Monday, January 17, 1994 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will begin with Prayers.
Speaker: We will now 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 document for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Petition No. 6 - not received
Clerk: Mr. Speaker and hon. Members of the Assembly:
I have had the honour to review a petition, being Petition No. 6 of the First Session of the 28th Legislative Assembly, as presented by the Hon. Member for Klondike on January 13, 1994.
The rules respecting petitions require that a petition ask the Yukon Legislative Assembly to take such action as may be desired. Petition No. 6 concludes with a demand that Canadian governments, rather than the Yukon Legislative Assembly, take certain actions. It, therefore, does not meet the requirements as to form of the Standing Orders.
Speaker: Petition No. 6, accordingly, cannot be received.
Speaker: Introduction of Bills.
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Economic forecast
Mr. McDonald: On Thursday, the Minister of Economic Development said that he and others had concerns about the release of information, in that particular case an economic forecast, because he disagreed with some of the conclusions. He said that he would table it today, which I guess he has not done. What assurances can he give that information that has in the past been considered unbiased and non-partisan will not be tampered with by political people?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The Members will get the information they requested when we get back into the Economic Development budget later today.
Mr. McDonald: What assurances can the Minister give that the information that will be tabled - unbiased standard statistical information - will not be manipulated by partisan political people in government?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The draft that is being tabled is the original prepared in November, prior to there having been any review by political people.
Mr. McDonald: Yukoners do not like being manipulated; they do not like being told what to think. I would like to ask the Minister this question about future information that may be tabled through his department: will the release of standard statistical information, such as that which we discussed last week, require the approval of political managers, particularly the communications advisor in government?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No, it will be vetted by the various departments to ensure that the information contained in it is accurate. The departments will get a chance to check it before it is released.
Question re: Economic forecast
Mr. Penikett: I would like to ask the Government Leader a question about the same subject. On Thursday, we were discussing the economic forecast, and we were reminded that back on December 2, the Minister of Economic Development indicated that he was going to take the economic forecast to Cabinet - I believe he said that would happen the next day, or shortly thereafter. Can the Government Leader indicate to the House if the draft economic forecast was subject to any discussion in Cabinet, as indicated by the Minister of Economic Development?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, it was not.
Mr. Penikett: Could I ask the Government Leader if the decision to suppress the economic forecast was a decision made exclusively by the Minister of Economic Development, or was it made in part by the political person whom the Minister indicated reviewed the forecast, or was the Government Leader part of that decision?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Minister stated quite clearly that he was concerned about the accuracy of the information that had come from the Department of Economic Development. This was, and is, a draft document and that is what will be tabled this afternoon in the House. Members on the other side of the House can judge for themselves whether or not it is accurate information.
Mr. Penikett: That is the point; we should all be in a position to judge for ourselves the accuracy of the wisdom of forecasts made by the professional economists.
I want to ask the Government Leader about government policy. Does the Government Leader intend to routinely table future economic forecasts, such as the kind that are going to be tabled this afternoon, on schedule, or will the reports be subject to review by political staff and a decision made whether or not to suppress, squash, or not release the report by the Minister, Government Leader or Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is my understanding that there is no legislative requirement for an economic forecast to be tabled in the Legislature. My understanding is that there is no legal requirement for it.
While this forecast may be a useful tool if it is accurate, I am concerned when one or two economists put out a report reflecting their opinion, their idea of where the Yukon is going, and banks are asking for this information to base their judgments on as to whether or not they will make loans to the private sector.
In answer to the Members question, I am not satisfied with the system that is in place and it will be addressed before any more reports are released.
Speaker: I would like to remind Members that, according to our Standing Orders, a question is out of order if a debate is scheduled for that day on the same subject matter. My understanding, which was confirmed by the Minister of Economic Development, is that we will be going back in to general debate on Economic Development in the supplementaries this afternoon, and this subject will, I expect, have a full airing at that time. I would caution Members that if they plan to follow up it should not be directly with respect to something that will be debated later this afternoon.
Question re: Mining facilitator
Mr. Cable: I am mindful of your caution, Mr. Speaker. The topic I want to ask questions on does deal with the Ministers department, but it is in the nature of the operation and maintenance expenses.
