Tuesday, December 21, 1993 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will begin with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I have a couple of documents for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
INTRODUCTION OF BILLS
Bill No. 103: Introduction and First Reading
Mr. Abel: I move that Bill No. 103, entitled An Act to Amend the Interpretation Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Vuntut Gwichin that Bill No. 103, entitled An Act to Amend the Interpretation Act, be now introduced and read a first time.
Motion for introduction and first reading of Bill No. 103 agreed to
Speaker: Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Notices of Motion.
Statements by Ministers.
Hospital construction: design to be changed
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I rise today to inform the Legislature that this government has found it necessary to make fundamental changes to the design of the new Whitehorse General Hospital. Over the course of the last few months, as we looked closely at this project, some warning signals began to appear. We called upon the advice of experts in the field from the B.C. Ministry of Health, Alberta Public Works and an expert hospital project manager. Their reviews all recommended against the current hospital design. We also received the hospital operational review and realized that a properly designed facility could make changes to effect cost savings and efficiencies.
The 1987 functional space program, which the present design is based on, was developed using previously accepted philosophies and practices in health care. It did not reflect the fiscal realities of the 1990s, nor new innovative trends in health care delivery that have emerged over the past few years. We were warned against building a facility that would be outdated the day the doors opened.
This government was faced with two choices: either ignore the current strong advice of experts and proceed with the original planned design, or update our approach incorporating current fiscal realities and health care concepts and design a hospital for the future. We made the responsible choice and will be proceeding with a redesign of the hospital.
Some preliminary design concepts have already been explored, which will have many benefits. They include, for example, changes that will result in cost effectiveness and efficiencies, increased flexibility for future program and service changes, more emphasis on, and better accommodation of, community based services, potential space for non-hospital community health services, better use of existing structures and a structurally less complicated facility. We will also be looking closely at rationalizing costs between the new hospital and the Thomson Centre.
I want to assure the Members of the Legislature of the following: one - this change will not impact the work schedule to begin next fiscal year. Work may actually begin sooner than previously anticipated; two - the total budget for this project has not changed, redesign work will be accommodated within the existing budget, and the hospital will open as scheduled in the fiscal year 1996-97; three - functional design work based on new concepts will begin in January 1994.
The redesign of the Whitehorse General Hospital provides an opportunity to build a facility for the future that reflects current health care delivery trends, which achieves a careful and responsible balance between the capital costs and the ongoing operational costs and accommodates the future needs of the community.
I believe very strongly that this is the right decision for the people of the Yukon.
Mr. Penikett: I thank the Minister of Health for his statement today and would note that, of course, we have many concerns about the statement and its implications for the hospital project. It is a matter of record that a large number of questions about the design have been asked over the last few months and, indeed, many questions were asked during the last sitting of the Legislature. We note also that a year ago the Minister indicated that he was doing a complete review of the hospital project and implied a review of the design as well. We note also that as recently as a couple of months ago, senior officials in the department were still publicly defending the current design model.
The Ministers announcement today will raise a number of questions about who will absorb the extra architectural fees and costs, which are in the millions. We will, of course, have many questions about the exact impact of this new design on the operating costs. We will have questions about the impact on the construction program and the construction season next year and the possibility of increasing the content of local labour and local materials as a result of the redesign.
Some of these questions will no doubt be answered tomorrow in the detailed briefing the Minister has offered to Opposition politicians and we appreciate that opportunity.
It is said that North Americans spend weeks planning projects, months building them and years fixing them. It is claimed that the Japanese spend years planning things, months building them and relatively little time fixing them. I am all for learning from the experience of people elsewhere in the world and I would want to go on the record as saying that, if there are serious flaws in the design and the concept of this facility, I would rather see them fixed now than later.
I look forward to not only asking more questions of the Minister, but also taking advantage of the detailed briefing we have been offered tomorrow.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I thank the Leader of the Official Opposition for his comments. I anticipate many questions about this and, of course, some heat. I do believe that it is a decision made in the best interest of Yukoners, if not for me.
Speaker: This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital, design changes
Mr. Penikett: On the same subject, the Ministers statement makes reference to new thinking and new concepts with respect to hospital design. I wonder if I could ask him to indicate with some precision to the House exactly who was consulted before making the decision he has made today. Was the Yukon Medical Association included in the consultation? Was hospital staff, user groups or First Nations? Could he indicate what people were included in the circle of discussion on this question before he and Cabinet made this decision?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Aside from the experts, which were referred to in the ministerial statement, which includes a firm in B.C. that is an expert on programming and functional design, as well as the people from ministries in both B.C. and Alberta, we made the decision in principle yesterday morning that upon discussing it with, and receiving concurrence from, the hospital board people, which includes representation from YMA, among others, and the CYI, we would proceed with this announcement. Prior to my meeting with the critic, the Leader of the Liberal Party and the Independent Member for Riverdale South, those were the groups we met with and from whom we had concurrence.
The clients in the project are the hospital board and CYI. Their support was necessary before making this statement.
Mr. Penikett: As recently as a few weeks ago, the Ministers deputy and other senior officials were in public defending the previous design and, indeed, the projected operating costs.
I would like to ask the Minister a general question. Can he give us a little more information about what alarms went off - the words he used in his statement - and does he intend to table in this House copies of the hospital operational review and the report of the British Columbia Department of Health and Alberta Public Works officials to which he has alluded?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: With respect to tabling the reports, I will have to take that under advisement. I am not exactly sure under what conditions that assistance was given, but I would say that both jurisdictions, in a completely non-partisan way, lent their support to this jurisdiction.
I guess the first signal I received was some concern from the newly appointed board, who were given a lot of briefing and did meet with counterparts from similar entities from western Canada. They were concerned about the design. They advised me that the current trends had changed somewhat, and that they had some doubts about the efficacy about the hospital design. The board took over the operation of the existing hospital on April 1. We had people from the B.C. ministry come up and do an operational review of the existing hospital. They raised certain issues that set off some alarm bells, as well.
We were also hearing that we did not have sufficient expertise within government to be pursuing the hospital project without some help. My ministry asked for one of the senior people in the department in B.C. to come up, have a look and to give us some advice. He was concerned. He was an architect who works for the B.C. government on hospitals.
As a result of those things all coming together, a couple of months ago, I guess, we put out for competition the job of project manager -
Speaker: I would ask the Minister to conclude his answer and perhaps allow the Leader of the Official Opposition to ask more and specific questions.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Once the new position was filled, we moved much more quickly to try to verify the concerns.
Mr. Penikett: Checking the record this morning, I discovered that a year ago the Minister was telling this House that he was doing a detailed function and review of the design and transfer agreements, and he consequently used that as justification for a delay in the hospital construction.
Can he indicate to the House why that detailed review did not indicate any of the problems that the Member has told the House today have now come to light?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I can indicate, I guess, what I think occurred. I think that, first of all, the review was focused on the hospital, among other things. The entire, very complex arrangements of the transfer itself were being questioned. That is a very detailed subject matter with three fully signed agreements and lots of players. I was assured at that point that the hospital design was very functional and so on.
I will be the first to admit that I do not know very much about hospitals - at least how to run them. The time frame of the window of opportunity to go or not go with phase 1 of the health transfer was very limited. We made that decision to go ahead. The previous kind of expertise that had been utilized from the federal government and earlier dated to as far back as 1987 when we used Billington and Associates in B.C.
One thing that has changed rather rapidly is the design of hospitals and the way in which they are utilized. The bottom line is that we were wrong to make that decision.
Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital, design changes
Mr. McDonald: I hesitate to ask the same Minister another question on the same subject. I will test my luck. The Minister indicated over a year ago that the hospital construction was on schedule. He confirmed that belief by inserting $13 million into the 1993-94 capital budget.
He made a very firm commitment in the ministerial statement that the schedule is still to be respected and that the budget will not change. Can he tell us what information he has that will cause us to feel comfortable with the latest reassurances on that point?
Speaker: I would ask the Minister of Health and Social Services to be brief and the Member can follow up for clarification with supplementaries and a new question if need be.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I would suggest that the answer can be explained in some detail by people who know what they are talking about in the briefing tomorrow. I invite the Member to attend that. The best advice we can get from the best people is that we can proceed on schedule and the spending profile will be very close to what was originally contemplated.
Mr. McDonald: I will take the Minister up on that offer to go to the briefing. I would point out to him that it is his words on the table that we are referring to and, ultimately, it will be his word that we respect.
Can the Minister tell us what is expected to happen with the operating costs as a result of the design change? Can the Minister commit that the funding for the hospital, and that the operating costs for the newly designed hospital, will be the same as they are now, will they be less, or will they at least be within the amount that was transferred by the federal government for this purpose?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The amount that we received from the federal government, which was rolled into the base, was more than sufficient to run the hospital that we were giving up. We anticipate a significant improvement in operation and maintenance costs as a result of making these changes, and that is the driving reason behind it. That is not to say that one can ever be complacent with respect to lump-sum funding, that is rolled into ones base, as was the case with the phase 1 transfer money because, all across Canada, costs are going up more quickly than inflation. We feel that we are in better shape doing this than we would have been with the old design.
Mr. McDonald: I will explore that later, but I do have one other important question that has been current in peoples minds in the last couple of months.
Construction trades people have expressed a concern about the employment potential from the existing hospital design.
Can the Minister tell us whether the new design will take into account the maximization of local labour, and whether the Minister or his department will be discussing the potential for maximizing local materials and local labour with trades people and the construction industry?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: This is certainly a consideration; however, I would like the hon. Member to understand that we are talking about high technology construction and the need for top quality, high-tech components in the frame and the building. A certain amount of expertise will have to be brought in from outside of the territory.
Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital, design changes
Mr. Cable: I have some further questions for the Minister on the hospital redesign.
The ministerial statement indicates that the functional design work based on new concepts will begin in January of 1994. Would the Minister indicate the target date for the completion of this functional design work?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are essentially talking about the same programming and so on in the new design, so a lot of work has been done with the user groups and so on and it will be built upon. It is not entirely lost to us. The preliminary target date will be about two months of work, but it will be ongoing after that. Upon two months of work, though, we should be able to proceed with the shell of a portion of the building, and of course this will be explained more fully in the briefing tomorrow.
Mr. Cable: The Ministers statement also indicates that some preliminary design concepts have been explored. Is the Minister comfortable with the fact that functional design work will begin in January, which of course is just a couple of weeks away, when I assume we are not past the preliminary design concept in some areas of the hospital design?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am not very comfortable with the fact that I have to stand here and make this announcement, but I have a great deal of confidence in the expertise we have brought in over the course of the last three months or so. I have to rely to a large extent on that expertise. They seem comfortable.
