Wednesday, December 8, 1993 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will begin with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have a legislative return and new releases from my conference in Saskatoon.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have for tabling five legislative returns.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Petition No. 5 - response
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I rise today to respond to the petition that was filed by the Leader of the Official Opposition two weeks ago. I must say that it is great to have this opportunity again to discuss an issue that is very dear to our hearts. Of course this petition has to do with the high cost of power and the concern over the escalating rates that we pay for electricity. I have had an opportunity to discuss these issues before in the House, but I would like to recap a few of these issues in responding to this serious petition.
As Members know, this government put $2.4 million into the system by way of a loan to Curragh that went directly to Yukon Energy Corporation and resulted in a substantial reduction in the funds required for this year by the Yukon Energy Corporation, thus cutting into a rider that was being asked for by the utility companies and cutting it in half. Then, a little over a month ago, we announced our rate relief program, whereby we have said that we will put back $3.5 million in profits each year for the next two years, and that will be targeted to residents and small businesses, but not paid to governments except for a modest amount of relief to municipalities.
This is in stark contrast to the motion and the process that is being advocated by the Official Opposition and a motion that has been debated in this House - a motion that we, on this side, refer to as the Papa Doc motion because of its similarity in philosophy to the doctrines of many banana republics.
That motion would result in a decrease of 5.5 percent return on equity. The equity in the system is approximately a little over $50 million.
The result would be a relief to consumers in the Yukon of less than $3 million, as opposed to the $3.5 million that we are giving back. Even more outrageous, the proposed motion and the solution proposed by the Official Opposition would result in the actual relief being about half of the relief that is being given by our program, because the less than $3 million would be divided equally among all consumers, including governments, which are a very large consuming group. Instead of Yukoners being given an eight-percent ceiling on the last increase allowed by the board, they would be facing a 15.5 percent increase.
On top of that, as we have said many times, that particular motion would have a severe negative impact on investment in the territory, and this is another reason we call it the Papa Doc motion. I think we have pretty well established that the real reason for the motion being put forward by the Official Opposition is not to assist the ratepayer - how could it be when it does not do the job that our package does - but it is really being put forward to discourage investment in the utilities in the Yukon. It is a thinly disguised attempt to spoil the chances of us bringing the First Nations in as partners in the Energy Corporation, as well as other potential Yukon investors.
In responding to the petition, I want to say that we are doing the best job we can to assist residents and small businesses in Yukon, while at the same time maintaining an arms-length relationship with utility companies, and ensuring that the role of the Public Utilities Board is not totally decimated.
I think this is a very valuable petition. I enjoyed the chance to discuss it and I really hope that the Leader of the Official Opposition will come to this House again with further petitions.
Speaker: Introductions of Bills.
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Job security
Ms. Moorcroft: Can the Government Leader tell the House what job security is to his mind?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite is bound and determined to politicize the collective bargaining process. I have said time and time again that I am not going to engage in that kind of discussion when negotiations are going to conciliation in a couple of days.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Moorcroft: The Ministers stonewalling is not the least bit entertaining to this side of the House, or to the public.
What are the Government Leaders reasons for opposing job security?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will rise again to restate what I have stated probably 30 times in this session of the Legislature. We, on this side of the House, are not going to politicize the collective bargaining system. The Official Opposition is supposed to be a proponent of the labour workers in the Yukon and of the collective bargaining system, yet they are trying to politicize it.
Ms. Moorcroft: I am trying to get this Minister to give us an indication of what his governments policy is. They will not answer any questions.
Can the Government Leader tell us why he is opposed to job security?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Again, I am not going to politicize the collective bargaining system.
Question re: Job security
Ms. Moorcroft: I wonder why the Government Leader sought political office, when he refuses to answer questions. I wonder why the Government Leader is sitting there ignoring our questions as if they are not relevant. These are relevant questions.
Job security is not socialist dogma. Job security respects employees. Can the Government Leader tell us if he has any philosophical reasons for opposing job security?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I know why I sought public office, but I am not so sure I know why the Member opposite did. Perhaps she should have sought union negotiations, because that is what she has embarked on, and is trying to do it in a political forum. I am not going to engage in it.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Government Leader is no negotiator, when he will not answer questions in this House.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Ms. Moorcroft: Negotiating is one of a number of skills you may need in response to the heckling by the Minister of Education, and one that this government clearly does not have.
Could the Government Leader tell me if he is prepared to take a look at just what job security means for the Yukons public and private sector workers?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We are not going to negotiate collective bargaining in this Legislature and I am not prepared to get involved in any such discussion while the bargaining process is being undertaken.
Ms. Moorcroft: I am going to ask the Minister one more time to stop stonewalling. Can the Minister not even define what job security is or why he is opposed to it?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This Minister is not stonewalling. I have respect for the collective bargaining process that is being carried out at this time, even if the Member opposite does not.
Question re: Auditor General report on human resource management
Mr. Cable: A short while ago, the government tabled the report of the Auditor General - a report on the study of human resource management in the Yukon Territorial Government. The question I have is for the Government Leader. Does the government, and in particular the Government Leader, accept the finding as set out in the report?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Certainly we accept the findings that were set out in the report. That is why the report was commissioned. It was commissioned by the previous administration and, when we took over office, we were asked if we wanted to continue with it and we said we certainly did.
A lot of the recommendations that were in the report have already been acted on. Other ones are being acted on, and the whole report is being distributed through the departments for the managers to look at and utilize in order to try to get a better working relationship with the public sector.
Mr. Cable: While the Government Leader was away, the Minister of Education indicated that several of the recommendations could be put into place fairly quickly, and this has been reinforced by what the Government Leader just said.
Could the Government Leader indicate which major recommendations are being put into place now?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not believe I have that right here in my notes but I can get that information for the Member opposite. A lot of them are being worked on and a lot of them were being worked on prior even to the report being issued. It just reinforced some of the areas where we had concerns. So, they are being acted on and I will get a list for the Member.
Mr. Cable: Are there any areas of disagreement between the government and the recommendations in the report issued by the Auditor General?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: None have been brought to my attention. I have not had a chance to read the report in full detail yet, but I expect to soon. The Public Service Commission has responded that they feel quite comfortable with the report.
Question re: Yukon Economic Strategy review
Mr. Penikett: I have a question for the Government Leader with respect to the terms of reference for the Yukon economic conference that he tabled information about yesterday.
What is the policy of this government with respect to compliance with the economic planning provisions of the umbrella final agreement, including the clause the Yukon shall ensure that at least one-quarter of the delegates invited to attend the annual review of the Yukon Economic Strategy are Yukon Indian people, or their representatives. What is the governments position in terms of adherence to that provision of the umbrella final agreement?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not exactly sure what the Member wants. I believe that there is in excess of 25-percent representation on the council at this time, and I believe that it complies with the UFA.
Mr. Penikett: The UFA refers to a requirement of the government to ensure the attendance of First Nations at an annual review of the Economic Strategy, which is a precise document approved by this House.
What is the Government Leaders position in terms of compliance with that provision of the UFA, chapter 22.7.2?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that we are complying with the UFA. The UFA in section 22.3.2 refers to an annual review, but it does not create an obligation for such a review. If a review is held, 25 percent of the participants must be First Nations.
Mr. Penikett: This is not the first provision of the umbrella final agreement that this government seems to be trying to wiggle out of.
Can the Government Leader explain the reason - since the Yukon Economic Strategy was adopted by all Members of this House, and he did not promise to throw it out or abandon it completely during his election campaign - why he is trying to avoid the obligation contained in this clause, which says that the Yukon, meaning the Yukon government, shall ensure that at least one-quarter of the delegates invited to attend the annual review, that means every year, of the Yukon Economic Strategy? Not some other strategy, not a strategy, but The Yukon Economic Strategy adopted by this House.
What reason does the Government Leader have for violating this provision in the umbrella final agreement?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The allegations by the Member opposite are totally ridiculous.
The umbrella final agreement does state economic strategy; it does not state the Economic Strategy that the previous administration had in place, and we are not in violation of the umbrella final agreement.
Question re: Yukon Economic Strategy review
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader says that he is not violating the provisions of this agreement. Has the Government Leader obtained competent legal advice on the question, as to whether the Government of the Yukon is in compliance with that chapter of the UFA, or not? And if he has, will he table the legal opinion in this House?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Certainly, we have had legal advice and we certainly will not table the legal opinion in this House - the Leader of the Official Opposition never would.
Mr. Penikett: They have no respect for the law whatsoever. The Government Leader has just talked about respect for processes. He does not even respect the existing provisions of the collective agreement that talk about job security. This is not the first breach. The government has violated the provisions of the forestry transfer, fish and wildlife, Tombstone Mountain and the Economic Strategy, and the umbrella final agreement has not even been adopted in Ottawa.
Let me ask the Government Leader this: since it was clearly intended in the land claims agreement and in the Economic Development Act and the Environment Act that a balance of interests would be invited to the annual review of the Yukon Economic Strategy, and there are no references contained in his terms of references to invitations to the representatives of the environment, labour and womens movement, only to private sector interests, First Nations and municipal governments, thenan the Government Leader tell us whether, under his rewriting of the law, environmental interests, working people and womens organizations will be invited to attend the economic review?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Leader of the Official Opposition has just acquired a law degree. He perceives himself to be the only voice on what is legal and what is illegal. It is only by his interpretation - and he is the only one who seems to be concerned. We have a balanced representation on the Council on the Economy and the Environment.
Mr. Penikett: I do not think the Government Leader would want to get into a contest on education or on adherence to laws or on knowledge of public policy matters with anyone else in this House. I asked a question about the economic review. I will ask it again. Will the Government Leader, consistent with the intent of the legislation in the Economic Development Act, the Environment Act and the land claims agreement, be inviting a balance of interests, and will those interests include representatives of environmental groups, womens groups and trade union organizations, when this conference is held?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have appointed a Council on the Economy and the Environment. They have all the pertinent legislation the Member opposite is standing up and alluding to in this House. I am sure that, when the review is carried out, they will do it in a manner according to legislation that is in place.
Question re: Yukon Economic Strategy review
Mr. Penikett: Since I believe that, contrary to the law, he has not appointed anyone to the Council on the Economy and the Environment to represent all Yukon womens interests, can the Government Leader tell us if his government is going to guarantee that organizations like the Status of Women Council will be invited to participate in the economic review?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not sure I heard the Member of the Official Opposition. Is he telling this House that Yukon native women cannot represent Yukon womens interests?
We have a balanced board in the Council on the Economy and the Environment, and they will be doing what is necessary to fulfill their requirements under the law.
Mr. Penikett: Only someone massively ignorant on the question would claim that the Yukon Indian Womens Association is constituted, organized and structured to represent all Yukon women.
Will the Government Leader answer the question? Is his government going to guarantee that representatives of womens organizations, such as the Yukon Status of Women Council, will be invited to participate in this economic review?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not sure that any womens organization, including the Status of Women Council, is able to speak for all Yukon women. I do not think they can.
As I have said, we have appointed the board, and they will carry out their mandate under the law.
Mr. Penikett: The Government Leader has surpassed himself today. He has directly contradicted himself in two successive statements. First of all, he said the Yukon Indian Womens Association can represent all Yukon women. Then, in the next breath, he said that no organization could represent all Yukon women, which is exactly why the previous government tried to put into law a balance of interests, with the intent that a wide range of interests - including a wide range of views from the womens community - would be invited to the conference.
Let me ask the Government Leader again. Is it his intention, consistent with the attitude displayed recently on the front bench, to deny representation at this economic review to interests, such as working people, represented by the Federation of Labour, women, represented by the Status of Women Council and other organizations, environmental interests, such as the Yukon Conservation Society and others? Is it his intent to bar such views of people who are critical of the government from the conference?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Most of the organizations he just mentioned are represented on the board to start with. The Council on the Economy and the Environment does not operate in isolation. They solicit opinions from the public at large. Everybody has a chance for input into their reviews.
Question re: Appointments to boards and committees
Mrs. Firth: Since the Yukon Partys election promise to establish an all-party legislative committee to review appointments to government boards and committees has been shelved, like the promise for an ombudsperson was shelved, I would like to ask the Government Leader about how appointments to boards and committees are made.
When the government Members were in Opposition, they were very vocal and critical of the creation of the position of community liaison coordinator in the Government Leaders office. In light of this position, why have they done a complete turnaround and appointed someone to this position anyway?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: While we may have appointed someone to that position, the fact remains that we have a lot fewer bodies up there than were there under the previous administration.
Mrs. Firth: These people were extremely opposed to-
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: Oh, not me, he says. These people - the Yukon Party - were opposed to the very concept of this position. In fact, they said that it was ludicrous, and that this person would be in charge of patronage.
Why is it okay to have a person in charge of patronage in his government, but it was not okay for the previous government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I can answer that quite simply. We do not have a person in charge of patronage in our office. While I am on my feet, the first part of her question was asking how we are going about to-
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is the person sitting beside you, that is not me. I will say to the Member opposite that the way we select people for the boards is to request names from the public and from organizations at large, and the names are picked from that list.
Mrs. Firth: That is interesting. By the way, just for the publics information, the individual who said that the person would be in charge of patronage was the present Justice Minister.
Can the Government Leader tell me if this position still carries the same MG-4 classification, which has attached to it a salary range of $53,000 to $69,000?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: While I can just say that the Minister of Justice is not a Yukon Party member, he is the other half of the happy coalition.
Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We are accused all the time by the other side of the House of having a happy coalition on this side of the House. I am just re-emphasizing that. Now that it does not fit their questions, they think it is an outrage.
I am not sure of that category but I will bring it back or the Member opposite.
Question re: Community liaison coordinator
Mrs. Firth: I have three words for the Government Leader: ha, ha, ha.
Since the Government Leader mentioned the process, I would like to ask him some more detailed questions about the process of appointing people to boards and committees, particularly with the liaison coordinator, who is going to be responsible for recruiting a few hundred people for boards and committees.
Could the Government Leader stand up today and outline for us just what that process is? How does it work?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The person the Member is talking about certainly is not recruiting the people, as she says. She is keeping a list. We have even run ads in the paper asking for people to sit on boards and committees.
Mrs. Firth: Everyone knows how I really dislike having to disagree with the Government Leader and point out that he is wrong. I checked with the newspapers and they do not routinely advertise for people for boards and committees. However, Yukon Update advertises for them. Yukon Update is a publication of the Yukon Party caucus and - I am coming to my question, Mr. Speaker - in this caucus publication it says that the government is inviting applications from interested persons to sit on boards and committees. Any resident of the Yukon can apply or nominate someone. There are more than 100 boards and committees. For information, contact the community liaison coordinator - the persons name is in brackets - and there is a phone number.
Who does this publication go out to? Did you get one, Mr. Speaker? I did not get one.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am really disappointed that the Member for Riverdale did not get one. If she would like to have one we could certainly put her name on the list.
I do not know how many names are on the list right now, but I draw to the Members attention that it does not say that criterion for sitting on boards and committees is to be a Yukon Party supporter.
Mrs. Firth: This is only sent out to Yukon Party supporters. Other Yukoners do not receive it.
The Government Leader laughs and this is a serious issue. This was a big election promise that was made.
Why is the Government Leader standing up in the House today saying that everyone in the public is invited to be on boards, when it is obvious that they are not. When is he going to start inviting the public to be on the boards?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member says how serious a matter this is. It is a very serious matter; it was one of the first motions that we put on the floor of this House and we could not get any cooperation from the Members opposite to vet the appointments to boards.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Members opposite had the opportunity to vet the names and they would not do it.
Question re: Workers Compensation, volunteer coverage
Mr. Harding: I remind the Government Leader that we amended their motion to improve it and make it better, and we could not get any cooperation from the government.
I have a question for the Minister.
Speaker: On the same topic?
Mr. Harding: Not quite, Mr. Speaker.
I have a question for the Minister responsible for Workers Compensation.
At the request of the Yukon government, the Yukon Workers Compensation Board deemed several classes of people to be workers for the purposes of workers compensation, including people doing community service work, students on work training and people volunteering their services to the government. Essentially, government volunteers are now viewed as workers by the Workers Compensation Board.
When volunteers of the government are deemed to be workers, their right to sue the government in the event of an injury is taken away. For example, a parent who might be working on a school trip and gets injured no longer has the right to sue the government for negligence, if in fact there was negligence. Is the government advising all of their volunteers that their right to sue the government if they are injured has now been taken away?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: That change in regulations was made and put in by the board and the president of the board.
Mr. Harding: The Minister should become more familiar with this act. Time and time again, we are seeing problems with the health and safety review and the management of the Workers Compensation Board. The Minister does have authority, and this particular order and request was done by the board at the request of the government. That is the only way it can be done.
Will the Minister please advise whether the board order, done at the request of the government, was costed by an actuary and what kind of pressure it would bear on the compensation fund? We had a $3 million increase in that fund last year.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Ever since I got into Workers Compensation and the new rules, we have had a number of lawyers, who all have a different opinion. We now have another lawyer over here telling me something else. I wish these lawyers would get together and make up their minds what it is. At times, it is a real problem knowing exactly where they are going with the new legislation.
I accept the ruling of the board, and we have rescinded the two orders-in-council we had, so the ruling of the board would be in effect.
Mr. Harding: Since the Minister does not understand what is in the act, let me read it to him. The act says, Despite any other provision of this act, the board may, upon the application of an employer, which is the government, and subject to any conditions that it may establish, deem the following persons to be workers of that employer ... That is what they did, and that is what I mentioned earlier.
Does the Minister believe that volunteers are best insured through the workers compensation system, rather than through private liability insurance?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I find it funny that the individual, who is always kicking me around, and saying that I do not help any employee, now that I am trying to protect them, he goes to the other side of the fence.
Yes, I believe they should be protected under workers compensation.
Question re: Workers Compensation, volunteer coverage
Mr. Harding: The Minister is not helping anybody with this, if he is not telling them clearly what has been done. Now, those volunteers lose their right to sue the government for negligence. Not only that, if they ever perform any negligent act, the people who are hurt by it cannot even sue them any more, because we are now under the workers compensation system, rather than through private liability insurance.
Can the Minister tell us what consultation the government had with industry and labour on this issue, before they requested the board to do it?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: It certainly is peculiar that now all of a sudden we want to go back into private business and private liability. It is probably just being pointed out for the government. There are a lot of volunteers who work for other associations and should be covered the same way.
Mr. Harding: I could not understand the answer the Minister just gave. What I am asking is, now that they have taken this policy to the board, made a request and had it granted to consider all these volunteers as workers and now cover them under the workers compensation system, as opposed to private liability, can he tell us what consultation with business and labour did they carry out to formulate this request and have it granted by the board?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I will take that under advisement and find out from the board.
Mr. Harding: Time and time again we are finding that the government really does not know what is going on with respect to policy. They do not know who is running the ship on the security checks policy, they could not answer us; on the wolf plan, they do not know who is preparing draft submissions to Cabinet; on the occupational health and safety review, they are trying to claim it was a board decision. Can the government tell us why they would undertake these policies, if it is they who are doing it, and then not be able to stand up in this Legislature and tell us the reason why?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: It was simply to add the volunteer workers to other workers for workers compensation coverage.
Question re: Contracts, local bid preference
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Government Leader. There has been some discussion in the Legislature about the governments contracting policy and about whether the government intended to give Yukon contractors a bid preference when bidding on government contracts. Can the Government Leader give us a definitive answer whether such a preference will be given?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is aware of the desire in the provinces for the removal of interprovincial trade barriers to ensure the free movement of goods and people. We are part of that. But, because we are in the north, we can - and it was approved by the western premiers - if the need arises, give some preferential treatment to our contractors in the north.
Mr. McDonald: I did not ask that question but I thank the Minister for his answer. I will get around to that question in a couple of days.
