Tuesday, November 23, 1993 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Recognition of the death of Bruce Johnson
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the Yukon government, to send our condolences to the family of the late Bruce Johnson, who died in a very tragic accident Sunday.
Bruce was a devoted northerner who was known for his dedication to his family and to his religion, but most of us knew Bruce as an ambassador for the sport of dog mushing and for the respect and care he gave to his team.
Dog mushing is a northern tradition that dates back to aboriginal history and northern exploration. I know that the men and women who uphold these traditions today through working, recreational and professional mushing will sadly miss their fellow driver Bruce Johnson.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would also like to pay tribute to Bruce Johnson.
Not only was he one of the Yukons most respected mushers and dog breeders, but he was a person who led by example. His courage, tenacity and sense of humour were always an inspiration to those in the dog mushing community, but, in particular, his dedication to his dogs will be remembered by his mushing friends.
I would like to extend personal condolences, and those of our caucus, to Jeaneil, Elizabeth, Zea, Bronwyn and the rest of his family. We will miss him.
Speaker: Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have a document for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have a list of the various Economic Development projects in the past year.
Speaker: Are there any further Returns or Documents for tabling?
Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to Question Period.
Question re: Forestry transfer, employee concerns
Mr. Penikett: The federal employees slated to come to the territorial government in the forestry transfer have expressed, through their union, serious concerns about the Yukon governments proposed organization of the forest program, the length of the fire season, hours of work, and the possibility of their jobs being contracted out after the transfer and many other concerns.
Will the Government Leader or the Minister of Renewable Resources meet with the affected employees to conclude a memorandum on terms and conditions of employment, something the government has so far failed to do, as soon as possible?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I am rather surprised at the Leader of the Official Opposition making requests like that. He knows that negotiations are not done out in the open; it is done with negotiators. I am quite confident in my negotiators and the federal negotiators who have a very good program that they are trying to get through. We will not meet alone.
Mr. Penikett: I am disappointed in the Deputy Government Leaders response because he, I understand, has refused to meet with the employees even as citizens of the Yukon and, indeed, the memorandum of understanding, which he has offered to the employees, is entirely the governments point of view - there is nothing for the employees whatsoever. I would like to ask him why he has refused to meet with the employees and why he has refused, as well, to deal sensitively and responsibly with the First Nations objections to the forestry transfer proceeding, without adequate consultation with them about their legitimate interests in the forestry program.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: It is completely not true that we have not tried to work with the CYI. I met them once when I first came into this office. We have contacted them every time there is a meeting. We have offered them money for them to have a person on the committee to sit with us. We have notified them of everything that went on, and if they do not come to the table they cannot negotiate.
Mr. Penikett: The CYI have said that this government and this Minister is not consulting according to the definition of consultation as required under the umbrella final agreement. So let me ask the Government Leader, or the Deputy Government Leader, if he prefers to answer: does this government intend to ram through the forestry program transfer over the objections of the First Nations and over the objections of the employees, clear cut their way through all opposition, and all legitimate concerns of people who are questioning their decisions be damned. Is that the position of the government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We went through this debate in this House yesterday afternoon and I made the comment that the Leader of the Official Opposition was making statements to mislead the people of the Yukon on what was involved in the umbrella final agreement. I went on to quote the sections in chapter 23 that deal with devolution, and we are following the umbrella final agreement and we will continue to do that.
Question re: Land claims, Liberal government perspective
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader ignored that I quoted other chapters dealing with forestry and questions about economic provisions for First Nations in that agreement, which the government is ignoring.
Let me ask the Government Leader this important question, since he is about to attend a meeting with the federal Minister.
During the recent federal election, the Liberal Party, now the Government of Canada, published a policy paper on land claims negotiations that indicates significant changes to the previous Conservative policies in areas of extinguishment, entrenchment of self-government surrender provisions, negotiation loan repayment, extra lands and resources, treat commissions, and a major overhaul of the claims process.
Has the Government Leader any reason to believe that these new policies will either help or hinder passage of the Yukon land claims and self-government legislation through Parliament?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I think that the Liberal governments position on First Nations rights and land claims will have very little effect on the Yukon land claims settlement, because these are negotiated agreements that have been negotiated and signed by three parties. While First Nations may make some gains, I do not see those statements or those types of policies slowing the land claims process in the Yukon.
Mr. Penikett: Can the Government Leader advise the House whether or not it is the case that the First Nations are seeking changes to the agreements that are made here, consistent with the new Liberal policy paper? Also, has the Government Leader consulted with CYI about those changes, or has the federal government sought the opinion of the Yukon government about the proposed changes in areas such as extinguishment, surrender provisions, negotiation loan repayments and questions of that nature?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have not had any direct representation from CYI to the effect that they are asking for changes in the umbrella final agreement. I have heard rumours about changes, but I have not received direct representations.
Mr. Penikett: Has anyone in the Yukon Party government taken a look at the Chretien policy paper on aboriginal questions, which was issued during the election - it is quite a long and detailed document - and analyzed the potential impact on the expeditious passage of the Yukon land claims agreement?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, I do not believe the policy of the new government will have very much impact on the continuing negotiations and the settling of land claims in the Yukon. As the Member is fully aware, if there are any bands in Canada that get something better - more rights - the First Nations in the Yukon are automatically entitled to them; they can renegotiate those sections of the umbrella final agreement. It is all spelled out in that agreement, and I do not see the policy of the Liberal government slowing down that process.
Question re: Forestry policy, log export and wood chips
Mr. Cable: The federal government is in the process of developing an export policy for logs, wood chips and fuel wood. The Minister responsible for Renewable Resources stated in the spring session that this policy was being developed in consultation with the Yukon government. He also indicated that a ministerial statement would be issued, setting out the governments position.
As I do not recollect this being done, would the Minister confirm that the Yukon government opposes log exports from commercial timber permits, except in certain special circumstances?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: At the present time, we do not have much say on that, except to give advice. Our policy is being worked on. If forestry is signed over to us, that policy will be made public.
Mr. Cable: It is my understanding that policy was already made public to the group that is working on the public discussion paper. That is the document here, to which I think the government formally responded some months ago. This public discussion paper, put out by the federal officials, recommended that the export of wood chips be allowed, only if they are produced from logging or milling residue, or from logs of too poor a grade of lumber and the wood is not suitable for fuel wood for local consumption.
Is the Minister in agreement with this recommendation, as put out in this public discussion paper by the federal officials?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Yes, we are.
Mr. Cable: Another recommendation put out by the federal officials in this public discussion paper was that the economic stumpage fees, as they are called, should be increased to reflect a fair return to the owner, the public. Does the Minister agree with this recommendation?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Yes, absolutely.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, privatization of
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister responsible for Yukon energy, to find out some more answers to questions we initially raised yesterday.
Yesterday, during some of the questions in Question Period, he stated that an investment company had contacted him to discuss the issue of privatization. He could not quite recollect the name. Could he tell us today who it was and when this conversation took place?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The conversation took place about one month ago. I would have to look up the name of the company.
Mr. Harding: I am going to have to ask the same question of the Minister. Yesterday, we asked very specifically about the name of this company. Why would the Minister not have gained some recollection, after Question Period, of who this investment company was that had contacted him?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I do not know, but I am quite prepared to give the name to the Member opposite once I have looked it up.
Mr. Harding: Could I ask the same Minister this question then: could he tell us who from YECL he had discussions with regarding privatization and when he had these discussions concerning the move to privatization or the discussion of that option?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The discussions were very general discussions. They were held during the annual meeting of the board up here, in June, and the discussions were with the various members of the board of directors of Alberta Power.
Question re: Strike preparations
Ms. Moorcroft: My question is for the Government Leader. The government is not answering my questions concerning its plans for a labour dispute it seems determined to cause. I asked last week about the training it is doing to cover so-called skill shortfalls in the event of a labour dispute, and the answer I got said nothing new except for mentioning training for critical services. Since the essential services agreement, which excludes workers like liquor store workers, does not mention critical services but the Minister states that training assessments to support critical services will be ongoing as an internal employer defensive strategy - his words, not mine - would the Minister tell this House what the difference is between an essential and a critical service?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am very reluctant to start talking in this Legislature about items that are under the collective bargaining system. The Member opposite has to be fully aware that there are some critical operations that must continue in the unfortunate event that there was a strike.
Ms. Moorcroft: As I am aware, there is no media blackout on these sets of negotiations, but the Minister seems to have a blackout on wanting to give any information.
What does the Minister see as the difference between an essential and a critical service, and can the Minister explain why he is willing to disrupt public service to all Yukoners and force union members out on strike when the union has made it clear that all its members want is to continue providing services to this territory?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The allegations that are being made by the Member opposite are simply not true. This government has been prepared to go to conciliation since September; it is the union that is dragging their feet. The Member opposite is very intent on politicizing the whole collective bargaining process. She is very intent on doing that and I am not about to engage in that.
Ms. Moorcroft: May I point out that it was the government, in its legislative return, which accused the union of engineering strike action when it is well known that it is the governments refusal to continue the provisions in the collective agreement concerning job security that is the critical obstacle to signing a new contract. The government is taking its training plans for essential workers far beyond what anyone would expect of someone bargaining in good faith. For example, special training courses that normally last three months or more are being condensed into one month and excluded workers told to take them, all with an eye to replacing those workers who may soon be forced out on strike.
Given that the Public Service Staff Relations Act prohibits the government from replacing striking employees, would the Minister tell this House what his intent is toward replacing workers, given his actions to date?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have filed the documents with the Member opposite on the actions that this government is taking regarding negotiations with the union, and I am not prepared to get into further discussions at this point. This matter is going to conciliation and this government has been ready to go to conciliation for many months now. For the Member opposite to be accusing us of perpetuating these negotiations is folly.
Question re: Strike preparations
Ms. Moorcroft: There is a date set for conciliation that will be coming up shortly. Might I point out that there would not be conciliation if the government was not taking the position that it is.
Privatization is a theme nowadays in Question Period, and not only with respect to the Yukon Energy Corporation. I cannot help but suspect that the Ministers intransigence over job security is tied to this issue.
Would the Minister tell this House about the massive changes that are planned for privatizing the public service, as I, for one, would like some advance warning.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will let the Member opposite know that we will go to conciliation tomorrow if the union wishes to do so. This government has been ready since the middle of September.
When we have any announcements to make on change of government policy and how it is dealing with the public sector, we will make those announcements at that time.
Ms. Moorcroft: I gather that the Ministers response meant that he was denying any plans for privatization, but I have here a copy of a memorandum from a senior manager in the Department of Government Services, which openly discusses the interests of this government in privatizing various public functions and the massive changes that will result.
Would the Minister please tell this House about these massive changes or, failing that, explain why senior managers are directing their staff to prepare for privatization in the absence of any policy or intent brought to the attention of this House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: These are totally ridiculous allegations.