Mr. Cable: I have another point from the ministerial statement. The Minister indicates that the 1987 functional space program was developed using previously accepted philosophies. That is couched in fairly general words. Could the Minister indicate what these previously accepted philosophies or practices were that he is now about to change?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: If we could have unanimous consent to extend the Question Period, I could fully answer that, or attempt to.
The entire thinking around hospitals has changed. It is a move toward flexibility rather than compartmentalized care. This particular concept, the new concept, is a concept that is on the leading edge of modern thinking. A change in hospital design has taken place, I am told, in the past three or four years. What we are doing right now is in keeping with the trends, which are well established in at least the western provinces.
Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital, design changes
Mrs. Firth: I would like to follow up with the Minister with some questions about the Whitehorse General Hospital changes - specifically, regarding a concern I have about an issue I raised some time ago about Macaulay Lodge.
I understand from the Ministers announcement today that a portion of the Thomson Centre is going to be used for hospital clients. Our concern was the shortage of beds for seniors, particularly at Macaulay, and now that will be compounded by this new process.
Can the Minister tell us how the use of those beds for active hospital patients is going to impact on the availability of beds for seniors?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Firstly, early on in the program - commencing very early in January - we will be adding 14 beds to the Thomson Centre in what is known as the shelled-in area. That leaves, then, a total of 31 beds that would be available for decanting some surgical patients into the Thomson Centre, and for any future increase in the need for beds by seniors that would not be exclusively in the hospital, but would normally be in the Thomson Centre. In addition, we are adding eight beds to Macaulay Lodge. That decision has been made, and it is hoped that that will be done by the end of January.
Beyond that, there is always the issue of whether or not there will be enough beds in total. That is something that our crystal balls are not clear enough to forecast beyond the next couple of years. If there is a shortage for some reason, we are going to have to deal with it in the interim.
Mrs. Firth: That is good to hear. I will make the announcement that the eight beds at Macaulay Lodge are going to be opened. We thank the Minister for that.
With this obvious concern that has come forward - and I know there will be many others - can the Minister outline for us now what his plan for this initiative is. The Opposition Members are going to have a briefing tomorrow; that is the first step. The medical community is currently being briefed by the board or his department officials, or whoever. Would the Minister tell us, in a brief way, what happens next.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There will be some immediate construction taking place at the Thomson Centre, beginning with the addition of 14 beds in the shelled-in area. There will be some additional construction in the hospital that will pave the way for the removal of two wings from the hospital to make more space for the new buildings that will form the core of the new hospital. Those new buildings should be under construction by the summer.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister has indicated that these projects would be ready to go out by the summer. Are the tenders presently being worked on then? Has this process already been put into place? I see the Minister is shaking his head, indicating no. Could he tell us who will be involved in the tenders being put together? Is his department going to handle this, or will it go to the Department of Government Services? I am just trying to establish some lay of the land about what is going to happen.
Speaker: The lay of the land, but briefly. The Minister of Health and Social Services.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We have a new project manager who will be working closely with Rockcliff Associates, who are the architects who have been involved for some time now. The work will be proceeding. We will be in a position to have contract documents - detailed design - for the shelled-in buildings to go out for tender so that the work can begin on the new permanent buildings by July, it is estimated.
Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital, design changes
Mr. Penikett: Obviously, if we are going to have jobs on this major building project for the next construction season, time is of the essence. I want to ask the Minister if he would give an undertaking that, before the new design is finalized, he will be consulting with the construction industry and the building trades about the possibilities of maximizing local labour and local materials, as I understand that with the new low profile design he is proposing, the use of structural steel will be less of an imperative.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Certainly that will be part of the work to be done in the next few months. There is no question in my mind that the new building style lends itself to more work and contracts being let to Yukon firms.
Without pretending to be an expert in this field, I really do believe that there will be more jobs for Yukoners.
Mr. Penikett: Just for the record, I wonder if the Minister could indicate to the House if it is his intention to continue to use the same architect that he did on the previous design, and if he, as yet, has any estimate of the redesign costs.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The answer is, yes, we will be using the same architect. One of the problems with the other building was that it was limited by its footprint - where it could be built on the lot. A lot of the problems with that design stem from that issue. With respect to the architectural costs, they are certainly taken into account in the estimates we have that say that this building will come in under $47 million. As for the actual monies, I would rather we had more refined figures to give to the Member.
Mr. Penikett: I think the Minister will understand that we may wish to raise some questions of accountability down the road on that score and perhaps his capital estimates will provide us with an opportunity to do that.
In his statement today, he said that there were more than sufficient dollars in the transfer to cover the costs of operating the hospital. He also has raised the tantalizing possibility of integration with the Thomson Centre.
Could the Minister indicate to the House if, at this moment, funds from the hospital transfer are being used to any extent to cover the operating costs of the Thomson Centre, about which the Minister had previously expressed some concern?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: No, those funds are rolled into the base. The issue of funding for the Thompson Centre is a separate issue. We are in discussions with DIAND with respect to the kind of fiscal arrangements that can be made for status Indian people being in that facility as well as the other seniors care home such as Macaulay.
Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital, design changes
Mr. Penikett: I want to pursue the same issue. If, as the Minister indicates, there is some possibility that the operations of the Thomson Centre and the hospital will be integrated down the road, something that may be necessary simply by the fact of occupying part of Thomson Centre for hospital services, I would like to know whether that has any implications for the hospital transfer arrangements, given that some of us were told on the day of the announcement of the opening of the Thomson Centre that hospital transfer funds were being used to cover some of the operating costs at the Thomson Centre?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am not aware of that. I will check it out for the budget debate. It is important that the two be treated as separate institutions with respect to the kinds of funding that one can get from the federal government, and to treat them as one entity would be folly in terms of those ongoing negotiations and relationship because we are talking about funding for different envelopes on the federal side.
We are concerned that we conclude negotiations with the federal government, one hopes with some money rolled into our base regarding our care in institutions such as the Thomson Centre for people covered by DIAND - status Indian people. There is some sensitivity in regard to how we treat the two centres from that perspective.
Mr. Penikett: I think no one on this side has any problem with the notion that they might have common heating, mechanical, electrical and nutritional services, but there are many people in the social policy field who believe, as a matter of good government, the extended care facility should not be operated the same way as a hospital is. Because the Minister has raised this possibility, I want to ask what consultation will he commit to prior to a decision about integrating the operations, perhaps even to the point of having a common board between the extended care and the hospital facility. These are questions that I am sure he will understand will arise from the announcement today.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Clearly, there will have to be consultation with the user groups and the people who work in the facilities, and so on. That will take place before any kind of decision is made. On the other hand, surely the Member recognizes that because we will be moving, on a temporary basis, some patients into the Thomson Centre, the need for working closely together in a compatible way is certainly heightened from what it was, were we not to be moving some patients from the hospital when the beds are available in the Thomson Centre.
The Member does mention that there are a lot of common services now, including the use of the kitchen and the heat, and so on, and that will be ongoing, but I think it makes sense that there be a lot of coordination between the two, and certainly that has been asked for by the medical community, in the past.
Mr. Penikett: I am sure all Members on this side of the House are mindful of the importance of the construction jobs on this project in the coming season. I want to ask the Minister if he has any concern or apprehension, at all, about a rush to judgment on a new design and the potential for compounding some conceptual error that may have existed in the old design. Is he at all concerned about the time frame between now and the beginning of the construction season and the commitment to have to have a new design in that short space of time?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I doubt it would be possible to be much more concerned than I am. I recognize the potential danger here, and that is why we have been moving to get as much advice as possible from available experts. I have a great deal of confidence in the people we have been leaning so heavily on, but there is no question at all that there is an element of risk that we have to shoulder, for the betterment of Yukoners. Were it possible to delay, that would be preferable, but it is not possible in the current climate.
Question re: Yukon College budget
Ms. Moorcroft: Last night the Minister stated that his officials would be meeting with Yukon College to go over the college budget in January.
The Minister must know that the college board is not happy with the $300,000 capital grant to cover their significant needs for computers, for replacing old equipment and for community campus renovations.
Why did the Minister of Education not take the trouble to meet with Yukon College before putting together the capital budget?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: My officials meet with the college board on an ongoing basis, and sometimes, I guess, as often as once a month. It is a normal practice for the Minister to meet with the board a couple of times throughout the year. I was invited to a board meeting in Dawson City a few weeks ago, but I was unable to attend that meeting and I have given them a commitment that I will attend a board meeting either in January or February.
Ms. Moorcroft: Last night the Minister indicated the reverse of the answer he has just given us, and he was unable to answer questions about what the college priorities would be for the $300,000 capital grant. Given that this government has $1 million to spend on a liquor store in Watson Lake, how did the Minister arrive at a figure of $300,000 for Yukon College, Ayamdigut Campus, and the 13 community campuses?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: All government departments, including Yukon College, an autonomous part of the government, were asked to shoulder some of the responsibility to reduce the deficit. The college was reduced by $100,000 the year before last and we maintained the budget at $300,000 this year.
Yukon College has $725,000 of funds that they can draw from in a savings account, if they wish to use that money in other places.
Ms. Moorcroft: At a time of rising unemployment, people need education. Smart governments are investing more resources into education. Many unemployed workers are retraining or furthering their education to help them find jobs. Why is Yukon College such a low priority for the present Minister of Education?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will bring some facts and figures back for the Member, but I believe, for the number of students who are in Yukon College and the $10 million grant we give Yukon College, this is one of the most heavily government-funded colleges in the country at the present time, and we do not have to apologize for that. The previous government set that level, and we have continued with it for the most part, with a small reduction in the budget. However, even with the reduction, it is one of the most heavily funded colleges in the country.
Question re: Yukon Lotteries Commission
Ms. Moorcroft: My question is for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services regarding the Yukon Lotteries Commission. In September of this year, the sport and recreation branch of his department released a discussion paper on sport and recreation in the Yukon. The department recommendation was to maintain current funding structures. The Minister must be aware that there is a delicate balance - some might say imbalance - between the interests of the arts and sports communities funded by the Yukon Lotteries Commission and the Yukon Recreation Advisory Council.
Is the Minister aware of the considerable impact of altering the balance between arts, sports and recreation funding in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I am.
Ms. Moorcroft: Lottery revenues are down, and now community recreation groups will be sent to the Yukon Lotteries Commission for funding, which will certainly curtail the communitys ability to fund valuable community projects. It will also reduce the amount of money available to sports and arts groups.