Is it the governments intention to give Yukon contractors a bid preference? They currently do not have one. Is it the governments intention to give them one?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe our contractors, for the most part, can compete with contractors throughout the world, and I believe we want a level playing field for everybody. But, if the need arises, we have the ability to give them some preference and we will use that if the need arises.
Mr. McDonald: Has the need arisen for a bid preference for government contractors? I ask the question because Government Services is intending to provide a bid preference to Yukon contractors.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe in the year we have been in office that almost 90 percent, 88 percent or something, of contracts were won by local firms so I do not believe there is a need at this point.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, major industrial consumers
Mr. Cable: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation. On December 15 of last year, the Minister informed the House that he expected to have a policy in place relating to pricing of electricity for major industrial consumers, prior to the expiry of the Curragh contract, and that contract expired in March of this year. Again, in March, he informed the House that the policy would not be in place for at least three months, and that is some nine months ago. This policy is a major element in the development of the Carmacks mineral deposits.
Could the Minister give the House, at this time, a definitive date on the completion of this policy initiative?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: This policy is currently being developed, with the lead roles being played by the Department of Economic Development. Although the corporation is involved, it has lots of irons in the fire right now, what with all the bad investments we are trying to get rid of, including the chipper that the good Member opposite was responsible for buying when he was president of the corporation.
Mr. Cable: The Minister should go back and check the minutes of his corporation. He will find that is not the case - but a good try, anyway.
Jacks chipper - that has a nice ring to it, does it not?
On December 15, the Minister indicated that he was going to bring forth a comprehensive energy policy within one year. Could we have his advice as to the status of that policy?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The government will be coming forward shortly with the industrial policy on energy rates. We are also in the process of developing an IPP policy - an independent power producer policy - and, in terms of overall policy, it will be segmental. We do not intend to have a grandiose document full of principles and philosophy that signifies absolutely nothing to the real world.
Mr. Cable: That answer signifies absolutely nothing. I was asking the date; shortly is a good try, but that has been the same answer for about a year now.
The Minister, in response to a question that I asked on April 13, indicated that public participation would be invited. I asked that question and he said, I am sure there will be.
In view of the fact that this policy is going to be in place shortly, what public participation does he anticipate in this small interval?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: As I have already mentioned to the Minister, it is not my department that is developing the industrial energy policy, it is Economic Development. Perhaps the Member could direct his question to that Minister.
Question re: Contracts, local bid preference
Mr. McDonald: Everybody is cutting each other loose on the other side.
I have a question for either the Government Leader or the Minister responsible for Government Services. The Minister for Government Services indicated that in certain circumstances the government would entertain bypassing the low bidder, if that low bidder was bidding from outside of the territory and competing with a local bidder.
Could the Minister indicate under what precise circumstances Cabinet would entertain bypassing the low bidder?
Hon. Mr. Devries: If the economic circumstances in the area indicated that there was a real need for Yukon employment, and if, in the bid submission, the outside bidder could not show that they were going to hire a large number of Yukoners, we would make that decision based on those economic circumstances. However, the bid would have to be very close as far as dollar amounts go.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister indicated that if the outside bidder did not promise to hire a significant number of Yukoners, then that bid might be bypassed. Is the Minister aware that decision is contrary to the Charter of Rights?
Hon. Mr. Devries: From the information that I have, the process that they are using would have to be indicated in the tender and if this circumstance happened, we would have that option. I understand that that is legal.
Mr. McDonald: I invite the Minister to obtain new legal advice on this matter very quickly.
We discussed the court reporting contract last spring and the low bidder was accepted and was from outside, and there was a wildlife synopsis contract for Renewable Resources where I think the difference in contract price between the local and outside bidder was $68, or something, and yet the local bidder was bypassed. Why, in those particular cases, did the government feel that it was not appropriate to bypass the low bidder and accept the Yukon bid?
Hon. Mr. Devries: There could be a wide range of circumstances surrounding that decision. I cannot get into that on my feet, because I would have to know the circumstances behind those decisions.
Question re: Contracts, local bid preference
Mr. McDonald: The government Minister is indicating that there were a wide range of circumstances that may permit the Cabinet to subjectively determine whether or not a low bid will be bypassed. Can the Minister indicate to us whether or not he is communicating with any potential bidder on government projects anywhere in western Canada, who may be entertaining submitting a bid on Yukon government contracts, that they may be arbitrarily bypassed at any time based on a wide range of factors that the Cabinet might deem appropriate at any given time?
Hon. Mr. Devries: This discussion is very preliminary in that this issue has only recently come up. Up to this point, all the contracts have been awarded to the lowest bidder, unless it was an evaluation, or something of that nature.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister indicates that this policy is in the preliminary stage, yet the Government Services strategic plan indicates very clearly what it intends to do, and the Minister has indicated very clearly what they intend to do. One of the reasons we are passing the capital budget now is so that potential bidders can understand what the government projects are and plan accordingly. Can the Minister tell us whether or not he is going to be communicating with the contracting industry that the process for determining whether or not the low bid is going to be accepted may be subject to a very subjective judgment by the Cabinet at any time?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I had mentioned just a few days ago, the contract regulations will be going under review very shortly and that will be addressed at that time, and there will be public consultation.
Mr. McDonald: This is really, really quite scary at this point because the Minister has to understand that the contracting community needs to have some certainty about what the rules are and the Minister, almost every day, is introducing new rules or new nuances to the contracting regulations that were not anticipated.
Given that the governments strategic plan states clearly that they are going to, as they call it, reintroduce the concept of accepting the low bidder, how does that jibe with the statements made by the Minister that the low bidder may be bypassed based on any number of wide-ranging circumstances that the Cabinet considers to be pertinent at any particular time?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, and I mentioned this earlier, there are many ways, other than just going with the lowest bid, to ensure that Yukon contractors get the contracts. Contracts can be divided up so that it would perhaps be uneconomical for someone from outside to come in. There are a lot of ways it can be done. It does not necessarily have to be just in the bidding process.
Speaker: Time for Question Period has now lapsed.
We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Speaker: Government bills.
Bill No. 42: Second Reading - continued
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 42, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Phelps - adjourned debate.
Ms. Commodore: I am not sure whether or not my voice will allow me to stand here for three hours again, as I did yesterday, but I do have some things that I would like to add to what I said yesterday.
Yesterday, when the Minister spoke in second reading about the bill and the reasons why he was repealing it, he mentioned the fact that we did not accept one recommendation from the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment and that is true, but I mentioned yesterday the reasons why we chose not to agree to that recommendation regarding section 50.
The other thing I did not mention is that, while we were in Committee of the Whole and going over all of the clauses, certain amendments were suggested by the Opposition at that time, to which we agreed, but that was never mentioned. We did take into consideration many other positions they had and decided to make changes to the bill.
That was never mentioned by the Minister. The other thing that I wanted to comment on was that in the second reading speech he talked about what we were going to say and what we were going to be doing on this side of the House. One of the things that he said, and I will repeat it, was, given the fact that it is not law and we intend to appeal it - but I think he meant repeal - the stuff that we are bound to hear about principles and how the NDP stands for the workers rings hollow to the ears of the public and to us on this side of the House.
I will agree that it rings hollow to people on that side of the House because, judging by their actions in regard to this bill, anything to do with workers rings hollow in their ears. I want to make that very clear because the actions speak louder than words.
He also said, I want to stress that their noble sentiments are going to be undermined by the shallowness of their actions. I want to say that no action in regard to amending a bill to make it more progressive is very shallow on his part. For him to go through the actions of repealing it, when he does not have to, is very shallow in itself.
I do not intend to stand here very long today, but I would like to just cover some of the background of the kind of things that happened throughout the whole process that started on November 19, 1991 - and has not yet ended - and was assented to in the House on June 1.
On November 19, the options paper was released to the public. I mentioned yesterday what happened and how many of those papers went out. I want to talk about this because I want to let the public know that it was not an easy process that we had to go through. What it did at that time, and I remember introducing it through a ministerial statement in the House at the same time they went out.
Right away there was a lot of publicity about it and it was picked up by all the media. The next day the Whitehorse Star talked about changes to the act that we were proposing, when in fact it was not changes that we were proposing, it was options that we wanted people to look at and to respond to. It was mentioned that it was a long shopping list for things that employees would like, and may get. That was not the only thing that was in it; we took into consideration the employers views as well.
In short order there was much opposition to it from the Chamber of Commerce, which was outraged at everything that was taking place. The president, I believe, of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce made negative comments about the option paper. That kind of negative publicity and comments were made for many weeks. The Chamber of Commerce asked that we scrap the bill and they continued to let us know that they disagreed with it.
On January 21, the critic for Justice at that time, who was a Member for Riverdale North, was calling on the government to give Yukoners more time, which we did. Of course, we never said that the input would stop at a certain date.
On January 23, Mr. Gallup, who is a city councillor, asked the City of Whitehorse to oppose the Employment Standards Act. There was a move in the public to oppose everything that was in the bill.
I mentioned yesterday that if people have strong beliefs in something, they will work as hard as they can to try to make those changes. We were both trying to make changes, but in different ways.
In February, the Association of Yukon Communities asked us to delay the labour laws.
Curragh then wrote a letter to the government about the effect on that company if the act was proclaimed. On the same day, February 7, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Yukon Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Yukon Communities asked for input. They were given the opportunity to make all of their concerns known.
There was an editorial on February 10 letting the public know that business was rebelling against the act. It was very clear at the time that the business sector, at least some of them - not all of them, and I want to make that very clear - did not want us to go ahead with the bill.
Finally, someone came out and supported us. I know that the Minister will not think that this is much support, but the Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council came out in support of the bill.
I spoke yesterday about a meeting that was called by the Member for Riverdale North, who was the critic at that time, to invite me to his Tory meeting.
My response at the time was that I did not attend Tory meetings, and probably never will. I was criticized by the Whitehorse Star for not going to it. That is fine. I took that as I always take things from the Whitehorse Star. The business sector continued to ask me to scrap the review without as much as a thought. Of course, I could not do that.
Then, we were applauded by another labour group for following through with what we were doing. That added some support to it. The people who were opposed to it continued to want input.
A letter was written to the Whitehorse Star by a citizen, saying that businesses must pay adequate wages, so there was support in favour of the review and the amendments we might have been looking at at that time.
As a result of all the information that came in, and as a result of the workbook, we did introduce the amendment on February 27. That was three months later. Once the amendments were released, there was more opposition to it. A committee was struck to look at the amendments and, on February 28, right away, pay equity was dropped from the draft. It was suggested that it would be covered under the Yukon Human Rights Act. Everybody reported that pay equity had been dropped from the act - the Yukon News, CHON/FM, the Whitehorse Star. Then, there was more opposition from the Chamber of Commerce to the labour act. They kept calling it the labour act and, I suppose, in a way, that is what it is.
There was some remark from Doug Gallup, one of the city councillors, about people who had never held real jobs in their lives. That outraged many people who have held real jobs in their lives. He was talking about a wish list for those people who were responding to the options paper, and who had never held a real job in their lives. That kind of an attitude was very open at that time. I do not know what they consider to be a real job, just like I do not know what they consider to be a real Yukoner.
More letters of support started to come in. Then, on March 4, someone from the business sector spoke in favour of the bill, because he knew a lot of employers who did not pay their employees well enough and did not give them the same kind of benefits that he, and many other business owners, gave to their employees.
On March 24, 1992, we called a public meeting so that everyone could attend. As one could expect from the Whitehorse Star, it was reported that the labour bill tea party turned angry. I would not have expected anything different from the reporter at that time, because we know the kind of reporting that happens. At that time, the committee was still looking at the draft act, and of course they were at the public meeting that night. There were a lot of people there and they did have a lot of concerns that I listened to, as I have said before. Shortly after that, the business people walked out. Shortly after the business people quit, on March 30, six days later, the Member for Watson Lake asked for my resignation, but, of course, I did not resign.
Shortly after that, because we had to deal with the act, we appointed the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment to review the draft act. Then there was some talk about biased and unbiased coverage from different people who were sending letters to the editor saying that the reporting of the matter was not handled in the proper manner. Someone wrote a letter to the Whitehorse Star saying, Put children first. She was speaking in regard to parental leave and how that would benefit families. Someone called in and criticized the two people who resigned.
On April 2, the business people intensified their anti-labour bill campaign, headed by one person, and that continued throughout.
I think it was a good day when the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment looked at the recommendations and began to come up with some good amendments.
There was some response to the criticism about biased reporting in the Whitehorse Star. On April 8, the Chamber of Commerce advised that they were trying to enlist more people in its campaign against changes proposed to the Employment Standards Act, and they campaigned heavily to oppose it. They were supported during this time by the Member for Riverdale North and other people, who opposed better working conditions for workers.
On April 8, a director of the Chamber of Commerce said that bereavement leave is clearly discriminatory and does not allow for other beliefs - singling out one group of people is unacceptable. The director was referring to potlatches that aboriginal people attend. I do not think that was a very popular belief, because I know that a lot of people were supporting that proposed amendment.
On April 8, the chamber continued to campaign against the bill.
Then, there was a letter in the Yukon News, written by Ian Foulds, the man who would be the leader of the Yukon Party at that time, who was initiating a movement to defeat the Employment Standards Act, stating that the government was attempting to legislate oppression of our freedom to offer and accept employment upon mutually agreed to conditions.
The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment was given a deadline of May 1 to submit recommendations.
On April 22, a person wrote a letter to the Yukon News, stating how refreshing it is, for a change, to hear from fair-minded business people who believe that treating staff to a fair wage reflective of the economic times, which will allow these employees to live with dignity, and it is sad that governments have to legislate to ensure that working people can live with pride and dignity.
There was some more support from the postal workers, which was good, and there was a demonstration outside this building. The Federation of Labour met and presented some resolutions to the floor, asking for stronger amendments. I am reading this so people can read the history of the Yukon and see how difficult it is to make changes. On one hand, there is a group of people strongly opposing minor changes to the act, and then you have other people who believe in stronger laws. You are working and trying to please a lot of people, while trying to be fair at the same time.
On May 12, the chamber decided that they liked the review that was going on and that the Employment Standards Act was a fair compromise. They spoke on the recommendations that were coming out of the review that was being done by the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment.
On May 13, I introduced the amendments into the House for first reading.
On May 15, Lois Pope from the Yukon Federation of Labour stated, Legislation can protect people who do not have a lot of influence; she was glad Joe ... - we have both changed our names since then - ... has persevered with the much-needed legislation.
Then, on May 15, the Yukon Party urged us to stall the bill.
On May 27, the Member for Porter Creek North criticized me for picking and choosing what I did and did not like from the YCEE report - and I would like to remind the House that we did not agree to only one section. He accused us of having no intention of listening to the committee on the more controversial items. Well, we listened to every one except one, and it was mentioned yesterday by the Minister when he made his speech in second reading. There was a lot of opposition to it, but there was an equal amount of support for it.
On June 1, the bill was passed in this House and assented to on June 2.
That is a brief history of that bill.
When we introduced the bill, we were presenting to this House the first major amendments to the Employment Standards Act since it had come into effect on January 1, 1985. At that time, it included requirements such as payment of overtime, general holiday pay and vacation pay, which had been part of its predecessor, the Labour Standards Ordinance. I do not know if many people remember the Labour Standards Ordinance, but if you think this bill is outdated, that one was really labour law from the Dark Ages. It also, at the time, introduced such measures as maternity leave and equal pay for similar work, as I mentioned yesterday, and the notice of termination, or pay in lieu of notice, and it set out in a certificate system both a method of collecting wages and a means of appealing decisions. This new certificate system reduced the need for lengthy and expensive court proceedings. When these changes were put into effect, an information campaign was implemented to educate both employers and employees as to their legal rights and obligations.
In 1989, when I was a Minister, a number of amendments to the act were passed. These amendments helped to simplify the wage claim process and to clarify sections that were frequently misinterpreted.
There were some new measures introduced, such as those pertaining to associated corporations.
The amendments made in 1989 corrected a number of problem areas in the act and their scope was relatively limited. When the amendments were passed in the House, I informed the Members of the House, as the Minister, that the department would be conducting a full review of the act in the near future. That is exactly what happened.
From 1989 onward, we heard from employers and employees alike that parts of the act were either confusing, inflexible or inadequate, given the realities of the Yukon workplace. We heard that over and over again, and I talked about it yesterday, so I will not go into that in detail because I did mention it.
Developments in legislation and in other jurisdictions and related areas of social policy also pointed out the need for a full review of the Employment Standards Act. For instance, major changes to the federal Unemployment Insurance Act, as I mentioned yesterday, in 1990, permitted qualified employees to collect up to 15 weeks of unemployment insurance while on parental leave. Those provisions now apply to both male and female, birth and adoptive parents, alike.
Under the Unemployment Insurance Act, employees were able to receive income support to stay home with their children during restrictive time periods, yet they had no legal guarantee under the Employment Standards Act that their jobs would be protected during their absence. This is still the case. It was the case then and still is the case today. I would have thought that after a year at least some of those amendments would have been put into law.
At that time, there was a survey made of legislation right across the country. For some of the standards, the level of protection provided by the Yukon legislation to employees was among the lowest in the country. Of course, nothing has happened to improve that since then.
The acts vacation pay and termination provisions were among the lowest in Canada. It also became clear that there were some provisions that could adversely affect employees that were unique to the Yukon. This is not found in employment standards legislation anywhere else in Canada. For example, the Employment Standards Act contains a provision that could lead to an employee forfeiting one weeks wages for failing to give the required notice of termination. I pointed that out over and over again yesterday, and I speak again about it today because it was one of the really bad sections that we felt had to be removed.
All the information we received during inquiries from across the country led us to plan a comprehensive review of the Employment Standards Act. That was done by the release of Reviewing the Ground Rules for the Yukon Workplace. It was distributed for public comment. As I mentioned yesterday, and read part of, it included a summary of the provisions of the current act, comparing it to pieces of legislation in other parts of Canada. It also included 73 options that could be considered when reviewing the act.
We wanted to know how the public felt, what needed to be changed, and what possibly needed to be taken out, so we could get a better idea about what Yukoners wanted to see in terms of changes to the Employment Standards Act.
When that review was complete, the draft amendments to the act were given to the general public for discussion. They were based on all the information we had received, either through the card that was at the back of the book, or through written and oral submissions. There were a lot of written submissions. They came to my office, and I was very pleased to see them. They were in addition to comments from the workbook. People were really concerned and interested in what we were trying to do.
The opinions expressed in the response cards enclosed in the workbook were also part of that. For example, the workbook discussed options for dealing with pay equity. Responses received indicated that pay equity should not be included in the Employment Standards Act. Therefore, it was not included in the final bill, because it was decided it was covered under the Human Rights Act. As you will remember, that act was also very difficult to put through this House, for many reasons, perhaps for the same reasons the opposition to the Employment Standards Act occurred.
As I mentioned, it was referred to the advisory committee and right away it was agreed that some things would be removed from it. A number of issues were considered and it was important to ensure that all draft amendments were considered in-depth by parties outside of the government.
The draft amendments were referred to the Council on the Economy and the Environment after the break-up of the advisory committee. That council included business and labour organizations, First Nations, womens organizations, and groups concerned with the environment and natural resources. They were all represented on that body.
The council considered the submissions made by groups and individuals. Press clippings and comments of the advisory committee were available, together with the responses from the different groups. They considered the draft act and all of the press that went along with it.
The council looked at the philosophy of the act and reviewed the amendments on a clause-by-clause basis before council made its recommendation to Cabinet. It was not something that they took lightly; they took a lot of things into consideration when they reviewed it, before they made their final recommendations to the Cabinet of the day.