Some Hon. Member: It is in a letter.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The letter says nothing about privatization, absolutely nothing. The memorandum talks about delivering good government, something that the Members opposite were not capable of doing in seven and one-half years.
Ms. Moorcroft: Another is the interest that this government is showing in privatization, where it can be demonstrated that to privatize an operation would improve service at no extra cost, or would reduce costs with no reduction of service levels.
Another curious aspect of the governments recent actions is the priming of the privatization pump through a variety of cuts to public services provided by auxiliaries. These cuts are especially cruel, because they not only reduce auxiliary workers wages by 90 percent in some cases, but also because these workers cannot resort to unemployment insurance. They are disqualified on two counts; they cannot quit the jobs they are paid a pittance for and they are considered to be working.
Would the Minister please tell this House about the governments new policy or, in the likely absence of such a policy, the reasons for the governments decision to cut back the hours and pay of many of the public services auxiliary workers?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe the Member opposite was quoting from a document and being the honourable Member that she is and if that is the case I would ask that she table it.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, privatization of
Mr. Penikett: The government has said that it has some informal discussions with various people, including Alberta Power about privatizing the assets of the Yukon Energy Corporation and when pressed further it admitted that it has sought legal advice about unspecified aspects of this matter. I would like to ask the Government Leader if he has sought legal advice about how privatizing some or all of the assets of the Yukon Energy Corporation will affect the umbrella final agreement?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe the Minister answered those questions yesterday in this House. If the Member opposite wants me to go back over the same Question Period as yesterday, I will. It seems like they are running out of questions over there; they are recycling them and the session has only been in three weeks.
When the time arises, if the privatization ever gets to that point, we will be seeking legal opinions as to whether we are contravening the umbrella final agreement.
Mr. Penikett: We all know how much the Government Leader enjoys Question Period. He seems to want to miss most of it. The umbrella final agreement, signed between the-
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: I think I am being invited to say that I will not pair, and then he will stay. An interesting example of good government.
The umbrella final agreement contains provisions regarding flooding rights and water agreements.
Speaker: Order please. I would like the Member to be allowed to ask his question.
Mr. Penikett: The umbrella final agreement contains provisions regarding flooding rights and water agreements in which it was assumed by the negotiators of all parties that a publicly owned Yukon Energy Corporation would be in place so much that the Energy Corporation is to be an agent of the government in future energy matters. I would like to ask the Government Leader to tell this House if, as a matter of policy, his government will countenance Atco Trailers or Alberta Power or any of its subsidiaries as an agent of the government under the terms of the umbrella final agreement, with the right to flood traditional lands at the corporations pleasure? I am asking that as a matter of policy.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I say, the Member must be getting short of questions if he wants me to keep getting up and answering the same one.
I just stated quite unequivocally that if the Minister finds in his explorations how the Energy Corporation can do a better job to serve the Yukon ratepayers and bring in lower energy rates for all Yukoners, we will deal with those issues as they arise.
I am not about to make assumptions about them at this point.
Mr. Penikett: Unfortunately, every time the Government Leader opens his mouth, we find more questions to ask, including noting that the economic development chapters of the First Nations final agreements, negotiated by the previous territorial and federal governments, provided a detailed description of partnership, equity, employment and training opportunities with YTG, the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation for First Nations.
Does the Government Leader agree, as a matter of policy, that YTG cannot fulfill its obligations under these agreements if the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Development Corporation are privatized?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am amazed. In the comments and answers provided by the Minister responsible for energy in this House, he said that there would be major partnerships with the First Nations people. That is what the issue was all about. The Members opposite did not want them as partners in the Energy Corporation.
The First Nations will be fully involved in anything that happens here.
Question re: Ombudsperson
Mrs. Firth: Since we are talking about providing good government today, I would like to follow up with a question to the Government Leader regarding an election promise of the Yukon Party and a statement out of the Yukon Party plan, The Next Four Years: A Time for Change. It was an initiative to establish the office of an ombudsperson to protect individuals from the power of the government. I would like to ask the Government Leader if the job description for this position has been drafted yet.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thank the Member opposite for the question.
Certainly the job description for that position has not been drafted. I believe the Member answered part of her own question. The document she is referring to said a four-year plan, not a one-year plan.
Mrs. Firth: Has anything been done? Has legislation been drafted to accommodate or look at this position yet? Could the Government Leader answer that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There has not been any legislation drafted. There have been some preliminary discussions about it and the cost of setting up such an office. Those issues are being explored, and I believe the Minister of Justice made some statement on the ombudsperson position during the spring session, but I do not recall exactly what it was.
Mrs. Firth: I recall what it was, because I have it here in front of me. It is interesting about the preliminary discussions they are having, like the preliminary discussions about privatizing the public utilities. There is no legislation being drafted; there is no job description drafted yet.
When will individuals get this protection from the power of the government? When are they going to have this?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: For the Members information, preliminary discussions lead to good policies and good legislation, so we do not have to be jumping around and changing it after they have made it. I cannot tell the Member exactly when this obligation will be fulfilled, but we are working on it.
Question re: Young offenders open custody facility/ 501 Taylor
Ms. Commodore: We have been told that the Department of Health and Social Services is in the process of negotiating the delivery of services for open custody. Last week, the Minister responsible for that department appeared to be unaware that was the case. In the legislative return tabled in the House yesterday, there was no answer to the question.
I will ask the Minister again. Can he now confirm in this House that discussions have taken place with individuals regarding the privatization of open custody services?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I thank the Member for the question. All her questions are easy, so she does not have to state that in her preamble.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I meant that as a compliment, but it seems to have upset the Member for Faro, but he is easily upset these days.
The issue on 501 Taylor is, as the Member knows, that the facility has been relatively empty for several months. There have been discussions in the department about more effective delivery of services. We looked at 501 Taylor and did not think it was a good use of taxpayers money to have people sitting around with nothing to do in that facility. We are looking at options to try to ensure that the taxpayer gets the best possible service for the money being spent.
We are spending a lot of money on social services, far more than the side opposite ever did. For the first time in the history of the department, it has enough money to be able to try to find ways to make the services more efficient.
Speaker: Would the Minister please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Perhaps the only reason this seems to be a puzzlement to the good Member opposite is that in the past they were never given enough funds and were expected to work miracles while the politicians buried their heads in the sand.
Ms. Commodore: If my questions are so easy, I wonder why I never get answers.
Since the privatization of open custody services will involve many other organizations, can the Minister tell us if he or his department have had discussions with groups or individuals such as the courts, the judges, tribal councils, Crown attorneys office, or First Nations People, because it does involve all of those groups.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Now she tells me - after all these sessions she wants answers; I did not know that.
The issue is one that seems to elude the Members on the side opposite. My department is having discussions with people who work in the department with respect to the quality of the service being provided and whether or not there are ways of improving the service. I have no idea with whom senior officials have had these kinds of talks. I think it is rather admirable that my department is able to have these kinds of frank discussions as a prelude to coming forward to me about possible changes in policy that I might, in turn, take to Cabinet. That is the kind of work by officials in my department that I applaud.
Ms. Commodore: It is obvious he does not know what his officials are doing.
I will ask him another question and he may have to ask his officials this: I would like to ask him when he intends to close 501 Taylor as an open custody facility.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There are no policy changes with respect to that facility. We are just entering into discussions about how we can be more effective in delivering services to youth in the territory. It is an ongoing discussion and we will be developing policies in due course.
Question re: Young offenders open custody facility/ 501 Taylor
Ms. Commodore: The Minister told this House last week that 501 Taylor, an open custody facility, which is required by law under the Young Offenders Act, is no longer needed there - and those were his words, no longer needed there. In the legislative return yesterday, he told us that changes were being considered for the open custody system and that there have been very low numbers. That is good to hear. Further, that the department is considering a move to a parent model foster care style system for open custody, but that they have not made any decisions yet. I remember the outcry when we opened 501 Taylor, especially from the Member for Riverdale North, and I would like to ask the Minister whether or not his department, because I know he is not involved in it, has considered the backlash that may occur in a neighbourhood if one of these homes was approved for open custody for young offenders. I realize this may appear to be a hypothetical question, but if things are being considered then they have to consider the things that could occur as a result.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I thank the honourable Member for her representation. It is certainly something we will be taking into account.
Ms. Commodore: People are getting concerned about the big change that is being proposed. I know that parents of young people in open and secure custody have been concerned about the administration of these services for years. Have either the Minister or his department officials had any discussions with any of those parents? It does also concern them.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have certainly had some discussions with parents personally with respect to the closed custody facility. My department has those kinds of discussions all the time. The issue of the closed custody facility has been examined very closely by the board that advises me on Indian child welfare, for example, because they take a keen interest in that facility.
From everything I can understand, the manner in which the closed facility is being run is improving week by week. With respect to open custody, the major issue, during the period when I was last there - three or four months ago - was simply that there seems to be a reduced number of young offenders requiring open custody.
I do not want to pat ourselves on the back, but I think that is the kind of future that would bode well for the Yukon, where fewer and fewer young people become involved in the criminal system.
Ms. Commodore: In the legislative return yesterday, the Ministers officials said that staff have been advised that changes may take place, and they have been assured of their future with the department. Would the Minister make a commitment in this House that not one single job, including auxiliaries, will be lost as a result of the closure of 501 Taylor?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The issue surely turns on our providing service in an effective manner. If the Member expects us to hold empty person years open for a facility that is no longer required then, of course, the answer is no. If the Member is asking us whether we intend to treat our employees fairly, as individuals, then the answer, given my sterling reputation on this count, is of course yes.
Question re: Privatization of Crown corporations
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Development Corporation on the privatization thrust.
The Yukon Development Corporation regulations, which the Minister had passed in August, set out that the assets of the Yukon Energy Corporation, or any substantial part of those assets, will not be sold without the approval of the Yukon Development Corporation. This, in turn, is subject to the approval of the Minister. Will the Minister give his solemn undertaking to this House that no such approval will be given without first presenting a bill to this House requesting the express approval of this House?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If the honourable Member is speaking about any asset, then, of course, the answer is no.
Mr. Cable: Clearly, I was not talking about that. I was talking about the sale of all of the assets. Having clarified that, could the Minister rise and indicate whether or not he will give his undertaking that no such approval to the sale of all, or substantially all, of the assets of Yukon Energy Corporation will be given without the express approval of this House?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I would expect that any such major move would require debate, and I would certainly undertake that we would have full debate in this House on this matter. If the Member wants to be more specific as to what form this should take - a bill, a notice of motion or something of that nature - we are at a preliminary stage, not even having Cabinet approval in principle at this point, so that I cannot be any more specific, other than to say that of course there would be a full debate in this House prior to any such event taking place.
Mr. Cable: The Minister and the Government Leader have spoken about First Nation involvement in any privatization of the Yukon Energy Corporation. Could the Minister indicate what First Nations, or what First Nation organizations, have been approached to find out whether they are interested in this proposition that the Minister has been speaking about the last few days?