How is the Minister planning to support the dozens of community groups that will be competing for a limited pool of resources?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: If the funding is reduced, as the Member has indicated, I would expect that generally, across the board, funding would have to be reduced. We, being the Yukon government, have reduced in many areas, and if there are fewer lottery sales, so there will be less revenue, then I would expect that some of the community groups may also have to repriorize their budgets.
Ms. Moorcroft: Regardless of what the Government Leader might say in the House, it seems if we want details, they are changing their mind, or denying their plans, or there is a big befuddlement over there.
Are there any plans to consult with user groups before the government overhauls the community development fund, Yukon Lotteries, YRAC arts and YRAC sports? Are there any plans to even inform these groups of what is happening before the next application deadline is upon us?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The sports section of Community and Transportation Services is currently beginning a consultation process with all community groups.
Question re: Curragh employees, wages owing
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Justice.
Court documents filed in Toronto on Friday regarding the Curragh insolvency situation indicate that the interim receiver, who has appealed former employee wage claims, would make a decision about these appeals on or before December 20, which was yesterday. What is their decision, and how will justice proceed from here?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have not been fully briefed on that issue yet. I will have to get back to the Member in a legislative return tomorrow.
Mr. Harding: This is a matter of great importance. It involves about $2.4 million of outstanding wage claims by former Curragh employees. I have been through this before with this government. When is the Minister going to get fully briefed? When he does get fully briefed, can he give me a full and detailed report on elements of the governments attempts to resolve these claims?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, my understanding is that the discussions in the courts were regarding about $300,000 at this point. I will make sure the Member gets a full briefing on it. Perhaps I could even have one of our officials brief him.
Question re: Faro, sale of mine
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the same Minister. I guess I will have to wait for my briefing on the previous question.
I want to ask the Minister a question about an important problem that is leading to the stalling of the sale of the Faro mine. Buyers have been saying that, until they know what the territorial and federal governments are prepared to do for the mine, they are not prepared to make an offer. The Government of the Yukon is saying that buyers must put in an offer to purchase before they will sit down and discuss what the Yukon government is prepared to do.
Instead of playing chicken with the buyers, will the government declare a blanket, initial negotiating position to facilitate the sale of the mine?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The prospective buyers are very aware of our position on the various issues and, as far as making any monetary commitments regarding haul rates, they would have to take place after the sale is made, because it could affect the sale price. Practically speaking, we would only be putting more money into the hands of the noteholders, which could increase the sale price.
They are aware of what options are available to them, and they do not seem to be overly concerned about YTGs position. Most conditions hinge on the environmental questions. I realize that, in the court documents, it says that they require more time for discussions, and these will be taking place.
Mr. Harding: The Minister just said that buyers are aware of the governments position. What is the governments position?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, we have had discussions with the receiver and the federal government about the environmental liability. We have indicated to the prospective buyers that we are open to negotiations on energy rates and transportation haul rates.
Mr. Harding: I cannot seem to get a straight answer from the government. Last week in Question Period, on December 16, the Government Leader told me that the Government of Yukon had helped send out over 200 prospectuses to potential buyers of the property. In the court documents filed on Friday, there were 53 sent out.
Can the Minister of Economic Development tell me why this incorrect information was handed out? Also, could the Minister advise me who, within the Yukon government, is heading this push to sell the mine?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The Department of Economic Development is working very closely with the receiver. The Government Leader was referring to something else when he said 200; he meant to say 50. At that time, about 50 interested parties had been sent the company prospectus.
Chair: The time for Question Period has now lapsed.
Notice of Government Private Members Business
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to identify the items standing in the name of the government private Members to be called on Wednesday, December 22, 1993. It is the private Members bill entitled An Act to Amend the Interpretation Act, standing in the name of the Member for Vuntut Gwichin.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Chair: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and 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 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. We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Bill No. 12 - First Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Chair: We are still on general debate. Is there further general debate on Government Services?
Department of Government Services - continued
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have some documents here for distribution. This is on the furniture, photocopier and workstation breakdown.
Mr. McDonald: Every time the Member for Dawson says, Clear, it only urges us to ask more questions and that is why he continues and we continue - bah, humbug. Traditionally there is a contractors briefing conducted by the Department of Government Services, Yukon Housing and other departments. I must have missed it; when did that briefing take place?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Right now we are planning for January 13. I do not remember what the date was last year, but we also had one. It will have to be after the budget clears. If the budget is not cleared by January 13, we would have to delay it until such a time as it is cleared. I believe it was cleared last year in June.
Mr. Harding: I have a few questions for the Minister on the decentralization policy of the government. I know that in the last year when we debated this subject, there was no concrete position taken by the territorial government, other than they would decentralize where they felt it could be done at a cost savings. We had a lot of debate about whether or not an immediate cost savings in any decentralization initiative could be undertaken.
I also noticed in the strategic plan that one of the priorities in the Yukon Partys four-year plan specific to Government Services was the decentralizing of government. Can the Minister tell us what the policy is regarding decentralization?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It still hinges on the fact that it must be proven that it would enhance Government Services and could be done in a cost-effective manner.
In the discussions on the forestry transfer, this has been taken into account. If they should proceed, there will be decentralization of various aspects of some Renewable Resources activities.
Mr. Harding: Enhanced services is not a hard element of the two criteria mentioned. If one puts services closer to a community and decentralize them from Whitehorse, one could probably come up with the statement that services have been enhanced in a particular community. The second part is the cost-effectiveness element. What criteria is being used to evaluate cost effectiveness? Are there any immediate costs that the department is prepared to absorb, or does it have to be determined as a cost-effective initiative right from the start?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, it would be dependent on the funds that are available to a department that is planning some decentralizing. There is still a fair amount of decentralization taking place in more subliminal ways. Health and Social Services, for example, is part of the healthy-communities initiative started by the previous government. Communities are getting more control of their health and social services issues, although I think it is better to address that type of question to the Minister responsible.
The other criterion is that we would not create a position in the community, but if it is a monetary issue, we would want to see a body moved from Whitehorse to a community.
Mr. Penikett: Could the Minister take a moment to explain the subliminal decentralization policy? I have not heard that one before.
Hon. Mr. Devries: That is not the proper term to use, but there is a certain degree of decentralization going on that may not be as obvious to the eye, or where we cannot say a position has been moved from here to there.
There are activities taking place within Health and Social Services and in Justice - when you talk about community justice, it is, in a sense, decentralizing justice services.
Mr. Penikett: That does not sound like decentralization to me, if there is no evidence of decentralization for the eye. Can you hear it or can you touch it? What the Minister is talking about sounds more like devolution, not decentralization. Could the Minister elaborate a bit more?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, it would subject to interpretation, but devolution and decentralization, in a sense, are going in the same direction - more responsibility is being given to the communities and more government positions are being relocated to the communities. In a sense, the two go together.
Mr. Penikett: Perhaps I am wrong and perhaps I have been wrong for years, but I did not think that decentralization did not necessarily involve giving more power to communities but was moving administrative units, or the delivery of programs, closer to the people in the communities - programs delivered by this government, since that is where the focus of the policy was.
Devolution does involve the transfer of power and administrative control of programs from Ottawa to the territory, from Whitehorse to the communities, or perhaps from Ottawa to the First Nations, Whitehorse to First Nations or municipalities.
I do not want to take a lot of time in the House - I know that the Ministers time is precious, too - but perhaps the Minister could provide me with a legislative return explaining this subliminal decentralization. I really do not understand exactly what he is getting at.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I might not have used the correct term. I think the Member knows to what I am referring. In the eyes of the communities, healing circles and community justice are, in a sense, delegating power from the central government to the communities, to a certain degree. That is, in a sense, decentralization. There are net cost savings. I do not want to get into that. If the Members do not agree with me, that is fine. I think the Government Leader has made it very clear in the past that we are still open to decentralization, as long as it can be proven by the department that is making the suggestion that service can be enhanced and delivered in a cost-effective manner. Because of the fiscal restraint that we are under at this time, wholesale decentralization is still on hold.
Mr. Penikett: I would still like to get a further explanation from the Minister. I had understood decentralization to mean movement from the centre outwards, as the word decentralization says - and that meant the decentralization of administrative functions or programs. What the Minister has used in his examples may be community empowerment; they may be devolution; they may even be community or economic development in a community, but I do not think they would fit our definition of decentralization.
Let me pursue this a bit. The Ministers famous strategic plan had decentralization as one of his objectives. Interestingly enough, his colleague, the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, said that decentralization would only be done if there was a net financial benefit for the department or the government. I think that this is the nub of the problem in the difference between the policies of the two departments because the Minister of Government Services is also the Minister of Economic Development.
The real benefit of decentralization, as we understood it, is not to produce a financial gain for the government - we admitted that there were costs associated with it - but to produce an economic benefit for a community. It was, in the best sense of the word, economic development, because it involved decentralizing an expenditure and an activity into a community, in a way that the community could more directly benefit than they could if that same service or function was delivered in Whitehorse.
Surely, though, that activity, as it might be carried out by the Department of Government Services, or sponsored by the Minister of Economic Development, is going to be almost impossible, for if you have the criteria of the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, the government has to make some financial gain or net financial benefit from doing it.
Even doing it the way the NDP was doing it, which was not to move people, but to move positions, and to sometimes have people hired locally who already had homes and did not need to have homes or transportation provided for them, there were still costs.
So, if the policy of the Department of Community and Transportation Services is government-wide - in other words, that there has to be a net financial benefit - would the Minister agree that there would probably not likely be, under those terms, much in the way of decentralization, at least as we understood it when we were in government, not as the way the Minister has just described it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not want to get into a lengthy argument on this. I agree with the Member to a certain extent. As I mentioned earlier, if the forestry transfer proceeds the way we hope it will, we are going to see a certain amount of decentralization of Renewable Resources. I am sure that will lead to economic diversification. Being the Minister of Economic Development, I fully support economic diversification. We have to keep looking at our options, as far as decentralizing some of the government; however, it must be able to show long-term benefits.
As the Member may know, the Government Services decentralization to Watson Lake seems to have worked very well. Initially, there were some concerns. For instance, the Government Services electrician led to the local electrician having to lay a person off because, prior to that time, the local electrician was doing a great deal of work for the government.
When it comes to economic diversification, those things have to be balanced out. Once in awhile, judgment calls have to be made and, probably the odd time, a mistake will be made. Overall, I think the initiatives of the previous administration in trying to get Government Services out to the community have worked out very well in the long run. Initially, there were some problems, but I would say now that it was a good decision.
