about that on another occasion.
It is our view that a reduced or reasonable rate of return makes good economic sense. It is true that, in the years when the Minister opposite was arguing for lower rates of return, we were defending the rates of return that have been customarily enjoyed by both the Energy Corporation and the Yukon Electrical Company and we did that, as I said, because we were in healthy times. We had economic growth. We argued, based on the advice from both companies, that a high rate of return was needed with this new utility because of the potential of having to add to the supply. The size of projects we were talking about could have cost as much as $200 million. A company with a $100 million rate base needed a healthy rate of return if it was going to be able to go to the banks, go to the markets, and borrow in order to develop those new hydro assets.
It is also true that power rates have increased in the past, over the objections of the Member opposite, but I note that at no time in recent years have power rates gone up more than 10 percent and that the kind of increase being asked for this year is massive in comparison. The reason for that massive increase is that both the public company and the private company are wanting to maintain their profits - guaranteed profits - at a time when many businesses here cannot even expect a fraction of that kind of return, and when people are suffering; also, and very significantly, at a time when the federal government who sold us these assets was not demanding that we make payments - it was forgiving us. We are arguing that the territorial government should be similarly forgiving with its own customers now.
We are not making a blanket argument against profits in general. Obviously, we want utilities to operate on sound business practices.
That is why we have made a call for a reduced, or reasonable, rate of return. We have not even fixed it in the motion. We said up to five percent, and I will be frank: we had some debate about that. There are those who would argue that, in tough times, utilities are not entitled to much more than the inflation rate. The inflation rate this year is predicted to be something like two percent. The utilities have customarily enjoyed a 14 percent rate of return, and we thought some modest number between that would be more justified.
I would say to the Members opposite who have talked about their having a two-year rate freeze that that is also of some concern. The Member opposite will recall that we had a two-year rate freeze as part of the agreement with the federal government in 1987. The problem with the rate freeze is that there is a potential for a quite significant rate shock at the end of it. I would argue that, if we are still in a recession at the end of that two-year period, that rate shock could be doubly hard to bear.
We see the motion that we have today as a simple, effective step to protect our economic interests. We think that a high rate hike will impact negatively on businesses, individuals and municipalities. It will, of course, lead to higher retail costs, perhaps higher municipal taxes, or reduced services. None of these outcomes are desirable.
In response to our public comments, I understand the Minister has, on previous occasions, made an argument about maintenance costs. I understand he has even gone so far as to argue that, in 1987, we made a bad deal with the transferred assets - a view that professionals who were involved in the business, and in that deal, hotly dispute. I am not so worried about quoting professionals, because the Minister himself is on record as only recently having described it as a sweetheart deal.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: That was the Minister. We can remember the Minister saying that it was a sweetheart deal quite recently. Unfortunately, I am busy right now and cannot find it, but I would be happy to spend some time looking for it.
Certainly, back in 1987, he was not talking about it being a bad deal, but this may be another one of his arguments of convenience.
The point is that a public utility, like the Yukon Energy Corporation, has a mandate to provide a good service to customers at a reasonable price.
The Yukon Electrical Company, which is also in the electrical business, has a normal proclivity of a business to try and maximize its profits.
We do recall that the Yukon Electrical Corporation indicated that it might reduce services to its customers if it did not get the rate of return that it wanted. It would be very hard to imagine a public utility doing that. All of that is to only make the point that a public utility and a private utility have different interests, they can work together for the common good, but we have to also understand that those interests can diverge. I am arguing today that it is not in our interests for that company, or the Energy Corporation to earn profits as high as they wish during a recession.
It may well be said by Members opposite that this motion is in some way premature, because the numbers are not all in and we do not have all of the information that may become available with the final Yukon Public Utilities report.
Obviously, for that reason it is impossible to accurately predict all of the savings that can be achieved by having a more reduced or reasonable rate of return in place. By the same score, if you are going to make that argument, I guess there are people who would question the wisdom of a government who would proceed with the rebate proposal, in the absence of the same rationale from the Yukon Public Utilities Board.
I think that the argument we are making here is an argument of principle, an argument that, in the middle of the recession, neither the publicly owned utility, nor the privately owned utility, is entitled to the kind of rate of return that they would receive in good times.
I think the argument has been made by some people that a reduced or more reasonable rate of return would not lower power bills very much.
Without trading numbers in the abstract, we are prepared to dispute those figures vigorously, because we think the case can easily be made that, if the Yukon Energy Corporation and the government were being as forgiving with the electrical customers in the Yukon as the federal government has been for us in not requiring payments on the Faro note at this time, the kind of electrical increases being requested at this moment would be relatively small.
I was talking to someone in the last couple of days who had raised the question of the news story about how the Energy Corporation was, at the moment, running in the red. In an effort to establish what was going on there, I talked to some people who have reason to know, and who tell me that may be a function of the fact that many of the expenditures made by the company, particularly in maintenance or capital projects, might well be in the summer season, while the revenues for the utility come during times of high energy consumption, during the winter.
If that is not the case, it raises an interesting question about the source of the revenues to pay for $3.5 million rate subsidy that the government has proposed. I make the point again that we think there is a good case to make that the government should give the Yukon power consumers the same break as the federal government is giving us, and we should forego large profits on inactive assets of the utilities. We do not think Yukon power customers should be subsidizing Yukon Electrical Company profits at this time. We think the government should be operating in the interests of the consumers during this recession.
We believe that the proposal we are making for a reduced or reasonable rate-of-return approach during economic recession meets the test of fairness, that it will meet the needs of Yukon consumers and the long-term needs of the economy.
I hope we do not have a situation where, as a result of these power rates, public opinion turns against our own locally owned power utility, and that it therefore becomes a candidate, as a result, for privatization. I have asked on the floor of this House the direct question to the Minister as to whether he had any plans for privatizing this asset and he has told us no. I hope that will remain the position of the government.
I want to see the public interest of the utility protected. I think it is potentially a good arrangement to have the public company managed by a private one. I say to the Minister again, and he and I may disagree on this point, I think their interests are not identical. They may have interests in common, but they are not identical. Someone has to protect the publics interest. Obviously, the Public Utility Board has a job to protect the consumers interest, but there is also the interest of the owners. I think that has to be the job of the government and the directors of the company.
What we proposed would have the effect of reducing the price hikes to a minimum and we think what we are proposing would be very definitely in the public interest.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I did not know whether to start out with the do-you-remember kind of comments that we have heard from at least one hon. Member across the way because do-you-remember, rhetorical questions would probably take up the remaining time we have for debate today. The position taken by the former Premier, and also former Minister of the Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy Corporation, is ironic, to say the least.
One almost does not know where to begin when one has to deal with this type of motion, which is guided, in my view, by political opportunism rather than by any principle except, of course, the principle of being against any private enterprise and against something called profits, which are terrible, to be sure, if one is of the NDP faith.
At the outset, I would like to deal with the claim made by the side opposite that I felt this was a sweetheart deal when it was announced. To do that, I would direct Members attention to what was said in this House on February 5, 1987, when I responded to the Ministerial Statement made by the Government Leader of the day. What I said was clear; in fact, it was in point form, and I will just quote from what I had to say, I rise to say I am very pleased that a long-standing policy and the dream of Yukoners and of our party is finally reaching the implementation stage. The devolution to Yukoners of the ownership and control of all of Northern Canada Power Commissions Yukon assets and operations was a top priority of ours.
We set the negotiations in motion back in April of 1985, and we are pleased to see that the present government has followed the basic plan we set out back then. The main features of our plan have been followed in these negotiations, and are as follows: and I listed six. I stated, (3) This government has obtained write-offs. We had expected more write-offs and a better deal, but the write-offs are consistent with our previous policy.
At the end of my response to the Ministerial Statement, I said, In summary, we are pleased overall with todays announcement, although we are somewhat disappointed that the overall write-off was not greater, particularly when the fault for the unnecessary and huge overall debt lies with the Government of Canada.
Since the deal was made back in 1987, it has become apparent to all that the quality of the assets that were taken over by the Yukon government from NCPC were in much worse shape than the negotiators realized.
I am told this by some of the very people involved in those negotiations. There is no question that NCPC was more or less run into the ground because the federal government operated at a loss year after year and did not spend money on repairing the system.