The councils report, dated April 30, reflects that they were able to reach consensus on so many issues. Their hard work produced a document, of which their recommendations formed the basis of the draft act. That was Bill No. 13, which was introduced, debated and passed in this House.
The only thing that I can say is that all of the things mentioned and all of the people who took part in the process were completely ignored by this progressive government that we have in power right now, because they have no consideration for workers.
The council report stated that in amending the act, the government must balance the need for fair and reasonable employment standards that parallel those in the rest of Canada with the demands of current, local, regional and global economic conditions.
This was a term that kept coming out all the time. It cautioned against including leading edge proposals in the act, due to the fragility of the Yukon economy. I was really surprised how often that term leading edge came up in any discussions we were having. When you look at the act, and you look at the kind of things that were in it, I would swear that a lot of those things were not on the leading edge. They were much more progressive than the act is right now, but there seemed to be a big concern out there.
They also stressed the need for flexibility in arrangements and benefits, and expressed concern regarding the dangers of over-regulating. These were good concerns, and their recommendations were done in a responsible manner.
The legislation, Bill No. 13, as it was presented in the House at that time, reflected a balance of interests - there is no question about it. It was a balance between the rights and the needs of employees, and the ability of employers to meet those needs. The amendments were fair and reasonable, and would have helped to provide a more equitable working relationship between employers and employees. I do not know how these people missed out on the things that were in the act that would have been helpful to both employees and employers.
I will discuss, right now, some of the things from the bill that was tabled, and assented to, in the House. A significant number of Yukon employees are employed in positions where the employers base the terms and conditions of their employment on the minimum standards that must be granted according to the law. Some of the amendments, such as increased vacation leave and pay, and increased notice of termination, were proposed with specifically those employees in mind. The amendments that introduced parental leave would have benefited both employees and employers.
In many Yukon families, both parents work to provide financial support for their households, and parental leave would have insured that they would have jobs to return to following the important period during which they stay at home to care for their children.
I mentioned that yesterday. I talked about job security in the workforce, and that is all we were looking for in that part of the bill, when we chose to include it. Employers would be assured of retaining experienced employees by having them return to work after such periods of leave. Right now, there is no guarantee of that. Specific guidelines regarding the leave would have helped to ensure that employers were aware of their options should an employee fail to return to work.
Other amendments, such as provisions for paid time off in lieu of overtime, were designed to give employers and employees more flexibility. We kept talking about the employers and how they were included in this act, how they could define the act and how it would be more helpful to them. In regard to overtime, hours worked during their employers busy season could be paid out to employees during less busy times of the year. This would have made it easier for employers to meet payroll commitments and would have permitted employees to have paid time off.
Many of the amendments would have changed the way employers and employees exercise their legal rights and obligations. The extensions to the time required to pay wages would have made it easier for employers to pay employees within the time allotted by law; employees would have been required to assume more of the onus in acting on their complaints, as the time limit for filing wages complaints would have been reduced from one year to six months.
In a situation that is not an emergency, employees would have obtained the right to refuse to work extra hours if their employers had not given them sufficient notice of the requirement to work. And that was controversial.
While this amendment would have given employees new rights, it did not penalize employers whose employees chose to work the extra hours.
More amendments to provisions concerning the fair wage schedule would have permitted the making of regulations concerning the schedules enforcement administration. I talked about that yesterday. The current section in the act, which establishes a fair wage schedule and defines its application, was re-written to clarify which government construction contracts are subject to the schedule. I know how the Member feels about the fair wage schedule. I know how he feels about workers, and I think that if he had reviewed the amendments very carefully, he would have seen a long list of amendments that would have clarified that provision, because it took up probably a whole page in the amendments to the act.
Additions were made to the penalties that could be levied against employers who are convicted of repeat offences under section 96, the fair wage rates. This would have strengthened the enforcement of the fair wage schedule on government contracts.
In addition to the provisions included in the amendments, Bill No. 13 would have repealed section 50, as I mentioned before. That section was a very important part of the amendment and one we got criticized for for not listening to the recommendations of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment about it. Section 50 states that employees can forfeit one weeks wages if they fail to give written notice that they are quitting. The council recommended retaining this provision. It recognized the importance of balancing the penalties imposed on employers who dismissed their employees with notice provisions relating to employees. They also recognized that there are sections in the act that protect the employees. For example, section 50 does give the director the discretion to return the wages to the employee under certain circumstances. Despite these protections, we were of the opinion that section 50 is unfair to employees.
We believe that today. Employees can ill afford the cost of such a penalty, so we were asking that this section be repealed. Once again, that was the only section that we disagreed with in all the recommendations that were made.
In addition, we would have removed a section of the act that excluded the Government of the Yukon from the provisions of the act. This inclusion would require that unions be consulted as well as to review internal policies and procedures and other legislation that affected employees. That would not have come into effect until January 1995.
At that time, the amendments recognized that employers in the Yukon, by and large, are honest citizens who treat their employees fairly. That is a given. We felt that that those protective measures were necessary. I mentioned yesterday the amount of inquiries that were made to labour services on behalf of employees. In the year that this bill was introduced - the fiscal year 1991-92 - 243 wage claims were opened, about $200,000 in wages collected, and 20 certificates for wages issued against employers were also filed in Supreme Court during that year.
I do not have an up-to-date list of things that are before the courts right now, but I do know that the statistics are much higher.
The employment relationship is not always an equal one. Employers hold the power to hire and fire. They hold the power to set wages and determine how and when work will be performed. Employees bring with them the skills to do the job required by the employer. Without legislated standards, many employees would have no power with which to ask for, and receive, such basic payments as overtime wages and general holiday pay.
We were proud of the legislation we introduced in the House, because it contained extensive amendments. We felt it would have contributed to a fair and equitable workplace, and would have gone a long way toward more clearly defining the rights and obligations of both parties in the partnership that makes up the employment relationship.
I read some of the history of the act, and how it happened that we came forward with that Bill No. 13 in this House. I wanted to stress, once again, that it was a lot of hard work. We felt very strongly about it. I do not think that anything that is being said today should be taken lightly.
When the Minister says that anything we say in this House about principles, and our partys stand for workers, rings hollow in his ears it does not make a whole lot of sense to me. I know for sure that it does not ring hollow in the ears of the public. It does not, because there are many workers who would have been affected by the amendments for better working conditions. Because the Minister has chosen to continue with the old act and not do anything with the amendments right now, I take that as a step backward.
The bill is eight years old and needs many changes to it. The Minister and his happy coalition have chosen to do nothing. They have had a year to review the bill and, up to this time, the only thing that they have chosen to do is repeal the act, which is not even law yet. The Minister has no legal obligation to repeal the bill.
The Minister told the media that he wanted the public to understand the rules of the workplace. I think the Minister and his happy coalition caucus may be the ones who are having trouble understanding that hard-working people may actually want a few improvements to the workplace, and employers do, as well.
As I mentioned yesterday, there were many things in the act that people new to the Yukon, and even people who have been in the Yukon for some time, did not understand, and they needed much clarification about situations that occur in the workplace.
I am not sure why the Minister chose to bring this bill into the House today. I know that he is going to come back in his closing remarks and respond to all the comments that are made by Members on this side of the House. I hope that the Minister can be a little bit more convincing in his closing remarks than he was in his opening remarks in second reading. As far as I am concerned, his remarks were nothing but rhetoric.
The fact that the Minister brought this bill to the House brings back old memories about why the act was not proclaimed.
The act was not proclaimed prior to the election, and the Minister is making some little comment under his breath. I am not sure what it is, but it would not have been that we were setting a precedent. There were other bills in other parts of Canada that had been proclaimed with the change of new government. Unfortunately, the person who could have proclaimed the act happened to be a friend of the Minister.
I have to say that I was so very disappointed in that gentleman, because I did have a lot of respect for him. I think that bringing this bill to the House and repealing it gives the Minister an opportunity to re-visit the past and continue his NDP bashing, because he simply has nothing more to offer the public.
They really do not have anything more to offer the public. We have been sitting in this House for three weeks, and it becomes clearer every single day that nothing is happening. It is not happening in regard to the economy. They are talking about going out and spending money on consultation to find out whether or not we should introduce video lottery terminals in hotels of their friends so they can make money.
I hope that they have read their bill, but we know that it has been determined that it will have a really negative effect on the people in the Yukon who are having to live from payday to payday on a minimum wage - people who are being supported by Health and Social Services, because they cannot afford to live from payday to payday. I really would like to know how much is coming out of the budget to pay those lower income people. They are not getting paid enough to live from payday to payday, so they have to go to Health and Social Services. They have to ask for more money to get by. I would suggest that his department is subsidizing some of those businesses just by doing that, because they are not getting enough in their wages to get by.
The Minister is trying to tie this bill in with unions. I do not know why he and his happy coalition think that, by repealing this bill, they want the public to somehow know that it will affect those unionized workers. I think that it could be another reason to get back at the workers, whom they are not supporting anyhow, as a government.
He said that he was going to review the act and then decide what it was they were going to do. As I mentioned just minutes ago, they have had a whole year to review it, and finally, out of the blue, they chose to repeal it. After much review, I would have expected that he would have been very honest with the workers and would have introduced amendments to the act that would have improved working conditions for them. However, he has decided, once again, to do absolutely nothing.
I mentioned yesterday in my opening speech that it is not the Members on that side of the House who are suffering any hardships as a result of the outdated act. The people who are sitting on that side have no idea about the inequality in the workforce and the act that forces them to keep working in a situation that is not equal. It is the people earning a low income - chambermaids, servers, clerks, labourers, taxi drivers, gas jockeys, and a number of others - who do not have anyone to protect their interests. It has been obvious that the Members who are in government are not here to speak on behalf of those people. There has been no indication whatsoever, in anything in the past or the present, that tells us that they are here to speak on behalf of those workers.
The Minister has much criticism of our party for speaking on behalf of the workers. He made a comment about our standing up and saying, workers of the world, unite. I know he is a well-educated man who makes a good salary and has probably got a lot of private interests, as well as his own home. He does not seem to care about those people - about the workers of the world, or about the workers of the Yukon. He makes comments about our speaking on behalf of them, as if it were something that we should not do. I would like to know what he has against the workers. I would like to know why no one on that side of the House will talk about the workers of the Yukon; why no one on that side of the House will be more progressive about the workers of the Yukon.
By repealing the act, they are doing to hard-working people just what they have done to the economy - and we all know what is happening with the economy. Every time they answer questions in the House, they pretend and say what great friends they are of the First Nations people, yet the very first thing they did was to cancel Taga Ku. Then, to appease the Champagne/Aishihik Band, they turned around and went ahead with their plan to kill wolves. That was only to appease the band, because they had taken away one project that would have benefited them. They are not fooling anyone - I know that. They are not fooling those people, and they are not fooling the workers of the Yukon.
They have already brought in higher taxes and, not too long ago, they magically came up with $7 million. They took some of that money out of road projects to put back into other road projects, and some they took out of housing to put back into other housing projects. Magically, they came up with $7 million, but I think about 75 percent of that is cost shared.
What they are doing by repealing this bill, by not making any progressive changes, is making sure that people who are getting a lower wage will continue to get a lower wage, and will guarantee that they will continue to come to the Minister of Health and Social Services office to be subsidized so that they can live from payday to payday.
Everyone, including government workers, knows that they are an anti-worker government. They cannot guarantee job security for their workers right now. The Government Leader will not stand up in this House and he will not look into the camera when it is on him to tell the people out there what he is doing, because he is ashamed. And he should be. He should be very ashamed.
It will be a happy day for the happy coalition when this bill is approved in this House - and it will be, because I know they will have support from Members on this side of the House. But it is not going to be a happy day for those workers. It is not going to be a happy day for those workers who have to live under the existing law, the law that should have been changed and could have been changed a year ago, and those are the people I feel sorry for. I know they do not consider the people who work in their riding as people they should represent because nothing in the past has ever indicated that that is the case.
I know people on this side of the House, in our party at least, support progressive changes, changes that are equal to the employer and to the employee. That is what the amendments would have done - the act that the Member is repealing and does not have to.
I have probably talked long enough on this. It has been my pleasure to be able to stand here and speak on this bill, because I disagree with what he is doing. It is a step backwards, but everything that this new government has done has been a step backwards, so it is no surprise. The Member for Riverdale North is waiting to stand up to say his piece and I am sure he has a lot to say, but so do we. There will be other people from this side of the House who will be speaking on this bill.
I think it is a disgrace. They are taking a step backwards and it just proves that the Yukon is living in the Dark Ages. We are going back in history and are living under a law right now that could have been changed - and it could have been changed with dignity for workers, and I strongly oppose this bill.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I certainly do not intend to speak as long as the Member for Whitehorse Centre has spoken, but I do think that there are some things I should get on the record.
I listened to the speech from the Member for Whitehorse Centre. I think we should label the Members speech the triple five speech, the 555 speech. If you look at it, the speech was five hours long. It is about a five-minute walk across the road to the Commissioners office, and they had five months to walk five minutes, and they could not make it.
I would believe what the Member opposite said about the importance of this issue to the people and the workers of the Yukon if they had shown how important it was by actually taking that five-minute walk up the street after the bill was declared.
One has to really wonder what the previous administrations motives were when they could not walk up the street. That Member could have crawled on her hands and knees to the Commissioners office. She could have gone by way of Old Crow and taken a Yukon tour. She could have toured all of Canada in five months and still made it to the Commissioners office before the election was called but, obviously, they had other things in mind.
The Employment Standards Act is an important piece of legislation. I do not think it is something that should be amended hastily. The previous government carried on a consultation process, and then only listened to those they wanted to listen to. That was unfortunate.
I think that an employment standards act has to be fair to the employees, but it also has to be fair to the employer because, without employers, there are no employees. In fact, I would suggest that, if that act would have been passed in the form it was written by the previous government, the businesses in this community would have had increased hardships. In the last year, with the downturn in the economy, it would have been very difficult for some of those businesses to survive under some of the rules that were in that agreement.
It was obvious to many people that that particular piece of legislation was driven by unions. It was a union contract that was virtually written into our employment standards legislation. That is not the avenue that should be pursued. If companies want to unionize, they should do it on their own, and they should do it when the employees agree to do it, and not bring in legislation from the Government of the Yukon, directing everyone to accept a union contract.
I am not going to speak all that long, because I think this is an important issue. I think the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes is doing the right thing by repealing this legislation and coming back in the spring with new legislation to amend the Employment Standards Act, and I will be supporting this motion put forward by that Member.
Mr. Harding: I am pleased to have this opportunity to enter into this debate about repealing the proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act. I do have some important comments to make that should be said regarding the action taken by the new government.
I do not intend, for the benefit of the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, to give a workers-of-the-world-unite speech, nor do I intend to give a businesses-of-the-world-unite speech for the common cause and the good of all. I do not intend to wrap a lot of rhetoric around my comments. I do think that it is important to point out some of the things that this act was designed to do to help people with quite a low level of voice in this territory - people who do not really have as sophisticated lobbying organizations as some of the other organizations, such as the Chamber of Mines, the Yukon or Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce or the Yukon Federation of Labour. Some of these organizations have a much better organized voice. The Employment Standards Act was a courageous piece of legislation to try and help those people when it is quite well known that those people have a lot of trouble in getting their opinions out and getting their voices heard.
I do not think that this necessarily equates to socialist dogma, as suggested in the flippant comment by the Minister of Justice, which is often the case with his comments. I think that more and more people are becoming quite tired of the arrogance shown by the Member who has brought in this bill. Nonetheless, that is his style. It was also Brian Mulroneys style, but there is not much left of that.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: The Government Leader is saying, look who is talking about arrogance. I can assure him that if I were a Minister, or a Government Leader, I would at least have the decency to answer the questions of the people of the Yukon, coming to them through elected representatives, which the Government Leader fails to do on an ongoing basis. Sometimes he does not know the answers, because he does not know what the heck is going on in government and sometimes he has to get the Minister of Justice up to answer the questions for him. If I were the Government Leader of this territory, I would answer the questions. I would never be as arrogant as the Government Leader is in this Legislature - never. Let us hope that ends that issue.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: The Minister of Justice says he does not think so. Well, the public will soon get an opportunity to cast their opinion on the actions of the government in the Legislature.
We have seen a pattern with this government and that pattern is that we have seen a continuous drawdown of the rights of working people, and we have seen this government give a very low priority to those rights. I speak specifically of three issues in one year.
We saw this government curtail a wide-ranging, broad-scoped occupational health and safety review that is important to working people and to employers, because we have seen dramatic increases in costs in workers compensation.
We have seen a very stubborn, almost vindictive approach, to collective bargaining and job security by the government. We have seen government workers make great sacrifices and go a long way toward reaching agreements with this government, but then the government, for what I see as sheer political gain, try to engage in a war with them. I think that is sad.
The third thing is the unnecessary repealing of proposed amendments, not yet proclaimed, to the Employment Standards Act.
Those are three clear, concise examples. I can go on about others. I could talk about some of the conversations I have had with the Ministers about the Employment Standards Act being used to recoup lost investment or lost wages in the form of severance and pay in lieu of notice by former employees of the Curragh mine operation. I have been told by government Ministers that that was the unions responsibility even though it was clearly contained in the Employment Standards Act. Finally, I got a legislative return saying that they finally concurred with my opinion, and I am glad of that, but the bias was there.
The Minister responsible for the Workers Compensation Board stood up in this Legislature and said that the workers compensation fund was for the employers - he was going to protect it for the employers. That money is not for the employers. It is set up for the employees. It is money paid by the employers to reduce their liability in the workplace. It is as simple as that. This is not some poppycock, social program that the Members often express their negative views toward; this is a form of insurance that the employers purchase. It is as simple as that. If there is too much money being paid out of that fund, then there are too many accidents in the workplace and some preventive things must be done to try and curb that problem.
The Minister of Justice, in his introduction in second reading debate, said this bill was controversial and that was one of his reasons for repealing it. It certainly was controversial. Of course it was, and the government knew there was no big win in this. There would be no big political win in a review of the Employment Standards Act because the people it helps are not organized to speak out. If someone gets a letter to the editor or an article in the paper or someone speaks out in favour of it, they are isolated. It might be someone who works in a restaurant or someone who works at a gas station, who is following closely and sees that something is being done by government to protect some of their interests and appreciates that. But as so often is the case - and the Members opposite should realize this and I would think they would not be able to deny it - these people do not have a solid voice.
They are not as organized as the Chamber or Commerce, the Yukon Federation of Labour, the Yukon Conservation Society or the Chamber of Mines. These organizations are special interest groups that have very sophisticated avenues to reach to government. And they do it very well. It is not surprising that when an act is brought in that might have some negative, or what are perceived as being negative, impacts on these special interests groups, that they would lash out. They would say that they are wrong. When the right for workers to refuse occupational health and safety was brought out, workers were almost denied it on the basis that employers felt that you were legalizing the right to refuse work.
All those arguments were made, but thankfully governments persevered and recognized the moral issue and ingrained in law the right for workers to refuse hazardous work. There were no big points by the business community for that, or any political party, but thankfully it was done.
I am sure the Members are feeling quite confident and cocky about the fact that they have the Liberal Member of Legislature and the Member for Riverdale South on their side on this one, and that there does not seem to be a big public uprising against their repeal act. That is fine. I do not have a problem with that. But that does not mean it is right.
It may be politically correct. It may gain them some votes so that they can re-establish themselves with their Conservative constituents, but is it right? That is the issue to me. The issue is not why did the NDP not proclaim it, the issue is simply, is it good for the working people of this territory? Is it good for the Yukon overall? It does not matter. The government now has the ability to proclaim it, if they want to.
It is irrelevant if the NDP proclaimed it or not. It is absolutely irrelevant. If the Members opposite think that is the important point, it is now obvious why they make so many silly decisions.