Mr. Penikett: I appreciate the statement by the Minister, since I believe it was the Member for Watson Lake who was asking questions about the Government Services decentralization initiative in his community.
This is just a question of policy, as it affects the capital budget. Does the Minister agree with the proposition I put earlier, that there can be a difference between a financial benefit to a department of government and an economic benefit to a community?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, I believe that can be true, under certain circumstances.
Mr. Penikett: So, even though it may be cheaper for the government to move someone to Whitehorse who may be in a rural community, for example, there may be quite a significant economic cost to the community, which may lose a significant consumer and a family, kids from the school and people who may give volunteer time to local recreation activities, and so forth.
The Minister does agree with that?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, I would agree with that.
Mr. Penikett: Let me ask the Minister, then, in his capacity as Minister of Government Services, which department has to be concerned, of course, with the capital costs of decentralization, were the capital costs associated with previous decentralizations one of the key components in the governments decision not to proceed further with the decentralization program as the previous government had established it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes. When we took office, as the Member is very well aware, we were in a financial crunch. I believe there was almost $1 million at that time budgeted toward decentralization and, due to fiscal restraint at that time, we had to discontinue the program for the time being.
Mr. Penikett: Would the Minister agree that, unless the policy as articulated by the Minister of Community and Transportation Services is changed - namely the policy that there has to be a financial benefit for a department before it decentralizes - other than the kinds of decentralization contemplated by the forestry transfer, which he has mentioned, there are not likely to be any significant decentralizations in, let us say, for example, in the fiscal year of the budget that is before us?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I would agree that I cannot see too much movement toward decentralization in 1994-95.
Mr. Harding: The Minister said that decisions on decentralization would be limited to funds available in each department when I asked him about cost effectiveness. Could the Minister explain that statement in a bit more detail? Is it up to each department to handle what they want to decentralize? Is it the policy that they can do it if they have the money?
Hon. Mr. Devries: If the department were contemplating decentralizing someone and there were a capital cost involved, they would be responsible for that cost, or some other department would be responsible for a portion of it, in terms of office space rental and so on. Yes, it would be subject to money being available.
Mr. Harding: What concerns me is that in the absence of a set policy, other than enhancing services and cost effectiveness, which the Minister has indicated can be fairly flexible, it leaves it open to interpretation for the government. If it is politically expedient or something the government could make some political hay over in a particular community, they could cite cost effectiveness and enhanced services, or put more weight on enhanced services over cost effectiveness. When there is a strong political will in the community, the government could say that it meets the criteria. That is why I am concerned about this, because I do not have a clear idea of it.
Surely the Minister understands that it is going to be very difficult to find an immediate cost savings in any decentralization move. It is simply not practical to expect that. The idea that it can be governed simply by the two criteria of enhanced services and cost effectiveness, in very broad terms, does not seem to me to be a very concrete policy.
Does the Minister think that is a fair observation?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I think it is a reasonably fair observation and I think that we all recognize that we are going to have to develop a policy on this. We are just starting the second year of our mandate, so I am sure that we will have something in place in the next year or so.
Mr. Harding: Let us formulate a policy. I know that the Minister said he has only had a year, but can he give us some time lines on this. I certainly am concerned about the lack of a policy and the Minister has indicated that he shares some of my concern in that area. Can the Minister please give me some time lines?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I would have to discuss that with Cabinet. We have not yet started working on it, so I would not be able to commit to a particular date at this time.
Mr. Harding: In the supplementaries we will be coming back to Government Services and I will give the Minister notice now that I will certainly expect more answers - and I will not let him off this when we get into supplementaries, by any stretch of the imagination. I will be asking for some time lines about the Government Services decentralization policy.
I would like to engage in some more debate on this issue, and their policy time lines, but we will give the Minister a break and the benefit of the doubt and I hope that he will take something to Cabinet in the next couple of weeks. Perhaps over the holidays, or whenever he wants to talk to them, he could get some kind of mandate to proceed with the development of this policy, because I do think it is important.
This is a promise that was made by the government when they were running an election campaign and I think that it is incumbent upon them to develop a policy on this.
The Minister also made an earlier statement citing two examples of decentralization. I guess that is forestry devolution. If that goes ahead they are going to decentralize forestry operations to a couple of communities. The Minister said that had proven to be cost effective. Can the Minister table the documents showing that cost effectiveness, as opposed to setting up these particular operations in Whitehorse?
Hon. Mr. Devries: On the first transfer, it is premature, as discussions are still underway on funding, so I cannot do that at this time.
What is in the transfer agreement will determine what will actually happen. It is premature at this point.
Mr. Harding: Why did the Minister get up and say that it was proven to be cost effective to decentralize to Watson Lake and Dawson City?
Hon. Mr. Devries: To start with, it would be a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources, when his budget comes up. I do not recall saying anything about cost effectiveness. From what I have seen of that thus far, I feel it would enhance service.
Mr. Harding: The Minister did say that it was going to be cost effective and that is how he pointed to it in the discussion about cost effectiveness. I will ask the Minister of Renewable Resources about it more in that debate. Maybe the Minister could tell me, as a Member of Cabinet, if there has been a concrete decision made to decentralize forestry obligations to Watson and Dawson?
Hon. Mr. Devries: This will all be subject to what transpires in the transfer agreement. It would be premature to make any announcements on that right now.
Mr. Harding: The Minister has a wonderful habit of making announcements and then saying he is premature in making announcements.
Maybe I could get this from the Minister. I would like to get a progress report. A couple of weeks ago there was something tabled regarding what positions had been recentralized. It made no mention of the highways office in my riding that was recentralized. The office was shut down and the position closed. It is my understanding that people were moved into Whitehorse. Can I get a progress report on how many positions, and what they were, that have been decentralized and how many have been recentralized?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will have to pass that on to the Public Service Commission, because they are the ones who would monitor the actual numbers. If they could do it, it would be sometime in the new year.
Mr. Harding: I was looking at the Yukon Partys four-year plan. Under the section dealing with the decentralization of government, it says that the government will implement a proper government decentralization program in consultation with rural communities to promote economic stability and improve service delivery.
It is clear to me that the government has changed its criteria. It has gone from promoting economic stability and improving service delivery to cost effectiveness and enhancing services. Is that a fair statement?
Hon. Mr. Devries: If it had to happen at a great cost to government, I do not think it would be promoting economic stability. With the changes in the economy right now, we are better off waiting for things to stabilize so we can get a better handle on exactly what is happening. That would be the ideal time to develop the plan.
Mr. Harding: Has there been any scheduled consultation with all the rural communities on decentralization? Has there been any major or minor initiative there?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Whenever there has been a change taking place, there has been some consultation with the community, but not toward developing a new policy.
Mrs. Firth: The government spends many thousands, if not millions, of dollars each year on computers. This capital budget again identifies about $2 million of anticipated expenditures on computers and systems.
Could the Minister of Government Services tell us this afternoon what the governments policy is concerning computers and computer purchases?
Hon. Mr. Devries: There is an information resources strategy that looks after those types of things, as well as many of the discussions pertaining to acquisitions and upgrading the central computer, which are done in the information resource management committee. When the deputy ministers meet, they also discuss the priorities of their departments concerning things that have to take place in the centralized mainframe computer area.
Mrs. Firth: Does the government have a policy that they could hand me that the public would understand and that the Minister would understand? Has the Minister seen anything like that? Does he understand what the governments computer policy is?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have seen the document and I understand it relatively well. I am not sure that the general public would understand it, and that is not belittling them, because a lot of it is in fairly technical language. I do have a diploma in computer repair and programming, so I know a bit about it.
Mrs. Firth: I am not going to touch that one. I am keeping my head down on my notes. I would like to ask the Minister if I could have a copy of that policy.
Could he tell the House who developed the policy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It was a government-wide consultation with all the deputy ministers. It took about nine months to develop. I believe it was completed over one year ago. I could make a copy available to all Members.
Mrs. Firth: Was the policy essentially developed by the deputy ministers? Do I understand that correctly?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It was a fairly comprehensive development process, involving all levels of government. It was subject to Management Board approval. It was approved by Management Board.
Mrs. Firth: Is the Minister a member of Management Board?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes.
Mrs. Firth: I have now found out that the deputy ministers developed it and Management Board approved it. The Minister, who understands the policy, is a member of Management Board. I know this is going to generate some further debate, but I am going to leave it for another day.
I would like to ask the Minister if there was any input sought from any of the computer users within government, who use these computers every day. What kind of input did they have into the governments policy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It was a very comprehensive process. Many of the users and all of the various departments were involved. I would say that anyone who used a computer had an opportunity to have input into it - both the technical and practical aspects of it.
Mrs. Firth: I always find it interesting when the Minister says that it was a very comprehensive process because I can never find anyone in the government who has had any input into the policy, except people at the deputy minister level or Management Board level.
I would like to ask the Minister this: did he solicit any opinions or any input from the private sector with respect to the development of this policy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Much of the process around the development of this policy was done under the previous administration.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Devries: I feel this is a very good policy, so I am not blaming them for anything. I did go to a group meeting of local computer hackers and we had some discussions about it. They also were very familiar with some of the initiatives that were taking place within the development of this policy.
Mrs. Firth: People in the private sector were not consulted, then. The Minister just went and told them what he was going to be putting in the policy - is that correct? What exactly was the exchange that he had with them?
Hon. Mr. Devries: When I met with the local hackers, or whatever they are called, the policy had already been implemented. That was shortly after I took on the position of Minister of Government Services.
Mrs. Firth: What the Minister is saying, then, is that there has been absolutely no change in the computer policy from the previous government.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I would say not a great deal, except we are trying to keep a close eye on it - depending again on the fiscal limitations we are under. I believe there was one change, and my DM is just looking - no, we are moving to the next phase of this development now, which is data sharing among the various departments.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister mentioned something about keeping a closer eye on something, and then he skipped from that and went to something else about fiscal limitations. When I hear something like that, it indicates to me that they have a computer policy that says if there is lots of money, buy lots of computers; if there is not lots of money, do not buy as many computers. Perhaps the Minister could be a little more detailed with whatever change is made or whatever is being done differently, or is it being done exactly the same? That is what I am trying to establish.
Hon. Mr. Devries: The policy does not talk to the limitations as far as expenditures go. Basically, a department indicates that they would like to purchase a certain number of computers; then the policy determines whether it is a wise purchase, whether it is necessary, and then our technical experts try to determine whether the equipment they contemplate purchasing will meet the needs, et cetera. Every computer has to go through a whole range of decision-making processes before it is approved.
Mrs. Firth: We are now dealing with inanimate objects - like each object was being brought in to have this decision made on it. I am trying to follow the Ministers explanations.