What is important to Yukoners is that we continue to have a healthy electrical utility. I would hate to see government interference place us in the situation like what happened during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The utility was allowed to be run into the ground for purely political reasons.
Rate increases are not popular. No one likes to pay more. I would be surprised if we received any petitions from the public that said they wanted larger increases. I am not surprised when people sign a petition protesting any rate increases by the electrical corporations.
It is important to talk about a hands-off policy in running the Energy Corporation. If I went into a do-you-remember rhetorical kind of opening to my remarks, I would probably, just on that score alone, be able to talk about do you remember the time that each previous energy Minister claimed that they were running the corporation in a hands-off fashion, even when a few years ago the then-President resigned, and gave, as his reasons, the constant political interference the corporation was experiencing from the NDP government.
We have said consistently that the corporation ought to be operated in a hands-off manner. We have said consistently that any profits that are earned by the publicly-owned Yukon Energy Corporation should only be used for the electrical power infrastructure, developing economical power for the future, or returned to the consumers by way of rebates. One of the first things that I did upon being sworn in as Minister responsible for the Yukon Development Corporation was to direct that that policy be put into effect.
What happened in the past, and we can go on at great length about this, was that profits from the Yukon Energy Corporation were used to finance the Watson Lake sawmill, which was a horrible experience. The profits were used to loan money to Taga Ku in the amount of $2 million, at the command of the NDP government and against the wishes of the board. The profits of the corporation were used to lend money to an American company. Ironically, of course, shortly after the last election, the then Minister went to work for that company.
The profits of the corporation were used for political purposes and, conveniently, those decisions did not have to come before this House for approval.
If we had all that money today, we would be in a much healthier situation - at least the corporation would be a much healthier corporation. The corporation has been spending something like $10 or $11 million per year on its infrastructure. A lot of that money, a lot of those expenditures, were made necessary because of Curragh, because Curragh was subsidized heavily while it was operating in the Yukon. Its electrical bills were subsidized really heavily, not by the Government of Yukon, but directly by all the consumers of electricity in the Yukon. The subsidy was not merely in that they enjoyed a rate that was much lower than the cost of service over all those years, but the corporation brought in that huge shovel, and every time the shovel would dig into the earth the power would dim as far away as Carcross and Tagish. In fact, you could tell when the boys in the union were having their coffee breaks by simply looking at the electrical panels in Whitehorse, I am told.
A problem with that shovel was not only that it was brought in because of the heavily subsidized power rate...
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The Member for McIntyre-Takhini - I keep thinking Mayo, but of course he has become citified.
He says that my talking about coffee breaks is running down workers. Not at all; they are entitled to have coffee breaks. I would not suggest otherwise.
I think back to the old days, when that particular Member represented a rural riding, he would have perhaps understood that most of us are in sympathy with people, when they are working, having an occasion to take a break from that work.
This use of the electrical shovel necessitated a very large investment in infrastructure in order to balance the load and reduce the impact of the power consumption by Curragh. A lot of that infrastructure was put in the last couple of years, and it is not paid for yet. It has not even started being paid for yet, but it forms part of the base, and consumers are paying through the nose because of the Curragh situation.
What I have said with regard to the deal was that I was not happy at the time that the deal was made, because I did not think the write-off was sufficient. Since then, we realized we got assets that were not nearly as valuable as what was thought at the time.
We have been forced to pay for the Curragh mining operation. It seems to me that is sufficient reason, in itself, to go back to the federal government, to try and renegotiate the debt that is currently owed them - some $47 million to date.
The Leader of the Official Opposition gets into a number of arguments that may, at some level, have appeal. When one talks about people profiteering off the backs of consumers during a recession, it sounds like a pretty bad thing. When he talks about the YECL enjoying guaranteed profits of 13 percent, the correct terminology is that it is a maximum allowable rate of return on equity. It was 13 percent, and we suspect it will be less than that when we get the reasons for judgment from the Yukon Utilities Board.
We have not received those yet. The Member talks as though, somehow or other, cutting the rate of return from 10 or 11 percent, down to five percent, is going to make a significant difference to power rates.
The Yukon Electrical Company, as I understand it, has about $30 million worth of assets, about $10 million worth of equity, and five percent of $10 million would be about $500,000 per year. Each one percent is a difference in their allowable rate of return of $100,000 per year. This is not a huge amount of money, when one considers what the total request was when the corporation submitted their revised application, once they realized Curragh was going to be down for a considerable amount of time.
It is very politically popular to knock and attack big corporations, and it is something that the NDP is quite willing to do. It is interesting that, in his speech, the hon. Member tried to have it both ways.
The Member talked about a healthy rate of return being needed if the utility companies were going to go to the market for money.
He says that, right now, they are not going to the market for money and, therefore, I suppose, they do not need the healthy rate of return.
If we want to become a banana republic, if we want to completely change the system that was set up in mid-stream, what we will do is scare investors away from investing in utilities in the Yukon. They cannot simply say, on the one hand, back when they were in power, that it was a good economy and they might have to raise some money some day, so a healthy rate of return was necessary, but not understand that, by intruding upon the decisions of the Public Utility Board, which was set there to police both corporations, the signal being given to the marketplace is that we are little different from Haiti, or some banana republic in South America.
Once that course of action was taken, investor confidence in the Yukon would go away, just disappear. I say that because we set some ground rules, and the Yukon Electrical Company has made investments on the basis of those ground rules. We expect investors in the future to make investments based on the ground rules. The ground rules very simply were that the Public Utilities Board would set, through recommendation, the maximum allowable rate of return for the company.
We would do this based on the allowable rate of return in similar circumstances, given to utility companies in other parts of Canada. Those are the basic ground rules. To change them now, in my view, would be disastrous in terms of our ability to obtain new financing when additional power is needed, and that day is not too far off.
That is one point, and I think it is a critical point. I know it is a hard one to get across to the public, but you do not just change the rules in midstream. It has a negative impact on investors in utilities, on the confidence of investors in mining companies up here and on the marketplace. It would be absolute folly to support this motion on that basis alone. However, there are lots of other reasons for seeing this motion as ill-advised and perhaps not really a serious one.
Let us talk about the way in which this government has tried to deal with what was seen as a rate-shock crisis. We said that the first thing we would do was let the Yukon Public Utilities Board do its job. The honourable Member across the way said that cost us a million dollars and we do not need it. That was not what he said in February 1987. He set the system up. The idea was to have an independent arms-length board call the shots about what the rate of return should be, and about a lot of other things, as well.
Our approach was, first of all, to let that board do its job, and that is what we did. We also said that our policy is that any profits in any event are going to be used for the good of the electrical consumers. All the profits will be used for that. None of the profits that the publicly owned utility company is allowed to earn will be used for anything but improvements to the system or rebates back to the consumer.
There will be no more Watson Lake sawmills, no more loans to Totem Oil, no more Minister running over to the corporation every day with his little band of friends, giving out money here and there, and coercing the board into going along with it. There will be no more resignations by officials on the basis of political interference.
All the money goes back to the people who pay the shot by way of more reliable electrical power and by way of rebate. Once the utility board has made its decision, and told us what the allowable rate of return is, we will then have what is called a profit - not some terrible thing that people are paying through the nose for.
It is a rate of return on equity that is going to be put back into the system and given back to the consumers.
When we take that profit and return most of it to the consumer by way of a rebate, the impact on power bills for residential consumers and commercial businesses impacts in a far more dramatic way than simply cutting the profits in half would do.
Why is that? Because the rebate is not going to the Government of Yukon, which is a very large consumer. The rebate is not going to the Government of Canada, which is a very large consumer. The rebate is only going to residential customers, small business, and a minor portion to municipalities.
Of the municipalities, if my recollection is entirely correct and I am sure that it is, Whitehorse was facing an increase in its costs as a result of the ruling of the Yukon Public Utilities Board, and the outside municipalities were seeing their actual bills go down before we put the rebate into effect to remove the 5.63 percent rider.
The other thing a lot of people do not seem to realize is that a good number of small businesses in places like Watson Lake and Dawson are going to see their absolute bills go down considerably, and that is a very healthy situation for the territory.