Speaker: I would ask that the Minister be as brief as possible in his answer.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: All that I can really tell the Member opposite is that I have spoken with a good number of people in the First Nations community - people from a majority of the First Nations, including many of the chiefs - in casual conversation. I have spoken with David Joe, who was at one time the chief negotiator for CYI. I have spoken with others who have a keen interest in the economic development side of the First Nations. I have spoken to those First Nations members who are directors of the Yukon Development Corporation and Yukon Energy Corporation, but I really could not pretend to remember every single person with whom I have discussed this matter.
Question re: Infrastructure funding
Mr. McDonald: I have a timely question for the Government Leader, who is about to embark on a trip to Ottawa to meet with the Prime Minister. There are a number of important subjects for the future of the territory that will be raised at that time. I know the Government Leader is aware that the federal Liberal government is interested in providing some additional infrastructure funding to the Yukon - amounting to $2 million.
Can the Minister indicate whether or not the government believes this funding to be enough? Is the Yukon getting its fair share of the federal program dollars?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, I do not believe the territorial government is getting its fair share. Due to the uniqueness of our small population and the vast areas in which we have to put infrastructure - even for sewer and water projects in the various communities, $2 million is not going to go very far.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister has said that he will be presenting the government planning document on infrastructure-driven development to the Prime Minister. What impact will the federal governments commitment have on their future plans outlined in the planning document?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am glad the Member opposite likes the document. I think it will bode well for the Yukon in years to come. The document has done its job; it helped us to get $10 million in infrastructure funding from the previous administration. If we can milk any more out of it, so much the better for Yukoners.
This meeting is not with the Prime Minister. I will be meeting with the Minister of DIAND, and I will be going to Halifax to meet with the Finance Minister. My understanding is that there is a first Ministers conference scheduled for December 21.
Mr. McDonald: We certainly have every intention of milking that document ourselves in Question Period. It certainly has made it very entertaining. The Minister did not answer the question. I want to know what the impact of the federal funding commitment will be - the insult as the Minister describes it - on the plans that are contained within the document Toward Self-Sufficiency by the 21st Century.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is premature to answer that question because I do not know what I am going to hear from the Minister of DIAND. My understanding is the major portion of the funding that is in place now, unless it changes, is for municipalities, provincial and territorial governments and the federal government. I am not certain what impact it will have, but I will certainly be investigating that.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now lapsed.
Ms. Moorcroft: I have for tabling a government memo regarding implementing the strategic plan I referred to earlier, which the Government Leader wished to have tabled.
Notice of Government Private Members Business
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to inform the House that government private Members do not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, November 24, 1993, under the heading of Government Private Members Business.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair, and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair, and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 11 - Second Appropriation Act, 1993-94 - continued
Chair: We are dealing with Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1993-94. We will be dealing with Community and Transportation Services. Is there any general debate?
Community and Transportation Services
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Please allow me to introduce the 1993-94 first supplementary estimate for the Department of Community and Transportation Services.
As tabled in the supplementary estimate, the departments total surplus for operation and maintenance and capital combined is $10,153,000. This surplus is offset by corresponding reductions in operation and maintenance and capital recoveries, which total $13,069,000. The net supplementary is therefore $2,916,000, which is mainly due to a $2,006,000 capital funding requirement brought forward from 1992-93 as a revote and is part of our expenditure forecast.
Net of the fund we are requesting as revote, the departments new funding requirement combining decreases in expenditures and recoveries is $910,000.
This supplementary also includes a decrease of $750,000 in estimated revenue. I will explain why as I deal with the overview of the major items and highlight major, specific items.
The operation and maintenance supplementary includes the following: in the office of the deputy minister a net decrease of $336,000 consisting of $141,000 for departmental land claims has been moved to Municipal and Community Affairs; $41,000 due to the elimination the communications coordinator position and $160,000 due to deferral of staffing for emergency measures organization preparedness, as a result of reduced federal contribution.
In corporate services, there is a net increase of $31,000 mainly due to Management Board approved transfer of one position from the Department of Finance to decentralized accounts payable functions offset by savings from through temporary vacancies. In the transportation division, there has been a net decrease of $123,000 in highway maintenance expenditures resulting from savings in various activities offset by internal funding of $551,000 for the Dempster washout. There is a net total decrease of $108,000 in division administration and airport operations consisting of $64,000 and $44,000 respectively. In Municipal and Community Affairs, there is a major increase in this area of $141,000 in various personnel costs and $176,000 in sports and recreation grant contribution payments of which $138,000 is for Arctic Winter Games travel. One hundred and forty-one thousand is due to the move of departmental land claims from the office of the deputy minister and $45,000 for electrical increases and for street lighting in unincorporated communities. These total $503,000.
A major offset to these increases has been a reduction of grants-in-lieu of taxes by $295,000 as a result of municipal taxes not significantly increasing across the territory.
With respect to revenues, the forecast is less by a total of $750,000 than was originally estimated. The decline is mainly related to the Curragh and Sa Dena Hes mine closures, which reduced revenue from commercial registration and permits by $294,500 and from bulk commodity haul and permits by $795,000.
Revenue from private vehicle plate sales and operating authority licences also declined by $72,400.
The total of these reductions is offset by $378,000 profit on land sales, interest on funds receivable from local improvements and fees from driver abstract, all of which were unbudgeted.
With respect to operation and maintenance recoveries, the major items are a decrease of $243,000 in emergency measures due to fiscal restraint by DIAND, and a $45,000 decrease in airports as Transport Canada pays communications costs directly for total aviation briefing systems.
These decreases are offset by increased recoveries of $153,000 by sports and recreation from Yukon Lotteries Commission and the federal government.
The capital supplementary includes the following items. In the office of the deputy minister, the total net increase of $269,000 consists mainly of two major items: a $249,000 revote for the purchase of search and rescue equipment that could not be delivered prior to March 31, 1993, and a $70,000 revote for the completion of the design and implementation of the 911 number.
Under the transportation division, the net total for highway construction is a decrease of $1,342,000. This has resulted mainly due to contract prices for the north Alaska Highway, the Dempster Highway, and the Top of the World Highway being much lower than estimated, as road construction contracts are at their lowest, compared to previous years.
The increases are mainly due to additional work required on the south Alaska Highway, pre-engineering and design work on Freegold Road and the Campbell Highway, in preparation for 1994-95, and to revotes of $193,000 for work not completed in the previous year.
The $450,000 increase under regulatory facilities is funds revoted from previous years for the Whitehorse weigh station relocation. The $113,000 for aviation is funds revoted to complete a passenger cargo shelter at the Haines Junction airport, and to complete visual aids and terminal building construction at the Carmacks airport. Both of these are 100 percent recoverable.
Under Municipal and Community Affairs, although there are other small increases and decreases relating to other projects, the main reason for the significant decrease in land development happens to be a result of the delay of the Hamilton Boulevard area D development and infrastructure, which have main estimates of $12,200,000, as the project is tied to issues of land claims negotiations.
The net increase for all other projects in this division is $2,928,000, and is mainly due to funding of the Dawson pipe sewer main replacement, at $1.8 million, and a revoted fund of $947,000 to complete work on various projects carried over from the previous year.
Under capital recoveries, as a result of decreases in land development expenditures, there is a corresponding decrease in recoveries of $12,509,000. The $190,000 reduction, identified as prior-year adjustments, also relates to the termination of land sales agreements that had occurred in previous years.
Except for the $42,000 for rural electrification and telephone, all the other increases are from public health and safety initiatives that were not budgeted for and are recoverable from the Government of Canada.
Should the hononourable Members require specific details, I would be pleased to answer any questions on this supplementary.
Ms. Moorcroft: I do have some questions for the Minister on this budget. Perhaps I will start with requesting clarification on some of the information that he just gave in the outline of the supplementaries.
He said that Transport Canada pays the $45,000 directly for airports, which was a decrease of recoveries in the O&M for the transportation division. Could the Minister please explain that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My notes here say $44,000 for reduced expenditure in various airports, due to direct payment by Transport Canada of the total aviation briefing system - TARS, communication costs in the new ground-to-ground communication agreement.
Ms. Moorcroft: Could the Minister explain what the TARS program is?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is TABS, I am sorry, it is not TARS. It is called the total aviation briefing system. I am not familiar with it.
Mrs. Firth: Before we get too far into the debate, I would like to make a suggestion to the Minister. This afternoon, he stood and read a lengthy statement about allocation of funds, and some of the justifications for the changes. Next time in the capital budget, if the Minister is going to make a lengthy statement again, would he consider providing it to Members of the House, even an hour ahead of time so that we could look through it. I think that it would make the debate go a little quicker. It used to be done in the past by some Ministers, and it is a suggestion I would like to give the Minister in order to make it easier for the Members in Opposition to analyze the information.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I would not have any problem delivering a copy of the speech to Members opposite, probably the day that we start into the supplementary.
Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps the Minister could bring back the other information about the airports program as well.
I would like to ask about the relocation of the Whitehorse weigh scales. There is a supplementary amount for $450,000 on that and I would like to know if that was completed ahead of time and if there are further amounts expected to be spent in the next year?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The project was scheduled to go ahead last year; $450,000 was revoted from last year and $350,000 from this year. The project is proceeding right now.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister also referred to the transfer of a land claims position from the deputy ministers office to the transportation office. Could he explain what happened there? How many positions were transferred, do the costs balance out exactly the same and are they taken away from one department and given to another?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Essentially, it went from one branch of the department to another. There was $141,000 total and two positions were transferred from the office of the deputy minister to the Municipal and Community Affairs division.
Ms. Moorcroft: There was also a $378,000 profit for land sales that was unbudgeted. What were those land sales?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Land is usually sold at development cost. In some cases - for instance, country-residential - it is sold at market value and a profit would be made. That is where the money came from.
Ms. Moorcroft: In what areas of the territory were those country-residential sales?
Mr. Fisher: The profit could have resulted from other lots that had been developed previously at a lower cost. It may not necessarily all be tied to country-residential sales. It could be from lots all across the territory.
Ms. Moorcroft: Perhaps the Minister could provide me with a breakdown in writing of that amount for the unbudgeted profit on land sales. Would he?
Mr. Fisher: Yes.
Ms. Moorcroft: I have some questions regarding the corporate services division. I understand they have been examining whether to centralize or decentralize policy and planning activities. I know a number of term positions were let go in policy and planning, yet they are still over budget. I understand that Community and Transportation Services has, or is in the process of reorganizing their policy and planning and finance and administration branches and assume this is what is now called the corporate services division. How many people were displaced in this reorganization, and how many term positions in policy and planning and in finance and administration were let go?
Mr. Fisher: Actually, the reorganization took place some time ago, not in this budget year, but there was one term position in policy and planning where the person terminated the position themself and was not replaced, but it was a term position to start with.