Perhaps the Minister could help me out this way. Can he tell us what the philosophy is behind his computer policy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not have that information in front of me, so it is very difficult to talk about that in any great detail. There are a whole set of principles that have to be followed. I would prefer to table a document, which we may be able to table after the coffee break. If the Member wishes to review the information and discuss it at that time, it will be easier.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister was trying to give me some reassurances a little while ago that he understood the policy, he was a member of Management Board and that we did not have to worry too much, because he was there helping to make all of these decisions about computers. Now, the Minister is telling me that he really does not want to discuss the principles of the policy, because he would rather have them sitting there in front of him before he had to discuss them publicly.
I am not purposely trying to egg the Minister on or make fun of him. I have some very serious concerns about what is happening in this particular area of government. I also have some very serious concerns about some of the answers that the Minister gives in the House. The Minister stands up and tries to tell us that everything is okay, and then after taking up to a half an hour or an hour of the Houses time, we find that maybe everything is not all right and that the Minister may not have as firm a grasp on things as he tries to convey to us.
I would like to ask the Minister this: when computer purchases are going to be made, are all computer purchases reviewed and approved by the Management Board?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No, it is only reviewed in the budgeting process. The departments work within the guidelines of this policy and the deputy minister Iwould approve the purchase.
The purchases are subject to a review by the technical people to ensure that the purchases are being made in a wise manner.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell me how this works? For instance, say a department wants some new computers; does the deputy minister go through the budget process and identify a half million dollars worth of computers that they think that they need? What is the process for getting computers authorized and purchases agreed to?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No, it is a much lengthier process. Each department has to develop an information systems plan and from that their requirements are determined. The process then flows through the technical people in that every time a department purchases a computer, it can impact on the cost of maintaining the central facility, so we have to be made aware of that.
When the decision is finally made, I can assure the Member that that request for has gone through a lengthy process.
We have 1,200 computers, and any computer that is 10 years old, in this day and age, is considered to be very old.
Most businesses replace their computers every five years. The government is well behind that. We have a lot of old relics that are costing us a great deal of money to maintain.
Mrs. Firth: I would be very surprised if that were the case.
How does the purchase process work? When a department wants more computers do they identify a certain requirement prior to seeking the funds? For example, in the Department of Education there was a line for miscellaneous equipment that took in a lot of different equipment. The department had a fair amount of discretion as to what was going to be included in that equipment.
When new computers are purchased, does the department produce an inventory of what they need with a price at the bottom of it? Is all of that inventory examined by the committee prior to the funds being approved?
Hon. Mr. Devries: That is correct.
Mrs. Firth: Then all computer purchases are not reviewed and approved by Management Board; instead, the deputy minister can approve the purchase. How does that work? Who has given the deputy minister the authority to approve computer purchases?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It gets more and more complicated all the time. Once the budgeting authority is approved by the DM, it has to go through a signing authority before the purchase takes place. In the last standing offer agreement we made with the two companies that are supplying us with computers, we introduced a three year warranty for the new machine that reduces our maintenance costs. We find that when we have a machine that is 10 years old it eats up all the budget for maintenance.
Mrs. Firth: That is the second time the Minister has given me the maintenance cost argument for these old machines. I do not want to get into that debate yet. That is another story. I would like to ask the Minister to stick to the computer purchases, which is what I am interested in focusing on right now.
Once the decision is made and the inventory is listed - this is what the deputy minister wants - does he have to go to his Minister to get approval for that, or does the Minister take it in to Management Board, saying it is what his department needs? What happens once that decision is made?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It is the normal budgetary process. When the department sits down to develop its budget, it indicates what it feels the needs are, as far as computers go. When they are asked to make further cuts to the budgets to meet the governments base, which has been set for all the departments, they take another look at that particular line item in the budget and repriorize it. I can assure the Member that there are not nearly as many computers being purchased this year as were requested.
Mrs. Firth: That is what they told us last year. Then, just before the end of the year, the government authorized a great big computer spending spree, as was exposed in the Legislature. Therefore, the Ministers comments do not give me any comfort that any less money is being spent on computers.
Once we have all the computers purchased for government - the Minister said there were 1,200 computers and computer workstations - is there someone who is responsible for monitoring the use of the computers and whether the employees are using them or not? I have had people say there are employees who have computers and do not use them because they do not know how, or do not wish to.
What happens once the computers are all purchased and put in place?
Hon. Mr. Devries: That monitoring would have to be done by the departments themselves. Any department realizes that it has to live within its means. If a manager constantly sees someone not using a computer, they would evaluate whether or not that person needs one. That is a decision for the managers to make. That is why we have managers.
Mrs. Firth: It is fine for the Minister to say that, but he has not been able to tell me whether or not that has been happening.
Is there someone who monitors the use of computers? His department used to be responsible for the purchase of all of the computers within government. Did they ever monitor them to see if people were using them? Did they ever check to see what happens to them? Has the Minister ever asked that question of deputy ministers when they have requested new computer purchases?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No, Government Services has never gone out and monitored all the departments. Personally, I have not instructed my DMs to take a look at that because in this high-tech day and age almost anyone who has a desk needs a computer.
Mrs. Firth: That is not the question I am asking. It is great for a person to have a desk, a chair and a computer. Are the people using the computers? Does the Minister know if there are people who are not using their computers? Has he ever asked the question?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I asked the question myself when I originally took office. I had a two- or three-year-old computer. Initially, I indicated to the department that I was not using it that often, and that I would be happy with an old clunker. I have an old clunker sitting there now. I do not use it a lot, but it certainly saves me a lot of time when I have to look at a cross message from the DM, or something like that. It can be a real time saver.
With the limited resources the departments now have, we have to accept the fact that the managers do not have the money sitting around to be wasting it on computers. They are very conscientious about that. I am sure that most of them are dealing with it.
Mrs. Firth: I do not know if I am in the same conversation as the Minister. I want to know if the Minister is concerned that there may be some computers that are presently unused within the government. Has he ever asked that question? Can he stand up here and say that all of these computers that we have are all being used every day and are being put to full use? That is what I want to know. I do not want to know about his clunker, about what he is doing.
Hon. Mr. Devries: That is why we have managers. It is up to the managers to observe that kind of thing and to talk to their employees to find out. The departments do not have money laying around. They are certainly not in the position where they can afford to go and buy a computer to make someones desk look pretty. I can assure the Member that we feel the managers are given the tools to manage with and we hope they are doing that. If we find out they are not, we will deal with that.
Mrs. Firth: How does the Minister know, if he has not asked them? It is obvious to me that he has not because I have asked him three times and he has not stood up and said whether or not he asked.
Another word the Minister has used again this afternoon is giving me some concern, because I am hearing all the Ministers use this word now. It is the word hope. They are saying, we hope the managers are doing this; we hope the hospital is not going to come in costing more money; we hope, in the Department of Education, the estimates are going to be more accurate.
People out there need something more than hope. They need something more than the Ministers hoping everything will work out all right. If you do not ask the questions, and you do not get the answers, there is no hope.
I hope the Minister gets the message I am trying to convey to him this afternoon.
I would like the Minister to check into that for me. I would like to know whether there are computers that are not being used. I want to know whether the managers feel they are getting maximum usage out of the computers. I hear that there are employees who do not have computer skills - maybe they would like to have computer skills - but they do not feel well qualified enough or computer literate enough to operate their computers. I hear that in some instances - I am not saying that it is widespread through the whole government, but perhaps more than we are aware of - there are people who are not using their computers. If we are going to purchase these tools for people to use to do their jobs better and more efficiently, we should know whether or not people are using them. I would like the Minister to find out whether or not people are using the tools that we are providing them.
I would like to ask the Minister a final question about the replacement costs for computers, and about the purchase of computers. I have examined some of the purchases and some of the detailed information that the Minister has given us in this House about the cost of purchasing computers. I would like to ask the Minister if he feels confident that the government is paying the same price for computers as persons in the private sector would pay if they were buying computers? If I went out and bought a computer, would I be paying more or less for it than the government pays? Does the government get a discount because of large numbers of purchases? What I seem to be observing is that it quite often seems that the government pays more for computers, and I would like to know if the Minister has observed that at all, and if he can give us any information about the cost of computers.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I feel quite confident that, with the standing offer agreements we have, we are purchasing these computers for as good a price, if not better than, the average consumer but, once we buy a computer, the software and the various things needed to hook it up to the mainframe are quite costly and that adds substantially to the cost of each particular unit and has to be taken into consideration.
Mrs. Firth: Can the Minister tell us why he feels confident about that? Can he substantiate that statement with some facts?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I actually signed the standing offer agreements and I spend a little time in computer stores occasionally and, when I look at the deal we are getting on the computers and when I see the price on the shelf, I can assure the Member that it is very comparable, if not better.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister has not had his officials do any cost comparisons - it is just him going around shopping and seeing whether prices are comparative or not. I was looking for something a little more technical than the Ministers own personal computer shopping experiences.
Hon. Mr. Devries: When the evaluation of standing offer agreements was done, a very comprehensive technical analysis was done on various brands and things like that. I feel confident we are getting the best price we possibly can for the particular models we are buying.
Mrs. Firth: When the government hires a new employee, if that person is in a new position, is it part of the governments policy that that person automatically gets a computer?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Not necessarily. Naturally, if you hire an employee to drive a truck, they would not need to know how to use a computer.
Also, if the person needs a computer, but is not fully literate on the program they are working with, we have a training facility where the person is fully trained to be able to work with the various software that we use within the government.
Mrs. Firth: I am trying to determine what the policy is when new employees are hired. Is there any policy in place?
If a new employee is hired, and part of the requirement of their job duties is access to a computer, is that person automatically provided with a computer?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, it would depend on the particular position. If the position required intensive use of a computer, naturally that person would have to have a computer. More than likely, if it were a vacant position, the computer would be sitting there. If it is a position where an employee only uses a computer occasionally, that employee would be sharing a computer with another employee. It would also depend upon the resources available.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister may not be aware of a detail like this, but I think it would be beneficial information for him to have. I would certainly want to know, if I were responsible for authorizing the purchase of computers. Does the Minister have any idea how many computers have only word processing programs loaded, and how many are being used for word processing functions only?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I would have to get the systems people to provide me with a breakdown. I am not sure how many are hooked to the mainframe and how many are actually used as a glorified typewriter.
Mrs. Firth: I would like to have that information, because I think it is relevant to the whole principle of the computer policy that the Minister spoke of being so familiar with.