For a number of months, the government has talked up a storm about the promotion of the mining industry. It went so far as to advertise for a position called a mining facilitator, with a salary of $65,000 to $84,000 per annum.
Has that position been filled?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The last interviews were held on January 11, and we are checking references right now.
Mr. Cable: The closing date for that competition was set at November 29, 1993. Could the Minister indicate why it has taken some six weeks to get to the point that he just described?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Due to the schedules of some of the people, one had to be interviewed in December and another on the eleventh. There were some scheduling problems, so it was a rather slow process.
Mr. Cable: Was the mining community - most notably, the Yukon Chamber of Mines - involved in drawing up the terms of reference for that job or in the interviewing of the applicants?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The bulk of the process went through the Public Service Commission. The Members question about the exact procedure would be better asked of the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.
Question re: The Sluice Box
Ms. Moorcroft: My question is for the Minister responsible for the Public Service Commission.
People have been noticing that, since the Yukon Party was elected, The Sluice Box articles follow key issues that are debated in the Legislature. I would like to ask why The Sluice Box has become less an employee newsletter, put out by the Public Service Commission, and more a political propaganda pamphlet?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I was not aware that it is a political propaganda issue. The Member knows that it is put out by the Public Service Commission and they are the ones who request articles for it. I have no control over it.
Ms. Moorcroft: By way of an example, the February 1993 Sluice Box contained a feature article with Merv Miller, the principal author of the hotly debated and numerically inept review of change and accumulated surplus. Was that not an attempt to manipulate political thinking using the employees own newsletter?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, it was not.
Ms. Moorcroft: The most recent issue of The Sluice Box contained a feature on the security police-check policy which the Minister has recently had difficulty defending in the Legislature. Although the policy went into effect in October, the article did not run until December. Is this not another example of the political agenda determining the editorial content of The Sluice Box?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just said that this is a newsletter that is put out by the Public Service Commission. It is not put out by the Executive Council Office. Whatever goes into it is decided by the Public Service Commission, not the political offices.
Question re: Access to information
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources regarding access to information. There are a lot of important questions out there that the government will not give us any answers to. Information is being denied and manipulated by someone in the government. For example, on the issue of the mid-program update on the wolf kill effectiveness, I would like to ask the Minister of Renewable Resources who made the decision to deny information to Yukoners about how effective the program is.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I did.
Mr. Harding: The Minister just told us that he made the decision to deny information to Yukoners. I do not think the Minister should be engaged in that kind of behaviour.
I want to ask him about another example, the raw log export policy. The Minister told this Legislature that he took a policy to Cabinet some eight months ago on raw log export and he was going to make a ministerial statement on this policy in the Legislature, and we have yet to receive one. Can I ask the Minister who made the decision to suppress the announcement of a raw log export policy?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: No one. If I made that promise and did not keep it, I will find out why the department did not get it to me.
Mr. Harding: On the same issue of access to information, I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development.
Last week, I asked the government to table the Micon report, which is a very important document on the Faro mines feasibility. It was done last year at taxpayers expense here in the Yukon. Could I ask the Minister of Economic Development who made the decision to suppress the information contained in that particular document from Yukoners?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The contract on the Micon report clearly indicates that the understanding with Micon was that it would not be public information.
Question re: Yukon Update
Ms. Moorcroft: I am also interested in the latest Yukon Party viable public media - the Yukon Update. There has been a written question on the Order Paper since December 8 requesting the Yukon Update mailing list. It only took one day to table the Hansard costs in this Legislature. Why is the government hiding the Yukon Update mailing list?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding is that it is not a government mailing list. It is a Yukon Party caucus mailing list and, if it is subject to this Legislature, so should be the Independent Partys mailing list and so should be the mailing list of the NDP caucus.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Yukon Party Update is distributed at taxpayers expense. Is the government prepared to table the Yukon Update mailing list?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Is the Member opposite prepared to table the NDP one?
Ms. Moorcroft: The Government Leader said, in the House, if it is paid for by public funds, it should be public information. My understanding is that the Yukon Party Update is published by Queens Printer and we know it is mailed out from the Legislative Assembly Office at taxpayers expense. Has the Government Leader changed his position on that, now that he has been in office for a year?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: She is right, it is paid for with caucus funding, just the same as their mailing list is and their newsletters are. If they will table their list, we will table ours.