Ms. Moorcroft: My understanding is that Community and Transportation Services is working with fewer policy staff than before. Given that the 1991 audit by the Department of Finance stated lack of documented policy to support existing programs as a problem, and the Minister himself has identified a policy void as a major issue for Community and Transportation Services, how does the Minister plan to fill this void with fewer staff?
Mr. Fisher: I do not believe that I have said that we have a policy void. I do not believe we do. That term position was for a specific task and the task, to my understanding, is now complete, so the term position is no longer required.
Ms. Moorcroft: Is the Minister planning to eliminate the decentralized positions, specifically the Dawson City planning positions and the Haines Junction community recreation consultant?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The recreation consultant position that was up the north highway is now located in Whitehorse. At this time, there is nothing firm about relocating the planning position in Dawson the Member referred to.
Ms. Moorcroft: Is the Minister planning to reorganize the entire department by splitting it into two smaller branches? I assume this is done to better meet the needs of the clients. Has the department undertaken a full analysis of the needs of their clients prior to making any decisions to reorganize?
Who has the Minister consulted in the discussions about the best structure for the department?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There have been some very preliminary discussions, but nothing more than that. We have not decided to break the thing into two departments.
The Member opposite may be aware that highways used to be a separate department at one time. It was combined to gain efficiency and reduce the number of people necessary to run a department of that size. Although we have just briefly discussed it at the deputy minister and senior official level, there is certainly no move, at this time, to separate the department.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister has already eliminated the assistant deputy minister of corporate services. I would like to ask if the Minister is planning to cut the remaining assistant deputy minister from the department, a position held by a woman.
I note from perusing through the government phone book that of the eleven directors only two are women. Why is this? Is the Department of Community and Transportation Services not committed to employment equity?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There are four or five questions that I will try and answer as well as I can.
There is no intention to remove the assistant deputy minister of corporate affairs at this time. Our jobs are advertised and people are encouraged to apply for them. Our number one criteria is the ability to do the job, and the Department of Community and Transportation Services will be filing the employment equity report with the overall government report. I am not certain when that report comes out. I believe that it is in the spring of the year.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister referred to increased profit in land sales, but I see in land development that the department is underspent. Given the high demand for country-residential property, why is the department underspent in this area? I would also like to know if the department is planning to examine the issue of rural property development.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe the main reason for the underexpenditure in land development is due to the Stevens subdivision that was planned and budgeted, but because of land claims we were unable to develop the subdivision this year.
There is a need for country-residential properties within the City of Whitehorse, as well as rural-residential properties outside of Whitehorse. We are working on the issue of rural property development at this time, and we hope to have something to report in the spring session.
Ms. Moorcroft: I hear concerns, and in some cases, complaints from my constituents about the lands branch.
Can the Minister tell us why there is no Canada lands surveyor on staff at the lands branch? I think that this would go a long way to reduce some of the friction between the lands surveyor association and the branch. Is the Minister planning to rationalize this branch? In other words, is the Minister planning to privatize the functions of the lands branch?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not see the relevance of the two parts of the Members question.
We have spoken with various municipalities - specifically, the City of Whitehorse - about taking over some land development. In fact, they have taken over some of the country-residential development within city limits. We have no intention of going any further than that at this point in time, mainly because the smaller municipalities and areas outside of municipalities have no ability to develop land. I have not received any requests from the public or from the department about putting a permanent lands surveyor on staff in the lands branch.
Ms. Moorcroft: Is the Minister planning to rationalize this branch? Is he planning to privatize the functions of the lands branch?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe I answered that. At this point in time, no.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister mentioned dealing with the City of Whitehorse. Could he clarify for me the process of who deals with whom, and what the role of municipal advisors is?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not quite sure what the question is. The ADM of Community Affairs Division and/or the Director of Community Services normally deal with the administration and the council of the City of Whitehorse. In other municipalities, it would be the Director of Community Services and the municipal advisors.
The goal of municipal advisors is essentially to work themselves out of a job. When they are working with smaller municipalities, they give a lot of assistance with legislation development, bylaws, interpretation of the various legislation that advisors use and general training for municipal staff and councillors.
Ms. Moorcroft: Has the sport and fitness branch undertaken to develop any programs specific to First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: This branch is very much involved with the Indigenous Games and provides fairly substantial funding to that organization, as well as support people.
Ms. Moorcroft: Are there any other initiatives or programs they have worked on in the area of programs specific to First Nations?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not aware of any other programs that are specifically targeted for First Nations, although the First Nations are encouraged to participate in any other games or activities that the sports and recreation people are involved in.
Ms. Moorcroft: Can the Minister give me an outline of whether recreational facilities are considered valid under the CDF program?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think that question would be more appropriately asked to the Minister responsible for the community development fund. Generally, my understanding is that recreation facilities in unincorporated communities - not in municipalities - have been eligible for CDF funding. I believe that recreation facilities in incorporated communities have, in the past, been eligible for funding, but because of funding constraints that is no longer applicable.
Ms. Moorcroft: The reason that I am bringing these forward is that there has been a reduction to the community development fund in order to have projects funded directly in line items in the budget. For example, Haines Junction is looking to have recreational facilities funded. I am wondering how or if that may be possible if this department is going to consider that.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Under the municipal block funding, 50 percent of the funds received by a municipality can be used for capital projects. I am not exactly sure what Haines Junction received, but it is in excess of $800,000 a year. The municipalities have the ability to either save this money, use it in one chunk or accumulate it for a few years. They have the ability to fund and construct their own facilities.
Mr. Penikett: I wonder if I could ask the Minister a few general policy questions arising from conversations I had with people in the course of the summer. I had a remarkable conversation with one municipal politician, I think it was in July, who told me about a plan that he said Mr. Fisher had to transfer all the land, in all the municipalities, to the municipalities right away. I said I had trouble believing that that would happen, especially before land claims were all negotiated, but he said it was true. I subsequently heard a complaint from someone else that the Minister had done something remarkable in reorganizing lands because they were now expediting land applications so fast that First Nations and even hamlet and councils did not have enough time to react to some of the applications that they were being asked to comment on.
The Minister would be pleased to know that I did not accept all the observations as the gospel truth. It did occur to me that even though we sat until June, we had not heard from the Minister any kind of statement about his intentions in this area.
Nonetheless, we heard, shortly after the House adjourned, some claims about some changes being made for which we had had no explanation. I am wondering if the Minister might take the opportunity during this supplementary to tell us about his plans in this area and what changes, if any, have already taken place. Also, what are his intentions in respect to the disposition of land within municipalities, which is most of the land that is in the control of the territory?
Mr. Fisher: I would like to be able to say that all the land in municipalities across the territory has been devolved to the municipalities and they are very capable and doing a wonderful job of disposing of it. Unfortunately, I cannot say that, but I would like to see some land development devolve to those municipalities that feel they are capable of taking on the land development process. Land development is costly and requires a lot of expertise with engineering people and surveyors and so on, so the small municipalities probably are not too interested in actually taking on land development.
Some are, interestingly enough. We do have, as the Member opposite pointed out, the situation with the land claims and the land selections by the First Nations. Until those are essentially completed, we would be reluctant to devolve more than certain pieces of land that are required for specific developments to a municipality.
I am happy to hear that some constituents are looking forward to this, but unfortunately there are as many out there that would not like to see land devolved on that scale.
As for the speedy process of handling applications, I have not heard that myself and, in some respects, I doubt very much if it is true that they happened so fast that people did not get a chance to comment. I know roughly how many applications went through and I do not believe it was anywhere near that quickly.
Mr. Penikett: The Minister seemed to imply that it was his long-range goal to see land within the municipalities transferred to municipalities if they were willing to take on the responsibility. I am, of course, interested in what would happen if this were to transpire in the near future because, in the absence of the kind of bulk land transfers that we had reached an agreement about with Mr. McKnight and Mr. Siddon, and which were to follow land claims settlements, YTG could be in the position of having no land to develop if it did that, and that would be a problem since I doubt that even the most sophisticated municipalities that might want to develop the land would have the financial capacity to carry the kind of land bank that YTG can now carry or that the Ministers spoke of the other day in anticipation of an economic recovery. Could the Minister just elaborate a bit on his thinking on that score, and perhaps indicate the kind of time frames he may be talking about for these disposals to municipalities, all things going according to his agenda?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I cannot really put a time frame on what I would like to see. It depends on each municipalitys ability to take on land development. I do not think we would ever get out of some financial arrangements with municipalities if we did devolve land to them. I believe that, just because of the size of the numbers, most municipalities could not afford it; they could not afford to carry that kind of land inventory.
There are many inherent land problems. I do not believe that, at any time, we would devolve all of the land in a municipality to a municipality. However, if even one of the small municipalities, such as Mayo or Haines Junction, wanted to take on a project to develop 25 country-residential lots or 15 serviced lots or something, we would be more than willing to transfer the land, encourage them and help them in whatever ways are necessary.
Again, to answer your question about a time frame about when we would devolve all the land, I do not know if I will be around to see all of the land devolved. I am not sure.
Mr. Penikett: Just to clarify the other point I was concerned about, which was the land procedures, I gather from the Ministers answer that he is saying that there is really no substantial change in the way in which those land applications and land dispositions are being handled, which causes me to wonder why, for example, I had a member of the Carcross First Nation complaining to me about inadequate time and a similar complaint from someone in the Ibex Valley hamlet this summer. The Minister seems to be indicating that there has been no substantial acceleration in the process. Could he perhaps, to assist us in further discussion of this matter later on, provide us with a list of transactions that have happened, say, in the last few months or years - some period that would be suitable for the Minister - to give us a chance to ask some more detailed questions at a later date?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would have no problem. I do not know what would be easy for the people in the lands branch to put together, but I am sure the information they have from this summer - the land sales from this summer - should be fairly readily available. I think the other thing that the Member opposite was referring to, when he mentioned Carcross and Ibex Valley, was probably not land applications. There were two issues. One was a planning exercise that was going on in Carcross and the other was the second dwelling unit that Ibex is concerned with. Those are the two things, probably moreso than land applications.
Mr. Penikett: No, I think I should ask the question, however the lands branch can put it, in terms of getting the information in terms of land type, because I remember very clearly that the complaint in Carcross concerned agricultural land, not what the Minister was indicating.
Let me move on to another question. There was a news story recently about rental rates for the municipal office in Watson Lake. I was in another municipality this summer where they were concerned about the governments policy about buildings that the municipality may be renting from YTG. Can the government Minister tell us a little bit about the policy change, if there has been one there, or at least the policy establishing the new rents, if there is Ione?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not aware of any change in policy, and I do believe that question would be better directed to the Minister of Government Services, because Government Services is the department that establishes the rates. I do know that the Watson Lake rent went up, but I believe that - and I am just going by some past experience with government rental rates - it is based on the cost of providing the service - the building, janitorial, lights and so on. I believe that Watson Lakes rent went up, but I also think, at the same time, that they were using some additional space that they may be paying for now that they were not paying for before.