The Member got into an argument - he did not get into it in any depth - but he said he would argue that a rate freeze for two years would double the impact of a rate shock at the end of the two years. What we said in terms of the freeze was simply that consumers would not be paying any more because we would be subsidizing them at the current level. We said that did not preclude the corporation from going back to the board for a rate increase. We said the freeze was really in terms of what the consumers were paying - consumers being the residential and the municipal and the small business consumers.
My understanding at this time, based on the best evidence we have, is that there may be the need for a modest increase in Yukon Electricals rates, necessitated by the rapid expansion of electrical services in the Whitehorse periphery and the development of lots, and so on, and a modest decrease of Yukon Energy Corporation, because it is felt they will not need an increase unless something dramatic changes and something unforeseen occurs.
So, the utilities will continue operating at arms length. Their rate of return will be determined by the Public Utilities Board. What we are doing is simply taking our dividends, in effect, and giving them back - giving them back to the residents of the territory and to the businesses of the territory.
Speaker: Order please.
The time being 5:30 p.m., we will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Mr. Abel: I would like to draw the attention of the Members of the House to the gallery, where my wife Rosalie and my son Peter, whom we have not seen for three years, are sitting. I am glad to have them here.
Bill No. 11: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 11, standing in the name of Mr. Ostashek; adjourned debate, the Hon. Mr. Phillips.
Speaker: The Minister will close debate if he now speaks. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: When we adjourned debate on the supplementaries for 1993-94 yesterday, there were some very interesting comments made by the Members opposite - in particular the Member for McIntyre-Takhini - and some very valid criticisms in some areas that I believe were justified. That is what this House is for. That is what these debates are for - to air these opinions and hope that we can all do a good job. Also there were some things said that I believe need to be set straight.
I just want to go back over some of the comments that were made by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini. One of the things he said was that 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 and revising it with a blue-ribbon committee and committing to revise it even further. We want to know whether the Ministers stand by the expenditures they have or if they feel they should be continually amended right through to the end of the fiscal year with various consultation processes. If they are suggesting that it should be continually refined, they should come clean and say that. That is one of the comments made that I will address a little later in my presentation.
They also went on to say, We do not have any sense that this government is prepared to take true economic leadership and to discuss with the public problems that the territory is facing with respect to its economic future. That is another one that I think has to be set straight.
We now have the government consulting on housing, and he goes on to say that we had the government consulting on tourism and he grudgingly gave us a bit of a pat on the back.
He goes on to say that virtually everyone he meets is talking about the economy - they are all concerned about what is going on. They see some dislocation. They are crying out to discuss the problems of the territory, just to find out what is going on and that this is one area where the government has taken a very hands-off attitude.
I believe I have to reply to those comments and try to set the record straight. There are some half-truths in those statements, but they are not entirely true.
One of the other statements that the Member made in the debate yesterday was that this government, at the request of the federal government, just rolled over and raised taxes. The only reason we raised taxes was to satisfy the federal government. That statement just simply is not true.
I do not know of any time during our administration, or the previous administration, that I know of, when the federal government has requested the territorial government to raise taxes. That is not the way the federal government operates. They could not care less what we do with our taxes, but what they have said - they said it to the previous administration and they have said it to us - is that they are not going to subsidize us if we are not prepared to raise our own revenues. So, therefore, they use a formula that is based not on our tax rates but on a formula they derive from the gross domestic product across Canada, formula financing - they take those figures. To achieve this, they simply deduct the volume of taxable activity in the Yukon, multiply it by the tax effort that is based on the national average tax rates across Canada - they do not care what our tax rate is - and this calculation is totally indifferent to the actual tax rates that may exist here at any given time.
If the rates are raised in the Yukon, we gain the increased revenues. If they are lowered, we lose them. These rate changes are totally irrelevant to the Formula Financing Agreement. The federal government does not take those things into consideration at all. They are indifferent; they do not care what our tax rates are.
The Member for McIntyre-Takhini also spoke of how, when they were in power, surpluses were the order of the day. Well, that certainly was not the case in 1991-92 and 1992-93. Over the course of those two years, almost $78 million in current account deficits were incurred. Last year was the highest deficit on a per capita basis of anywhere in Canada.
I believe we have to look at it on a per capita basis when we talk about deficits, because we all know how all of us feel, including all of us in this House, about the federal deficit. We cringe when we think of a $35.5 billion deficit. If we put that on a per capita basis, we can compare what deficits really are. The federal deficit at $35.5 billion, which now, I must say, is not an accurate figure according to the Globe and Mail tonight, but on that basis, it works out to be just over $1,200 for every man, woman and child in Canada.
The deficit incurred in the Yukon for the year ending March 31, 1993, at $64 million works to a per capita of over $2,000 for every man, woman and child in the Yukon. That is how horrendous that large a deficit is and it certainly could not continue.
During debate yesterday, the Leader of the Official Opposition said that it was quite all right to go into debt and that he did not see any problem with that at all. The comment that he made was that debt was good. Well, that is the type of thinking that has got provincial and federal governments throughout Canada into the situation that we are in today.
This administration does not believe that it is good for this territorial government to be going into debt. If you were going into debt to provide infrastructure that within a very short time was going to bring great returns to the Yukon, maybe you can justify it - maybe you can go out and float a bond issue and justify the expenditure in those terms.
When we are creating debt because of overexpenditures on capital projects and by overexpenditures on operation and maintenance in government we could end up - if the trend that was in place where in 1991-92 the previous administration had a $19 million deficit, to 1992-93 where we had a $64 million deficit - it would not be very long before the territorial government and the Yukon Territory would be in the same condition as are some of our provinces and our federal government. It is easy to do that, but it is hard to get back on the right track.
If I recall correctly, the Member opposite for McIntyre-Takhini accused me of saying we were broke and then six months later saying it is all okay now, think positive. Well, in reality the territorial government is broke. We have a $13 million accumulated deficit. Certainly we get money every year and we spend that money every year - $40 million - and it goes a long way to leveling out the bumps in the private sector in the Yukon. However, the fact remains that we have very little discretion in what we do with that money when we have a deficit hanging over our heads.
I felt it was important that the people of the Yukon knew what the financial health of the government was, and what position we would be in at the fiscal year-end. I have not said it is okay now. I have not said that at all. It is not, because we still have that accumulated deficit and, with the supplementary budget that I am debating now, it will increase by some $3 million, as of today.
However, we have halted the trend. That is what we have accomplished in the one year we have been in office. We have halted the trend of massive spending beyond our revenue. That is what got us into trouble, and the results speak for themselves: a 1992-93 deficit of $64 million, and a 1993-94 projected deficit of only $3 million.
When you take those kinds of actions, you certainly have an effect on the private sector in the Yukon. I, for one, am not denying it. We do have an effect on it, but I believe it was something that had to be done. We could not continue on that road. The operation and maintenance costs of government are too high, in my opinion, and in this administrations opinion. They are still too high, and we will continue to take corrective actions because, as the Member opposite said, it is a matter of choices, when you are putting budgets together. He says we have $300 million or so given to us every year, which we have discretion to spend. However, when the operation and maintenance of government is eating up the major proportion of that, we do not have much discretion of what schools we can build, what projects can go ahead, and what cannot.
The Member opposite also questioned this governments commitment to education. I say to this House that the Yukon has the highest per capita spending on education of any jurisdiction in Canada, and we are going to continue to put a major effort into education. We may not have all the nice new schools we would like to have. We may have to priorize that, but we are committed to the education of our children, and we are spending a substantial amount of our budget in that direction, and that will continue.
There is good reason to be optimistic about the future of the territorys finances. I believe there is ample reason to be more optimistic about the future of the territory as a whole and its economy. I think that we should be thinking positively. There is much on the economic horizon to be optimistic about.
I was reading some of the comments the Member for McIntyre-Takhini made when he asked whether Ministers should stand by their figures or if they feel they should be continually amending them throughout the fiscal year through various consultation processes. It is apparent, as Members of this House know, particularly the ones on the opposite side who have been in government, that circumstances change. It would be totally irresponsible not to revise budgets when this occurs. That is what supplementaries are all about.