The Government Leader decided yesterday that the government would or would not respond to an issue by listening to a phone-in show. It is no wonder that we get so many cockamamy decisions from the Members opposite in government - populous-poll politics, phone-in show politics.
When he did his year-end review he had the Tories lined up at the phone banks so that they could phone in and tell him what a wonderful job he had done all year. And he said thank you very much, sir; thank you, madame. Well, no one was buying it.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: The Government Leader says, You are welcome. Well, I can assure him I never phoned him to tell him what a good job he was doing.
We know what the real story is. The issue is simply, should the Government of the Yukon, of whatever political stripe, proclaim this legislation now? Is this legislation good for Yukoners, and good for working people? I say that the answer is yes.
The political argument is made by the Members opposite that it could not have been good legislation, and the NDP could not have cared about it, because they did not proclaim it. I say that is not the case. The political damage to this act was done by the Members opposite and a lot of the people who opposed the act during the process, not during the proclamation. It is as simple as that. The former Minister of Justice and the now Leader of the Opposition took their lumps during the process - that is when they took their lumps. Nobody in the public cared about the proclamation; they assumed it was a done deal.
There is no question that for a government to bring in a controversial bill, and take the kind of abuse from the Members opposite that they did - take their lumps - it indicates that they were serious about it. Whether it was proclaimed or not is not the issue. Nobody in the public would have cared about the proclaiming of it. They would not have thought it wonderful that the act was not proclaimed. They did not bring it in; they did not proclaim it - that is irrelevant to the public.
The point is that the NDP government was prepared to make amendments; they went to public consultation; they took their lumps from Members opposite and they formulated these amendments and were prepared to have them proclaimed - they were given assent, they were just not proclaimed. So, in the publics mind, it was a done deal.
We still have not heard their reasons for not proclaiming it. Their whole case rests on the fact that because the NDP did not proclaim it, they are not going to. Their entire argument for not proclaiming the bill was that it was controversial. It does not matter to them whether or not it is the right thing to do; it is all politics - it is sickening, really sickening. If the words ring hollow in the ears of the Members opposite, we know why - we know about hollow matter on the other side of this Legislature, so it is not surprising.
The other reason that was identified, and this is probably the most preposterous reason of them all - especially with their record over the past year of listening to boards and committees - is that the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment was upset with some of the provisions that they went ahead with. There were over 50 recommendations made, and only one was ignored. Only one was not taken into account. That is a pretty good record. That is a better record than the Minister of Renewable Resources had with the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board - in one year.
Yesterday, I read an comment in a back issue of the paper from the now Government Leader who was then leader of the Yukon Party. He talked about how the former government never listened to boards and committees, and he brought up the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, because one recommendation was modified. What have we seen with this new government?
They are so blatant, and so arrogant about it. They actually advertise, in their Yukon Party newsletters, for nominations to positions to government boards and committees - absolutely preposterous. It is scandalous, and I hope the local media do a hatchet job on them for it, because they deserve it.
The Leader of the Opposition says never. I hope that is not the case, because they do deserve it.
I am very disappointed in the position of the Liberal Party on this issue. They stood up and voted for this at first reading. The Liberal Party courts both sides, they do lunch with the Chamber of Commerce, and then they might do lunch with the Yukon Federation of Labour and talk about the issues but, when push comes to shove, and when the proof in the pudding is in the eating, they stand up and say things like they are just supporting this because they believe in class warfare.
I want to tell the Liberal leader that $2.4 million in wages is owed to former Curragh employees, and the amendments to the act, in terms of notice and definition of wages, made clear, concise changes to the act in the hope of regaining these lost monies. I will make sure that I tell my constituents what the Liberals position is on their wage collection.
The government has done something else that I think is very disconcerting. With the introduction of this bill, we have seen the pure political act of repealing to try and gain some votes back with their Conservative constituency, because they have done such an absolutely disastrous job on most other issues they have entered into. I am sure that it will have some short-term impact and benefit for them, because the Minister has not yet produced one real non-rhetorical reason why he is repealing this bill.
It has nothing to do with collective bargaining, the governments employees, or with what is in the existing Employment Standards Act legislation, because the amendments were not proclaimed. All that we have heard is that it is socialist dogma, but there has not been one real reason.
Everyone is clear that the amendments were not proclaimed. It is as simple as that, but what is sad is that the Minister of Justice does not bring in some kind of a plan at this point, accompanying the repeal, so that we can engage in that debate now. The Minister has no plan. He talks about the spring, but we have heard him talk about the spring before, in terms of a lot of the reviews he has underway, but we are not sure what spring he is referring to any more.
Time is ticking on the Members opposite - real quick - quicker every day, quicker every Question Period. I am sure all the bureaucrats are telling the Minister of Justice he is doing a wonderful job up there in his ivory tower and that is wonderful. Every back rub he gets I am sure he feels more and more confident, but I can tell him that the people out there are not being wooed by the decisions of this government.
As a matter of fact, most of my constituents feel I am rather calm in my remarks and too objective and balanced in terms of my remarks toward his government. That is tough to reconcile but they do say that to me at times.
The Member for Riverdale North ventured to say that he felt that businesses may have endured a worse and tough time in this downturn, as he calls it. That is the word that Tory governments use when they screw up the economy - they call it downturn; but when an NDP government is in and they have a problem with the economy, it is the socialist dogma that has taken over and run everything into the ground. In the downturn, as he put it, these businesses would have had tougher times. I do not think a lot of the provisions for any civil, decent employer in these amendments would have caused undue hardship. I would go so far as to say they would not cause hardship.
One of the problems in other countries is that they can have very good, strong economic growth. They can have GDPs that are going through the roof in terms of growth, but if it is not shared and if there is not some distribution of that wealth, then the economy is poor overall and we end up with huge discrepancies. That is what employment standards are designed to do. They are there to distribute, in a minimum way, the wealth, which makes economic growth more effective. Any economist will say that service sector, low-paying jobs do not have that positive an impact on the economy and that businesses that employ solely low-paying jobs are not contributing as well as high paying jobs. That is not to say they do not have a net overall positive impact, but high-paying jobs really serve to drive an economy because they give workers purchasing power. They give the citizens of a country purchasing power to buy cars, to buy TVs, to buy groceries - so that businesses can grow from this and hire more employees. It is a simple, cyclical equation. Minimum standards in employment are simply designed to set a base level that all employers must adhere to, and they are done for some very, very legitimate reasons.
The Minister of Education made the preposterous comment, born of ignorance, that this process was driven by the unions. It is fine when all of the other organizations - the chambers of commerce, the placer miners association and whoever complained about the act - made written and verbal submissions to the government, but when the Yukon Federation of Labour makes a submission and does not get its way, the process is driven by the unions. Whatever happened to compromise? I am seeing a pattern here; it is the same thing with the wolf management plan. It is perceived by the government as being developed by outsiders, when it was developed by insiders - Yukoners. It was a compromise.
Does the government of the day really think that environmentally minded people who agreed even an emergency requiring a wolf kill were happy about that decision, or do they think those people said, let us compromise with the people who are polarized in favour of the wolf kill and meet somewhere in the middle.
That is what this is all about. To say that it is driven by unions is preposterous. Should unions apologize for caring about people who are not organized and who do not have a strong voice or are they saying we would like to use more of our sophisticated lobbying, and our method of getting this voice out to help these people. I do not think they should apologize for that, because I think it is consistent with their principles and beliefs. Rather than being criticized for it, I think that a government should be commended for listening to all sides, and I think that they did listen.
I think there were people who were unhappy in the private sector and who worked at some of these jobs, that the amendments did not go further. I think that there was some dissatisfaction by people in the trade union movement that they also had to compromise with the government to achieve these proposed amendments, but that is the nature of government; that is what it is supposed to be.
I know that the Member for Riverdale North is not versed in the collective bargaining or certification process; that is obvious from his comments.
For example, every time he gets mad at me he starts screaming that I was a union representative, as if that is some plague that I wear for ever and ever, amen.
The Minister said that it was actually a document to try to increase union representation and make the unions grow. The document had nothing to do with the certification process of unions. There was no collective agreement written into law. It was simply a government saying that these are minimum standards and will be the law. If they are not in the collective agreement right now, then you have a poor collective agreement, but that does not mean they are wrong.
The certification process is simply governed by the Canada Labour Code. It had nothing to do with certification or more trade unionists, or writing provisions into law that were in the collective agreement. It was simply a document to develop some minimum standards, like we are trying to improve in Mexico and even in the United States. Right now, the administration in the United States is trying to undertake some measures to improve the minimum standards in the United States.
It has to be done in Mexico. There seems to be this machismo in the discussion around NAFTA that American and Canadian workers can compete. Whenever the government gets pressed, they say that Yukon workers can compete. We all believe that. Let us have a reality check here - 50 cents a day compared to $25 an hour gives a lot of room for the competition to have an edge. I know Yukon contractors can compete. I know that American and Canadian workers can compete, but you have to have a level playing field.
We still do not know what the governments position is on contracts or on free trade. They are all over the place. They say because they are in the north they are going to have protection and that is fine. How long is that going to last? The prairie farmers say the same thing. They say, We like free trade, but we have to have protection because we are farmers. We have to compete.
Everyone says the same thing - the fisherman on the east coast. It is a preposterous position. I do not know how much longer it can go on. At least we are consistent. We are not in favour of the free trade agreement and realize the need for a regional economy here and say that we are open about it. We want to be protected here. We realize that having it both ways is not going to last forever.
In the 1993 fiscal year, there was $62,000 collected by labour services under the existing act, but there were still $53,000 uncollected, excluding $2.4 million owed to former Curragh employees, which I believe would be forthcoming much quicker if the amendments were there. But they are not. Now, for some reason, which I cannot identify yet - I do not know if it is vindictiveness or an effort to politicize or whether they are not committed to the principles of the amendments, even though they voted for them at third reading the year before last - they are not prepared to proclaim the legislation. They say it is because they do not believe in it. I do not know if it is one of the three reasons or all of the reasons.
I hope in the continuing debate we hear more about the reasoning, not just the political rhetoric, but the reasons. It is serious stuff and I believe the issue is, and they can laugh and chortle all they want and talk about the five minutes it would have taken to walk over and get it proclaimed. I believe, as responsible legislators, we have to take a look at where the document is now and who has the power to proclaim it and who does not. Right now, they do, we do not, and the issue is whether it is good for Yukoners, not whether it is politically sexy to do it.
The Employment Standards Act in 1992 collected over $250,000 in wages that were owed to employees, but still $34,000 was uncollected. That is very sad, and it is unnecessary.
I want to talk about some of the specific provisions in the amendments that were important, and I say they are still important - proclaimed or unproclaimed, they are important. Again, they could engage in as much political exchange on that as they want; the issue is that they are important to me and to a lot of people - a lot of people who may not speak out on it. That does not necessarily mean that it is not important.
The definition of wages would have been much clearer because right now in the legislation the definition of wages is not clear on what is, in essence, a contract of employment. Thus, we got the type of response that I got from the government Members when I talked about recouping the vacation pay and the pay in lieu of notice and the severance pay for former Curragh employees. They said severance pay was covered under the contract of employment. I said yes, and therefore, under the definition of wages it should be the aim of government to recoup those wages. They said it was not their responsibility. In essence it was, in the old act, but now it would be much clearer in the amendments, if they were adopted.
Another important section of the act, and probably one of the controversial things that were mentioned by the - actually, they were not, because they did not really talk specifics, just quite a bit of rhetoric about the political gains they hoped to make in this - but one of the controversial issues was the issue of employees being able to refuse overtime if they have family responsibilities to attend to, and under what circumstances they would be able to refuse overtime. It set out provisions for employers to give some form of notice to employees regarding their wish for employees to work overtime.
I do not know why that seems so diabolical. Examples were given where employers might want the overtime carried out, and there was some credence in those arguments. But there was also credence in the employees arguments and in the arguments made by groups like the Yukon Federation of Labour - and the government, in fact.
So, there was a compromise reached to say except in case of emergency. If there was an emergency, employees would have to work. You could have a mutual understanding as to what an emergency is defined as with your employer and agree, or you could disagree, one or the other. At least if you disagreed, it could be settled by some independent person later on and, if the employee felt strongly enough about it to disagree with their employers definition, I think you would get a very fair hearing. If you were passionate about it - I know this from jurisprudence and arbitration - if someone really believes that you felt that you could not stay and work that overtime, you will be heard. I think putting that in writing in the Employment Standards Act is a good idea but, if you are not sincere about it, then you will not be heard by an arbitrator or any independent person. There is still some onus on the employee, in this case, which is acceptable. This change was put into effect upon the recommendation of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment.
Another important part, in terms of change, was that paid-off time in lieu of overtime was included. There was no provision for this under the old act. This amendment was requested by both employers and employees. It gives employers more flexibility in scheduling time off and in timing wage payments and, for particularly those employees who are included in seasonal work, paid time off can be used for holidays or other purposes. That agreement had to be mutual and in writing. I would hope that the Members opposite would understand the benefit of that provision.
There was a provision to increase vacation pay, based on the length of service with an employer. This is an accepted practice, and I do not understand why the business community, or the Members opposite, would have such a huge problem with it.
It says that, the longer you work for an employer, the more valuable an asset you become; therefore, you should be rewarded for that overtime.
We are not talking about tremendous amounts of money here. You remain at the minimum level of four percent in this country until you have completed five years with an employer - five years before you raise one nickel over that four percent.
I have trouble really believing that that is too much for anyone to bear. If that is the margin of profit that keeps a business viable, we are in trouble - we are really in trouble. It is not going to be the vacation pay that kills a business. It might be the huge tax increases that the Members opposite brought in last budget, but it will not be vacation pay.
Speaker: It has come to my attention that we do not have a quorum, so I will ring the bells for four minutes, or until we do have a quorum.
Speaker: It appears that we now have a quorum. I would invite the Member for Faro to continue.
Mr. Harding: I thank the Members wholeheartedly for their undue attention - their undivided attention.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: It is not necessary to clap. I got a rousing round of applause from the Members opposite for the last speech I gave. They finally gave me some recognition.
Some of the other important elements of this act that I think would have been good for the employers and the employees of this territory, and for the economy of this territory, in the long run, include: paid time off in lieu of overtime, which I mentioned earlier; increased vacation pay for years of service; the parental leave for parents of either sex so that they may care for natural and adopted newborns; increased notice of termination to employees - and this is a very important section, as I mentioned earlier. It would have made it much clearer and much easier to recoup monies that were not paid to former Curragh employees. There was an increase in unpaid leave for illness and bereavement. There was a provision for recognizing cultural differences that may exist between employees, for First Nations people to attend potlatches and ceremonies that are traditional in their culture. I think that that was a wonderful provision and a very progressive undertaking by the government.
There was a provision to prohibit set-offs and unauthorized deductions from wages. There was a provision in the new act to assist employers in paying wages, extending the time to 10 days and seven days, respectively. The old act said that employers must pay within seven days from the end of each pay period, or three days after the termination date.
There was legislation to encourage employers to settle wage claims. Again, I point to some important amendments that would have improved the situation for the $2.4 million in wages owed to former Curragh employees. Again, I will reiterate to the Liberal Member of this Legislature how I intend to let the people in my community know where the Liberals stand on their wage claims.
There were provisions to clarify the powers and the duties of the Employment Standards Board, so we could have a non-biased approach to settling claims.
There was a provision to clarify the application and operation of the fair wage schedule, and to bind the Government of Yukon to its employees.
I think that the amendments were good for the economy of the Yukon, good for workers and good for businesses, and they will be in the long run. I wish the government would see that and proclaim the legislation.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I think that we have had several of the Opposition Members go over what the amendments were all about. Personally, I do not feel that is the issue that we are facing today.
The issue is the fact that the veterans on the side opposite chickened out when it came to bringing the legislation to the Commissioner. We only have to look at one of the last news articles. The Member who brought forward the amendments originally said, with an election looming, that the bill weakened somewhat to accommodate employers.
I am certain that the side opposite was not so incompetent in government that they actually forgot to bring this bill to the Commissioner and have it signed.
This was, and had to have been, a calculated decision that they did not want to bring this bill in prior to the election. They took a risk that they would get re-elected and bring it in at that time.
The side opposite lost the election.
They abandoned the workers to save their own political butts. They know very well that we had some problems with the amendments that were put forward and our voters very well knew that we had some problems with them. Right now, we are here and we are going to make a few changes to some of those amendments.
There is much in that bill, no doubt about it, that is needed and was good, and much of that bill will remain the same. I am not going to get into the specifics here, because really the issue here today is not the workers, not everything else - the issue here is that someone, the Members opposite, goofed. They, all of a sudden, became more concerned about their own political futures than about the workers of the Yukon. That is why Canadians are so disgusted with politicians nowadays - when they, all of a sudden, drop their principles. That is what these amendments were about - the principles of the NDP, and the various things for the workers, yes. There are things in there that certainly would benefit the workers.
The issue to me really is a political issue, and the NDP made a calculated decision to desert their workers and try and save their own political butts, and they lost. That is the issue we are talking about here today.
Ms. Moorcroft: Today, in Question Period, we saw that the happy coalition over there was a little bit unhappy. We saw it today in Question Period, when we heard the Minister of Justice distancing himself from other Cabinet Ministers. We also heard the Government Leader emphasize that the Minister of Justice is not a Yukon Party member.
When I stand up to debate a bill like the present one to repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, I have to recognize the distancing Ministers do when they want to avoid their responsibility for answering questions or they want to avoid the accountability of Cabinet Ministers for policy within his department - in the present government, using the term his is a reflection of facts, not sexist language. All of their MLAs are men.
I recognize the distancing Ministers do when they do not want to take responsibility for Cabinet decisions, but there is one thing this coalition is united on: what can the Yukon Party/Independent coalition take pride in? Well, of course, it is their united stand on striding back to the past. The Independent Minister of Justice wants to repeal Bill No. 13.
This Minister would have us believe that he would come in, the champion of workers, and modernize the 10-year old Employment Standards Act - this from the Minister who consistently opposed improvements for workers; this from the Minister who, for all his working life, whether as a lawyer or as a land claims negotiator, or as an Independent coalition Cabinet Minister, has earned far in excess of minimum wage and had far in excess of minimal benefits and working conditions.
I find that words ring hollow when the Minister of Justice says he will modernize employment standards. The Minister says he will protect the rights of workers in an admirable way. I do not find it admirable that the Minister is repealing the employment standards amendments.
I will not be supporting this bill, and I do not have much faith that, when the Minister of Justice finds the present amendments controversial, he will bring forward much of a safety net for the workers.
The Minister says the vast majority of Yukoners want to protect the rights of workers. He is not protecting the rights of workers when he brings forward this bill to repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act.
I have to wonder about his change of position when, on the second reading of Bill No. 13, the present Minister said he did not have much difficulty in the matter going ahead, and he was pleased to see that there was some compromise in the works. The amendments to the act would have benefited the workers in their ridings. I want to tell the government Members that every single one of them has workers in their ridings.
The Minister of Education said that Bill No. 13 was driven by the unions. Union members have a collective agreement. The employment standards legislation sets minimum standards that are far below what union contracts offer. Who are the unorganized workers? They are workers who are not represented by unions - women, youth, First Nations, visible minorities. These workers are retail store clerks, gas jockeys, taxi drivers, restaurant workers and domestic workers.
What are some of the abuses these workers face? They have shifts longer than eight hours in duration, with no overtime being paid. They are not paid a minimum two hours reporting pay, which is a requirement in the act. Schedules are posted, then amended, and there is no notification to employees. The number of hours worked after a meal break exceeds five.
There are many abuses, such as mandatory attendance at staff meetings, and not paying for the time to attend those meetings.