I wanted to move from computers, unless someone else has some questions that they want to ask about computers.
Mr. McDonald: I believe I tried this in Question Period, and I did not get much of an answer. I would like to ask the Minister what he means when he says that a priority for him is that the examination of data processing and communications strategies with the intent of improving processes and ensuring cost-effective services is consistent with the information resource management directive. What does he mean by that?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It is very similar to what I spoke about last night. With respect to the data processing, we want to ensure that the proper information is available from the mainframe to the desktop computers, in order for the various users to get the maximum benefits from the information in the host database.
We need to monitor the communications strategies if we are getting the maximum utilization of the phone lines to the communities. Where the information is transmitted via the phone lines, we need to ensure that we are using the fastest possible speed.
As Northwestel changes their microwave system to digital lines, it will be much more cost effective for us to communicate with people outside of the territory by using computer networks. We are looking at all the options and making sure that we are using the latest in technology, ensuring cost effectiveness with respect to rental rates of phone lines.
Mr. McDonald: Is the Minister saying that this is his top priority in this department? Is it really so important to him that, in terms of the direction he is providing to the department, this is something he wants to see action on above and beyond anything else? Is that what he is saying?
Hon. Mr. Devries: These are not in any particular order. These are the various things we are looking at, but they have not been given any particular priority.
Mr. McDonald: I am sure the transferred records station function is also a huge priority of the Minister. Even if one were to take all five of the priorities that are listed here, and roll them up in a ball, would they count for even one ounce of political energy, given all the problems and concerns that are facing the government, the department, the territory and the economy at this time?
If the Minister has the department beavering away on these priorities, what happens to the basic goals and objectives that are found in the four-year plan of the government? I do not understand what the government is doing.
In my view, if one had done everything else, then someone should be working on these projects. However, given all the important things that are happening out there, and the importance of this department to the central functioning of the government and the economy, it seems odd to me that these would be the Ministers top priorities.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, naturally, I am also very concerned about all the other issues. It was suggested that we mark these things in here as things of which I am personally aware.
As far as the overall goals of the whole strategic plan, they pertain more to all the government departments working together toward this common objective, with Government Services taking a lead role.
The Member still looks puzzled. Perhaps he could clarify what he wants to hear.
Mr. McDonald: I can tell the Minister what I want. The government ran an election campaign. They had a number of recommendations in their four-year plan that had some bearing on the activities of the Department of Government Services. Some of those items are even shown in the government goals and objectives in the strategic plan, just prior to the Ministers concerns.
We have everything from settling land claims and stopping crime to diversifying the economy. We have been talking about contractors preference and reintroducing the concept of the principle of the low bidder, which we will get back to, as well as decentralizing government. The answers we get today about decentralizing government are that the process is going to be subliminal - it is going to happen, but we will not even notice it happening. However, the Ministers immediate concern is to transfer the record stations function and resources to the departments. This does not compute.
Normally, when a politician is elected, they move their campaign platform and transmit it to their department. They try to ensure that the statements they made during their campaign, which the public cares about, will be implemented through the actions of the department.
I must admit I have noticed these five items before. However, they have always been reasonably low, even on the departments priority list, because there have been so many other things to do that are important. Just getting a handle on computing services and the acquisition policies, for example, is important. With the Minister probably being the only computer expert in the House, he should be able to make all other politicians feel comfortable with the size of the computer acquisitions and the direction the government takes when it comes to purchasing computers. That would certainly be a higher priority than transferring records stations functions to departments.
I am puzzled. This does not seem like a politicians priority list to me. It does not even seem like the deputy ministers priority list, at least not of the deputy minister I knew was there. It does not seem to be a priority list of things that were of essential concern to the public. Does the Minister think that, by addressing these immediate concerns, he will be addressing the commitments in the four-year plan, or in the section on government goals and priorities? If he has the policy and program people in the department focusing on these projects as a top priority, does he feel that he will have the horsepower to do the other things that are important?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Our top priorities are listed on the very last two pages, but in the next day or so I will be doing a ministerial statement on a review of contracting regulations. I was involved in finalizing the computer acquisition very shortly after I got into this position. There are many things that we have already done and these were just a few things I listed that I would like to see happen very quickly, within the next five to six months. That does not mean the initiatives on the last two pages are not being followed through or are being overlooked.
Perhaps the way we put it in here was not the best choice and I am willing to say perhaps not, but overall there are many other initiatives taking place within Government Services that do follow the four-year plan and most of them the Member can see on pages 20 and 21.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister is going to have to accept that the moment a strategic plan comes out the first thing the Ministers fellow politicians are going to do is look at the priorities of the Minister as being the priorities of the department. If the Minister has stated that the priority is going to be transferring record stations functions to departments, that priority is going to take precedence over everything else because that Minister is the Minister of the department and if this is the direction the Minister is giving then clearly anything else in the document is going to be secondary.
The only information we get from a strategic plan like this is that these items here are the top priorities. Where the Minister has control because he is in charge, these priorities are going to be carried out first and then other things will come along as can be done within time available.
Maybe the problem is that the subtitle, Immediate Concerns of the Minister, was misplaced; perhaps it should have been placed somewhere else in this document, because it does not seem to be at all consistent with the political priorities of the governing party in this Legislature. In fact, I have never heard the governing party mention even one of these items during the election campaign or since, politically. I live in the Government Leaders riding and I have never seen even one of these things being mentioned in his newsletters as being something of top concern. He has even talked about contract regulations but he has not talked about the record stations function once.
I have not heard the review of all subsidized leases to non-governmental organizations being a top priority. I have heard the government fumbling around with the Child Development Centre, but I have not heard that as being stated as the governments top priority.
I am just making the point that, if the Minister wants to take personal ownership of a number of priorities in a document like this, it would be wise for them to actually be his priorities.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I am not going to get into that discussion. Again, our feeling is that pages 20 and 21 are priority initiatives of the department and Imyself.
At the time they were developing this, I asked the department where they were with those various items, and this is the way they put them in there.
Mr. McDonald: So, the priority initiatives of the department take precedence over the priority initiatives of the Minister? Is that what the Minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Not necessarily, because these concerns are already in the process of being taken care of. Meanwhile, we are working on putting a process in place to take care of these other issues. This was probably developed five or six months ago, and there are new concerns taking place already, and we are gaining ground on the priority initiatives of the department.
Mr. Penikett: I wanted to ask one question of the Minister. I was having a look at his commitments, in terms of transferring record stations to departments. In doing that, did the Minister have his officials look at the government-wide obligations under the Archives Act, and other acts and regulations, with respect to record storage? Did this department, which has heretofore been responsible for these documents, at least until they reach the hands of the archivist, have any concerns about devolving, or decentralizing - to use the Ministers word - responsibility for this activity?
Hon. Mr. Devries: My understanding is that is well taken care of. Government Services will still be maintaining the core function of determining where the records go. Issues, as far as the archives, would be addressed there.
The initiative I am talking about is for active records only. The Member is talking about inactive records. Right now, we have a building that is full of records. We are finding that, many times, departments still have a copy of that record within their offices. You may also find a copy of it somewhere on a computer. By giving some of this responsibility back to the departments, we feel they will attempt to streamline the whole process, and we will not be burdened with all this duplication of effort.
Mr. Penikett: One of the potential problems with duplication, or problems of sharing responsibility for an activity like this, is that, in a large organization like government, there is the potential for what I call the everybody-is-responsible-so-nobody-is-responsible problem. I would say to the Minister that, during my time in government, I saw people who were absolutely fastidious in their care of documents. I will also admit that I worked with people who were, frankly, careless. I am certain that in my time in government there were documents that ended up in file 13, that the strict requirements of legislation in most places in this country would have required be sent to a proper records station.
I am talking about active records here, but I am also talking about the process by which documents go from being active to inactive. I think it is a reasonable supposition that if 14 agencies or 14 departments are responsible for an activity, they will not all do it uniformly well. Some departments and agencies will be more likely and, by temperament and by the nature of their activities, more inclined to keep good records. Others may have it as a lower priority. I have a reason for asking this question. I will just intrude on the Ministers time for a second here.
I was recently involved in some legal transactions - a court case - in which it was discovered that some records which I had assumed, in my former capacity as a Minister and as Government Leader, were properly stored no longer existed. Those were records from a department that I would have assumed would have been scrupulous in their care of the same. I am asking the questions of the Minister, with this experience in mind.
I just had the occasion to actually reread the Archives Act, which I have not done in a number of years. I am actually surprised at how outdated it is. Nonetheless, I want to find out from the Minister what protections the Department of Government Services has put in place in respect to active records - something that has been under his departments supervision - versus the inactive records that find their way to the archives. I want to make sure that there are some uniform standards, or some integrity, to the records-keeping function, and that we do not find ourselves in the embarrassing position, a few years hence, of discovering that records that should properly be on file, about this period in which we are in office, have been misplaced or cannot be located.
Hon. Mr. Devries: There is a records management committee, as the Member very well knows. This committee guides officials in Government Services and the records clerks. My understanding is that when this process takes place, some of the experts in the field who work in records now will be transferred to the departments that have the greater volume of records. The feeling is that they will develop record retention schedules for the departments, a filing system and training within the branches. It is not a situation of something being there one day and gone the next. The expertise is going to be made available to the departments.
I can appreciate the Members comments. We will take into consideration what the Member spoke about.
Mr. Penikett: Let me say something that is obvious to the Minister. I worked with a Cabinet secretary, in fact, a couple of them, who placed great store on the importance of good record retention. From time to time, they commented to me that not every deputy minister shared their views or placed the same high value on this.
The Minister talked about transferring the expertise that is now associated with this activity to the departments. To state the obvious, if there are two experts and four departments with a high volume of records, and several have medium or low amounts, already there is a problem. There are not enough qualified people to cover all the departments that have a high volume of transactions.
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I mentioned, we will make our experts available to train people within the departments to ensure that records do not get destroyed.
Mr. Penikett: I do not want to keep the Minister in here unnecessarily during this jolly season but I wonder if I could ask for an undertaking from the Minister. Could he come back to us in writing with a policy statement? I am interested and pleased that he has commented about this training, and so forth. What I really would like to see is a clearer statement of policy in respect to the preservation and protection of records as a consequence. How will this high standard be maintained with the devolution of record stations? That is my concern. I would like something on his record about procedures and policy before we leave this item.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will see what I can come up with. My understanding is that there are several departments that have the expertise already.
Mr. Penikett: For the record, I will read clause 12 of the Archives Act, which I suspect is not universally known inside the government. This is a clause that talks about the destruction of documents. Nothing in this act should be taken or deemed to authorize the destruction or other disposition of any official document, paper, map, plan, report, memorandum or any other matter in contravention of an act or order of a court or the Executive Council Members.