Let us look what the Members opposite did when they sat on this side of the House. They would come in with main estimates that were totally unrealistic. Then they came back with huge supplementaries. They had a couple of supplementaries every year, and I am sure that this government will, as well. I do not think there is anything wrong with that. They are brought back to the House for approval. The Members can then see where the money is going.
If we consult with various groups in the process, I see nothing wrong with that. That is what government is all about. On the one hand, they accuse us of not consulting. Then when we do, they accuse us of that, as well. I am not sure what the Members opposite really want from this administration.
We only have to look at the size of this supplementary budget, as compared with others in the past, to see that there has been a change. We put our capital estimates together last spring, as the Members opposite are fully aware. How did we come up with them as a new government in power? We had to work with what we had in the short time that we had. We said when we were making the decisions that we wanted to put forward realistic main estimates to this House for approval. We were condemned bitterly for having such huge mains. We took the mains the previous administration put forward - the totally unrealistic mains - combined the supplementary budget that came forward in the fall to bring it up to where they could operate, and then we derived our main estimates on that basis.
We are continuing to refine that. We are continuing to find cost savings in government. We are continuing, in order to create jobs, to move money around so that we spend the money in more labour intensive areas. That way, we can put more people to work over the winter.
They say there is no economic leadership. That is what this is all about. That is what the task force helped us do. We had the meeting with the deputy minister. Out of that came the task force and out of that came the job creation. Out of that comes the $7 million we are talking about now for job creation.
We will be laying out to the Members of this House where the money is coming from. It is not all coming from savings; a small portion of it is. It is coming from little pockets all over government, and we will certainly deliver that information to the Members opposite. It is also coming from running a small deficit, instead of a small surplus next year. We hope that at the end of the year, with the lapsed funds - which seem to be a sin now and yet Members opposite always counted on lapsed funds to balance their budget when they were over here - we believe that we will have a balanced budget, which we predicted when we came in with our first budget. We are continuing on that road, and I hope we continue to find savings in government.
Some of the monies that are going into this job creation program are from positions that we did not fill - we saved money there. The money is in the budget. It is not that we did not need the money to start with. We did need the money to start with. It was not that we did not need to increase taxes. That statement is totally unfounded. We needed that money. We did not know the Faro mine was going to shut down. Our budget was based on the assumption that the Faro mine would be operating by the first of July again. As a result of it not operating, we saved on road maintenance. We saved on the maintenance of the South Klondike Highway. We have taken that money, and instead of paying off the deficit, which we could have legitimately done, we have decided to turn that into jobs over the winter.
The Member opposite goes on to say that we have to keep jury-rigging our budget to create the 700 jobs. That is simply not true. As I stated in the House, on August 1, by actual head-count there were over 600 people employed on government capital projects and one large contract on the Shakwak that started on September 1. So we were very close on our estimate of 700 jobs on the last capital budget.
What this is doing - the $7 million job creation item that we have here and the allocation of funds - is going to put some people to work over the slack winter period. Every Member in this House knows that this slack period occurs every winter in the Yukon. It is not that our budget did not work - it worked well. This is going to help to keep the unemployment down this winter until the next building season starts.
They say the jobs budget did not work - the one we put forward where we said there would be 700 jobs. There was 17 percent unemployed in May in Yukon, down to 10 percent in August. I think that is a very good indication that our budget did work. Not all of the seven-percent decrease in unemployment was because of our budget, but a major portion was.
The Member opposite also said that in 1987-88 the advantage of formula financing had been whittled away through inflation and changes to the formula. I cannot agree with that. I do not think that is a true statement because inflation is taken into consideration and it is taken into account in the formula through the provincial local escalator. It is taken into account there and that is what our formula is based on - that escalator.
The changes to the first Formula Financing Agreement made in 1987-88 related to putting a cap on the provincial local escalator. The cap was the rate change of Canadas gross domestic product.
The change had no impact during the course of the first formula, the period from 1985-86 through to 1989-90. The new formula that came into effect in 1991-92 contained the now very well-known perversity factor, and certainly it has taken much of the luster out of the Formula Financing Agreement. To make matters worse, the recession brought the Canadian gross domestic product down so that it began to cap the provincial local escalator and that has made a bad situation so much the worse.
I would certainly agree with the Member opposite that the great advantage of formula financing was gone by last year. That is why the Members found themselves in such bad trouble with their budget and why we had to make the hard decisions in order to restrain expenditure growth.
We know, as a Member said yesterday, that government is all about tough choices.
We know that they made tough choices when they were in power; we do not expect that it was all a bed of roses for them and we know that they could not satisfy all of the demands that were made upon them. We know that we cannot satisfy all of the demands that are made upon us, but we had to make some tougher choices than the previous government had to make, because there was no more surplus to play with. The surplus was gone and spent. I am sure that the recession that took effect and the downturn in money that was coming from Ottawa had a major impact on that $64 million deficit last year.
The tough choices that have to be made by this administration are made that much tougher, because we do not have any more advantages in the Formula Financing Agreement. The Member opposite stated that yesterday and I fully agree with him; the advantages are gone. I do not believe that the federal government is about to change its position.
For the Member opposite to allude that this government is surprised by having to make tough choices is simply not true. I believe in the budget that we tabled, that we made some very, very tough choices and we tried to be fair to all Yukoners. We could have very easily played politics with the budget. We could have found some rationale for not building the school in Golden Horn. I am sure that if we had wanted to take the politically easy way out, we could have found some excuse not to build it at Golden Horn and gone ahead with the Grey Mountain School or the expansion and upgrading of F. H. Collins, which would have been more politically acceptable to our supporters. We did not do that and we are accused by the Members opposite of pork barreling and it is just not true. We will get into that when we debate the main estimates, because I, like the Member opposite, do not want to be crossing over from budget to budget and be reprimanded by the Speaker.
I want to go back and talk about an issue that has been discussed quite a bit in this short session so far and that is the state of the Yukon economy.
I, for one, am not going to stand in this House and say that everything is great with the Yukon economy, that we do not have any problems, everything is going to be rosy and everyone is going to be happy. We know that we have a lot of unemployed out there. I do not believe we have as many unemployed as the Members opposite are trying to allude to you, but I am concerned with the message that comes from the Members in the Official Opposition. The message that they are sending is that our economy is in dire straits in the Yukon, because all of the indicators that we have to work with simply say that is not the case. There are concerns out there; I have concerns. I would really like to see zero unemployment in the Yukon.
The Members opposite do not want to use Statistics Canadas figures, for some reason, yet I know they referred to them all the time when they were in power. Those figures just do not add up to what the Members opposite are saying.
In September 1993, there were 15,000 people in the workforce in the Yukon. That was with the Faro mine and the Sa Dena Hes mine shut down. We had 13,300 people employed in the Yukon. If we look to September 1992, we had only 14,600 people in the workforce, and we had 13,200 people employed. That is 100 fewer people than in September of this year, and that is with two mines shut down. I can go back through these figures for August and July, and it is the same. In October, the labour force in the Yukon was up. Certainly unemployment is up, but we are in the ballpark with the national average.
The Members opposite are talking about how devastated our Yukon economy is. As I said, I know it could be healthier, but I do not believe it is that bad, and the federal government does not believe it is that bad. We have just been told today what the great infrastructure program of the new Liberal government is going to do for the Yukon. Do you remember the red book, and the plan? I believe it is an insult to the Yukon, but we are going to be eligible, out of that $2 billion, for about $2 million.
Why are we only eligible for $2 million? Because the program is going to be based on Canadian population, and on the Yukon unemployment figures, which the federal government says is at the national average. Based on our population of .01 percent, we can expect to get about $2 million under this program.
I am very disturbed with that, but the fact remains that, while the Members of the Official Opposition will not accept Statistics Canadas figures, the federal government certainly does. That is what they are basing their formula on.
They are basing their formula on that. I got $10 million out of the former Conservative government for infrastructure in the Yukon. Here we are spending about $18 million on the Whitehorse sewage system alone. We have the Dawson City sewage, Ross River and other communities into which we have to put new lagoons - millions and millions of dollars - and this new Liberal administration is going to give us $2 million. There should have been a different formula for the north than the rest of Canada, and I will be bringing this up with them when I am in Ottawa.