I think that repealing Bill No. 13 is about the principles of the Yukon Party, and those principles clearly show that workers do not count.
One of the longstanding issues in the Employment Standards Act has been the difficulty over paying overtime. The present act provides that workers get overtime after eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. But employees of businesses, time and again, at hearings of the Employment Standards Board tell us that their employers do not pay overtime. The workers right to receive overtime pay is a right that the Employment Standards Act establishes and protects. By transferring the hours worked for one business to the payroll of a second business, employees have been deprived of their benefits under the act to receive overtime pay for hours worked in excess of eight hours in a day and 40 hours in a week.
The effect of the employers payroll action has been a deliberate arrangement to the detriment of employees that defeats the true intent and purposes of the act. The act establishes and upholds the employment standards and provides a remedy where those standards are not met. Employers will commonly appeal a certificate of wages that the labour services branch will have filed with the court.
We know that in 1993 - and these figures are from April 1 until October 31, 1993 - labour services collected $62,056.12 for workers who were not paid by their employers for wages owed them. Even more disturbing is that $53,604 were not collected. These were wages that are owed to workers in this community and those workers were not able to buy their groceries, pay their rent, contribute to the economic well-being of the community because they never got their wages from their employers. That does not include over $2 million that is owed to Curragh workers that those workers in Faro - and some of them have left Faro - will likely never see.
In 1992, the labour services branch had to go and get employers to pay $275,970 to workers. Again, those are wages that workers were owed that their employers did not pay to them. There were over $34,000 that were never received by the workers.
An agreement that negates employees minimum rights under the law is neither legal nor legitimate. The Employment Standards Board has never accepted the argument that a contract that invites employees to sign away their minimum rights under the law is a legal or binding agreement. The board takes the position that the first obligation on the part of employers is to conform to the provisions of the Employment Standards Act.
In some of these cases, there are over $17,000 in one board decision that was owed to employees.
An anonymous informant contacted the labour services branch to say that the employer had failed to pay its employees overtime pay, in accordance with the provision of the Employment Standards Act. The employees named in the certificate had agreed, at the outset of their employment, that all hours worked would be at straight time, regardless of the hours worked, and that no holiday pay would be paid to them.
Ignorance of the law is not a reasonable excuse for failing to follow the law, but the issue of contracting out the minimum standards set by the Employment Standards Act is one that frequently, and somewhat tiresomely, comes before the Employment Standards Board. The board then rules that, while employees may have agreed to work overtime hours at their normal straight time rates, section 3 of the Employment Standards Act clearly provides that an employee cannot abrogate his or her rights under the Employment Standards Act by way of any contract or arrangement with the employer.
Time and again, an employer will present a contract signed by several of the employees, which confirms that they agreed that the no overtime condition was a term of their employment. Agreement of the employees in writing is of no material relevance.
The employees agreement, whether verbal or written, is unenforceable, insofar as the terms of the agreement fall short of the minimum standards set out in the act.
Another abuse that we see is that employers will approach an employee and want to offset the costs of room and board from overtime pay that is owed to them.
There were 1914 and 1937 statutes that provided that, in mining camps, which is often where these arrangements come up, the employer had the responsibility to either offer room and board or pay a stipend in lieu of room and board. Whether or not they offer room and board, they should not be able to refuse to pay overtime.
One of the sections of the amendments to the Employment Standards Act that this government wants to repeal was a section that would have taken the infamous section 50 out of the act. I was quite disturbed and disappointed when I heard that the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment was swayed by employer representation that section 50 should stay in the Employment Standards Act. No other jurisdiction in Canada has such a regressive clause in its employment standards legislation. When the previous government took a stand and said, We adopt the principle of a days work for a days pay, or an hours work for an hours pay, I was proud of that. I can tell you who I was not proud of. As a Yukoner, I was not proud of the Commissioner when he refused to sign the bill. The Commissioner should have signed the bills. They belonged to the people; they belonged to the Legislature, and this Legislature had passed them at third reading. Present Ministers of this government had supported them. I wonder if the Minister of Justice is now going to bring forward acts to repeal the Heritage Resources Act. I wonder if he is going to bring forward an act to repeal the Public Government Act. I wonder if he is going to bring forward an act to repeal the Victims of Crime Compensation Act. I wonder if they are going to bring forward an act to repeal the Advisory Council on Womens Issues Act.
I would like to say a little more about section 50, where workers can have a weeks wages deducted if they do not give notice.
There was a case before the board on that very issue. In this case, the employer became uncharacteristically critical and irritable toward the employee. The supervisors manner of criticizing the employee developed into tirades of shouting and screaming at the employee. The employer called the employee at home and berated her loudly over the telephone. Now, the employee became understandably distressed and humiliated at the manner of her treatment. The employer had also refused to come through with a promised raise in wages. The employee justifiably found that the employment relationship was no longer tolerable. So what did the employee do? She quit without notice, and the board was called upon to consider the applicability of part 8 of the Employment Standards Act. Section 47 of the act enumerates a variety of situations where the notice provisions of part 8 do not apply.
Paragraph 47(1)(c) indicates that the notice provisions do not apply where an employee is discharged for just cause. Unfortunately, the act appears to have omitted a corresponding right of the employee to terminate the employment relationship where the employer has given the employee just cause to quit. Considering the remedial nature of this legislation and the attempt by the Legislature to balance the interests and rights of employees and employers, the board considers section 47 to be deficient in failing to expressly provide for the right of an employee to quit for just cause. That is from a decision of the Employment Standards Board of 1991. It is certainly inequitable for an employer to treat an employee so badly and yet be able to withhold wages by reason of the employee quitting without notice under the intolerable treatment imposed upon her.
The board did find that the director should deliver the paycheque to the employee, but there is something else that happens with these appeals. When an employer appeals a labour services ruling, either of wages owed to the employee or of overtime pay owed to the employee, the employer can hold the money until there has been a decision of the board. It may take a month or more to convene a hearing of the board; it may take a month to have a written decision from the board filed; and for that time, the employee does not have the benefit of the wages owed.
There were many groups who submitted representations on Bill No. 13 to amend the Employment Standards Act and one of those was a joint submission by the Yukon Contractors Association, the Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council and the Department of Government Services working group. That group had some interesting things to say about penalties, because presently there are no financial penalties for failing to obey the act.
What the Yukon Contractors Association and the Building and Construction Trades Council and Government Services said is that penalties under the act should be clear, exacting and predictable. They went on to set out some recommended penalties, which would include, for a first offence of taking unfair advantage of the system, a substantial fine plus payment to employees of wages and benefits owing. For a second offence, a fine, plus payment to employees of wages and benefits owing, plus loss of bidding privileges on government construction contracts for one month. For a third offence, they suggested a penalty of a fine, plus payment to employees of wages and benefits owing, plus loss of bidding privileges on government contracts for one year. The rationale for that is that assessing penalties against the principals of companies violating the act is aimed at stopping those who may abuse the system and then try to carry on business as usual by simply reincorporating under a new name. That is something that has occurred many times.
Another one of the additions to the Employment Standards Act would have been a provision for maternity and parental leave.
Presently, under our Human Rights Act, it is an offence to discriminate against women on the basis of sex, including pregnancy. Yet, there is no legislative protection for workers who become pregnant to keep their jobs.
The Unemployment Insurance Act provides that women are entitled to unemployment insurance benefits for maternity after 20 weeks of employment. The Ontario Employment Standards Act sets a qualifying period of 13 weeks of employment prior to the birth date for obtaining parental leave.
The Supreme Court of Canada in the Brooks vs Canada Safeway Limited decision of May 4, 1989, found that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is discrimination on the basis of sex.
Pregnancy is a valid, health-related reason for being unable to work, and of fundamental importance in our society. Not to view pregnancy in this way would defeat one of the purposes of anti-discrimination legislation, which is to remove unfair disadvantages imposed on groups or individuals in our society.
Deputy Speaker: I do not believe we have a quorum. Please ring the bells.
Deputy Speaker: A quorum has now been established.
Ms. Moorcroft: I can certainly see what an urgent priority it is for this government to pass the act to repeal the amendments to the Employment Standards Act, when we are unable to maintain a quorum. I hope that it was not because I was talking about maternity leave that so many Members of the House were absent.
Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination, because of the basic, biological fact that only women have the capacity to be pregnant.
I may seem to be stating the obvious, but this government wants to repeal amendments that would provide maternity leave for workers in the Yukon. Combining paid work with motherhood and accommodating the childbearing needs of working women are ever-increasing imperatives. Those who bear children and benefit society as a whole should not be economically or socially disadvantaged.
At a time when the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination and as such is prohibited under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there is a strong need for the Yukon Employment Standards Act to establish the right to maternity and parental leave. I will be watching to see that the amendments that the Minister of Justice brings forward in the spring include some of these important considerations.
We had concerns from the business community and there were concerns expressed in media reports. There were fears that including special provisions for bereavement leave for the First Nations would only frustrate relations between natives and non-natives. It might even hinder native hire. For example, a business with a majority of native staff complement - all members of the same clan - may find themselves having to give three or four employees time off for a potlatch and have to have replacement employees to do the work.
Concern was expressed that special provisions for bereavement leave for First Nation members would create grounds for discrimination against employing members of the First Nations when such regulations become abused. I am only quoting what people said - that you can be assured that someone will abuse these regulations. I do not think that including legislation to provide the ability to attend a potlatch is something that this government should be repealing.
I do not believe that it is unwise to legislate employee benefits. Employers may say that that will limit employer flexibility to meet the changing demands of the workplace. I do not agree with that. I do not buy it for one minute.
The act to repeal the Employment Standards Act will also take away the ability for paid time off in lieu of overtime. There was no provision under the old act for time off in lieu of overtime pay. Given that there have been so many abuses of overtime pay, I think this amendment, which was requested by both the employers and the employees, should be considered. It gives employers more flexibility in scheduling time off and in timing wage payments. It gives employees, particularly those in seasonal industries, paid time off that can be used for holidays and other purposes.
In the amendments, time off in lieu agreements had to be mutual and had to be in writing. It was something that would have benefited both workers and employers, and it was something that was requested by both employers and employees.
The government would have us believe that businesses will go belly-up if we increase vacation pay and vacation time. The old act had a provision for four percent vacation pay. The new act said that, after five years with an employer, six percent vacation pay would have to be paid. This requires employers to recognize the length of service, based on the premise that long-term employees are valuable assets to an employer. Seven other jurisdictions have similar provisions regarding six percent holiday pay for longer term employees. The Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment said it was appropriate for the Yukon to set standards near or equal to those in other jurisdictions.
The parental leave benefits would have applied to parents of either sex so that they may care for natural and adopted newborns. The old act had no such provisions. The old act, which will be the act in force when this government succeeds in repealing these amendments, does not protect the jobs of employees who leave work to claim parental benefits. The old act makes no provision for adoptions.
The new act says that employees with a minimum of 12 months continuous employment are entitled to parental leave, without pay, for a period of up to 17 weeks. The new act includes several restrictions to protect the employer from the abuse of this provision. It reflects the changes to the Unemployment Insurance Act in 1990, which permits employees to claim parental benefits. All other jurisdictions, except for Alberta, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan, have passed parental leave provisions. I am going to be looking to see that the amendments the Minister of Justice brings forward in the spring include parental leave provisions.
The amendments provided for an increased notice of termination to employees. The old act had a six month minimum employment period before employees were entitled to a weeks notice. The new act established a three month minimum, and provided for increased amounts of notice.
This amendment is consistent with the notice of termination provisions in at least five other jurisdictions. The amendment recognized that long-term employees are valuable to an employers business and should be given more consideration when they are terminated.
The employees who failed to give notice would be required to forfeit wages, but the amendment did allow employers to pay out pay in lieu of notice in installments, rather than in lump sums, in order to lessen the strain on an employers finances, if they were forced to lay off their employees.
What else did the employment standards amendments do that was completely outrageous, and for which this government has to repeal the act? It would have increased unpaid leave for illness and bereavement. We had better get that out of there.
The new act recognized bereavement leave for potlatches, arising from the First Nations clan relationships and obligations. This government declares itself proud to sign the umbrella final agreement, although they keep on violating it, but they are not prepared to keep in something where employers give leave to their employees to attend a potlatch. The employers were allowed to verify the employees obligation to take part in a potlatch ceremony. I do not think that was in grave danger of being seriously abused by employees.
The old act required that employers must pay within seven days of the end of each pay period, or three days after termination date, all outstanding wages. The new act would have extended that time to 10 days and seven days, respectively. The new act recognizes that employers with computerized payrolls may need a little more time to meet the current requirements, despite their best intentions.
I spoke earlier about the Employment Standards Board, and about the many times that they have to rule on certificates of wages, and of failures of employers to pay employees. The new act contains several provisions that would prohibit employers from requesting the Employment Standards Board to hear the same matter twice. Every time that the Board would have to hear a matter would result in a delay to the employee receiving their wages. The new act would have required a $250 deposit by the employers if they were appealing a directors certificate of unpaid wages. There were many times when a certificate of wages would have been upheld by the board, but the employee never received their money. The employer simply just left the Yukon, closed their business, re-formed under a new business, and did not pay the wages. A deposit of $250 would have ensured that the appeal of the certificate of wages was in good faith, and it would also have ensured that at least $250 of the wages owing to them would have been paid to the employee. Some employers have appealed every certificate issued against them, and have used the appeal process as a means of delaying the payment of wages.
Employers may be required to pay interest on the certificate of wages if the appeal upholds the original decision. This is another principle that I think is important to have implemented. I will be looking to see if these principles are in the new act that the Minister forward in the spring.
There were also changes made to the powers and duties of the Employment Standards Board. Under the old act, the board consists of five members and sometimes some of the delays in having a hearing, so that a certificate of wages could be upheld by the board, was because board members were not available. The new act would have established a maximum of seven members, with panels to consist of three, five or seven members. This would also have helped to deal with the conflict of interest of members. In a small community like the Yukon, often members of the board may know an employer or may know an employee and have a conflict of interest with the decision before the board.
The board would also have discretion to decide on hours worked by employees where the records are either inaccurate or non-existent or there are problems with the credibility of either or both parties. The act would have established an obligation to keep good payroll records and this is something that was needed. The board would have been able to assess an administrative penalty as a deterrent to employers that it feels are using the appeal process to avoid paying employees, and there should be some fines for blatant, repeated violations of the act that some employers did engage in.
The amendments to the Employment Standards Act would have done something else really offensive to the Members opposite, I know. It would have legislated that employers were not able to discriminate on the basis of a same-sex spousal arrangement. It would have provided that lesbian couples or gay couples were entitled to family benefits. I think that this Legislature should be looking at recognizing and honouring the anti-discrimination provisions of our Human Rights Act.
The Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, Bill No. 13, was a good act. It did not meet all of the needs for change. It was an act that reflected a compromise, but it was an act that should have been proclaimed into legislation. I will remind the government Members that they have workers in their riding. I will remind the government Members that by this action they are not supporting workers and, for those reasons, I will be voting against the act before us, An Act to Repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I fully support Bill No. 42, An Act to Repeal an Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act.
I was not in the House when Bill No. 13 was introduced but, because of the media attention at the time, I did want to find out something about it, so I took the opportunity to attend a couple of meetings sponsored by the Yukon Party.
At the two meetings I attended, one with over 80 people in attendance, there was a very strong consensus of opinion not to proceed with this legislation. The people in attendance at that meeting were not just employers, as the Members opposite would like people to think, but included government employees, service industry employees, seasonal workers and at least one union representative.
One of the seasonal workers pleaded with the chair of the committee, saying, Please do not let them to this to us. I can only earn my years wages in four or five months, and must be able to work long hours and some seven-day weeks.
The manager of one of the hotels in Whitehorse stood up and said that the hotel remains open on Christmas Day. They do not make any money - they lose money - but because there are some travelers who come through, they provide a service. He said if this act goes ahead, they will not be able to do that any more.
I do not believe that there was proper consultation done on this bill. Newspaper articles that I have looked over in the last day or so quoted numerous groups who asked for input, but were denied.
I quote a statement attributed to the former justice Minister last February or March in the Whitehorse Star. I have not had any public meetings on this, nor do I intend to. Public meetings are something that do not give you the information that you need to draft legislation.
I agree that public meetings and public consultation to draft legislation is probably not necessary in all cases. On an issue as important to everyone in the Yukon as the Employment Standards Act, I would think that you would need a thorough public consultation. That was only one quote. There are numerous ones in the papers that we are looking at.
I want to be very brief, so I will close now. I read the debate in Hansard from 1992. I attended a couple of meetings in Whitehorse and I have listened to the debate in the House thus far. I believe that we have no choice. We must start over again; therefore I am supporting Bill No. 42.
Mr. Penikett: I am pleased to join debate on this bill. Perhaps pleased is not the exact emotion that I feel. I guess I would more accurately say that I am honoured to have an opportunity to say a few words about it.
As I have listened to Members opposite in the last few weeks express themselves either in speeches or in their heckling, their attitude toward working people - those less fortunate than they - has been very clear. I just think of the absolutely astonishing statement from the Minister responsible for the Workers Compensation Board that the Workers Compensation Board existed to protect employers money. Nobody who knew the first thing about the struggle of working people to get compensation, to have some income protection when they were injured, killed or maimed on the job, could ever had made such a statement.
I listened to the Minister of Justice yelling across the floor to Members on this side, calling them union toadies because we asked questions on behalf of working people. This is a man who once was not too proud to take money from a trade union - my union, as a matter of fact, the steelworkers - even though, obviously, in his heart, he had no love for them or their cause.
We have the Minister of Economic Development, who would not lift a finger for the people of Faro, and appears to be treating the janitors in this building in an abominable way.
We have the Government Leader, who refuses to answer a question about his policy on the question of job security today in the House. So arrogant, so contemptuous, he will not even answer the question. He accuses people of interfering in collective bargaining. Of course, there is a job security clause in the existing collective agreement, but it is well known that this government wants to do away with it. What is not well known is why. We can only guess that it is contracting out and privatization - the same kind of extreme right-wing agenda that has been carried out elsewhere in Canada and in the world.
I ask myself why those men opposite have such loathing for low-income people. Why do they despise the gas jockeys and the servers and the cashiers and the chambermaids; the people who go through life without pensions, without job security, without benefits packages, without a secure income? Many of them in this territory are single parents, struggling to get by. Why do they loathe them so much? Why do they seize every single opportunity to rub those peoples noses in their own disadvantaged position? Why are they so self-satisfied and so content with their own success and their affluence that they want to punish people who have no voice through a union, who have only the minimum protection of the law in their daily lives in the workplace?
It is true, yes, that the way we wrote the law, the Employment Standards Act was supposed to cover government employees, too, because we did not think there should be a double standard between the government and the private sector. It is true that it may have had some impact on some unionized workers, although the vast majority of unionized workers have much better situations than the people covered by employment standards legislation.
However, the people most affected by this legislation are the working poor, the people who have no advantage of a union; they are disproportionately women and, in this territory, a great number of them are women who are the sole support of their families.
Why do these old men opposite despise these people so much?
Why are we even proceeding with this legislation? It is not necessary. The Minister for Economic Development claimed that this was an issue about proclamation. It may well be, because the Members opposite said that they supported the bill. Why did they not proclaim it when they came into office? It is obvious why we did not proclaim it. We were waiting for some forms to be prepared. We were waiting for some requirements that we said had to be done on the act, and we tried to proclaim it. If the Members opposite had an ethical bone in their body, they would have said, We voted for it, and it should be proclaimed. However, they did not do that.