Mr. Penikett: Perhaps the Minister would take that question as notice for his colleague, the Minister of Government Services. I had rather hoped to hear from the Minister responsible for municipalities that he had been their loyal defender - their gladiator - defending their interests against the other Minister in this matter, but he has obviously left it to the people in Government Services. I am curious about this question because the question came up in another municipality about whether they were paying the same rate of rent as another agency that had then occupied the space that they moved out of. In fact, it was another public agency. I will be pursuing that with the Minister of Government Services.
I would like to ask the Minister this question, which will not be new to him, as it has come up time and time again. It is a question that has certainly been a live one for all the years that I have been in the house. It is the question about responsibility for fires in areas just outside of municipal boundaries. For several years, there has been the quite sensible suggestion that the government offer its assistance to broker, or arrange, service agreements so that rural areas like the Ibex Valley, for example, can be protected by the able people providing that service in the City of Whitehorse - but there might be some fee or contract that would cover that service. Can the Minister report to the House any progress in those discussions, either in connection with the areas in the periphery of Whitehorse or in rural areas bordering towns like Watson Lake and Dawson City?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There are a couple of points that the municipalities, and this House, need to be aware of when a municipality or a group outside of a municipality are requesting fire protection from the municipality. The municipality has to be sure to let residents within the municipality know what their fire service is. For instance, if the City of Whitehorse went outside its boundary to put out a fire and, subsequently, another fire started within the municipality that they could not respond to within a reasonable length of time, the municipality could be sued.
The way that municipalities can prevent that from happening is by creating a service area that can extend outside of the municipal boundary. The way that they let the public know about that is by bylaw. In smaller municipalities, the Department of Community and Transportation Services has essentially discouraged the small municipality from responding to fires outside of its boundaries, unless that municipality has more than one fire apparatus.
For instance, it is approximately seven miles from Watson Lake to the Upper Liard, or approximately 15 miles to Lower Post. If the municipality were to respond to fires in those areas and the municipality has only one fire apparatus, it is very unlikely that they could return to the community and successfully fight a fire in the community.
Essentially, Community and Transportation Services has been discouraging municipalities with one fire apparatus attending fires outside of its service area, but at the same time they have been providing secondary fire apparatuses for those municipalities.
For Ibex Valley, for instance, it only makes sense that the City of Whitehorse would respond to fires within a certain distance into the Ibex Valley. I am not sure of the distance, but it seems to me that it would make more sense for the City of Whitehorse to respond to fires five miles outside of the boundary, or a distance similar to that, and we are encouraging both the City of Whitehorse and Ibex Valley to explore that option, which they are doing.
Mr. Penikett: I have a couple of other general questions, which arise from discussions with people in another community; namely, Ross River. One of them concerns a large, blue building that is extremely well known to the Minister. On a recent visit there, I was told that the First Nation had asked for an audit of the operation of the recreation building in the community. It was reported to me that there was a concern by people in the area that they had been stuck with the job of landlord without the ability to provide any recreational programs, because so much money was being directed to maintenance of the facility that there was not enough money for programs.
Apparently, YTG had provided $20,000 for a recreation director, and there was $20,000 they were hoping to get from building revenues, but there was some question whether this financial arrangement was sustainable.
Again, I cannot vouch for any of this information, but I heard some fairly fierce talk about threatening to turn the building back to YTG, and then looking to get it leased back to the First Nations for $1.00. Apparently, they had been talking to someone in the government about that.
Has the Minister been apprised of those discussions, has he been a part of them, or could he tell us anything about whether he is to resume the responsibility for that large building in Ross River? Has he been part of any discussions about leasing it back for a nominal sum, or donating it? Can he confirm any of those discussions?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not aware of the First Nations offer to lease the building from the government for a dollar. The building does belong to the Yukon government. Until Ross River attains some sort of municipal status, I would assume the ownership would likely have to stay with the Yukon government.
In leasing it to the First Nations, or giving it to the community club, they would save a dollar by the way they are doing it now, because there is no charge for it. I am not exactly sure of the numbers but, yes, we are assisting them with a recreation director.
I was out to Ross River in June, and the director of sports and recreation was also at the meeting. At that time, the director went over their budget with them, and they and the director agreed to a funding level that appeared to be sufficient to get them through the year.
Having said that, they can barely make it in Ross River, even with a little bit of help from the Yukon government. Unfortunately, Ross River is in a situation where the assessment is somewhat bigger than Teslins, and the population is about the same as Teslin and Carmacks, yet it does not have the municipal funding that either of those two communities does. My understanding is that, right now, they are working toward attaining some sort of municipal status, which may help them out.
Mr. Penikett: I have a question about the municipal status. First, could the Minister undertake to report back to the House on the level of funding for that recreation facility, and the kind of money that may be available for programming?
I had the disturbing experience, not so long ago, of arriving in that town in the early evening and seeing a large group of young people wandering down the main road toward the river. I remember then, quite late at night, coming back from the meeting and seeing the same group of people coming back. In talking to them, I had the very strong feeling that they had nothing to do and nothing to divert them. In a small community, a situation of young people with a lot of time on their hands - no jobs and not much in the way of recreation - is not a healthy one. I would like to, as a question of fact, find out what level of programming there is.
The Minister mentioned municipal status. As I understand it, someone in the First Nation had written to the Minister to ask for an assurance that in applying for municipal status - either hamlet or village status - they would not compromise or prejudice their position at the land claims table with respect to their own self-government negotiations. I wonder if the Minister could tell the House if he received such a letter? If he did, how did he reply and would he have any objection to tabling his reply?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe that the initial letter went to the department. The department responded saying essentially that municipal status would not prejudice the land claims negotiations. However, I believe that, since then, another letter has come directly to me asking for that same kind of assurance from me. I do not believe that we have responded to that letter yet.
Mr. Penikett: If the Minister responds to that letter - or should I say, when the Minister responds to it, as I am assuming he will - could he give me an undertaking to table a copy of it in the House, along with a copy of the previous letter from the department, since they would amount to a statement of public policy of the territorial government? I would be interested in seeing that.
Mr. Fisher: I do not really see why I cannot table a copy of it. I will check it out and, if it is within reason to do so, I shall.
Ms. Moorcroft: The land claims selections and negotiations for individual First Nation agreements has an effect on proposed land dispositions and land development. Can the Minister explain what the current policy of land development is?
Mr. Fisher: In different regions of the territory, the policy is somewhat different. In Whitehorse, as I am sure the Member opposite is aware, any land dispositions - and I am talking about the construction of lots or the sale of large pieces of property, like Crown property - has to be approved by the various Indian bands. In fact, there is a working group set up in Whitehorse right now with the Kwanlin Dun and people from land claims to deal with the need for the development of lots within the city.
Ms. Moorcroft: What about the other regions of the Yukon? That seemed to be a fairly short answer.
Mr. Fisher: Where the land selections have been completed, we can go ahead and develop land. Where the land selections have not been completed, we have to deal with the Indian band from that area or whatever Indian bands have an interest in the land that we would like to develop.
Ms. Moorcroft: Have any other working groups been established, other than the one in the Whitehorse area with the Kwanlin Dun?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: No, that is the only at this point in time.
Ms. Moorcroft: Are the Taan Kwachan part of the working group?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not absolutely certain about the Taan Kwachan, but I do not believe they are because their selections are nearly completed. I do not believe they are part of the working group.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to know how much it is costing the land development branch to develop rural and residential property, and, following that, how much they are selling it for.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Residential serviced property is sold at development cost. For instance, the Logan and Arkell subdivisions are sold at development cost. Country-residential and rural-residential property are sold at market value. The reason for that is because we can develop country-residential property for less cost than they are currently selling for on the market. So there has been a conscious decision to actually sell country-residential and rural-residential property at market value.
Ms. Moorcroft: My concern with that would be that only the wealthy can afford to get land. I would like to know why they would not contemplate making country- and rural- residential also available at development costs, as the residential land is?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Over the years, a fairly substantial private market has developed. If the Yukon government were to start developing land at a much lower price than it is on the open market, it would affect the marketplace. That decision was made before I took office. However, it is one that I currently agree with. I would like to see at some point in time where the market and development costs are equal. It is going to take us some time to get to that situation. We will need a good inventory of lots before that will happen, and right now we do not.
Ms. Moorcroft: That is exactly why I was asking the Minister to explain the policy of land development and how the government proceeded with that policy.
I would like to move on to another question regarding the community development fund.
I had asked the Minister to explain how the government was going to take into consideration the projects that First Nations or communities may want to engage in, and whether or not the government is reserving any money for those projects since the government is reducing the community development fund in order to have these projects funded directly by the departments as line items.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Again, I believe that will be an issue for debate in the main capital budget in a few days.
For example, let us use Beaver Creek. If Beaver Creek wanted to build a skating rink then the community club would put together a five-year capital plan. In that capital plan, they would identify funding, such as total costs, sources of funding and sources of labour and materials and present it to the government through their municipal advisors to go through the regular budgeting process. That is the philosophy that we see.
The Department of Community and Transportation Services is currently developing a rural services policy, so that if a small, unincorporated community does provide certain services such as fire protection, a community hall, a skating rink, a curling rink or other items of this nature, generally using government funding, then they will be taxed according to the number of services that they have in the community. I think in that way there will be a very conscious decision on the part of the residents living in the community as to whether or not they want that curling rink, swimming pool or whatever facility it may be, but they will have the choice and they will have some responsibility to pay some of the costs associated with the facility.
Ms. Moorcroft: When does the Minister expect that the rural services policy will be prepared?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I expect that we will have that policy in effect for the 1994-95 fiscal year.
Ms. Moorcroft: In the meantime, perhaps the Minister could tell us what messages are being given to bands or communities regarding the procedures for funding any community project they may be interested in?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have asked the department to contact, through the regular channels - generally the municipal advisors - to talk to each community in the territory about how they can go about accessing government funding for specific projects.
Mr. Harding: I have a few questions for the Minister in general debate.
The government undertook a decision to close the highways eastern area office in my community of Faro. We are getting a bit stunned, because we keep getting these kicks in the head from the government, but this one, even though it did not involve a large number of people, was particularly disturbing to me and a number of people in the community.
I received a letter from the Minister, dated November 12, after I wrote to him about this particular office closure, complaining about the manner in which it was done and seeking more information. It does not really answer some of the questions I asked. One would have thought that a decision like this would have involved some discussion with me, out of courtesy, so that I would have had some knowledge that it was being done. It is fairly significant when a government office closes, whether it is the highways office, a renewable resources office or a social services office in a community. It is quite symbolic and, in a real and practical nature, it has a real effect on the community.