I am concerned about that $2 million infrastructure program, at any rate, but this is not the place to be debating that.
The point I am trying to make is that while the economy in the Yukon is not the greatest, it is still in line with the national average. We do not have to accept that. We have to try to make it better, and we are going to do that, but I do not believe we have to be putting out fears, as the Members of the Opposition are doing.
They say that the public listens to everything the Government Leader says. They listen to what the Opposition is saying, as well. They should be more responsible in the statements they make, when the figures do not substantiate their allegations.
A Member said yesterday that there has been no consultation on the economy. They say people are crying out to discuss the problems in the territory. The Member also went on to say that the Minister responsible for housing is holding hearings around the Yukon. Is the Member opposite trying to tell this side of the House that that has nothing to do with the economy of the Yukon? Does the program the Minister has just embarked on to put up low-cost houses for first-time home buyers have nothing to do with addressing the problems of employment in the Yukon?
The Minister of Tourism held a tourism summit, for which the Member opposite reluctantly gave us a bit of a pat on the back. Does the Member opposite tell me that that has nothing to do with economic diversification and increasing employment in the Yukon? It is consultation. We talk to people all the time, just as the Member opposite does. He is not the only one who talks to people on the street, and I would disagree that there has been no consultation on the economy. We are constantly consulting with the citizens in the territory on a number of issues, all of which have an impact on the economy of the Yukon, and we are going to continue to consult.
The Members opposite held a meeting last Saturday on the economy of the Yukon, and I commend them for it. I would hope that they would make their recommendations known to us, or if not to us then to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment, because the council, too, will be holding an economic summit. While I truly believe that the Members opposite held their summit for partisan political reasons because they already knew that the Council on the Economy and Environment were going to be holding one, I still believe that it was a very useful exercise and I commend the Members for it.
I will disagree with the Member opposite when he says that the people of the Yukon are crying out for an economic summit so that they will know what direction the Yukon economy is going. There were only 30 people who showed for it, so I do not believe for one minute that the problem is as serious as the Members opposite are trying to make out. We are addressing the problem. We are doing it with a $7 million job creation program this winter. We are having an economic summit to look at the mid-term and long-term employment opportunities in the Yukon.
I just have a couple more points I would like to make in closing, if I can just find my notes here.
As I said, job numbers were up this summer with our two major mines shut down. Exploration was way, way up this summer, more than double what it was a year ago, and, from all indications that I have received from the Chamber of Mines - they are the people I have been talking to - it was $20 million this year and they are forecasting it to be in excess of $30 million next year. If that holds true, that will be a bigger exploration expenditure than in the Province of British Columbia, where only $27 million was spent on exploration this year. I believe that proves that this administration has set a climate for mining in the Yukon and they will be coming here to spend their dollars.
Business licences are up throughout the Yukon. I know some businesses have closed, but that is part of free enterprise, that is private enterprise, but the fact remains that there are business people in this territory who have faith and confidence in this territory and in the economy of this territory because they are opening new businesses. We have seen new stores open in the City of Whitehorse.
It is not all doom and gloom. There was a new mini-golf course constructed - the Member opposite has some faith in the economy of the Yukon; he has faith in this administration.
I believe that I have used up enough time on rebuttal debate on the supplementary estimates, but I believe that those messages should be put on the record in answer to what the Member for McIntyre-Takhini put on the record yesterday. I agree that we should all be working to improve the economy of the Yukon and I agree that we can all contribute to the economy. I ask the Members opposite that they consider what their remarks are doing to the economy of the Yukon and the damper those remarks have on the economy. It is not only the government side that the people in the public listen to, they also listen to what the Members opposite are saying.
I have great optimism in the future of the Yukon and I would hope that the Members opposite also have an optimistic view.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 11 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House now resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Mr. Abel: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. We will now take a brief recess.
Speaker: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 10 - Third Appropriation Act, 1992-93
Chair: We are dealing with Bill No. 10, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 1992-93. Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe I have said everything that I want to say at this point and we are now prepared to answer questions.
Mr. McDonald: After listening to some of the remarks earlier this evening, there is a lot I want to say but I will reserve it for Question Period. There are a few general questions. I know the Member for Riverside has a few questions. I will probably just ask the Minister to provide a couple of answers to get us started.
I think this supplementary should not take a long time. I would like to ask him to provide an explanation for the decline in recoveries that seem to be down dramatically from the estimates. Also, the Minister has, on a variety of occasions, talked about the Financial Administration Act. He has talked about how he is opposed to departments overspending, he understands the difficulty that departments have in budgeting, yet he would like to see a situation where there is realistic forecasting, tight budgeting and spending, and no overexpenditures.
I would like him to give us some thought as to how he wants to accomplish all those goals. I remember some considerable time ago, when the current Leader of the Official Opposition was the Government Leader, questions were put to him as to what would happen if overspending did occur.
I would like to hear the Government Leaders thoughts about what sort of instructions he has provided to deputies and to others about overspending and what his expectations are.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe last year, in the debates, we talked about the constraints of the Financial Administration Act, which says it is not legal for departments to overspend but, also, there is no penalty. As the Member is fully aware, I approached him this last summer to get some thoughts from the Members opposite as to the possibility of removing that restriction, removing the stigma attached to overspending. My reasoning for that - and I am sure the Member opposite concurs - was that it is extremely difficult to try to hit a target when you are talking budgets in the millions of dollars. Even for our own home budgets, it is impossible to project accurately what you are going to spend. While there is no penalty for going over a budget, even though the Financial Administration Act says the departments are not supposed to, there is a stigma. So, what do the departments do? The same thing I would probably do if I were setting a budget, and as I am sure the Member opposite would do if he were setting a budget. They will pad it a little bit, and that takes away from accurate budgeting.
That rewards the under achievers, the ones who stay under their budgets, because they put forward a big budget, and argued with their Minister to get that budget, then underspent it by several millions of dollars, so everyone feels good. Yet, the deputy minister who exceeds his budget, even by a small portion - when we have to come back with the secondary supplementaries we are doing now - while there is no penalty, there is that stigma.
Therefore, my instruction to departments is that we are asking them to budget as closely as possible. We are not telling them we are going to accept any overbudgeting. I would hope that, at some point, Members from this side of the House, and those on the opposite side, could come to an agreement to seriously look at that clause in the Financial Administration Act, and ask if it really makes sense that we should ask these departments to stay under budget when we know it is an impossibility unless they pad their budget.
I have answered that portion. I believe the Member asked something about recoveries. I will get that answer for him in a moment.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister indicated that the system does nothing but reward budget padders, so to speak. He indicated that he and I have discussed the Financial Administration Act briefly. However, it does not give any comfort if the Minister is hoping something might happen in the future and that we proceed to spend another quarter of a billion dollars or something before we meet each other again.
I would like to know what the Minister is contemplating. I know he has been thinking about this matter in detail. I know he has probably had long discussions with Finance officials. He must know that there is an uncommon meeting of minds with respect to the problems between at least the government and the Official Opposition in the Legislature and that the opportunity to resolve the problem, given these circumstances, is a window of opportunity that probably should not be missed.
I would like to know a little more as to what the Minister thinks might specifically be done. This is a situation that, admittedly, has been carrying on for some time. Simply a response that says that the Government Leader has asked the departments to budget carefully does not seem to me to be too reassuring that we will see major changes in the departments budgeting mentality. I can assure him that there have been a few messages relayed to the deputy ministers in the past to budget carefully. It has been delivered in various ways. We are still suffering from the same budgeting malaise. If the Minister is serious about doing something, it would be nice to see some demonstration of that by his explaining, in a little more detail, what he might be contemplating and if it is a workable solution.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe when I put the request to the Official Opposition - I know there were two requests. One was on the amendment to the Financial Administration Act and the other one was to try to have some different rules for Committee of the Whole so that it would be less adversarial and the Ministers would have time to get some of their work done. I put some suggestions forward and I was hoping that, if they were not acceptable to the Members opposite, they would have come back with some alternatives. That has not happened so far. I would hope that will still happen.