Question re: Communications advisor, discussions with media
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Government Leader that has something to do with communications and requests for information. I have previously asked questions in this House about the governments communication policy, specifically with respect to withholding information. I was quite concerned this afternoon when the Government Leader indicated that he was going to rewrite all of the rules as to how information will now be given out and what information will now be given out. According to the governments communication policy, the Cabinet communications advisor has the ability to ensure that the governments goals are being communicated effectively within government. In a news article, I read that the Cabinet communications coordinator had called the newspaper to complain about their news judgment. I would like to know if he is doing this at the request of the Government Leader?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member opposite knows that there are times when both sides of the story are not being published - I am sure even she feels this way sometimes. I believe that the communications advisor has taken up some issues with the press in order to express our concern that both sides of the issue are not being aired. I think that is legitimate.
Mrs. Firth: It has also come to my attention that the Cabinet communications advisor had met with one of the local newspapers to discuss advertising and also their reporting skills with them, at which time the communications advisor said that the Ministers would not be speaking to the newspaper unless they got positive coverage, and also that Cabinet Ministers would not speak to the paper if, every time they did, their remarks were reported in a negative context. I would like to ask the Government Leader if he asked the communications advisor to do this.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Either the Member opposite has been advised wrongly, or she is up to the same old trick she uses of twisting things around for her own political gain. Yes, Ministers have expressed concerns about the biased type of reporting that has been going on, and yes, the communications advisor was advised to talk to the press about it.
Mrs. Firth: The very principle of freedom of speech is at issue here. However, the Government Leader fails to recognize that - it does not surprise me. What was the nature of the meetings that he instructed his Cabinet communications coordinator to have with the media - the newspaper - with respect to advertising? I know that a lot of newspapers are dependent upon government for advertising. What was the nature of the instructions to this advisor regarding advertising?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would have to bring a legislative return to the Minister regarding that. I do know that advertising in all media is major cost, and has been an issue of concern ever since we took over government and have been addressing all government costs.
Question re: Communications advisor, discussions with media
Mrs. Firth: This is a very important issue for Yukoners. If there is any perception that the media do not have freedom of speech in this territory, whether or not we, as politicians, like what they say, I think that is a very serious issue.
I would like to ask the Government Leader what direction or instruction could he possibly have given his Cabinet communications advisor to sit down and discuss advertising with the media?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am not sure I gave that instruction. What the Member is doing is twisting things around. The Ministers asked that their statements not be taken out of context and that they be reported accurately. No one is trying to suppress freedom of speech at all. What we want is accurate reporting.
Mrs. Firth: No one is trying to suppress freedom of speech; however, I understand that when the Government Leader is asked to come on CBC radio, a full list of questions that the Government Leader is going to be asked has to be provided and reviewed by the communications coordinator before he will go on air.
Speaker: The supplementary?
Mrs. Firth: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I got carried away a bit there.
I want to know why the Cabinet communications advisor would be discussing any issues with respect to advertising with the local media? Why would they even be doing that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, I am not sure he was. I will bring a legislative return back.
Question re: Opposition requests for information
Mr. Penikett: I, too, have a question for the Government Leader on a related subject.
While refusing to proclaim part 3 of the freedom of information section of the Public Government Act, and by insisting that most Opposition MLA requests for information be channeled through government Ministers, the Yukon Party administration has, in my view, made itself the most secretive government in the country. I would like to ask the Government Leader why, when the Public Government Act, which passed three readings in the House, frees up all government information except personnel files, private files and unquestioned secrets, does the Government Leader restrict MLAs only to what they can squeeze out of Ministers?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: What we are doing is no different from what was done by the Members opposite. I have read statements in Hansard, and in other places, where the Member thought it was inappropriate for MLAs to go directly to bureaucrats, instead of through his Ministers and party. We are not doing anything different. We are not trying to suppress information.
Mr. Penikett: Once again, the Government Leader has his facts all wrong. It is a matter of daily occurrence that people who are now Ministers in his Cabinet went directly to officials all the time during our time in government, and we did not prevent that at all.