The first thing they did was try to exempt the government from the provisions, and the next thing they did was to bring in a law - not to amend it or improve it - but to do away with every single improvement brought in by the previous government. If you talk to citizens out on the street now, they are asking themselves what this governments agenda is. This governments agenda is to roll back the clock and, if they can in the time they are in office, they are going to do away with every single improvement - every single reform, every single progressive initiative by the previous Yukon government, the NDP - if they can.
They are so narrow-minded, and so limited in their thinking that that is their only agenda. Even the land claims legislation, which we thought they supported, has been chipped away at by them. For the Minister responsible for wildlife, the Minister responsible for mining, the Minister responsible for economic development: their agenda is to roll back the clock.
Why are they doing this? It is not necessary. They could simply continue not to proclaim it and then come forward with their reactionary initiatives down the road. Why are they doing it? Have they consulted with anybody about this? Who have they consulted? They certainly have not consulted any working people in my riding, the people who are affected by this legislation. They certainly have not consulted any small business people in my riding - unless they happen to be insiders, members of the Yukon Party.
Imagine the hypocrisy of this: they voted for this legislation; they could have had it proclaimed; and now they are coming forward and want to undo it all. When do they do this? Right before Christmas - one of the great Scrooge-like acts in Yukon legislative history. Who is going to benefit? Perhaps a few small businesses. Who is going to pay? Those people who are marginally attached to the workforce now, the people in this territory - the working, tax paying, law abiding people - those who, of anyone, can least afford to pay; not the fat cats opposite.
The other day, a constituent of mine said to me, These guys cannot fool anyone. They are not in favour of a minimum wage. What these Tories really believe in is a maximum wage.
Mind you, the constituent said something quite brilliant there, because their position on everything, whether it is free trade or employment standards, is basically to push the people on the bottom down so you can help the people at the top.
At one time under dear old President Reagan, that used to be called the trickle down theory. David Stockman, President Reagans budget director, said that the trickle down theory is just a bit of marketing, we do not really expect the people at the bottom to be dragged up, by making the people at the top richer, but it sells well.
When President Reagan left office there were many more millionaires - the Member for Klondike is waving his hand, I do not know why he is waving his hand, he probably agrees with that - but the number of poor people, who were disproportionately women and children, had increased astronomically. That was the Reagan record and when the statistics come out we will probably see the same thing happened under Mulroney.
Free trade is trying to have Canadian working people compete with Mexican wages. Get them dragged down to that level and we will have a level playing field, as the Government Leader calls it, and we will be happy. Only the haves and the wealthy will be happy, not the people at the bottom of society.
We get lower wages, lower environmental standards, social dumping and we will all compete for a part-time summer job at Mexican wages. This is what Conservatives call economic development. It is neither economic, nor is it development.
The Members opposite in their speeches - and we went back and looked at them during the debate - did not speak on behalf of working people in their constituency, they did not speak on behalf of the working families, they spoke only for the business community.
There was nothing in the Members speeches when it went through the House about the employee; there were only speeches about the employer.
There is nothing wrong with that; it is part of the historic role of the Conservative Party to represent the haves in society, to represent the employer.
I want to say that it is important that the employer be heard from, and the employer was heard from in the drafting of this bill. What eventually appeared before the House was a compromise. In fact, I think he present Minister of Justice said in second reading that the had no problem with this bill going forward, or words to that effect, because it was a compromise. It was not called socialist dogma back then.
While we agree that the chambers of commerce should be heard and that employers should be heard, we also believe that employees should be heard from - those people that have so little voice, and who are not organized, those people who feel economically weak and are not in a position to phone up a Cabinet Minister and get their call returned, who do not feel confident to write letters to the editor, who do not have Mr. Dale Drown to help them draft the letter.
Any piece of legislation may have flaws in it. Any piece of legislation that represents a compromise is going to have parts of it that displease some people. An effort was made by the former Minister of Justice to have some balance and fairness and to recognize that the majority of employers do treat their workers in a civilized way. But the people who treat their employees in a civilized way also understand the need for laws to set minimum standards so that other employers, who are not so decent, also treat their employees in a civilized manner. The advance of civilization is not about a few people getting richer, it is about the majority not only having prosperity, but also having protection under the law from abusive behavior.
The Members opposite have very quickly become - I hate to use the word arrogance, as they are so free with it - so fatuous, condescending and self-satisfied. I wonder what kind of mandate they think they have with 36 percent of the vote? They got a few more votes than my party and yet they believe that everything that we did should be trashed, and that everything that they did, even though they did not tell the public about it beforehand, should suddenly be enshrined, even without having to come to the Legislature.
Why are we doing this? The real reason is politics. This is about trying to get the NDP to come out in favour of working people who the Members opposite think are unpopular. Of course, they are voiceless. They want to bolster their position with their own constituency. They want to pick a fight; that is what this is about. It is quite a cynical move because if the Minister of Justice genuinely wanted to change the Employment Standards Act, all he had to do was bring a set of amendments forward.
Of course, we do not know whether he would have consulted enough. We would be pretty sure he would not have consulted with working people. He certainly would not have consulted with people who care about working people because that is not his wont; he likes to play the divide-and-conquer game; he likes to play the misrepresentation game.
I will admit that the measure that my colleague, the former Minister of Justice, brought forward, that our government introduced into this House and that was passed into this House was controversial. But I will argue that it was an improvement on the previous situation. It was a small step of progress, a little movement to make this place a bit more civilized.
I want to say in this House that it is the people who make the steps toward civilizing our community, toward improving life, who are remembered in history, not the reactionaries and not the people who tear down progress. Of course, there are a few exceptional reactionaries, like Mr. Hitler, Mr. Mussolini and Mr. Nixon, who may be remembered, but they are not remembered with affection.
The people who are remembered with admiration, honour and love in our history are the people who brought society forward, the people who tried to make things better, not for the privilege few, but for the vast majority.
It is William Wilberforce who is remembered for the anti-slavery movement, not the Tories who supported slavery. It is Abraham Lincoln who is remembered for freeing slaves in the United States, not James Buchanan, his predecessor, who is remembered for nothing more than keeping Lincolns seat warm for him.
It is Martin Luther King who is remembered for the civil rights movement, not that ignorant redneck Orval Faubus, who prevented black children from getting into the schools.
It is Nelson Mandela who will be remembered in the world, not Pik Botha. I say to the Minister of Justice, it will be people like his grandfather who, against the Tory majority, stood up in this Legislature, not this building but this Legislature, and fought against the Tories when the Tories tried to take a vote away from Chinese people and from Indian people, back in the first decade of this century.
It will be Willard Phelps the First whom they will remember as the progressive, courageous, positive, forward-thinking person, not his homophobic, union-bashing descendant.
Speaker: Order please. I know the Member feels strongly on this subject, but I would like him to be careful of his language and keep it parliamentary.
Mr. Penikett: Absolutely, Mr. Speaker. I checked Beauchesne. I do not think either of those words are in Beauchesne. Perhaps they should be.
Speaker: Yes, but according to our Standing Orders, in the opinion of this Speaker, any abusive language is unparliamentary and I got the feeling that those remarks were abusive.
Mr. Penikett: I withdraw those remarks and would say that I think Willard Phelps the First will be remembered as a progressive, honourable, liberal-thinking gentleman as opposed to his descendant, who has taken this step just before Christmas to do away with some improvements in law that were intended to benefit ordinary working people, such as chambermaids, gas jockeys, waitresses, cashiers, janitors - would Scrooge-like be unparliamentary, Mr. Speaker? Perhaps Mr. Speaker would permit Scrooge-like.
Mr. Penikett: Let me just review for a couple of minutes some of the good things that were in the legislation that the Minister today wants to do away with - banish with a stroke of his pen. The paid time in lieu of overtime - this is a clause about flexibility. Why would the Member opposite be so rigid, so stuck, have his feet so embedded in concrete that he would be opposed to an arrangement that is to the benefit of both employers and employees? Why does he want to do away with that provision?
Then there is the provision about increased vacation pay and vacation time. This is the clause I call the anti-tourism clause. It is a matter of fact - and we did studies on this when we were in government - that if one wants to look at who is the best consumer, the best contributor to the economy - do you want to know who it is? It is your clerk stenographer, the person who buys their food here, buys their clothes here and, buys their car here and takes their holiday here.
This is a benefit that would improve the situation for them, enable them to take a longer holiday, spend money in Yukon lodges, Yukon hotels, travelling and seeing our sights. Why is the Minister against that?
Then, there is the parental leave clause for parents of either sex, so that they may care for natural and adopted children. Some family, some couple out of decency, decide that they are going to take a new child into their home, perhaps a kid with some health problems, or a kid who has had a tough life. We put a provision into this law at the request of many people to allow either parent some leave. This is a provision that is consistent with proposals made on this score in every enlightened jurisdiction in the world, but the Minister wants to do away with it. He wants to take anti-parent initiatives and remove it.
There is the notice of termination provision for employees. This is the one clause where our government of the day did not accept the advice of the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. We said that we believed in the principle of a fair days wages for a fair days pay, and that, if someone works for a week, they should not have the employer steal those wages from them, simply because they did not give notice.
I have been in enough workplaces to know that there are some people who can be horribly abusive to employees. They do not have to sexually abuse them, they just have to verbally abuse them. They have to treat them like hell. The person cannot stand it any more and walks out, and the employer can take the wages for the week that they worked.
The Minister of Justice - imagine that, the Minister of Justice - wants to sanction that theft.
Remember the unemployment insurance changes brought in by our lovely federal Tories, the brethren of the Members opposite? Some of those people now in that situation are going to have trouble collecting unemployment insurance. They have to jump through hoops to qualify for unemployment insurance.
We then have the increased unpaid leave for sickness and bereavement. This is a clause that was asked for by First Nations, so that they may attend potlatches, which may go on for three or four days, in some cases of a respected member of the family. This is the initiative of the Member opposite that I call anti-First Nation. With a stroke of a pen, he wants to do away with that reform, that improvement.
Then, there is the provision of set-offs and unauthorized deductions from wages. What the Member wants to do is reintroduce the ability of the employer to make those deductions on the basis of poor workmanship, cash deductions or other areas. Who benefits from that? I would suspect that the only people who benefit from that are a few bad employers.
Imagine someone earning near the minimum wage, they are new on the job and may be learning their duties, and the employer says they are not doing it well enough, so they are going to deduct something from the wages. This is arbitrary, unfair and leaves no recourse or appeal for the employee.
There were provisions to deal with that, and the Minister of Justice says, Be gone. Then there is the question of assisting employers in paying wages. The old act said employers must pay within seven days of the end of each pay period or three days after the termination date. In the new act, we extended the time to 10 days and seven days respectively, in recognition that employers with computerized payrolls are often unable to meet the acts current requirements, despite their best intentions. That was done out of consideration for employers and the realities of this day and age, but also in recognition of the fact the YTG would have difficulty meeting those provisions - not that it could not, but that it would have difficulties. The Minister tried to be flexible.
We have provisions in this law that we passed about encouraging employers to settle wage claims. The new act contained several provisions that prohibited employers from requesting employment standards to hear the same matter twice. It required a maximum $250 deposit from employers when appealing a directors certificate of unpaid wages. The deposit was implemented to ensure that the appeal was in good faith, because, in the past, some employers had appealed every certificate issued against them. They used the appeal as a process and means of delaying the wages. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini and I know an employer who used to do that. He would say, I will just put the money in the bank and earn the interest on it. If I delay the appeal long enough, I will have made a bit of money on it even if I have to pay in the end. This is not an exceptionally bad employer. This is someone who is a respected member of the community and probably a good Yukon Party voter.
What he was doing in his own interest was unbelievably unfair to someone who was in a dispute with him about unpaid wages.
This is a minor amendment to improve that situation, and the Minister of Justice wants to do away with it so that he can come back, who knows when - months from now - with some employment agenda that will no doubt be written totally by Yukon Party insiders and the friends of theirs, the faction that supports them in the Chamber of Commerce. Who will benefit? There will be a few people who will benefit. The Members opposite hope to benefit politically; that is why they are doing this. They do not need to bring this bill here at all.
Who will pay? The people at the bottom. The people who work hard, without job security, who work hard without pensions in many cases, pay their bills, pay their taxes - some of them may even have voted for Members opposite. But the Members opposite do not respect them and do not care about them. As someone said recently, what is so obvious about the modern Conservative Party is that it is no longer about protecting any sense of the public interest - not in the way that Harold Macmillan Conservatives or Anthony Eden Conservatives, or even what John Diefenbaker was about.
These people are about protecting the private interests of a few - selected private interests. The public be damned.
One of the amendments that my colleague tried to bring in was one clarifying the powers and duties of the Employment Standards Board. It was absolutely necessary, and there was nothing wrong with those amendments. There were not even any strong objections to them by anybody, but here we have the Minister of Justice wanting to wipe them out.
I just thought of another reason why the Minister may be doing this. It is interesting, because someone from Teslin said to me the other day that the Minister was trying to renegotiate some agreements that were negotiated by the former Minister of Justice. They were speculating that the new Minister wanted to renegotiate the agreements so that he could get his name on them, rather than the previous Minister.
Perhaps there is a dimension of ego here. It is hard to believe of a gentleman who is so modest in this House and who has so much to be modest about.
I thought that I knew about modesty from watching Pierre Trudeau, but the Minister of Justice has set a new standard here.
One of the other provisions of the act that the Minister wants to expunge, crush, eradicate, dismiss, vanish, dismantle, and destroy, are the provisions clarifying the application and operation of the fair wage schedule.
The new act permitted the establishment of regulations to better enforce the fair wage schedule, regulations regarding the auditing of payroll records and so forth, absolutely essential for the construction industry and for anybody who knows anything about what goes on there. So, we also have the anti-fair wage provision.
Of course, we wanted to bind the Yukon government. We did not want the government to have a double standard, but to live by the same law that affects everybody else. This was a hugely popular provision. There was hardly anybody against it except for a few bureaucrats. Of course, the Minister of Justice is going to ride to the rescue of the bureaucrats and also do away with this provision.
As far as I know, nobody who is affected negatively by this bill is being consulted about it. I think the government desperately needs time to consult on this bill. They need time to listen to the people, they need time to make sure that they are not wiping out, today, reforms that were supported by decent people in this territory.
Mr. Penikett: I move
THAT the motion for second reading be amended by deleting all the words after the word THAT and substituting for them the following:
Bill No. 42, entitled An Act to Repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Leader of the Official Opposition
THAT the motion for second reading be amended by deleting all the words after the word THAT and substituting for them the following:
Bill No. 42, entitled An Act to Repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence.
Mr. Penikett: I will speak very briefly on the amendment. It seems to me that, while the political pique, the malicious intent that brought this act forward has perhaps been satisfied by the Members speeches, there is a need for some serious consultation with people about this bill - not only the members of the business community who would be delighted to see the former Minister of Justices reforms removed, but, more importantly, so that the large number of ordinary, decent working people who, it was hoped, would benefit from these modest reforms would have a chance to speak before the Minister of Justice deletes, for all time, the few small improvements in law that we succeeded in making in our time in office.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Mr. Clerk, will you kindly poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Disagree.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Disagree
Hon. Mr. Devries: Disagree.
Mr. Abel: Disagree.
Mr. Millar: Disagree.
Mr. Penikett: Agree.
Mr. McDonald: Agree.
Ms. Commodore: Agree.
Mr. Joe: Agree.
Ms. Moorcroft: Agree.
Mr. Harding: Agree.
Mr. Cable: Disagree.
Mrs. Firth: Disagree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are six yea, 10 nay.
Speaker: I declare the six-month hoist amendment defeated.
Amendment to motion for Second Reading negatived
Speaker: The time being 5:30 p.m., we will recess until 7:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will continue with the second reading of Bill No. 42.
Mr. McDonald: I have a few words to say about the bill before us.
A number of the things were said in the last little while about the reasons for the act, about the reasons for failure to proclaim the act, about the purpose of employment standards acts generally, and I would like to confine my remarks primarily to my understanding of the reasons why we are standing here doing what we are doing today and how it might have been avoided.
It is my opinion that hard-working people in this territory who are maybe covered by the minimum provisions permitted by the Employment Standards Act do not need an in-your-face Christmas present from the government. What, we should ask, was the law two weeks ago? The law, at least as it applies to businesses in this territory and to the employment relationship, did not contain the provisions contained in An Act to Repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act because it was not proclaimed. What is the law today?
It does not include the revisions in An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, because it was not proclaimed. What is going to be the effect in one or two weeks when this act is passed and ultimately proclaimed? The provisions in An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act will not apply because they will have been repealed. The net effect of all this time and trouble, put forward by the government side, will be nothing when it comes to the employment relationship in this territory. There will be no net effect whatsoever.
What is this process we are undertaking? What does it mean? What is the effect of this gesture on the governments part? Why is it at Christmas time? What about the people out there who may benefit from some of the provisions of this act - even some of the provisions that have the support of most of the people in this Legislature, because even the government Members who spoke to the substance of this bill have admitted that there are some provisions in An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act that they agreed with. What possible reason can the government have for repealing everything and doing nothing for the people who need the act?
There are many people out there who are working in jobs that pay minimum wage. Typically, they are working in an environment where there is a single relationship - the individual worker to the individual employer.
The reason why we passed the Employment Standards Act in the first place was to ensure that there was a fair set of rules for an employee who has no bargaining power in the employment relationship, so that person cannot be taken advantage of and can live with some semblance of dignity in the workplace. That is the purpose of the Employment Standards Act, and any provisions that we may make in this Legislature to improve that act serve to improve the lives of those people who typically make minimum wage and live in a low-income environment. That is what this act is for and that is why someone took the trouble years ago to pass acts like this one, and that is the reason why they are still there today. There is some recognition of those people who believe that the market should be the final and sole determining factor for everything in the business community. There is some understanding that it does not work all of the time, and some people do need protection. That is the reason there is an Employment Standards Act in the first place.
There are some provisions in this bill that I think a person would be hard-pressed to disagree with. In fact, there are some provisions in this bill that are not only supported by the vast majority of the Members in this Legislature, but were also supported by the business and labour communities and all of those that took part, not only in the consultation processes in the early stages of the development of the amendment to the act, but also in the later stages.
One might wonder whether or not those changes would be worth - given that there seems to be agreement - proclaiming so that the people who have little have an opportunity to enjoy increased benefits and a better standard of living, given that they are already on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. One would suggest that perhaps those people would appreciate the few crumbs that this Legislature may want to throw to them from time to time.
If there are a few areas of disagreement, those sections could be held in abeyance.
What has this Legislature done for those people? Those people have dealt with this act after it was originally passed twice - last spring and now. We have taken the trouble to bring a bill into this House twice. And at no time have the people who were supposed to have benefited from bills like this, benefited. After all this effort and after all the rhetorical debate, they still will not benefit from one provision of this act.
One can only suggest that the reason for this gesture, because it has no practical effect on the street, is that there is some vindictive message that someone wants to send to those people.
Some arguments have been furthered by some people in this Legislature that perhaps there was a message that the government side wanted to send to its conservative constituency, to tell them that they are truly believers in the conservative faith. Consequently, if there was ever any doubt, this gesture to the right wing would be appreciated and would perhaps consolidate some of the support the government feels that they are losing by having passed budget bills that show the highest spending ever, and having inflicted high taxes on the public.
Perhaps the conservative constituency was feeling a little shaky, thinking perhaps this was not truly a conservative government. Day by day, as we go through the budget bills and try to assess where the government is coming from ideologically, we are always puzzled by the conflicting messages that are being sent that maybe the government is, or maybe it is not; that it is directionless in some way.
Perhaps this is the gesture to the right wing that they care about right-wing values, because there is no practical effect for having this bill. The government could clearly hold this bill - give no direction whatsoever to the Commissioner as to whether or not to sign the bill, and the bill would remain unsigned and consequently not law, consequently not in force.