On the topic of the Financial Administration Act and the fact of not being allowed to go over budget, I have not been in the House for a long period of time, but I understand that this happens almost every year - that one, two, or three departments do exceed their budgets. I would hate, and I will be quite frank with the Member opposite, to come down heavy on the departments and say that I absolutely will not tolerate it because I believe I am asking them to pad their budgets so that it does not happen. I think it would be a real handicap for them to have this clause in there if we are trying to be fiscally responsible. I think we should sit down at some point and discuss how we can resolve it and free these managers up so that they can budget responsibly. I think that is what this is all about. It is not that I would condone a department exceeding the budget by a tremendous amount, and even now, if they do exceed their budget, I will be asking for a full and thorough explanation as to why they went over budget. I really do not want to tie their hands any more than they are tied now with the clause in the Financial Administration Act, which says they cannot exceed their budgets. I do not want to be condoning irresponsible budgeting.
I agree with the Member opposite that there have been directions in the past. I am not saying that this is something new to this administration, but I believe, in the interest of this Legislature, that if we see a problem is being caused, we should all sit down to see if we can resolve it in a rational manner so that we can have responsible budgeting in the departments.
The Member asked why the recoveries were down. I think the best way would probably be to refer to the public accounts schedule at pages 76 to 88. This provides detailed program-by-program activities of recoveries that are all below budget.
Mrs. Firth: I find the discussion fairly interesting. Responsible budgeting and accountability is kind of one of my pet peeves. I want to know if the Government Leader really recognizes what his authority and power is when it comes to determining what will happen if his deputy ministers overspend or exceed their budgetary limitations?
When I asked the same question of the previous Government Leader, he used to give us this same line that heads were going to roll, but we never saw any heads roll. That may be the extreme of the disciplinary action or whatever you may want to call it, but something has to be done and I think that it is the Government Leader who has to do it. He is the person responsible for appointing the deputy ministers, who the deputy ministers are accountable to, and I think that it is that individuals responsibility to see that the budgets are being kept within their estimated limits.
I do not entirely agree with the argument that if a deputy minister knows some drastic action will be taken and that a head may roll if they do not stay within their budgetary restrictions, short of breaking the law, I do not agree with the Government Leaders conclusion that he has drawn that they will excessively pad their budgets.
I have made an observation when these new Ministers come into the Legislature. Many of the questions that I am asking the Ministers, and they are in turn asking their deputy ministers, I would have expected those Ministers to know the answers to those questions and would have asked their deputy ministers for that information. They should know where every bit of money is coming from and going to.
I can remember being a Minister and the deputies always told me that it was worse sitting in the office and having me as a Minister go through the budget with them, than it was to bring it to the Legislature. I wanted to know where every cent went. I was not always perfect and I did not always know everything, but I wanted to know where all of the money was going. I wanted the deputy minister to be absolutely open and forthcoming, and if I did not feel that he needed that money, it got chopped at the ministerial level - in the Ministers office, in Cabinet or Management Board. The budget did not have to come into the House to find out that in three to six months the estimates had either been completely out of whack and that they were either way over or way under.
I just feel that the Government Leader has to set out the rules. He has to get his deputy ministers together and set out the rules, and the Ministers have to get together and go through every line item and every budget item and be very familiar with their own budget so that they know where the money is going and whether or not we need that money.
I have just been reading a paper here this evening called Do we need change in our system of accountability for deputy ministers. It is a little bit old; it is a presentation that was given by the honourable Gordon Osbaldeston, PC, QC, a senior fellow at the National Centre for Management Research and Development - granted, it was June 8, 1987, but it was by an individual who had helped Erik Nielsen as deputy prime minister undertake the independent study of accountability in the federal public service. A lot of the comments in this paper are relevant and I am prepared to share them with the Members opposite if they want, but I would like to reinforce with the Government Leader that I think he has to set down some rules. The last thing I want to do is give departments any more legislative leeway so that they are not breaking the law if they overspend their budgets. I am not prepared to do that right at this time. I want to see what the Government Leader is going to do first to try to get this whole problem under control.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member for sharing that document with me. I would be interested in reading it, but she and I do not agree on this because my Ministers do sit down with their deputy ministers to go through their budgets line by line and they do ask what things are for and they do sanction it or cut it out. Believe me, we have done a lot of chopping out of the budgets. I believe the first capital request that came in was somewhere between $80 and $90 million in discretionary capital. We had to make the cuts. They are tough decisions but, as the Member for McIntyre-Takhini said, we have to make them. The Ministers do sit down with their deputies and go through the budgets line by line by line.
We are hiring professional managers and paying them very substantial salaries to manage. I personally do not believe it is the Ministers job to be running the department day by day. That is what we are paying the deputy minister for. There are times that unexpected expenses do come up and they will exceed their budget. The Member has been in the Legislature for many years and almost every time there are supplementaries to clean up the balance of the last budget - it happens.
I believe that if we are going to hire these managers to manage, we have to give them the tools with which to manage, and we have to have some trust in our managers. If that trust is broken, then I will certainly deal with those deputy ministers - I certainly will. I know my responsibilities and I am not about to walk away from them.
I am also not going to sit there, as the Member says the previous Government Leader did, and say that heads will roll, because I am not about to make that kind of irrational statement because I know, and the Member knows, how difficult it is to come in on target.
When someone is put into a position where they cannot exceed a figure, it is only human nature that they are going to allow a little bit of a cushion. They are not going to be on the conservative side. They are going to set a little more money aside so that they do not exceed that budget, and that defeats the purpose of responsible budgeting.
I believe our budget, so far - and I am saying so far, because many things can happen - shows that we are trying to have our deputy ministers budget responsibly. We have supplementaries of $3 million coming in. These are not the huge supplementaries that were there before, because we put realistic targets in the O&M budget.
The Member opposite may have to bear with us till the end of the year and see what happens then. I would not be surprised if there are one or two departments that do go over budget. It is a reality of trying to budget. I would ask the Member to reconsider what she has said that she is not prepared to enter into any discussions to remove that clause that ties those managers hands.
Why are we paying these people the big money if we are not giving them the ability to manage?
Mrs. Firth: I do not have any problem with the managers managing. However, there are some parameters within which they are supposed to manage. If we just accept the fact that we are going to have some cost overruns, I can live with that. I have lived with that for the last 11 years as a Member of this Legislature. However, I have really had to call into question some of the cost overruns. I am not a financial wizard, analyst or accountant. I am just a member of the public who has some logic and common sense when it comes to interpreting budgets. I like things to sound reasonable and logical and make sense. I have to tell the Government Leader that, a lot of times, it really does not make sense, it is not logical, and that is infuriating.
There is an attitude that we will simply come and get the money, that we have to approve the supplementaries in order to legalize the overexpenditure, which is essentially what we are doing. We keep doing that time and time again. If there is a flood or a building collapses, people can relate to that. It is an expense that was not anticipated.
However, this is a bunch of extra computers or furniture purchased - and this has happened with both governments, so I am not just directing this criticism at this government - and this has gone on for the last 10 or 11 years that I have been a Member of the Legislative Assembly and a Member of the Public Accounts Committee.
I have always maintained that the only time politicians of any persuasion should stick together is when it comes to budgetary matters. It is us against the money managers in government. We have to protect the publics interest. It is our responsibility and what we are judged on, particularly in this day, when so many people are so fed up with government spending, taxes going up and people being asked to pay for everything. They want to see some exercising of control and specific guidelines and parameters under which senior public officials have to operate.
If the Government Leader wants to be tough, I am prepared to support him in that. We should sit down and talk about this. We should discuss what initiatives the government wants to take.
It is a discussion all the MLAs should participate in, because we are protecting a different interest than the senior public officials who have been hired to manage and do the day-to-day administration of the government.
I do not want to go on and on. I have talked about it for 11 years, and I am getting tired hearing myself talk about it, but if you keep saying it, though, maybe someone will listen, and maybe we will get a step further.
Whenever the Government Leader is ready to get us together to talk about it, I will look forward to those discussions.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just have a couple of comments to make. The Member has made some valid points, that at the end of the year, you see a big burst of spending. I believe it is because of that clause in the Financial Administration Act, that it is illegal to overspend a budget. They do put excessive money into their budgets, then they spend it at the end of the year.