I would like to ask the Minister why there was no discussion with the MLA for the area and how much discussion about this closure was there with the municipal council and mayor?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I apologize to the Member opposite for not advising him of our decision. As far as discussions with the municipal council go, I am not sure if the department has or not.
Mr. Harding: Would the Minister commit to me that, if there are any further undertakings such as this, that he is part of, as a Member of Cabinet or as the Minister, he would recommend that there is some discussion, or some form of direct consultation before the fact with the MLA, as well as the municipal representatives who are elected to do a job there, a lot of times in coordination with the territorial government? It is certainly nice if we know what the government is up to.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There was no reason for this particular decision not to have been passed on to the Member opposite. I did apologize for not having done that. In a similar situation in the future, I will endeavour to make sure that the Member is aware of our initiative.
Mr. Harding: I thank the Minister for that, and I have a couple more questions on this issue.
We did not get the opportunity to ask questions, but the rumour was that elements of the office - I am not sure whether it was equipment or funding from the office - was going to be moved to another community. Was there any equipment, or any of the funds, redistributed to any of the other rural communities, or did it go back into Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that everything from the office has come into Whitehorse. I do not believe there were any actual funds transferred, but the cost saving, over a period of time, will amount to approximately $60,000 per year.
Mr. Harding: Could the Minister break down that cost saving of $60,000?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not have the exact breakdown here, but part of it is for the elimination of a clerks position, because the position will be working in a Whitehorse office, where there is already such a position. I believe the rest was in travel and rental for the office space.
Mr. Harding: My understanding from this letter is that the person who was filling the clerks position in Faro is on a six-month term position in Whitehorse. What is going to happen when the maternity leave for the employee is over?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is interesting that the person who has that term position did come in before the office was shut down. She actually applied for this and came to Whitehorse.
We would like, and will try, to fit her into another position, if that is what she would like to do.
Mr. Harding: Just by way of a comment, I would say this employee probably got wind of the fact that the office was closing and, out of a lack of choice, I am sure, would have made the request. That is what I would certainly guess happened. When a person finds out that the office in their community is closing, one has to work so sometimes does things one would not otherwise want to do.
On the issue of road maintenance, I am interested in these supplementaries. Perhaps the Minister might like to get into it in line-by-line debate - the road maintenance situation in the Little Salmon area, the Drury Creek camp, as well as the maintenance on the Campbell Highway, and how that has been reflected in the supplementaries. Have there been any auxiliaries or any terms or any positions eliminated in that area? If he does not want to answer that now, I will be looking for those answers in the line-by-line debate.
Mr. Fisher: I would appreciate it if he gave me a little bit of time because I will have to get the actual numbers.
Mr. Harding: Also, could the Minister include the jobs that have been eliminated by attrition?
The other day, we were discussing in the Legislature the impact of capital grant funding to municipalities, or block funding, as we often call it, and I was wondering if the Minister could provide for me a more detailed explanation than I was given the other day. I realize it is very, very complicated. Exactly what is the hypothesis or the thinking of the department in terms of dealing with the capital grants for the community of Faro, so that we have some understanding of how our population decrease to about 600 from roughly 1,800 to 2,200 will affect the amount of money the municipality will receive from the territorial government through block funding or any other source?
Mr. Fisher: I believe the funding for 1994-95 is dependent on some figures that are due at the end of November - some Statistics Canada figures. What I could probably do for the Member, but I would not want him to use this as gospel, is to get them to run the fund through the formula and give him an idea of what Faro would get as compared to other municipalities. Again, we would make sure that this was strictly called a draft and a preliminary and that sort of thing, because it may very well change depending on the, I believe, Statistics Canada figures for the GDP or something that comes in at the end of November.
Mr. Harding: The Minister will certainly have no problem from me on that and he can clearly indicate that in the correspondence. I will certainly respect that. Perhaps, rather than give me the figure as it may exist, he could give me a bit of speculation as to the difference between the populations - what it might be at around the normal population we had for the last seven years as opposed to what it might be now - just so that I can see the difference in the formula and how it would affect the community.
Mr. Fisher: We can provide the last two or three years of the funding formula. It is public information and certainly we will provide that for the Member.
Ms. Moorcroft: Last week the Minister provided me with a copy of some of the contracts that had been let in doing some transportation work. I wanted to ask him if he could bring the contract list for the entire Department of Community and Transportation Services.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My understanding is that the department provides those figures once a year. Overall, government provides them to everyone in the House once a year. We could pull some of them fairly easily, but some of the contracts are partially done and some are not. I think that I would sooner do it at the regular time, and I believe that is in the spring of the year.
Mr. McDonald: In the general debate on the supplementary estimates, in discussions with the Government Leader, I asked a question about the tabling of contract lists from the beginning of the fiscal year to the present. The Government Leader indicated at that time that it was his recollection that, as the Minister indicated, there was a tabling of contracts done once a year - a full, complete list of all contracts undertaken for that year. I have done some research on this. Over the course of the last seven or eight years, every time we have dealt with a supplementary, in the fall there has been an insistence that contract lists to date should be tabled in the Legislature. In some cases, the Opposition refused to debate the bill until such time as an up-to-date contracts list had been provided. They would not even discuss the supplementaries.
I am asking the Minister whether or not he can provide us with a list of contracts to the beginning of November - the contracts that the government has entered into, which is simple information. I know that it can be provided because when I was Minister I provided it on a regular basis to Members who asked for it when we were discussing the supplementaries in the fall. I would like to know whether or not the Minister is prepared to do the same.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I certainly would like to discuss this with my colleagues, as a form of general policy about whether or not we provide the contracts up to this date. The problem that I see about doing that is that there may be some that are missed. There are some contracts out right now in the newspaper that you would not get, so the list that you would get now would definitely be different from the one produced in spring session. There is the danger that the Members opposite would be accusing us on this side of the House of not bringing all the information forward. I would like to discuss this with my colleagues first.
Other than some of those minor problems, I really do not see difficulty in providing a very preliminary list. Again, I think, as I told the other Member, that I would certainly make sure that if the contracts were provided that everyone understand that it is a preliminary listing.
Mr. McDonald: As long as there are reasonable limitations to the information that the Member is proposing to provide, I do not think that there would be any major disagreement on this side of the House. Again, I would say that it is extremely important to us to see those contracts as one element of the scrutiny that we have to give the budget, and it has been important enough for the past seven or eight years that we actually had hours and hours of debate on this subject.
Certainly, most of the people who were here during that period would be well aware, at least aware of the tenor of that debate, and know that sometimes that debate became quite angry. The Minister can appreciate that we are not about to change the practice that has been developed at this stage, and that we simply could not agree to anything less than the full disclosure of those contracts at this time.
I know that it does take some administrative time and we are all acutely aware of putting people to work for no discernible purpose, but I think there is a good purpose to this exercise. It has not broken the backs of the departments in the past and we do not feel that this is an unreasonable request.
Obviously, we probably will not be finishing the Department of Community and Transportation Services estimates today, but certainly tomorrow when we return to this discussion it would be appreciated if the Minister could provide such a list so that we can have a quick scrutiny of the contracts, allowing the estimates to clear as they normally would.
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I am the Minister responsible for Government Services, then Government Services would more than likely be the department that has to come up with the listing of contracts.
I had some preliminary discussions with the department this morning about the listing, and while I have not heard back from them yet, I would suspect that we do not want to run into the mess that we experienced last year where there were all kinds of allegations about certain contracts that were awarded and the prices were incorrect.
When the contract information is provided, it would be with the understanding that the information provided would be as the contracts were awarded and not the final price, because some contracts come in lower and the odd contract comes in a little bit higher.
If that understanding exists among the Members on the side opposite, we will provide that information. I understand that the department is working on a listing.
Mr. McDonald: As I mentioned to the Minister responsible for Community and Transportation Services, if there are reasonable limitations that the Ministers want to put on the listing of contracts that they want to provide, then they should note those limitations on the documents that they provide to us. If those limitations are reasonable we will accept them and there will be no controversy at all, and perhaps not even any debate.
The requirement to have Government Services provide a general compilation of contracts has not been necessary in the past in mid-year. It should not be necessary right now. There is no reason why we should be putting Government Services to the work of publishing some kind of document. The departments are quite capable of developing the information and providing us with an update. At year-end, when we do have the general compilation, Government Services will get involved, we will get a cerlox-bound document and we will have some valuable reading to do, I am sure.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: My Cabinet colleagues and I will discuss this, but I do believe that, even if we are able to do it, we are not going to be able to do it in a day. We have to work with the Department of Finance and with Government Services to pull it all together. I doubt very much that I can present it tomorrow, even if everyone was fully in agreement with it.
Mr. McDonald: That is unfortunate, because there had been notice given in the Legislature last week that we would be looking for contract lists. I am sorry if the message did not get out to everyone, but we certainly are very interested in this. We did not press the matter yesterday with the Government Leader in the Executive Council Office, but there will be very few opportunities for us to consider those matters and stay within the rules if we continue to allow the supplementaries to go through, department by department, and only have the imperfect venue of Question Period to raise matters that may be of interest to us.
I realize that this is a big department and it usually takes a while to get through it, but we will want to see some type of a contract list or an update on it before we leave the estimate. I think it is fairly important. I would refer the Member to the eloquent remarks of the old Member for Porter Creek East, who has made the case on a dozen or so different occasions in the past, and probably said it much better than I. If the Member wants the old arguments, Hansard is there to relate them. I am just trying to maintain the tradition, in the memory of that honourable Member, and continue to pursue this matter on his behalf.
Mrs. Firth: I want to put my position on the record with respect to this issue that we are debating. I know that each department can present fairly quickly, to Members of the Legislature, a list of all the contracts that they have entered into. I think in the past we have been fair with respect to recognizing the date of the issuance of the contract, if there was an allotment of money identified and if that money could have been spent in that period of time. I think that it has been a practice that has happened in the past.
If I understood the Government Leader correctly yesterday, he indicated that he was prepared to do this, to give this direction to his Minister if it was a practice that had been carried on in the past. I agree with the previous speaker that we are not requiring the Department of Government Services to come forward with a bound document listing all of the contracts according to various categories. I can well remember, when the Official Opposition was in government, each Minister coming in with a list of the contracts that their departments had entered into, which included the contract title or purpose, the date, name of the contractor and the amount.
I am of the impression that it is all computerized and could be readily provided. I am interested in that information and hope that we will be able to get it before we finish this debate on this particular department. I believe the Government Leader gave us a commitment yesterday that he would provide the contracts for the Executive Council to us as well. I am anticipating receiving that as well.