If they are trying to send this gesture to the conservative constituency, what a vehicle to use - the people who need legislation the most - and think of it, at Christmas time, too. The people who could benefit from this the most are ones who are being used as a political pawn in this game.
What is so complicated about the introduction of bills, and the drafting of legislation, that would prevent the government from coming here in the spring and undertaking a consultation on employment standards? What would prevent their coming here in the spring and introducing a bill with changes that they feel are appropriate, and repealing this bill at the same time - or the sections of this bill that they do not like? What would prevent them from doing that? Is that so complicated?
Is it such a tough assignment for the government side that, rather than go through the drafting logistics, they simply repeal the whole thing and make some gesture to their right-wing followers that they are prepared to make a statement now and again that appeals to the right-wing values in this territory, at the expense of people who could use the benefits of at least some of the sections of this act that they could have proclaimed?
Unless they say something different, the government strategy seems fairly transparent. The problem is that, for whatever the reason the government has chosen not to proclaim certain sections to benefit some people - sections they agreed with - no one who needs those provisions will benefit from them. It is truly unfortunate - even when there was agreement - that people cannot benefit from some of the improvements.
The government has made much of the fact that the bill was not proclaimed after the NDP government had had the bill passed through the Legislature, and before the election was called, and the subsequent change in government. It has been suggested, over and over again, by all the speakers to date, that the justification for not passing this bill is that, if it had been a good bill, the NDP would have proclaimed it. Consequently, it must not be that good, because the NDP did not proclaim it. That makes no logical sense whatsoever.
There are some reasonable suggestions as to why the act was not proclaimed. They have been furthered in this Legislature, in this debate as well as in previous debates in the House. If the excuse is supposed to be that the NDP government did not want to proclaim an act because they felt the provisions of the act were unpopular and, by not proclaiming it, they may purge the memory that everybody had of the previous six or eight months, when this was nothing but front page news for at least a few weeks, then that argument is absolutely ludicrous.
From December of the year before, through to the time this act was passed in the Legislature, the process was well and truly thrashed out in the media.
The final provisions were well and truly known, through extensive media coverage. To suggest that in a three- or four-month intervening period between the session and the election, the NDP felt that everything had been forgotten and that it was embarrassed by the bill and that to proclaim it would have raised bad memories about the bill, is absolutely silly and unbelievable. It makes no sense. There are plenty of bills that take some time to proclaim. Even the Workers Compensation Act, which was passed that same spring sitting, had provisions that allowed its proclamation eight months hence to give time for policy development work, communication strategies, education, regulation drafting, and all that sort of thing.
That was the case with the An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, too. In fact, during that debate in the spring, there was some insistence that, for whatever changes were being made, it was important that all persons were to understand the changes and be able to work with the changes prior to their implementation. So, it is reasonable that the government at the time would ensure that the process was not rushed. If the process had been rushed, there would have been further problems with implementation.
The current government says that the act was controversial and, consequently, because it was controversial should not be passed. There are things that happen in this Legislature, and the government is master at doing controversial things now, but they would not recommend for one second that, simply because they were controversial, they should not be done. So, that, too, is an argument that needs some work.
A couple of government Members have drawn reference to the fact that the NDP government failed to follow all the recommendations of a non-partisan committee, a balanced committee, that was putting forward suggestions for improvements to the employment standards bill. Indeed, it was the subject of considerable debate. One recommendation from the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment was not accepted. That is true.
I believe the provision was with regard to notice for the deduction of pay if notice was not given when an employee wants to leave the employment of an employer. The sanctimonious comments by Members opposite, about the NDPs failure to follow the recommendations of a board certainly ring hollow in the context of this Legislature, in this session, when board recommendations are regularly ignored.
There is one board member whom I saw the other day from the Fish and Wildlife Management Board, who was walking around in a stupor, because there were so few recommendations being followed and respected that had been submitted by that board.
When push came to shove and people had to make tough decisions, and presumably the Yukon Party Members in the Legislature, prior to the last election, were operating and acting in good faith - and sometimes you do have to make tough decisions in this Legislature. I say, with due respect to the Liberal Member here, that sometimes tough decisions are made and it is expected of you. When the decision came for the vote on the employment standards bill, the Yukon Party Members announced that they were voting in favour of the bill. Yes, it was a compromise; there were a couple of things that they liked and a couple of things that they did not like, but they voted for the bill - they said they did anyway.
We took them at their word. If they had felt that it was such a bad thing, presumably they would not have voted for it, but they went on to vote for the bill we are repealing today. They decided that it was something that they should do and that it was the right thing at the time.
During the election campaign they made much of the fact that there ought to be better processes for developing legislation, that government should listen to the boards, that there should be consultations and do a better job at consensus building - all good things, I am sure. I did not hear them claim that the Employment Standards Act should be repealed. I heard them claim that there should be better processes, and that we should not have to inflict so much pain on ourselves in the process of developing legislation; it should be a happier, consensus-building process.
We have not yet heard the wisdom of one Member in the House who has suggested that we should be mediating everything, and if we just understood that there are people out there who are prepared to mediate political debates, then much of the acrimony in this Legislature could be avoided. That may be a useful lesson for us to learn, who knows.
One Member has said that the NDP will stand up and ask, Who is this bill for, anyway? One person said, Oh sure, they say they care about the workers, but we know the real reason why they did not pass the bill; it is all just smoke and mirrors. It is nothing of the kind. We stand up and say we care about the workers because it is true. We do care about the workers. We do think this bill should be proclaimed. We are prepared to stand here and say so. If the government side had taken five minutes over the course of the last 12 months to have the bill proclaimed - not even that long, because the bill is already in the Commissioners office - all they would had to have done was lift the phone. It would have taken 90 seconds for them to phone and say, We have decided. Proclaim the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act. It would have taken very little effort on their part.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: Someone from the government side is saying that the NDP could have done it in the first four months, while they were developing regulations and the education campaign. They could have done it, too, in the first four months. It begs the question why the government could not have done it in the last 12 months.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. McDonald: The Minister of Education says it was not a priority. It was a priority to put the bill together so that it could be implemented.
The Minister has obviously not been paying attention. The point is that in order to implement the act properly, it took some thinking and preparation to put it all together.
I put the question back to the government side: do they care about the provisions of the act? Do they support the workers for which this act was intended to support? Clearly, the answer must be no. It is not that they have not considered the question. They have considered it at least twice and have inflicted the subject on the Legislature twice.
The first time they did, last spring, they came in with a provision that was to remove the possibility that the Employment Standards Act would apply to the government. They wanted to ensure that, whatever happened, the government would not have to live by the provisions that everyone else in our society lives with. They took the trouble to come into the Legislature and make another statement. It was a very simple statement; there are rules for some and rules for other, and because they are now in government the rules should be different.
That is not the position of the business community. I know that for a fact. I challenge Members opposite to put forward any credible voice from the business community who would say otherwise.
In the course of the debate, the Members in the government benches have said a number of things about working people, particularly organized working people; they have said some very spiteful things about unions. I am not naive about how the Members opposite feel about unions. To recall the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes talk about the union in Faro during the strike a few years ago, leaves very little to the imagination as to how that Member feels about unions.
I wish that I had known that 14 years ago when I was working with a local union in Elsa and learned that the solicitor for that union was the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes. I wish I had known, but I was naive at that time. I am less naive now.
I will begin to wrap up now as I think it is important to keep the message undiluted. Those who say that this act is a provision that must be purged and that this act has no redeeming qualities and that there are no provisions that should be applied to the workplace, I believe, do not have a clear sense of what is a fair and civilized set of rules by which to govern the treatment of hard-working people out there in the workplace.
Those people have no one else to speak for them or for their situation. Because they are unorganized, they do not storm the barricades, they do not come to the Ministers office and pound on the doors, they do not have articulate spokespeople to come and make the case, and it appears, over and over again, that if the Members opposite do not have some sort of stiff organized resistance, they do not believe there is any public to cater to out there.
Because they were faced with some angry people from Faro so early on in the term, they seem to think that, if they do not have people waving placards, then everything is all right. I suggest that they may not know how to do the right thing, even in the absence of placard-waving citizens, and that there are rules and provisions, in this particular case, that make the workplace bearable for people who make $6 or $6.50 an hour, that there are provisions that the Members opposite take for granted that these people can only hope for in their wildest dreams.
These are people who raise families, live in the low-income housing, and some of them live in trailers. These are people who would truly appreciate some attention by this Legislature. They are not commonly the subject of debate here. We commonly talk about taxation provisions and bills that affect high-falutin things. When it comes to something as rudimentary, basic and decent as provisions to support working people, all we can do is make gestures in their face, like this one. Even if it had taken a little bit of trouble to proclaim just a few of the sections the Members opposite agreed with, they could not be bothered.
So, those people who need these the most, the people out on the street, people who may be working the midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift tonight, after we have gone to bed, cleaning the floors in some building, and making $6.50 an hour, do not have anything like the job security even politicians have. Those people are going to spend another shift, another day, another week, another month, another Christmas with rules that are outdated and could have been improved, and for which there was consensus in this community and this Legislature. The situation could have been improved.
To give the government time to come to its senses and think about it, the amendment made by the Member for Whitehorse West was dismissed by Members in this House, and that is terrible.
I hear one Member make a spirited attack against overtime, throwing up an account of someone who said, Please, do not let them inflict this bill on me, because it suggests that I should get overtime pay when I work long hours in the day, and I have got to make all of my money in a single season. I point the Member to the existing Employment Standards Act, which has provisions that govern overtime pay. Currently, it is the law that you have to pay overtime after so many hours per day, and so many hours per week. If they are going to come in now and use the ridiculous argument that they are somehow doing this on behalf of the working people, that they are going to remove overtime provisions and suggest that it is for the peoples good and that they have asked for it, then, my God, how far have we regressed? How far are we going to go?
The provisions in this act that were enunciated by my colleagues, the Members for Whitehorse Centre and Whitehorse West, are truly reasonable provisions. They create a work environment that is not - I say with all due respect - the kind of environment that would cost jobs in the economy, or cause businesses to close down. That is ludicrous. The people I have spoken to have said that they pay these provisions already. There was one fellow I spoke to who said that he did not want the provisions to be raised or improved. He did not want them improved, because he wanted to be able to demonstrate to his employees how much better his work environment was than the minimum standard.
What a reason to object to improvement of standards. In my circle of acquaintances, which does include business people in Whitehorse and particularly in Mayo, what they want is a level playing field. They want the provisions to apply to everyone, including their competitors.
They do not want a situation that is so far out of line with other jurisdictions in the country. Many of these provisions - the vast majority of these provisions - are found everywhere else. One has to wonder why the government would now be saying no to all of them. Not no to some, not no to a few - clearly, they have thought about it often enough; they have thought about it enough to bring it in here a couple of times - but no to all. There is not a single provision that they care to implement now. They are all drafted, all ready to go. There is nothing now they feel is so worth their while to proclaim so that some poor person out there can take advantage of it for the next four months - nothing to which they are prepared to put the pen to paper and let it happen now. They are more prepared to come into the Legislature, spend all kinds of time and trouble - and they knew there would be some trouble - to repeal the whole bloody works. That is where they have dedicated their time and effort and energy and heart.
I am sure there will be time to talk to the Minister about his vision for the consultation process and his vision for improvements - or perhaps not even improvements. Maybe we can expect improvements in the next round of changes in the legislation; maybe we will have to fight a rear-guard action. We have no way of knowing. We have heard a few things - an attack on overtime, and this and that - in the Legislature in the last couple of days. We have no way of knowing what the government is going to come forward with next. But we will have plenty of time to ask the Minister what he thinks about the provisions of this bill and, certainly, he can expect that the questions will be asked and he can expect that there will be some expectation that he, indeed, answer the questions.
I will not go any further into the substance of the employment standards bill itself. I will only deal with it in principle.
I close by saying there was no practical need to make this statement in this Legislature at this time. There was an opportunity to do some good things for people, given the level of consensus that the Minister said there was on some of the provisions of the act. Certainly, he could have taken it for granted that the NDP would have supported all the provisions of the bill and he could have proclaimed a number of the sections. That, by itself, is a majority of the Legislature. He could have gone to the trouble of doing that.
I think that there were reasons other than that for bringing in the bill today, and debating it now. I think that the government is going to have a lot of work to do to develop a good reputation and keep it. There are a lot of people in this territory. In the months and years to come, however long it actually takes them to develop new amendments to the Employment Standards Act, I wish them luck. They are going to have a lot of work to do to erase the memory of this in-your-face message at Christmas time.
Mr. Cable: In opening, let me say that the previous administrations rationale in reviewing the Employment Standards Act is not in dispute, either in this Chamber or outside. Every act of this type, which deals with a dynamic human relationship, has to be periodically reviewed and I have heard no one say that basic premise should be disputed.
I think that it is also safe to say that the majority of people agree with the majority of provisions in the unproclaimed amending bill. Having said that, I also have to say that there were and are very many troubling aspects to the original and present debate.
We have the Official Opposition portrayed as a group of gaga-eyed socialist dogmatists who would like instant Nirvana, all orchestrated by government. I have what I think was a rather cruel comment on the government as being a group of old men, presumably with top hats and spats, as if in some Punch cartoon. I found that particularly offensive, because there is only one man over there who is older than I am.
I had the particularly unsettling sort of experience of the Member for Faro telling one of my friends that these amendments could cost the workers in Faro $2.4 million in lost wages. We have this unproclaimed bill that could retroactively cure the Faro problem, in the face of federal insolvency law. Wrong on three counts.
Where is Jim McLachlan now that we need him to represent Faro?
I am troubled by much of the history of the process that led to the amending bill before this House for repeal. I am also troubled by the fact that we are here debating the appeal of this bill when there does not appear to be any immediate necessity for doing so. That is the governments prerogative, of course. It sets the legislative agenda and can bring the bill forward for repeal. Unfortunately, we have to deal with it, and we will deal with it.
One of my main concerns is that several of the Members opposite supported the amending bill originally when it came before this House. They are now asking us to repeal it. Only the Member for Riverdale South appears to be consistent in her opposition and has the courage of her convictions.
It also concerns me that the amending bill was passed in June 1992, and lay dormant for about five months, when there was a belated attempt to proclaim the bill, just before the changing of the guard in November of last year. I have heard the rationale that, Well, shucks, we did not have the forms ready. That is very difficult to accept.
However, what concerns me most about the public debate - the original debate and the one that is going on right now - is that it is singularly acrid and unproductive. An examination of labour relations in terms of victims and victimizers, particularly in the context of small business is, in my view, passe and very counterproductive. The real power relationships are not readily discernible in small businesses in many cases. Also, for every business person who is in the drivers seat in the relationship and perhaps misuses that power, there is an employee whose conduct leaves something to be desired.
If we are to bring employees and employers together, whether through mediation or any other consensus building - which I sense is not favoured but is something many people in Canada are talking about - public debates and legislation that point the finger at one side or the other of the employer/employee relationship will not be the necessary catalysts to accomplish that.
A public discussion that focuses solely, or primarily, on the needs of employees, without a full examination of the needs of employers, particularly the needs of small business employers, is no real public discussion at all. I am particularly mindful of the debate on section 50, as I have tried to reconstruct it - that section that was going to be removed if the bill had been proclaimed, whereby there was no penalty attached to an employee who just walked out the door.
Mind you, there are situations, as the former Justice Minister has pointed out, where a person is quite justified in walking out the door, and sexual harassment is one of those. However, there are many occasions where people are not justified in walking out the door. I am disappointed that no real attempt was made to bring the two parties interest together when the bill was drafted.
In my experience, for every employee facing a difficult time meeting obligations, there is a small business person hanging on by their fingers, trying to keep their business alive, and trying to provide continued employment for their employees. We have to remember that much of the angst that is out there right now in the workplace is not about the rules governing the relationship, but about the very existence and continuation of the relationship, whether there is going to be a job. In my view, a discussion that revolves around verbal class warfare will not set the stage for new relationships.
I am mindful of the discussions that took place relating to the new Workers Compensation Act, which deals with competing interests in the employee/employer relationship. I hope a similar public debate that brings people together, rather than drive them apart, is the Ministers next step. Good labour legislation acts as a light, not as a baseball bat.
It is going to be a challenge to design a process that will, in its result, meet the needs of unorganized labour and small business. I would expect and hope that the Minister will, in the course of the debate, give us his plan for recognizing these needs in developing a process that will be productive, rather than destructive. I look forward to the debate in Committee, and the discussion of where we go from here.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will be fairly brief in the debate this evening. There are a couple of things that I would like to put on the record.
The Leader of the Official Opposition has vehemently accused us of being against unorganized labour, low-wage workers, gas jockeys, chambermaids, waitresses and labourers. He has accused us of being against this segment of our society. That is simply not true, and it is one of the reasons that we are against the employment standards legislation, as designed by the previous administration.
That legislation, had it been proclaimed, would have cost hundreds and hundreds of jobs in this territory. I have been told that by small business. I have been told by medium-sized businesses that they would be cutting back. Even as late as this last weekend, business people were telling me that they would not be able to keep the same workforce that they had - they would be cutting back. The ma and pa lodges, which work tremendous hours on their own, to be saddled with that piece of legislation would have just been the straw that broke the camels back.
The Member for McIntyre-Takhini made a statement, and took great issue, that there were many reasons that they could not get this legislation proclaimed in the four months prior to the election. They had to get a communication strategy. They had to get regulations in place. They had to educate the employers as to how this would affect them. All of these things were valid reasons for not proclaiming this legislation.
They found time to proclaim part of the Good Government Act, which they thought would help them win the election. They did not have any difficulty in finding time for that. I say that, if they believed so sincerely in this legislation, their party, which professes to be the defender of the worker, abandoned those workers for political reasons. They felt it would be controversial for them to proclaim it right before an election. So, for self-serving interests, they failed to proclaim it.
The Member for McIntyre-Takhini talked about why they could not proclaim this legislation, yet every one of those reasons went out the window when they lost the election. All of the sudden it was quite all right to take it over to the Commissioners office and have the legislation proclaimed.
I am not going to get into the legislation, but I do want to speak to section 50, because that is a section that would have serious ramifications for many small businesses in the Yukon. I will use one example and the Member for Faro should be quite familiar with this, seeing how he worked as a guide for a short period of time.
Let us take an outfitter who hires a guide and flies him into the bush. The outfitter has to pay the charter to get him in and out; that is the law. The guide works for a week and then decides to leave, and the outfitter cannot hold back that weeks wages to help defer some of those charter costs? Is the side opposite saying that is fair and equitable legislation?
The fact remains that they did not proclaim the legislation for political reasons, and we will be bringing in legislation that will be fair and equitable for the workers.
We know that we have to have a safety net for the workers; we know that and the workers are entitled to it.
This piece of legislation would have put the collective bargaining system out of operation. It would have exceeded collective bargaining in some cases, and if not, why did they want to apply it to the public service when they already have a collective bargaining system in place?
We will be bringing in legislation that will be fair and equitable and I looking forward to debating that legislation.
Speaker: If the Minister now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I did feel that a few comments were necessary at this point in time in response to some of the speeches from the side opposite.
I would like to begin by congratulating the Member for Riverside for a very good, constructive speech, with good points.
I did disagree with a couple of things. He suggested we were not being consistent in taking this approach now, but if he goes through the entire debate he will realize that the Official Opposition in 1992 tried to pass quite a number of amendments, which were rejected by the government of the day. The support that was given was certainly reserved and not without some regrets, because we certainly did not feel the bill was the best possible in the circumstances.
He is quite right; the Member for Riverdale South has been totally consistent in being opposed to the bill we are now repealing and she certainly did have the courage of her convictions when she voted.