I agree that there was a little bit of overspending at the end of the last fiscal year when we were in power. By the same token, they had the money in this budget. I sent memos out twice to the departments, in January and February, asking them to refrain from overspending before the end of the fiscal year, because of the tight financial situation the government was in. I really believe we are not helping these high-priced managers we are hiring to budget responsibly when we have that clause in there.
I totally disagree with the Member opposite that it is us against them. I do not take that approach. They are working for us as Ministers, and we give them the responsibility, and the orders as to what they are supposed to do. As with any other employee, if they do not follow the orders, then you deal with them.
Give us a chance. I am not blaming the Members of the Opposition for these supplementaries. We both had a hand in them. I know this is going to happen under our administration. We are going to have departments go over budget. As the Member opposite says, she has been here for 11 years, and it happens all the time.
If we see a problem like that, why cannot we, as responsible people in this Legislature, make some changes to give these managers the ability to manage. I am prepared to sit down with the Opposition Members at any point to discuss it.
Mr. McDonald: I want to provide some summary remarks from my perspective on this matter. I would like the Government Leader to know that when the proposals came to my office, they were not shot off into mid-space and forgotten. I admit that it was hard to get past the proposals for closure on budgetary debates, in exchange for a finance committee suggestion. Reading through that and on to the proposals on the Financial Administration Act, some of them deserve further comment.
I did encourage further meetings to discuss this matter, but I am still not prepared to put a treatise down in writing as to my seminal thoughts on this matter. I think that it deserves a free flow of information and an exchange of views before we start putting anything down in ink.
The Minister indicated that he thought it was important to give deputy ministers the tools to manage. Could the Government Leader explains what he means by giving them tools, and what tools he is talking about. It is a small point, but something that caught my ear.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that one of the tools that we gave to the managers shortly after taking office was getting away from the person years system and going to full-time equivalents. Every program had person years attached to it and the deputy ministers were banking person years and moving the positions around, and it was not working. By changing that one item to full-time equivalents and providing deputy ministers with the ability to fill positions as they needed them without having to have person years tied to programs, I believe it is going to save the taxpayers of the Yukon money in the long run.
The same goes for the discussion that we are having tonight on the clause in the Financial Administration Act, about exceeding budgets. I believe that will also save us money in the long run.
I truly believe that as Ministers we set the policy and the direction, and it is up to the deputy ministers to carry out that policy and direction. If they do not carry out the policy and direction, that is when you start looking at changing deputy ministers. Deputy ministers are there to work with you, partisan politics aside, whatever party is in power. Deputy ministers are supposed to be professionals and they are supposed to be able to work for whatever party is in power.
I have had payrolls all of my life. I have had people work for me and I have delegated responsibility in my own businesses, and it is the same in government - you are delegating the responsibility. If people do not live up to the responsibility then you deal with it at that time. I am not one that is going to sit here and say that heads are going to roll if this or that happens, because that is not the way that I deal with people. I try to work with people and help them solve their problems. I do not view working with the bureaucracy as an adversarial role.
Mr. Cable: The Member for Riverdale South mentioned year-end spending, which has always intrigued me - the March spending balloon - and it would be useful to see what the record of the present government is compared to the previous government. I wrote to the Minister many months ago and asked for the monthly expenditures for the months of November through to and including March in each of the last fiscal years. I wonder if the Minister could advise when this information will be ready.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am advised it is being put together right now; hopefully, we will have it to you by late this week or early next week.
Mr. Cable: That would be very useful.
On another topic, earlier this evening the Minister mentioned that he thought the O&M costs of government were too high. Thinking back to businesses I have been in, I am wondering what he is using to establish a goal for O&M costs. What are the criteria?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member talks to the public as much as I do, and it is the general feeling out there in the public that government is too big; it is too expensive. I have not set any targets; I have not said to slash department spending by 30 percent or 40 percent. I do not think that is the way to go. I believe we have to work on it, and we are doing so through our dealings with the departments and delivering responsible government and asking the departments to work with us. They know best where there can be savings in a department. It does not necessarily mean - and I want to caution the Members opposite because we are talking about cutting the costs of government - a whole bunch of layoffs in government. There could be a lot of money being spent that does not pertain to layoffs, and we can clean it up and have savings. I have not set any specific targets for the departments. We are looking at them on a program-by-program basis.
Mr. Cable: I think the Minister is quite right. Many people express this feeling, but if we are of the opinion that government is too big, we have to clear our heads. What are we talking about? The ordinary suggestion-box sort of cost reductions? Or are we talking about a major restructuring of government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is a pretty broad question. I would not call it a major restructuring of government, but we certainly are looking at the way the departments are set up now and if they are serving the public in a cost-efficient and good manner. We are looking at areas of overlap between departments. I believe we have three different departments responsible for washrooms in the Yukon. We are looking at those areas of overlap and that is where there is a tremendous cost to the taxpayers, which could, I believe, be cleaned up quite easily.
The Member talks about restructuring. I will not say that we are not considering any restructuring, but we are going to think it out well before we make any moves to restructure departments or combine departments or whatever it is we do with them.
Mrs. Firth: I had asked the Government Leader for information prior to going into the line-by-line debate of the supplementaries. I wonder if he has that information available for me.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: If the Member could restate what information she was looking for, I will tell her whether or not I have it available this evening.
Mrs. Firth: I was looking for the $7 million for the job-creation project - where that money came from. As well, I wanted to know the impact on the supplementary budgets of Curragh being down. I would also like the responses to my written questions that were on the Order Paper, as well as the information that the Minister of Education was going to bring me about estimating capital projects, and the policy on rewards for employees with initiatives for cost saving and efficiency measures.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe most of that information would deal with the next set of supplementaries, except for the Curragh loan, which is in these supplementaries. The Member was looking for the impact on revenues of the Curragh shutdown?
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
Mr. McDonald: I suppose this is general in nature. I was going to leave it until the line-by-line debate, but I realize this is not a true line item in the budget. If the Minister would turn to page 6, to the explanation of the expenditure summary, could he explain what that means? I am not sure I understand it.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: In conferring with my deputy, it is a very complex answer. I wonder if the Member would be satisfied with a written reply to that?
Mr. McDonald: A written reply might not be a bad reply, although this is a written explanation and, while I can read, I cannot understand it.
Perhaps what I can do, if the Minister gives his concurrence, is talk to the deputy minister at some point in the near future and perhaps get a verbal explanation.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I certainly will agree with that, because, when my deputy minister told me the underexpenditures were really overexpenditures and all that, I think it would be more useful if the Member sat down with the deputy minister and got an explanation. I can assure the Member that there is a valid answer.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
We will move on to Schedule A in the book, on page 10. We will deal with the Department of Education.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will just give Members a brief explanation of this $1.755 million.
The supplementary funding estimates under discussion today have been necessitated by two things: the department hired more school-based staff than was approved by Management Board or budgeted for. As a consequence, there were greater salary expenditures for general teaching staff, substitute teachers and custodians. Operational costs for the public schools were underbudgeted, particularly in the areas of utilities, communications and security.
Specifically, the department incurred overexpenditures in the following areas: $736,000 for teacher salaries, $166,000 for substitute teachers, $553,000 for custodians and other support staff, $583,000 in under-budgeted utility and communications costs, $272,000 for increased school security, $60,000 to fill underbudgeted positions, $73,000 for the Circumpolar Language Conference held in May, 1992, and $11,000 for miscellaneous public schools overexpenditures.
These overexpenditures of $2,428,000 in public schools and $26,000 in finance and administration were partially offset by a savings of $699,000 in the departments other two operational branches, advanced education and libraries and archives, leaving the total overexpenditure of $1,755,000.
Chair: Is there any more debate on Education?
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell us why the additional teachers were required. Was it due to illness or larger than anticipated classes? What was the rationale?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: All of these costs were incurred prior to our taking office and I imagine that they needed more teachers and substitute teachers, exactly as the Members said. The brought them in; they were not approved or budgeted for. They brought them in and we had to pay them and that is the dilemma we are in.