The Government Leaders letter instructs MLAs to go through Ministers or political aides, even when making representations on behalf of constituents, people who may not wish to have Yukon Party Cabinet Ministers know about their private lives at all. Does the Government Leader not understand that his rules - his tightening up on information - is not only a step backward, in terms of freedom of information, but it also has the potential to create unnecessary intrusive and extremely unpleasant invasions of individual constituents lives, people who want help from a government department, who go to MLAs to ask for representations and who do not want Ministers opposite to know the details of their private affairs?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am afraid the Leader of the Official Opposition is wrong. Cabinet Ministers do not want to know the details. They just want to know when Members opposite are approaching the bureaucrats. I know that in respect to constituent issues that the Member opposite has had, I have okayed it for him to talk to the Public Service Commission. I did not want to know the details.
Mr. Penikett: We are not talking about a question of whether the Government Leader may have created an exception to his rule; we are talking about the policies, which are a huge step backward from the law that was passed in this House, and supported by the Members opposite. The freedom of information and the protection of privacy provisions in the Public Government Act have been described as among the best anywhere.
Could the Government Leader explain why his party supported and voted for these in this House, when they thought they would apply to an NDP government, but seem to be afraid to have these same tough freedom of information rules apply to his government now that he is in power?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We are not afraid of the rules at all. As the Minister of Justice has said, we will be bringing in legislation in the spring to address them. We felt the public government legislation the Member opposite brought forward was just too cumbersome and took in too many acts. We are going to split it up and bring it back.
Question re: Young offenders in care, policy regarding
Ms. Commodore: My question is for the Minister responsible for Health and Social Services. Last week I asked him a question about whether or not payment was disbursed to the Wood Treatment Centre when children were absent without leave.
I am expecting a return back from him any day now.
My question now applies to the Northern Network Services home in Whitehorse. The government also pays for treatment for kids who are residents at that home. Can the Minister tell us if that payment ceases when those children are absent without leave?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: No.
Ms. Commodore: Can the Minister tell me how many kids have been reported absent without leave, and if so, how many days in total since the home has been open and operating?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am sorry, but I do not have that information at my fingertips, but I will bring back a written answer.
Ms. Commodore: A review was conducted on the Northern Network Services treatment home and it was found that further planning and training was required. Could the Minister provide me with a copy of that review?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I will make inquiries and see if the release of that review is appropriate, and if it is appropriate, I will make it available to the Member.
Question re: Game farming regulations
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources. Last year there was some discussion outside and inside the Legislature and among the public, about the industry of game farming in the Yukon. There was some public consultation surrounding the development of new regulations in that particular area, but we have not heard anything about it for some time. Can the Minister tell us the status of these proposed game farming regulations and is there anything holding them up.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: The regulations are being prepared for Cabinet, and I am not sure when they will be presented to Cabinet.
Mr. Harding: I am always a little bit worried when that particular Minister tells me something is just about ready to go to Cabinet.
Could the Minister tell me, once the regulations are brought forward, will the government be continuing with the moratorium on game farming or will they be opening up the industry in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: The regulations will go out for a 60-day review to the people, and then we will decide what will be finalized in the regulations.
Mr. Harding: Recently, the new Prime Minister ordered a full public review on game farming and is quoted as saying, We agree that game farming has potentially wide-ranging implications that have never been subject to thorough public consultation. We, therefore, support environmental assessment with a public review. Was the Minister aware of this new position of the federal Liberal government and does he feel this will have any effect on the Yukon governments plans for game farming?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: No, I was not aware of that at the present time. The other question, I believe, is a personal question - my own opinion - and I will not give it.
Question re: Yukon Update
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to return to the Government Leader with a question about the Yukon Update. The Yukon Update mailing list was requested because the government was advertising for people to serve on boards and committees in the Yukon Update and the government claimed that the Yukon Update is a public media, which goes to more than Yukon Party members. Was he telling the truth when he said that the Yukon Update is not exclusively a Yukon Party mailing list but does go to the public?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes. Just like any other legislative newsletter, it goes to every household.