Mr. Cable: I have a number of specific questions on land development that I will leave till the line-by-line discussion, but I do have some general questions for the Minister. He indicated that the private market did not seem to be working that well with respect to country-residential and rural-residential property and that the price at which the government-developed lots were being sold was substantially above the cost of development. When the Minister says substantially above, is that like a quarter, half or three-quarters? What is the ratio between the development cost and the actual free-market cost?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think if we went out and developed a rural-residential subdivision that the costs would come in about three-quarters of market value. But what has happened is we have been able to release infill lots, where there was not any cost. There might have been lots developed many years ago. Maybe there were two or three lots that had not been sold for one reason or another or maybe they were not surveyed. You then need only to do a survey to put the property on the market. For instance, the lots at Canyon Crescent recently sold and the roads were developed many years ago. The development cost on those was very little compared to the selling price - approximately 10 percent. That was because the infrastructure for the lots had been developed many years ago.
Mr. Cable: The Minister started to talk about something that would happen in the future, and then he got on to some other subject. What would the Minister see that should be done to encourage the private market to develop lots to the point where the price would be driven down?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: In Pineridge, the Yukon government turned over a piece of property to the city, which then hired a private developer. The city added cost to that development of something over $200,000 by selling the property to the individual who developed it. Right off the bat, that made the price of the lots up to probably higher than if the government had done the development itself. Government could have done it without that extra $200,000 cost.
To answer your specific question about how we could get private developers developing land, I am not sure. We are trying to come to grips with that, at this point in time.
Mr. Cable: The government taking a chunk of the action, as the YTG is with respect to the sale of lots above cost, or the municipalities are by taking a chunk of the action when the lands are turned over to them, drives up housing costs.
Does the Minister have any ideas how the private lot-development market could be developed so as to keep prices low?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The very first thing is to, somehow or other, make sure that the private developer is on the same footing as the Yukon government would be. In other words, we get the land for nothing and, if we want a private developer to be competitive to the Yukon government, they would have to get the land at the same cost.
In Pineridge, by adding that additional $200,000-and some, it naturally substantially increased the selling price.
Mr. Cable: Is the Minister prepared to consider having more than one private development going on at the same time, so as to introduce market forces and, as an alternative, when lands are turned over to the municipalities, insisting that they be put out for tender, so there is more than one subdivision being developed at the same time and the free market forces are operating both on the purchase of the land and the sale of the land?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Certainly, that is one of the things we would like to look at. We also have to deal with the City of Whitehorse on the development. I am not sure if it is right or fair for the municipality to be taking a chunk right off the top of a land development project because, invariably, it is the purchasers of the lots who pay that additional cost.
Mr. Cable: I would like to follow up on some questions that were asked earlier. In this jurisdiction we have one municipality that has some extensive planning personnel and public works personnel that could develop a subdivision, and that is the City of Whitehorse. We have a number of small municipalities that cannot really afford to put on their payroll the fairly high-priced help that is involved in some of these exercises.
Is the government prepared to consider seconding the governments personnel to the smaller municipalities, either on a fee-for-service basis or on a consulting-contract basis, for purposes of lot development?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I think we would certainly consider doing that. As I said earlier today, if one of our smaller municipalities is interested in developing land, we would encourage them to whatever extent we could, and that may very well mean lending them one of our people to head up the project. We would be open to that kind of a situation.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Mr. Harding: I have a question concerning airport facilities for Faro. Are there any discussions being undertaken within the department regarding airports? I know that there has been a review underway, and we had a meeting in Faro this fiscal year about changes that could be made. More specifically, I am wondering if there are any changes or discussions underway about, perhaps, reducing the number of airports or the number of services of that type to the communities, specifically Faro.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I can give a sort of general outline of what has been happening. The review, I believe, was to get operators - people who use the airport - to provide their thoughts and recommendations to the federal government. There is a move to devolve more of the federal airports to the Yukon, and those discussions are currently underway. I do not know the actual outcome - there has not actually been an outcome at this time.
Mr. Harding: Specifically, what involvement or responsibility would YTG have concerning the airports in Ross River and Faro, for example. Specifically, what jurisdictions would they have a responsibility for?
Mr. Fisher: When full devolution takes place, the Yukon government will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of those airports. Along with that, some federal funding will devolve to YTG.
Mr. Harding: What I am getting at is that there have been some rumours circulating about amalgamating Ross River and Faro airports and I do not know what the validity of that is. Has the Minister heard any of those discussions in his conversations with any federal officials or within his own department?
Mr. Fisher: No. My understanding is that the two airports are similar. They are the same class of airport. There has not been anything finalized that I am aware of, as we speak.
Mr. Harding: Finalized is a bit of a disconcerting word. It leaves me with the impression that there are discussions underway about it. Is that the case, or was the Minister just trying to say that he is not aware of any discussions or any decisions?
Mr. Fisher: I am not aware of any decisions at this time.
Mr. Harding: Will the territorial government be taking the position that both communities should continue to maintain their own separate entities for municipal airports?
Mr. Fisher: I would expect that both airports would remain, but I am not sure what level of funding we will be receiving from the federal government. There has been a move to reduce personnel in airports. I think everyone is aware of what is happening in Watson Lake right now, where the flight service station has been closed. The department is currently negotiating with the federal government and I have not been brought into those negotiations or into the decision-making process at this time. I would expect that, fairly soon, there will have to be some decisions made, and probably a higher level of negotiations on funding.
Mr. Harding: The territorial government would be acting, in terms of these negotiations, under some directive or mandate for services and assets in the devolution. What I would specifically ask the Minister is what mandate they have in terms of the negotiations regarding the continued existence of separate and staffed and operating facilities in the two communities of Ross River and Faro. I am interested in the territorial position. I would assume that the territorial negotiators would receive a mandate from Cabinet and the Minister. If I am not correct, please let me know what is going on.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It would certainly be in our interest to see both airports remain. However, the level of service at those airports will probably be up for negotiation with the federal government.
Mr. Harding: Has the territorial government taken the position with the federal government in these negotiations that they want to see the existing levels of service maintained in Faro and Ross River?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: That is the position we are taking; however, as I said before, the level of negotiation is still at the departmental stage.
Mr. Harding: Let me say, by way of a submission at this time, I certainly would like to have some discussion with the Minister about this, as the process unfolds. It is very important to me, as well as to employees who work there and are involved with the airport. Not only that, it is an important aspect for the community in the future. I firmly believe that if Western Copper and Casino, for example, are hedging on $1.00 copper prices with regard to the probability of starting up in the future, and the government takes a positive attitude toward that, the probability of Faro and Sa Dena Hes mines operating again also looks good, because I foresee prices improving in that metal at least to the extent that are expected in some of the other properties.
Having said that, I think it is important for the community to maintain that asset, so that, by way of a submission, I would request that the territorial government strongly take the position of maintaining the staffing in the services at the airports in Faro and Ross River.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister expressed the view that he wants the private sector to be able to compete on the same basis as the government, and he was talking about the fact that the government gets the land for nothing. Can the Minister tell me why the government gets the land for nothing?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The federal government devolves land to the Yukon government as needed. Essentially, there is no cost involved between the federal and territorial governments. There may have been a dollar cost between the territorial government and the City of Whitehorse on the Pineridge lots.
Ms. Moorcroft: When the Minister said that the government gets the land for nothing and that a private developer would have to get the land at the same cost in order to compete on the same basis as the government, does this mean that the Minister would like to see the First Nations get their land first for no cost, or how does the Minister see that working?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not party to the land claims table negotiations, but it is my understanding that raw, undeveloped land for First Nations is provided at no cost to the First Nation.
Ms. Moorcroft: The point that I would like to get at is that the government receives the land from the federal government who holds title, putting aside the land claims negotiations, and that is because the land is held by the government on behalf of the community the people as a whole.
I would like to ask the Minister to elaborate on this position, or explain his position to me. He stated that the private developer would have to get the land at no cost, what about the private citizen or family who wants access to land, since the government is receiving land at no cost on behalf of the people as a whole. If the government can develop land for three-quarters of market value, why is the Minister opposed to a private citizen obtaining land for a lower price, when he has just indicated that he believes that the private developer should be able to get the land at no cost?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The cost of land has never been part of the selling price. The land has always been considered free and it is the development cost that adds the price to it - whether it is country-residential or a fully serviced residential lot.
Ms. Moorcroft: I am not sure if property owners who purchase land on the private market would agree that the price of the land was free. The Minister has still not answered the question that I would like him to address. The Minister supports a private developer obtaining land at no cost. Why does he not support the ability of a private citizen to obtain land at no cost and develop it themselves or to obtain land at the development cost if the government puts in the roads and other essential services before it is sold?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The cost of serviced residential lots is the development cost, regardless of whether the city does it, the territory does it or if a private developer did it. Because the development costs are less than the current market value for country-residential lots, there was a conscious decision made, some time ago, to sell those lots at market price. The market price is more than the actual development cost.
Ms. Moorcroft: The cost of serviced residential land is not at cost and it is particularly not at cost where you have a private developer. I have received many calls from people who would like to be able to buy land. When the Pineridge lots were sold, they were in the $49,000 to $54,000 range for a lot. That is a lot of money that people cannot afford. Does the Minister support the ability of a private citizen to obtain land on a cost basis?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do believe in providing land to people at the lowest possible cost. However, because there has not been enough land developed in the last few years, the market has increased and, until we have an inventory of land, if we were to develop some lots within the City of Whitehorse - and I should mention that the City of Whitehorse has made representation to the government to not sell country-residential land at development cost, but at market value - and sell at development cost for country residential - I have said this three or four times, and I want to make it very clear that it is only country-residential lots that are sold at market value, not serviced residential properties - we would certainly upset the marketplace.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Minister said he would like to see the price of land come down to enable a private citizen to afford land, particularly country-residential land, which is a very popular lifestyle in the Yukon. That is one area in which we may even agree on a position. However, the market value will not come down if the land inventory is only increased and developed by a private developer.
Does the Minister support country-residential lots being developed and sold by the government so there is not an extra cost added to the development by having another layer?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not sure if having a private developer is actually more expensive, as the Member opposite alludes to. I am not exactly sure if that is a fact or not. Until we get enough of an inventory of land, there is going to be a market push for country-residential land that probably will exceed the development cost. I think that, in the future, as land claims are settled and we are able to develop more country-residential, and/or rural lands, I think that you will see the price come down. I do not know that we should be interfering in the marketplace by creating a lot of land that is cheaper than what it is being sold for in the marketplace.
Ms. Moorcroft: Let me assure the Minister that the private developer is developing land for profit, and he is certainly being naive if he thinks otherwise. There is not enough land available to citizens, as he indicated. I would like to make the representation that many people in my riding, in the Ministers riding, and all around the territory, particularly in the Whitehorse vicinity, would like to be able to afford a home. Where there is a private developer, a real estate agent, a city development cost all added to the raw cost of lands and roads and other essential services, they cannot afford that land. I would like to make the representation that the Minister would consider selling land to the public at a fair price, given that he has indicated earlier today that he supports the private developer getting the land at no cost, simply for developing it and turning a profit on it.