Most archives acts are fairly clear about the requirement to keep and protect documents that I think even the common sense of Cabinet Ministers would require be put into file 13.
Mr. Cable: I have a few questions. Was it the Chairs wish to take a break?
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will recess briefly.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Is there further general debate on Government Services?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Just for the Members benefit, the detail on the information resource management, which pertains to computers, et cetera, is in Management Board Directive 14/92. They can find it in their Management Board books, so we do not have to waste paper and pass it up.
Mr. Cable: I want to explore a couple of policy areas and relate them to the strategic plan booklet the Minister tabled a few weeks ago.
Yesterday, in his opening remarks, he referred to the decentralization of capital maintenance relating to program-specific buildings. That appears to be a fairly vague term. Is there a list of program-specific buildings that will be caught by this budget?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have a list of buildings I can make available to the Member relating to Government Services program-specific buildings. Community and Transportation Services have their own specific buildings. That is the way the budgets are constructed at this time. Community and Transportation Services capital upgrades are included in their budget, Government Services capital upgrades are included in our budget, and each specific department does it in that manner.
Mr. Cable: Just so we are on the right wavelength, what does the Minister consider a program-specific building?
Hon. Mr. Devries: This program would be for buildings like a grader station, not a general office that has a number of departments in it. Renewable Resources has a workshop that would be programmed specific to Renewable Resources.
Mr. Cable: I would like to find out where the policy framework is for this decentralization of the capital maintenance for the program-specific buildings. Is there a general policy framework, independent of the strategic plan?
Hon. Mr. Devries: There is not a specific policy; it is really a budgeting exercise under the Financial Administration Act where each department knows which buildings they own. That is the way it is determined who is responsible for what buildings.
Mr. Cable: Perhaps I did not explain myself to the Minister. The policy that caused the devolution to the various ministries - is that spelled out in a separate document or is it found in this strategic plan?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It was a Management Board decision, and there is no specific document that relates to it.
Mr. Cable: There are a couple of areas in the strategic plan that I find a little hard to follow, with no criticism to the drafter. There are so many subsections listing priorities, goals and so on.
On page 12, if the Minister has it in front of him, there is a reference about two-thirds of the way down. What are the factors that help us to choose a service delivery model? What are the factors that caused the Minister and his department to choose this particular service delivery model, or are we even talking about that when we are discussing the capital maintenance of government buildings?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The client department makes the decision about what has to be done. Government Services provides the service. It goes in and determines whether our maintenance people can do the work or whether it should go out to public tender. If it is anything over a certain scale, it goes to public tender. A decision is made as to whether we use our own resources within the government, or whether we go to the private sector. At times we may use a combination of both; our government people may work with someone from the private sector on a particular project.
Mr. Cable: The Minister indicated yesterday that the budgeting responsibility for capital maintenance was being delegated. I am paraphrasing his words. The actual work is not being delegated, only the decision to do the work. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Devries: That is correct.
Mr. Cable: Where is the involvement of the Department of Government Services in determining whether or not the work should be done in the first place? Do they have any input?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We recommend to the department what should be done to a particular building and priorize the costs, and the client department then makes a decision based upon the information that has been given to them from Government Services on whether that is the priority within their existing budget. That is also how they develop their budgets for the 1994-95 capital budget. For example, Government Services will have looked at the particular buildings and determined what has to be done.
Mr. Cable: I will paraphrase what the Minister is saying to make sure that I understand it. Each department would determine what preliminary capital maintenance they would want to do. They would then come to the Ministers department for costing. This costing would go back to the department and then a decision would be made by the department whether to proceed?
Hon. Mr. Devries: That is correct. At times we will send someone. For example, Community and Transportation Services would request an analysis of all our grader stations, and the Department of Government Services would either go out and do it themselves or put out a small contract to have someone do it for them and determine the long-term and short-term needs.
Mr. Cable: There was a question on this matter earlier. The policy on rental subsidization referred to on page 10 of the strategic plan states that an immediate concern to the Minister is a review of all subsidized leases to non-government organizations. This was in response to the Auditor Generals comments that hidden lease payments be recorded and visible. Is there a list of these non-government organizations that could be tabled?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We have made a move on some of them. I believe there is about $800,000 in uncollectable rents that we could make moves on. I could table that list tomorrow.
Mr. Cable: How far is the Minister and his department down the road on the review of the subsidized leases? Will they be dealt with? In fact, are they dealt with in this budget in front of us?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, we have made some moves on it. It is in the O&M budget. If the Member wants to bring it up again when we get to the O&M, we could discuss it further then. We are proceeding with it but, quite often, it is something we have to proceed with very cautiously.
Mr. Cable: Just to get the bookkeeping straight, and I am glad the Minister brought that point up, the rent recoveries will be treated as an O&M recovery rather than a capital recovery, is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, and any time we consider charging rent or increasing a rent, we make sure that the particular group involved has almost a years lead time, so they can take it into consideration in their budgeting process.
Mr. Harding: Can the Minister tell me a little bit more about this contract regulation review that is underway. I find it very interesting. What specifically is the public process there?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will be doing a ministerial statement either tomorrow or Thursday with regard to that, and I will be tabling the whole procedure that is being undertaken. If the Member is willing to wait, I think that would be the best way to go about it.
Mr. Harding: I will anxiously await that ministerial statement.
Looking at the strategic plan and some of the other priority initiatives of the department, page 20 on property management services states that all services offered by the property management branch, but specifically the following services - custodial, lease administration, building maintenance, O&M, and building maintenance, capital - will have a comprehensive policy on property management, which will include various service models that will meet the unique needs of clients.
What has come of that initiative?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We are in the process of getting this up and started. It is not very far along yet.
Mr. Harding: It is my understanding that there have been some changes made to the custodial services. The Minister just said that this document is six months old. It is listed as the (b) priority initiative of the department. Why is it taking so long?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, these (a), (b) and (c)s are not necessarily in priority order. I appreciate the Members bringing my attention to some custodial problems in this building. I think that I have addressed those problems, and I appreciate their bringing it up during Question Period.
Mr. Harding: Has there been anything done on this initiative, in custodial services, lease administration, building maintenance, operation and maintenance, or building maintenance, capital?
Can the Minister tell us how Members on this side of the Legislature are supposed to read the Government Services strategic plan? As the Member for Riverside just stated, and without criticizing the authors, I am very confused. I cannot determine what are and what are not priority initiatives.
When you label them priority initiatives, and then denote them (a) through (j), at first glance, one would think that this is indicative of what the department is up to.
When you receive letters from officials within the department that describe new things happening, such as moves toward privatization, one would think that is what the department is moving toward. I find it quite frustrating.
Could the Minister explain what priority initiatives are, what ministerial initiatives are, what the difference is between the two, and specifically what is happening under the initiative outlined as item (b)?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The heading shows that they are 1993-94 and 1994-95 priority initiatives of the department. We are only just over half way through 1993-94. We are in the process of starting to work on this comprehensive policy. As I indicated, we have not progressed to the point where I am ready to table anything yet or even discuss it in any great detail.
On ministerial versus departmental, I think there are very similar priorities and initiatives.
Mr. Harding: Could the Minister tell us about risk management. What policies and procedures for risk management are underway in the departments? Are there any new ones? Is there anything underway in his department in that area?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, we have just hired someone who is responsible for insurance risk management. That initiative is underway.
Mr. Harding: Is that a new position?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It used to be half-time position. It is now a full-time position in order to focus more attention on it. It is proving to be fairly cost effective.
Mr. Harding: Can the Minister produce some numbers off the top of his head that indicate that it is really becoming more cost effective?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I may have jumped to a conclusion there. That person has just been put in the position. The indications are that there could be cost savings. I should not have jumped to that conclusion.
When the information pertaining to putting the person on full-time was presented to me, I could see where there were areas of concern. There is room for cost effectiveness by having that person there.
Mr. Harding: The document talks about risk management policies and strategies. Can the Minister inform me as to what kind of risk control, risk transfer, and risk financing initiatives he feels are important in the new portfolio for this now full-time position?
Hon. Mr. Devries: This person does research to determine whether we should be carrying insurance on certain things, and whether it would be cheaper to carry that liability ourselves. There are a lot of insurance-related issues that this person is working on developing a policy for, to determine which would be the most cost effective for government.
Mr. Harding: How much does this new full-time position pay? What pay grade is the person in?
Hon. Mr. Devries: It is not a new position. It is two half-time positions that have been moved from somewhere in the department to make up this position, so the FTE complement is not increased. The wage is between $44,000 and $51,000.
Mr. Harding: Is this person confined to working in the Whitehorse department, or do they work with some of the other government facilities in the outlying communities? Do they travel around and look at potential ways to remove the risks that we have in some of the areas identified in the priority initiative by the Minister?
Hon. Mr. Devries: That could potentially happen but, presently, the person is in the process of developing a strategy and policy and procedures to help identify the various risks that could exist.
Mr. Harding: Are they now communicating with some of the other areas that are in the Government Services bailiwick in the outlying communities?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Naturally, this person would be communicating with our various rural branches on an ongoing basis, so definitely, yes.
Mr. Harding: I would like to discuss the telecommunication strategy plan. Where exactly is the telecommunication strategy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I mentioned earlier, some of it is related to the communication lines between the various computers in the rural areas and in the government building, as well as some of the communication lines between the various government buildings here in Whitehorse.
They also would determine how to enhance telephone services and communication services, even within government. Northwestel confers with them on an ongoing basis when changes in technology come up. They also get involved in rate hearings with Northwestel, and things like that.
Mr. Harding: This objective of the department is quite interesting to me because I think it is important to do some of the things outlined by the Minister, but I am concerned about one element of the strategy laid out in the plan, and that is in the area of enhancing access to public information. What type of public information are we talking about here, and how, specifically, are we going to enhance that access?
Hon. Mr. Devries: For instance, perhaps at some point some things like employment standards could be accessed through computer terminals, rather than having to have a copy sitting on the shelf and taking up space - things like that - and other relevant acts pertaining to business.
In Justice, for example, legal firms might be able to access the corporate registry. We are working with them.
As for improving learning opportunities, since there is a degree of responsibility for communications both in Government Services and Community and Transportation Services, they would also be researching ways to allow the Department of Education to get more involved in distance education, and the cost implications and things like that - trying to do it in the most cost-effective manner.