I would also say to the Member for Whitehorse Centre that, although I did not agree with much of what she had to say, I was certainly surprised by her ability to go on for such a long period of time and only repeat herself three or four times in that long speech.
One thing that I do know is that she sincerely believes in what she said and that her feelings are honestly held. I do disagree with some of the things she said, as is quite clear. She opposes this bill and I support it.
I would point out that at one point quite early on in her speech, she suggested we should simply leave the bill where it is - in the Commissioners office - and not have it proclaimed, and what was wrong with that? There was also, of course, the suggestion of a lengthy filibuster, and I know we are not through Committee of the Whole, and that may take some time with respect to this bill, but I suggest to her that our coming forward with positive amendments for the good of those workers who are covered by the bill - not the controversial ones, which were not the majority of the amendments that were contained in the bill we are repealing, but the non-controversial ones - surely, logically, she would have to agree that, with us getting on with that job this spring once this bill is repealed, we will be doing something that will be good for those very people she herself was trying to assist in the work she did by amending the employment standards bill.
I would respectfully submit that delay, filibuster, and the other tactics we are seeing is surely not in the interests of those workers. We have clearly said that we are prepared to come forward with non-controversial amendments. We are prepared to come forward with amendments that will raise the safety net for these workers, but we are not prepared to come forward with the very controversial amendments.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am asked which ones. As I have already said, I will take a package to Cabinet, upon this bill being passed, and we will be drafting a bill fairly quickly thereafter.
At this point, I am certainly not going to discuss the nature of the document I will be taking to Cabinet or where I am going with respect to any of the individual amendments. That is simply the position we take.
I must say that, in a strange way, I was somewhat saddened by the speech that was made by the Leader of the Official Opposition. He came forward with a fairly vitriolic personal attack on Members on this side and, by inference, on the Liberal Member of this Legislature. Of course, he went after me in a very personal way. If I understood it correctly, I gather from his speech that the Leader of the Official Opposition figures he is like Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela, and I am Hitler.
In his speech, all the wonderful words, such as class struggle and socialist dogma came out. He even brought up my grandfather. I do not have to defend my grandfather, but I can tell the House one thing. One of his very clear principles was that one should judge people by their actions, not by their words. It would be interesting to know what his judgment would be of a person who pretends to be the great parliamentarian of this House, of a person who attacked the new Chair, shortly after he assumed that role, in a very condescending way. He never apologized.
I know what his judgment would be of a person who would attack the officials at the Table who cannot defend themselves, and never apologize; what his judgment would be of a Member of this House who would attack individual Deputy Ministers who are here to assist Ministers during budget debate - attack them personally and never apologize. What would his judgment be of a Member who would attack the Speaker in a very personal way and never apologize?
I wonder - and I can guess - what my grandfathers judgment would be of a person who, despite all of his glowing words about the poor workers and how they ought to be treated with dignity and respect - is renowned for his bullying of officials throughout the government, an individual who called down deputies in front of other deputies in public places. I can pretty well say that I do not think the judgment of my grandfather would be one that would please that particular person.
It has been said in this House that we should somehow have our officials respond to any questions of Opposition MLAs. It has been said in this House that I refused a general briefing to the Leader of the Official Opposition on Health and the Energy Corporation, and that is true. I feel that it is my role to protect officials who are afraid of that person, who do not want to be bullied by him, officials who know that he would take advantage and not ask only factual questions. The people in the bureaucracy know him and know what his reputation is. He wanted the briefing despite the fact that he was the Minister responsible for Health for a period of time. He was the Minister of the Yukon Development Corporation for a period of time.
It has been said in this House by the Member for Whitehorse Centre that she is pleased that I have no problem or difficulty with her approaching officials in the Department of Justice. I have no problem, because I know she will not try to take advantage of those people. I know that I do not have to be there to protect them from being placed in a compromising position. I have no difficulty with her doing that, because I know that she will not take advantage.
I cannot say that about the Leader of the Official Opposition.
If you are a lawyer and you talk to another lawyers client directly, whom you have a lawsuit against, you can be disbarred; it is a breach of ethics. Why? Obviously, because you could take advantage of that persons client behind his back and the same analogy, in my respectful view - respectful of some on the side opposite - not all - not the kibitzer over there - applies to the role of politicians.
Politicians should be asking questions of the Ministers; they should not be trying to place the officials in a position where they have to talk about policies and defend those policies. That is simply reasonable, fair play.
The Government Leader has clearly stated that it is our position that facts can be answered by officials, directly to politicians or their assistants. That is the policy that we have. Apparently, it is not clear to some officials, but we will make sure that it is clear.
The actions of the person with all of the wonderful principles, who personally attacked me and other Members on this side, in a vitriolic way, certainly do not bear out his words.
I sometimes get the impression of the NDP as the hollow men in a poem. I get the impression of Don Quixotes racing around to find windmills to tilt at. After eight years, the previous administration finally came through with some legislation on employment standards and could not be bothered to ensure that it was made into law before the election was called.
There is no way in the world that they can justify this to the people out there. I have talked to solid NDP supporters who laugh that they could not find their way a half block from here to the Commissioners office to get the act proclaimed.
We intend to come forward with fair legislation. We have been asked about a lengthy process, consultation of all parties, and in my view that will not be necessary.
We have all the stuff that has gone on before; we can look at the bill being repealed, look at those clauses that are not controversial, and I am sure that we can come forward with a package that will do us for now. Perhaps in a few years, we can go through another consultation process and revamp the act once again. I do not think that is necessary now. What is necessary now is to get this bill through, bring in the amendments that are clearly necessary, that will be of benefit to the people who work and who do not have the protection of collective agreements, but introduce amendments that will not be controversial.
Our intention is to table a bill in first reading, mail it out to all interest groups and not debate it even in principle for at least four or five weeks after tabling it.
I would want to conclude by saying that at least a couple of speeches by the side opposite were constructive and well meaning and I look forward this vote. I know that the passage through Committee of the Whole will be a long, tedious struggle but I believe that this process is the best one and that we can make the necessary amendments, for now, to the Employment Standards Act in a non-controversial and a non-expensive way.
I completely concur with the view expressed by the Member for Riverside that this is not a class struggle. The bill has to be one that enhances the employers position and the employees position. It is not simply them against us. We need the small employers here. We need them desperately. We need the jobs.
When we hear the rhetoric about the poor person who does not make enough to feed their family, I worry about the plight of those people. Most of them do come to our offices. Most of them do collect social assistance to top up their wages. We do have a situation in Whitehorse where we have a large number of service businesses and, unfortunately, the wages in those businesses are extremely low.
That is one of the characteristics of the wage profile in the Yukon. We have some people who make a lot of money, have a double income, work for the government, are employed by unions, and we have a whole bunch of people who are at the opposite end of the scale. That is not good, but it is reality. Those people who are working are at least positioned to take advantage of the next good years that we have here - the next time we move into a boom situation, when we do have some mining and when tourism picks up. They are in better shape than those who are on social assistance and need to be trained and helped through personal crises, or need counselling, or people who have been victims of sexual assault and family violence or people who are in dysfunctional families.
Those jobs - low paying though they may be - are at least there for those people to give them some dignity in the fact that they have a job and do contribute to society.
I, of course, will be supporting this bill and I look forward to the vote.
Some Hon. Members: Agree.
Some Hon. Members: Division.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Mr. Clerk, would you please poll the House.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Agree.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Agree.
Mr. Abel: Agree.
Mr. Millar: Agree.
Mr. Penikett: Disagree.
Mr. McDonald: Disagree.
Ms. Commodore: Disagree.
Mr. Joe: Disagree.
Ms. Moorcroft: Disagree.
Mr. Harding: Disagree.
Mr. Cable: Agree.
Mrs. Firth: Agree.
Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are 10 yea, six nay.
Speaker: I declare the motion carried.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 42 agreed to
Mrs. Firth: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Riverdale South that the House do now adjourn. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Speaker: I believe the disagrees have it.
Speaker: What is your further pleasure?
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?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We will be dealing with Bill No. 12, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1994-94.
Bill No. 12 - First Appropriation Act, 1993-94
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Members will know that, with these estimates, we have reverted to the practice of splitting the mains into two separate budgets. In this case, the capital will be tabled in the fall and the operations and maintenance budget will be tabled in the spring.
We have done this in order to give departments several more months of actual experience under their belts before having to determine their O&M requirements. I am aware that this negates the advantage of tabling the two budgets at the same time. There is no question at all that there is a relationship between capital and O&M, and that capital expenditures drive O&M expenditures. In theory, at any rate, there is therefore merit in discussing the two of them together; however, we feel that the advantage of more accurate O&M budgeting outweighs this consideration, especially since capital expenditures usually drive O&M expenditures in the year after the capital expense is incurred, rather than in the year those capital monies are being spent.
The estimates we are about to debate will provide us with the authority to begin planning next years capital program. This will permit construction to begin early in the spring to make the best use of our short building season.
We intend to spend about $126.2 million for capital purposes in the 1994-95 year. This compares to an estimate of the current years spending of about $112.8 million.
A very large portion of the capital money to be spent in the coming year is recoverable from various sources. The recoverable amount is about $75 million.
If it were not for some very large and unique recoverable items, most notably the Shakwak project and the new Whitehorse General Hospital, our capital spending next year would be much lower.
When all recoveries are deducted from the gross spending for the year, it becomes apparent that the discretionary spending of $51.2 million available to us is only 41 percent of the total capital budget.
It is from this relatively small 41 percent that all of our schools, water and sewer systems, non-recoverable highway projects, and so on, must be financed.
I have spoken at some length about the highlights of this budget in the budget address and therefore I will be very brief in my remarks now.
Over one-half of the expenditures in these estimates are to be incurred by the Department of Community and Transportation Services; $40.2 million of these funds are for highway construction, the bulk of which - $32.4 million - is for the Alaska Highway, which included the Shakwak project monies. The remaining $8 million is for other roads, among which $1 million is for the Campbell Highway, and $1.7 million for the Top of the World Highway are notable.
These expenditures are a wise investment in our economic future and will pay for themselves many times over. Without efficient transportation systems, no economy can be competitive in todays world, and we intend to do our best to ensure that the Yukon is able to face the competitive challenge of the 21st century.
There will be $23.6 million spent on Department of Municipal and Community Affairs items. The Whitehorse and Dawson sewer systems will receive almost $9 million of this sum, while $12.5 million will be spent on land development to ensure an adequate supply of lots in the future.
The Department of Economic Development will spend almost $13.6 million on various economic programs, including $8.5 million for the economic and mineral development agreements. Of the departments spending, almost $7.3 million is recoverable, largely from the agreements I have just mentioned.
More than $6.7 million will be spent by the Department of Education, little of which is recoverable. The single largest project, at $1.6 million, is for the much needed Golden Horn Elementary School expansion.
Government Services requires $5.9 million in the new year for a variety of purposes, including the business incentive policy, data processing systems, equipment, maintenance and property management.
The new Whitehorse General Hospital accounts for 89 percent of the $18 million required by the Department of Health and Social Services.
Justice needs $921,000 for a variety of purposes, including $511,000 for correctional services.
The Department of Renewable Resources is asking for $1.8 million, the bulk of which will be spent on the environment, parks and regional services program, while Tourism will spent $2.3 million in the coming year. More than one-half of the Tourism spending will be for heritage resources and another $400,000 will be for the strategic planning in the form of a major visitor exit survey.
The Yukon Housing Corporation requires almost $11.6 million for 1994-95. The bulk of this spending by the corporation is for the home repair and home ownership programs, the majority of which is recoverable.
There are, of course, numerous worthy initiatives contained in these estimates that I have not spoken of here; however, I expect we will have ample opportunity to debate their merits in the line-by-line debate.
When this budget is combined with the operation and maintenance estimates, to be tabled in the spring, we will have a balanced budget for the 1994-95 fiscal year. However, this assumes the current financing arrangements with the federal government. Should that government take a unilateral action to limit some, or all, of the transfers to the provinces and territories, there may be some impact upon our grant, and modifications to the capital and operation and maintenance estimates may then be required to maintain a balance between revenues and expenditures.
At this time, according to an article in the Financial Times yesterday, it appears that there are going to be some cuts to the transfer payments to the provinces and territories. We will not know what those will be until the January meeting.
Ministers are prepared to debate their departmental requests in detail during line-by-line debate. In the meantime, if Members have any questions of a more general nature regarding the estimates, I will be pleased to answer them for you.
Mr. McDonald: I have just a few questions for general debate. The bulk of our questions will be put to the Ministers in the departmental estimates. We will be looking for clarifications, and we will probably be expressing some concern about some of the priorities and some of the areas that should have received a higher priority. In any case, our time will come during the next week or so when we get to the various departments.
The Minister indicated that one of the benefits of having the capital budget and the operation and maintenance budget combined is that one can see the operating costs associated with a particular capital program reflected in the operations budget. He pointed out that much of the operating cost would be borne in future years, and not in the same capital year as the capital estimates are spent.
There is another benefit, which is that of the Legislature knowing whether or not the governments projections about a balanced budget in the coming year are true. The concern is that perhaps if a particular level of capital spending is promoted by the government - and this particular budget has a net increase of $8 million in capital spending - the impact on the operations budget will be known, both in terms of the overall budget and also in terms of changes to the operations budget that would be necessitated if the capital budget were higher than usual.
Given that this capital budget is projecting $8 million more than the current year capital budget, can the Minister tell us what the impact is going to be on the total operations budget, given that he seems to be aware of what his revenue sources are?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have to get the numbers added up. We do have a good idea of what the operation and maintenance will be, based on the revenues that are projected at this point. We have taken into consideration the fact that the operation and maintenance will not be coming until spring, and we believe that we have been conservative enough in the capital budget that we will be able to have a balanced budget. We will probably table those numbers in the House tomorrow.
Mr. McDonald: That would be helpful. In the event that we support projects in the capital budget, we do not want someone to come along in the spring and suggest that our support for capital estimates in December meant that we were supporting cuts in certain operation spending in the spring. After all, we had a balanced budget, and we did not have a significant change in revenues.
Can the Minister tell us, particularly with respect to revenue sources, what he projects revenue sources to be, by category, for the coming year, by way of local taxation, local revenue sources, and the federal transfer?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: From the formula grant, we are expecting $282,347,000. On revenues and recoveries, subject to adjustment, we are expecting another $25,942,000. On income tax, we expect $31,285,000. On the unadjusted items, transfers from the Government of Canada would be $25,678,000, with $300,000 on unadjusted revenues and recoveries. Other revenues and recoveries would be $4.7 million.
Incremental tax rate increases would be $1,737,000, and the capital recoveries would be $74,997,000, for a total of $446,986,000, which would be about a 3.6 percent increase over last year.
Mr. McDonald: I do not have a calculator with me, but does the $446 million minus $129 million result in a $317 million operations budget?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Not necessarily, because this calculation excludes certain revenue recoveries that are outside the formula financing calculations. We will get the figure for the Member on the calculated O&M. I will bring it back to the House tomorrow.
Mr. McDonald: Will the Minister tell us at least what the gross O&M budget will be, according to their budget calculations, tomorrow? Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We will bring back the estimate that we have; it is subject to the transfer payments being based on the best estimates that we have today.
Mr. McDonald: I will take the opportunity between today and tomorrow to go over the Ministers figures that he listed for revenues and recoveries. I may ask some questions at that time about what the projections are for changes in the expected revenues and recoveries for the government. I have not had a chance to study those as they are not detailed in the capital estimates. It will take awhile for me to digest that information.
I would like to ask him a general question about land inventory, which has been raised in this Legislature in the past. We have dealt with it from a functional level, in dealing with the departmental Minister. But there are other issues associated with land inventory, other than having a certain amount of land held in inventory to meet certain needs. There are costs associated with that.
The Minister sent us a list of answers to some budget questions that were put in the budget lock-up. In calculating the land inventory, he indicated that if this budget was passed and the land program proceeded as expected the land inventory would be in the $20 million range. The answer went on to say that there was no cost or benefit to the government associated with the land inventory, and that the interest income associated with the funding that could have been held in the bank was simply returned to the federal government, as per the negotiated arrangement. Is he saying that that is the case?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Basically, that is correct. However, if we tie some monies up in land, we do not have the compensating balances in the bank, so we are then faced with some overdraft charges. Other than that, it is basically correct.
Mr. McDonald: Is he saying there is no benefit to having cash in the bank, as opposed to the same value of land held in inventory? Is that right?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, not at all. What I said is that, because of that, we would have to pay bank interest and banking charges, which we would not have to if we had the cash sitting in the bank.
Mr. McDonald: Because the statement was said so boldly, I was under some impression that conditions had changed. I will not pursue the matter further. I just wanted to clarify my understanding of what I understood the arrangements to be in the past.
One of the things that came up in the main estimates for the capital spending for this year was that there was some considerable talk about the budget being appropriate for the economic times the government faced, as of last May, I guess. The feeling at the time was that it was a jobs budget, that it would create lots of work and, at the time we were discussing it at least, there did not seem to be any need to rearrange it or make it into a jobs budget.
The Minister knows that, in September, efforts were made to make the budget that we had thought was a jobs budget into a jobs budget for the winter. It left the impression that, somehow, the conditions for the winter had not been anticipated in the main estimates, and there was a need to go through some special process. The process through which the government chose to rearrange the budget was the committee of four government members and four private sector members.
Is the Government Leader saying now, based on his knowledge of the economy over the course of the next fiscal year, that this budget is the final budget, the budget for our times, and a jobs budget, or is he anticipating that there will be some rearrangements made through some sort of special process outside this Legislature to make it into a jobs budget for the next winter?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would have to disagree with the Members interpretation of the 1993-94 capital budget and the special committee that was put together for job creation this winter.
We believe that the 1993-94 budget worked well. It put a lot of people to work in the Yukon. It took the unemployment rate from in excess of 17 percent - I am not saying the budget accomplished it all, and I have said that before in this House - down to about 10 percent in August. We believe it worked.
We advanced some of the projects from this year, as we would be showing them in this budget anyway. We found whatever money we could out of the O&M side of government in order to put people to work over the winter months. What is the difference? The difference was that when the capital budget was being put together last year, it was anticipated that Curragh would be back in operation in July or the fall. That did not happen. The Member opposite, as well as every Member in this House, knows that it is not an unnatural phenomenon that unemployment in the Yukon goes up during the winter. We thought it was incumbent upon us in government to take whatever actions we could to find whatever loose dollars there were around. We delayed some of the spending that was going to be spent on computers or furniture, or whatever, and directed departments to get along without them for the rest of this fiscal year, so that we could direct the money into more job creation activities for the winter. I believe that the committee that we put together, which the Members opposite like to call the blue ribbon committee - and I commend them for calling it that, because that is what it was - did a tremendous job for us.
I can assure the Members opposite that several members on that committee have written me letters of thanks for asking for their input. They felt really fulfilled by doing this, and they did not get any pay from government for it. They were not paid for it - they did this to help out, and they did a very good job. That committee is now being disbanded, and their reports are being turned over to the Council on the Economy and the Environment.
Considering the time, Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 12, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1994-95, and directed me to report progress on same.
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.
Mr. Penikett: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Leader of the Official Opposition that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:28 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled December 8, 1993:
Environment Ministers meetings in November, 1993, in Saskatoon: news releases related to discussions and decisions (Brewster)
The following Legislative Returns were tabled December 8, 1993:
Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board: personnel issues responsibility of president (Brewster)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1486
Land registry system (Fisher)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 1442 and 1463
Highway construction projects: reasons for surplus in 1993-94; discrepancy between contract list amounts and payment amounts (Fisher)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 1456
Two Mile Hill bicycle path: explanation of design (Fisher)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 1456-1457
Property appraisals: use of private sector appraisers (Fisher)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1463
Marwell tar pit pilot project (Fisher)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 1464