Mr. McDonald: I am having a little difficulty trying to understand in which direction the government is going, which direction the Minister would like to go with respect to the sale of public lands. I know that the governments predecessors, while in Opposition, had taken both positions - that residential land or country-residential land in Whitehorse should be sold at development cost and at market value, using different arguments to suit the moment. So we cannot look to history to give us any inkling as to what the government might be thinking now.
Does the government want land value to decrease and consequently become more affordable or do they want to protect property values as they exist right now? Which direction is the government taking? Obviously, one could conceive of them as being slightly incompatible objectives. We cannot have it both ways. Which way do we want to go - meaning the royal we: government.
Mr. Fisher: That is a very good question from the Member opposite. As he stated, we cannot have it both ways and it is a bit of a dilemma in the Yukon right now - interestingly enough, just in the Whitehorse area.
As for economic opportunities through housing, I believe that housing is something like our third largest economic activity in the territory. We have to be very careful that we do not upset the market but, at the same time, I would like to see land get back down - especially the country-residential and the rural-residential properties - to a more reasonable figure. That, I would expect, would be somewhere near development cost. I also would not want to see the government turn a large number of lots onto the market and affect ongoing house and property sales. We have to be very, very careful that we do not do that, yet we do have to work over the long term toward getting lots back down to where they are affordable.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister is indicating that the policy of the government right now is that there should be, over the long term, some price depression for country-residential lots. Does he also include urban-residential property in that category, or is it simply the one category? Can he also indicate to us how long he expects this activity to take place to the point that the land that is sold is more affordable and closer to development costs?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Urban-residential serviced lots are sold at development cost. It is the country-residential and rural-residential where there has been a market value attached to them. I do not know what the term would be. With Indian land claims still in progress, land is not readily available at this time. I would think that, over a period of five or more years, we should be able to plan ahead and have enough land on the market where we have a bit of an inventory. At some future time, it should be that the marketplace will look after all of it. I am not sure how long that would be, either.
Mr. McDonald: I was with the Minister right up to the last sentence, where he talks about the marketplace looking after everything. Clearly, with urban-residential lots going for development costs, that is not the equivalent of market value. It may or may not be, but it is not the market that is making that determination - development costs are. There have to be more elements to the governments land pricing policy to truly bring it into line with the policy objectives he stated: that being wanting the market to help determine the price or be the final determinant of the price, but also for there always to be affordable land for people who want to own a home or get started. Presumably, in the coming months, we will be discussing this more fully with the Minister as he wraps his mind around pricing questions.
I would like to ask the Minister a couple of questions about the inventory of land. What is the policy with respect to the development of inventoried land, such as how much land there is, what category is where, and when will the government feel that it has a balanced inventory and has reached its objective?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: It is extremely difficult to forecast the requirement for land down the road. For urban serviced lots there is approximately three years from conception to the date of sale. What you need is approximately two years of lots available at all times. In the City of Whitehorse, there have been ups and downs in the requirement for land over the last few years. It looks like the requirement is 130 to 150 lots per year during the past few years.
I would say that for urban-residential, including standard city lots, trailer lots and so on. There is an area in the Logan subdivision where the homes have to be a certain minimum square footage and will be quite expensive homes. You need all the various categories of land within the municipalities and I would guess that when we get to the point where we have about 300 lots we will be there. We are continuing to develop, but we want to be able to slow the development down or speed it up as the market demands.
Right now, we have in the City of Whitehorse over 100 lots available, but for next year that may not be enough. I would like to see us have about 300 in the bank.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to discuss this for awhile with the Member because I think there are a number of elements that all Members should be aware of when we talk about that size of inventory in the Whitehorse market. Clearly, when the economy is doing well there is a heavy demand for lots - lots of all types. Certainly, to be prepared by having lots ready is wise planning and should be encouraged. The problem comes in a year like this year where, as in the Arkell subdivision, 90 lots are up for lottery and two are released or applied for - I cannot remember which occurred. The point is that there is very little interest this year.
The Minister made a good point. Because there is long development time for lots you must start at least three years before you expect to put the lots on the market. The one element that has been overlooked is that those three years do not have to be three consecutive years. A lot of planning and engineering, which takes time and should not be rushed, could be done without the heavy investment in the final construction costs associated with that land.
If there was no impact on the territorial budget for holding the lots, then there would be nothing to hold us back - other than such local considerations as land claims, land selections and municipal interests - from developing all kinds of lots in Whitehorse and around the territory.
The problem is, there is a cost to develop these lots, and the cost takes place when the government invests a lot of money in something for which they do not expect a quick return.
In the budget papers that the Government Leader provided, it listed an inventory at the end of next year that could be as high as $29 million worth of developed land ready for sale.
The problem with that size of an inventory is that the money that had been invested in that land sits waiting for a sale to happen, which may or may not take place. If the money had remained in the bank, then interest would have accrued, and the interest on that kind of money is in the millions.
Historically, through the Formula Financing Agreement, we do not share in that accrued interest. It goes to the federal government. As has happened over time, a number of services have been provided by our bankers to the government in lieu of payment of interest on the money that we keep in the bank. This year, that money adds up to $600,000. Suddenly, there is a real cost associated with the amount of land that is developed and held in inventory. This suddenly becomes an issue because, by my standards at least, $600,000 is a whole lot of money. While not to simply dismiss this as being a problem for accountants, this is a problem for us. This year, we are voting $400,000 for rural banking services, and an extra $200,000 for overdraft charges. That is money out. That is not money for teachers, highway maintenance personnel or anything else - that is money paid out to the bank.
I am nervous about the size of the land inventory, and the one thing I was hoping the Minister would provide this summer was a market survey.
As the Minister will recall, when the estimates for the supplementary were first prepared and tabled in the Legislature, there was some skepticism about the need for all the land, and there was some concern that all the plans could not be undertaken. I asked the Minister whether or not the department was preparing a market survey.
I have not received that market survey but that would help us in determining the needs and whether or not it is important to have this land in reserve in order not to stunt economic growth when it happens versus the cost associated, as it turns out, with expenditures we now have to make because we are tying money up in land development. If we have the information, we can make a reasoned judgment; if we do not have the information, it just heightens the anxiety we have about what we are doing and whether or not what we are doing is reasonable.
I would like to know whether or not the Minister could give us some information about that market survey. I think it was supposed to have been finished in mid-summer. Could he also give us some information about the lands inventory that currently exists, by category, and the amount of interest that is shown for that land within the City of Whitehorse.
I have a couple of questions about other rural communities but I will leave them until later.
Can the Minister provide us with that information?
Mr. Fisher: I can say a couple of things about what the Member opposite has said. The amount of land in inventory right now is approximately $18.5 million. By throwing in the monies for 1994-95 and subtracting the sales, the balance will be in the neighbourhood of $29 million a year from now - but some fairly major infrastructure is involved in the development of that land, such as the pump house and reservoir and all the associated piping up in area D.
It is going to be very expensive, and it is one of the major factors in bringing that inventory up so high. I agree with the Member opposite totally about developing. If one has the plans done, the engineering done and the soils investigated and all that, one may not do any more development for a period of time. I do agree with that. If there is a downturn in the economy, there is no point in putting in a lot of water and sewer that may not be used for five or seven years.
However, we have to get to the point where there are available lots on the market and, as the economy comes back, we have to be able to develop them quickly. We do not want to start from scratch at that point.
With the area D here in Hillcrest, we cannot do any more development until that reservoir and pump house go in. That is something that has to be begun next year, or we will get ourselves into a situation where we will not have any lots for sale.
I agree with the cost of banking services and the cost of overdrafts. I would like to see us in a surplus situation, where we would not have to pay those direct costs, and where the interest that we earn would pay that, as was previously the case. I do not think that we can stop all development because of that particular situation. I think that we need to continue on to make sure that we have land or lots available for people, as the requirement comes up.
Mr. McDonald: I am not suggesting, for one second, that we should be stopping all development. I do not wish that impression to be left. I am suggesting that we be prepared to make a reasoned judgment. There is a lot of money at stake in terms of money that we would not otherwise have had to spend. We would have to talk to Finance officials, but it could be as high as $600,000 per year, as I understand it, that it is costing us to go this route. That is a lot of money. That is a lot of highway you can build; that is a lot of everything you can do if you decide to modify or moderate the plan.
What I am really interested in is having the information necessary to be able to make a reasonable judgment on the matter. That takes us back to the question of the market survey that was supposed to have been done. Clearly, the determination of what the needs are out there is really of prime importance. Determining needs well into the future is an imprecise science, but at least we should do our best, given the costs associated with not knowing, or going in one particular direction, to determine what the takeup is going to be.
If one were to consider just this years takeup, one would have a very pessimistic outlook on the future development prospects, not only in the land and housing business, but also for the City of Whitehorse. However, we also should be concerned that, to properly develop more infrastructure on top of a poor year, without knowing what future years are all about and what we can expect, is nothing short of reckless.
The problem is that the economic circumstances in the territory, for better or worse, have changed. They are not like what they were over the last five years. If one were to say that, in the last five years, we have sold 150 lots a year, one could respond, so what? I have a couple of hundred people in my riding who are out of work as a result of Curragh and other things that have happened. Probably 100 people working for Yukon Alaska Transport alone have had some impact on the housing market in the trailer courts that I represent.
It is a question of balance. That is the issue, not whether we should have no lots or be rolling in them. The question is what the right number of lots is for our time. What is the clearest-headed assessment we have of what the demand is going to be in the future? How should we be planning for that, given the associated costs? These costs are not something Community and Transportation Services has to bear, but they are costs that we, in this Legislature, have to bear. If Community and Transportation Services gives that less weight or does not feel it is an important feature of their planning process, we do.
We are supposed to be looking after the bucks here. That is one of the things we do anyway.
What I am asking, I guess, is that, given that in the past the land inventory has been as high as - when I was working with C&TS - $17 million; that was when the three phases of the McIntyre subdivision were still unsold, still had not been transferred to the Kwanlin Dun Band. What is the rationale or justification for this size of expenditure at this time? What is the market survey that was done? What are the results of that survey? What did it tell the department? Does it say that, despite whatever projections we have right now, there will be a need, not based on past experience but based on their knowledge of future projections? What will be the need for the property?
Does the Minister want to say something right now, or do we just report progress?
Okay, I will move that we report progress on Bill No. 11.
Motion agreed to
Mr. McDonald: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1993-94, 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 Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:29 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled November 23, 1993:
Delivering Good Government initiative: working group established (Memorandum to Government of Yukon employees, dated October 4, 1993) (Ostashek)
Economic Development projects for 1993-94: Yukon Mining Incentives Program; Business Development Fund; Community Development Fund; and Economic Development Agreement current project expenditures (Devries)
The following Document was filed November 23, 1993:
Implementing the Department of Government Services strategic plan within the Supply Services Branch: memorandum from the Director of Supply Services to Supply Services branch managers (dated November 10, 1993) (Moorcroft)