Mr. Harding: The municipal council in my riding in Faro is anxiously working on a program that involves telecommunications. Right now, the community has a fairly limited telecommunications access. They want to promote people the community and the relatively affordable housing for telecommunications home-based businesses. How would the Government Services telecommunications strategy offer assistance to municipal governments that are taking advantage of the future signs that we are becoming of modern age and using more computers and telecommunications?
Hon. Mr. Devries: With the government being one of Northwestels largest customers, we do have a certain amount of influence on encouraging them to upgrade their systems. I will put my Economic Development hat on for a moment. One of the problems that we have right now, as far as telecommunications with southern areas, is the fact that we are still using very slow lines and do not have the digital capabilities of the microwave systems to the south. Until those are upgraded, it is very costly to transmit information from the Yukon to southern areas. Once the microwave system is upgraded to digital, information will move much more quickly.
Mr. Harding: Is Government Services going to be involved in this process with Northwestel, or is this restricted to the Department of Economic Development? Is it going to be an inter-related movement by the government to have these sorts of discussions in the context of developing a comprehensive telecommunications strategy?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Government Services is playing the lead role on behalf of the government in this aspect. With the government of Yukon being one of Northwestels larger clients, there would also be cost savings to us if these digital lines were put in. We also move a great deal of information north and south.
Mr. Harding: What is Northwestels reaction to the policy development as it has panned out so far in the telecommunications strategy area?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Our department has had several meetings with Northwestel over the past year about this strategy. The last time I met with a manager from Northwestel, he indicated that digital processing is roughly two years down the road.
Mr. Harding: It is my understanding that many of the communities have digital telephone exchanges right now. I know that the community of Faro is one of the few that does not have that type of digital exchange.
Can the Minister comment on that and tell us about Northwestels plans in that area?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I am not a telecommunications expert, but I understand that anything that is digitally transmitted is transferred to some other type of language, and when it reaches the other end, it is transferred back into a digital format. This is a slow way of moving information around compared to our new standards. I stand to be corrected on that information.
Mr. Harding: I am really interested in this field, but I guess in the interest of moving the debate along, I will move away from this. We do not want to debate the technical aspects, because I do not know if the Minister or I could engage in such a debate.
I am also interested in the purchasing operations of the government, specifically, what Government Services is doing to review the purchasing and procurement practices of the territorial government for the purchases that they are making both in and out of the territory. What is happening in that area?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As far as purchasing goes, the business incentive policy has not been used that much, but I understand that roughly 88 percent of all purchases are made locally. We have community purchasing policies that encourage Government Services workers to purchase items in the communities if they are available there. We have been very successful in this endeavour.
Mr. Harding: Has anything been done to streamline the purchasing system?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We are reviewing the LPO limits and all the red tape pertaining to government purchasing. We are trying to streamline the process so that it is more user friendly and efficient. It seems like every time something is purchased, there has to be three or four pieces of paper flowing about. We are trying to cut down on that, make the system less labour intensive and make it more efficient.
Mr. Harding: When the Minister talks about streamlining the purchasing system, he is also talking about cost effectiveness. What is being done in the area of obtaining more cost-effective procurement practices?
Hon. Mr. Devries: When there is sufficient volume, we use a tendering process that ensures that the companies that bid on it give us the best bang for our dollar. We also have sole-sourcing agreements, for example, on computer purchases, which are tendered. They are standing offer agreements.
Through the competitive process, we try to determine that we get the best bang for our dollar. There are several other initiatives taking place. I do not know if the Member wants me to go on about them.
Mr. Harding: Could the Minister tell me about those other initiatives?
Hon. Mr. Devries: One of them is with regard to local furniture purchases. I feel we can do better by purchasing locally manufactured furniture. We feel that some of the local suppliers can be more competitive. We have to take into consideration the fact that some of their products may improve and last longer than particle board products.
We are looking at those kinds of things. It goes along with our economic development initiatives and our efforts to diversify the economy.
Mr. Harding: That starts into another line of questioning that I have for today, but I am not quite through with the purchasing operation. I do want to get into bid preference, low bid, free trade and some other things that affect the Department of Government Services.
The Minister said that there were other initiatives in the area of streamlining. He talked about buying locally. He said that he believes that the local people - the local manufacturers of furniture, for example - could be more competitive. Does he mean more competitive in terms of building their business as a result of obtaining government jobs, or was he making a reference to how they could have a more competitive operation? What was he getting at there?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Naturally, if they can increase their volumes, they become more competitive because they can do volume purchasing for lumber products. What I was referring to was making sure that in the tendering process we are comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges. We have seen instances where that could have possibly happened. This is what has to be considered when it comes to taking the lowest bid. You have to try to determine value for dollar. You could very well be purchasing something that could last two or three years longer, and that has to be taken into consideration.
Mr. Harding: What process is underway to make the purchases of the government more user friendly?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We are starting to look at that. It seems that one time a tender will go out and the specifications will be too rigid, and the next time they will not be rigid enough. We have to try to come up with something that can vary with various products. We are in the process of working on that. Sometimes these concerns come up when tender awards are disputed before the contract review committee. Also, some of this will be discussed under the contract review. Businesses will have the opportunity to come forward and say, Look, the way that this works is baloney. It is very difficult to come up with something that is fair to everybody because whenever a tender is awarded, there is a winner and a loser. The loser often has a beef that is quite legitimate.
Mr. Harding: Is the Minister satisfied with the purchasing system now? He indicated that, in terms of streamlining it, the tender bids invite competition and he named several other initiatives - such as buying locally. Is the Minister content with the process as it stands right now? Does he identify any glaring problems in the process of purchasing by the government?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, this is why we are going through this review process. They are mostly little things. I would not say there is anything glaring. It is hoped that businesses and various contractors will come forward and point some of these out to us and, after the review process is completed, we will have something that works better.
Mr. Harding: I know the Minister said he plans to bring back a ministerial statement on the contract regulation review, but he keeps talking about the committee as if he has already had a committee working on this. Is that the case, or is the ministerial statement going to lay out an entirely new process? What is under way?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No. The existing contract regulations were put into place just over a year ago. Now it says right in the contract regulations themselves that they should perhaps be reviewed after they have been used for one year. Meanwhile, the contract review committee reviewed the way in which something was awarded and has come up with some possible deficiencies within the existing regulations and put forward recommendations on how to improve them. Those recommendations will go forward; as well, all the stakeholders will receive copies of this document, and the Member will be receiving one when I do the ministerial statement. They can come forward with suggested changes as well and make suggestions regarding things that are not working properly.
When the whole process is completed, we should have something that is much more workable.
Mr. Harding: I really wish I could clear it, but I have a lot of important questions to which I have to get answers. I appreciate the cooperation of the Minister in my endeavours to get answers to these questions. I look forward to the ministerial statement on the contract regulations review. I am concerned about streamlining government departments and I am anxious to know what Government Services are up to. I have read through the strategic plan of the government and noted quite a few areas where I know that I have some queries to make.
I felt that there were some areas that were somewhat unclear. I want to ask the Minister about his thoughts about vehicle fleet management. There have been some interesting developments in the last while, since early November, in terms of vehicle fleet management. There have been some questions raised in this Legislature. What are the Ministers views regarding vehicle fleet management? Does he have a concrete position? Is he concerned about anything in particular? Does he want to initiate a review?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As the Member noted, we are reviewing the management of the vehicle fleet and several options will be looked at. There was a suggestion that perhaps it should be decentralized to the departments. Preliminary indications are that that is not the best way to manage them. It is still in the planning phase and it would be premature to make assumptions about it.
Mr. Harding: Some of the things that the Minister says have been looked at have already been dismissed. Is the review complete, or is there something still underway in terms of review? If there is something underway, what is it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No, the review is just beginning. I believe it will be completed sometime in June.
Mr. Harding: If the review has been completed, the Minister did say - and correct me if I am wrong - that decentralizing to all the departments was dismissed. How did they dismiss that particular alternative when the review has not been completed yet?
Hon. Mr. Devries: They were not necessarily dismissed. They would still be under consideration, but the preliminary analysis is that is not the way to go.
Mr. Harding: Some of the senior managers in Government Services brought up an alternative. One manager wrote a letter to the supply services branch managers about the concept of privatization. That director assumed from discussions with the government Cabinet Ministers that there was a major interest in privatization. Is that an alternative for the vehicle fleet?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We wanted to look at all of the options, and that is where it stands right now.
Mr. Harding: How would a senior director in the government ascertain that there was a major interest in the government in privatization? Would that come through having discussions with the Minister, or how would a director capture that thought?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, they were told to look at all of the options, and that is one of the options.
Mr. Harding: No Cabinet Minister he is aware of has told the department or any officials that they wanted them to investigate the alternative of privatization - is that what the Minister is saying?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I mentioned to the Member for Mount Lorne, we wanted them to look at all the options and determine what option would be the most cost effective. By the same token, I also assured the Member for Mount Lorne that, regardless of what the outcome was, there would be no layoffs or anything like that.
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 we have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 12, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1994-95, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Special adjournment motion
Ms. Moorcroft: I move that the House do now adjourn until 1:30 p.m. on January 5.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Mount Lorne that the House do now adjourn until 1:30 p.m. on January 5. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agree.
Some Hon. Members: Disagree.
Speaker: Division has been called.
Mr. Clerk, would you please poll the House?
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.
Mrs. Firth: Agree.
Mr. Clerk: Mr. Speaker, the results are seven yea, seven nay.
Speaker: In the event of a tie vote, the Speaker shall cast the deciding vote.
In casting the vote, the Speakers reasons shall be entered in the Votes and Proceedings. I am not going to give lengthy reasons for my voting, except to say that, traditionally, significant decisions should not be taken except by a majority of the House. The Member for Mount Lorne does not have a majority to support this motion.
The other position taken by precedent is that the Speaker should maintain the status quo as much as possible. In this case, the status quo means, to me, continuing the session without adjourning to January 5. However, the Speaker is not bound by those precedents and can vote like any other Member.
However, I have not had time to consult my constituents on this significant question. Although most of my constituents like to see us in the Legislature working hard on their behalf, this time of year may not be what they had in mind but, in any event, I will follow precedent rather than take it upon myself to decide this important question, and I will vote against the motion, because there is not a majority, and declare the motion defeated.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Some Hon. Members: Disagreed.
Speaker: I believe the agreeds have it.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.
The House adjourned at 5:34 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled December 21, 1993:
Department of Education: historical inaccuracies re capital cost estimating; Management Board Directive #21/92 re project planning and implementation (Phillips)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 773
Department of Education organization charts (May, 1993); staffing of the central office (Phillips)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1725