Last spring I made a statement in the House about an almost $5 million over three years that the Department of Education had overspent and we carried out an investigation. I provided a letter to the Education critic at the time and this is the last year of this overexpenditure and I hoping that it will not occur in this magnitude ever again.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell me specifically which schools required the additional amount, or was it specific schools.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: This is Yukon wide. I can get that information for the Member and bring it back as we are going through the next supplementary if the Member wishes.
Mr. Harding: I find the explanation somewhat disconcerting. The Minister now said that he thought what had happened is that some teachers were needed that were not budgeted for. Has there been a more in-depth look into this? Could you tell me how it could have been avoided, given that we have collective agreement and teacher/student ratios? Could it have been avoided or was it a necessary expenditure?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I suppose that it could have been avoided, partially by bringing the message to the Minister and letting the Minister know exactly what had been going on. Then, the money would have been approved in the proper manner through the supplementaries. They were sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and picking up the expenditures in the last month of the year, paying Marchs bills in April of the following year. They had been doing that for three years and, with the tight budgetary controls that we put on the department in the last year, it just started to show up. After investigating this, we found that it had been happening for three years, totalling roughly $5 million over the three-year period.
Mrs. Firth: There was $202,000 on additional security costs. What is that cost about?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Member will recall that, during the last year in particular, we experienced quite a few break-ins at our schools, we had computers stolen, and we had to increase security and put up camera monitors in many schools.
I know that several schools were broken into in Riverdale and Porter Creek. There was a rash of break-ins that were not budgeted for at that time, because it had not been happening very frequently in the past. It was an unbudgeted item, but we simply had to provide security for the schools.
I think that you may recall, in the case of the Whitehorse Elementary School, there was a child assaulted inside the school. We then had to go into the school and install proper security equipment and cameras in the school to monitor people entering and exiting that school.
The expenditure was for installing security systems.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell us whether they have built in additional costs? Are they continuing to pay for the security measures, and is that going to be built into the new budget? What I am trying to find out is, for what period of time is this extra $202,000, and what kind of impact is it going to have on our budget from now on?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can bring that information back to the Member. My understanding is that we have adequate security in our schools now. Of course, having said that, someone might be breaking into one of them as we are speaking, but we think we have adequate security in the schools now. If we have to beef it up in the future, it will cost money to do so, but I hope we have adequate funds in the budget. I can bring the information back to the Member.
Chair: Is there any further general debate?
On Operation & Maintenance Expenditures
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $1,755,000 agreed to
Education in the amount of $1,755,000 agreed to
Department of Finance
Chair: Is there any general debate on Finance?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: In its normal operation, the Department of Finance underspent $55,000 for the year. Unfortunately, because of the events surrounding the Curragh receivership of its Yukon assets, it was necessary to make provisions for the potentially uncollectible $5 million stripping loan provided to Curragh by the Yukon government. The booking of this provision by the Department of Finances vote results in an overexpenditure of $4,945,000. The loan was secured by a second mortgage on concentrates inventories and accounts receivable of Curragh Inc. The Bank of Nova Scotia held first priority over the security.
It is our feeling that some of the security realized by the bank under the CCAA proceedings should have flowed to this government. Although, not surprisingly, the banks lawyers disagree with this and maintain that none was available to the Yukon government.
This matter is now in the hands of the solicitors for the parties concerned, and only time will tell if we are able to realize anything from the inventories and receivables that are due to this government. In any event, any realization from this source would be a very small proportion of the loan amount.
As for the remaining funds owed to YTG, we will rank as an unsecured creditor, along with the other noteholders. Ranking ahead of us will be the lien holders, the creditors with specific security on various pieces of equipment, and the federal government for the costs of the receivership, including the expenses of the sale process.
Any likelihood of our receiving anything significant from this source is remote, to say the least. For these reasons, we thought it was necessary to make provisions for our loan loss, which has driven the Department of Finance into a rather large overexpenditure for the year.
Mr. McDonald: When was the decision made for the government to book this write-off?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that it was some time in July.
Mr. McDonald: It was in July that the decision was made to book a loss for a period that ended March 31, is that correct? Right.
The government indicated that they felt that they may have some opportunity to secure some of this money, but did not say how much. How much, in ballpark figures, is he talking about - he said it was a small fraction. What is a small fraction?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: By the best estimates that we can get right now, it would not exceed $600,000.
Mr. McDonald: If any money is realized through the court case, when would that money be booked?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I presume it would be booked when we know that we have gotten it.
Mr. McDonald: That would be quite fortunate, would it not? As far as efforts being made to secure this loan - how aggressive is the government, right now, in attempting to battle it out with their solicitors to get even $600,000? How much effort are they putting into that project?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe we are putting in every effort that we can. We have notified the Bank of Nova Scotia that we are making this claim, that we feel that they took too much of the security, that there should have been some left for us, and we will be pursuing it in court.
Mr. McDonald: Has there been an examination for discovery or any dates set yet for court activity, or is it simply some letters flying back and forth between the Government of the Yukon and the bank?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, it is more than that. I believe that it will all be played out in the bankruptcy proceedings that are in front of the court right now.
Mr. McDonald: When those proceedings are complete, will the decision be made with respect to the $600,000, or whatever amount is available?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is what we are hoping for. That is the best we are hoping for. We do not know if we will even get that.
Mr. McDonald: I was not referring to the amount of money - the $600,000 or whatever fraction of the $5 million the government is seeking. I am asking more for the time line. When the bankruptcy proceedings are complete, we will know for certain precisely how much money we have been able to secure as a government. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am informed that we may not necessarily know then, but we are going to try and see if we can get it then. We have to see what plays out in the courts first.
Mr. McDonald: What follows the bankruptcy proceedings that would still cause us some uncertainty about this? How are the proceedings expected to go, and why is it that this cannot be resolved through the bankruptcy proceedings?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I think I may be getting out of my depth here. I am not a lawyer, but we are trying to pursue it in the context of the bankruptcy proceedings. This is money that is owed to the government. We are trying for the whole $5 million. It will really depend on what the receiver gets for the assets of Curragh Inc.
Mr. Cable: This is what I suppose you could call a non-cash item. Nothing really hangs on this as far as the governments wealth is concerned.
Why was it felt necessary to book this item in this particular year, rather than leaving the court action to be played out?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am sorry, I guess the government and our department feels that, when a loan is not likely to be collected, it should be written off. I guess I could ask the Member opposite how much he would pay for that $5 million note.
Mr. Cable: Well, the Minister cut my pay last year, so I will have to decline that offer.
When is the YTG $5 million note due?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It was a demand note.
Mr. Cable: Has a demand been made on Curragh?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, we certainly have.
Mr. Cable: At this day - it is a nit-picking bookkeeping matter here - but the note was accumulating interest. How is the write-off of the interest handled?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We never collected a cent of interest on this $5 million, and we really did not book anything for it.
Mr. Cable: One of the assets against which the loan that was secured was the ore stockpile. I was just trying to recollect in my mind the sequence of events. As I recollect it, and correct me if I am wrong, one of the officers of Curragh early on indicated that they were going to work into the stockpiles for some cash - this is before the Companies Creditors Arrangement Act application. If in fact my recollection is correct, could the Minister explain why something was not done to enhance the governments position in relation to that stockpile before it all disappeared to the docks at Skagway?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is fully aware that we tried everything we could to get this company going. It was not only secured by the stockpiles that they had at Faro, it was secured by the concentrate that was sitting in the bins at Skagway and also by the accounts receivable. At this time, you have to remember that Curragh did not have any excess cash. They could not even pay the lien holders or suppliers. If we had made any unrealistic demands at that time it may have forced the company under that much quicker.
Mr. Cable: Something that I attempted to get some information on, but have not been successful at, is that I understand Curragh has some property interests at the dock in Skagway - either a lease, a sub-lease or license.
Has the government investigated recovery against that piece of property?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will just be brief on this as we are running out of time. It is under bankruptcy proceedings in the United States.
I move that we report progress on Bill No. 10.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
The Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 10, entitled Third Appropriation Act, 1992-93, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:28 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled November 17, 1993:
Yukon Literacy Strategy (dated November 1993)
The following Filed Document was filed November 17, 1993:
Booklets reflecting co-operative efforts between First Nations people and the Yukon Government Department of Tourism (Phillips)