Ms. Moorcroft: I do not believe it is a legislative newsletter that goes to every household, because I did not receive one in my mailbox. I would like to know if the government is prepared to table the mailing list for this newsletter, which is distributed at taxpayer expense and which contains public information, such as advertising for people to serve on boards and committees.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It does go to more than Yukon Party supporters, that is for sure. It goes to a lot of people in the Yukon. I am not sure exactly how big the mailing list is right now.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Government Leader has dodged the question and I will just repeat it. Is the government prepared to table the mailing list for the Yukon Update, which is distributed at taxpayer expense?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: My understanding is that that is a Yukon Party caucus publication, not a government publication.
Question re: Highway maintenance
Mr. Harding: Last weekend, when I was driving home to Faro - this question goes to the Minister of Community and Transportation Services - I found that the road conditions were very, very treacherous and I am getting very worried about the safety of my constituents and others travelling on the roads. The area around Laberge and the Robert Campbell Highway were absolutely treacherous.
Can the Minister undertake to examine more closely the situation with the roads and undertake to do some more sanding and ploughing in those areas?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Whitehorse grader station is on a split shift. We have people on duty 16 hours a day. Everyone is aware that during the last two weeks it has snowed pretty well every day, and we just have not been able to totally keep up to all of it. The sanding vehicles sand hills and corners and the snowploughs are out on a priority basis, but it has been very difficult to keep up during the last few days.
Question re: Communications advisor, discussions with media
Mr. McDonald: I am a little concerned about the news that the communications advisor has apparently had meetings with media outlets, not only in an attempt to manipulate the coverage of this Legislatures proceedings, but also to talk about advertising costs and leave the distinct impression that the government would want to try to manipulate coverage by using the economic understanding with the media outlets that if they did not do as they were told, their advertising revenues might be cut in some subtle way.
Can the Government Leader indicate to us whether or not he feels it is appropriate at all for the communications advisor to have any discussions with the media about advertising costs, particularly as the communications advisor is also the Cabinets point man charged with trying to manipulate the coverage?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: These assumptions are being made by the Member opposite. I am not aware that he was talking about advertising with them. I believe it is the communications advisors job to communicate with the media.
Mr. McDonald: There are a number of different ways of communicating with the media. You can twist their arms or you can discuss with them their coverage. The questions is whether or not one does that in the context of advertising revenue that they depend on to survive.
Can the Minister, as a matter of policy, indicate to us whether or not he believes that it is appropriate for the communications advisor - the Cabinet communications advisor, the person who works out of the Cabinet offices for the Cabinet - to have any discussions whatsoever about standard advertising expenditures of government that it might spend in order to conduct its business?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We are not talking about the political advertising and government advertising. There are times that we will be advertising and we want to know what it will cost.
As for the Member making allegations that the communications advisor is twisting arms, I resent those allegations. I said I would bring back a legislative return.
Mr. McDonald: I am asking for a statement of policy. I am asking whether or not the Government Leader will tolerate the Cabinet communications advisor having any discussions whatsoever on standard advertising expenses of government, which are normally conducted through the Public Service Commission, Government Services, or the departments, particularly when that same person - who we know for a fact, because the Minister has admitted to this - has attempted to manipulate the medias coverage of the proceedings of this Legislature. As a matter of policy, will he tolerate that same person carrying on any discussion with respect to advertising revenues for media?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I said I did not know that that was going on and that I would check on it and bring back a legislative return.
Question re: Animal protection legislation
Mr. Penikett: This may be an appropriate question - I am not sure. It is a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources.
The Humane Society has been struggling for the past two years to get animal protection legislation in place. It appears that the Minister is once again stalling on the issue by not responding to specific letters on the subject, dating from last April, one in May and the latest in October. Could the Minister dispel the expressed fears that he is simply ignoring the group of concerned citizens by providing the House with his reasons as to why he has not responded to the Humane Societys letters.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I will have to check on that. I believe we did answer them all, but I will get back to the Member on that.
Disturbance from the gallery
Speaker: Order please. We will not hear from persons in the gallery.
Speaker: This House will recess until this disturbance ends.
Recess from 2:05 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
There being no further questions, we will proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
This has been a very unusual day. What do I do now?
Bill No. 12: First Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Department of Community and Transportation Services - continued
On Transportation Division - continued
On Highway Construction - continued
On Alaska Highway - continued
On amendment - continued
Chair: We are dealing with the amendment in Vote 9, Department of Community and Transportation Services. The amendment reads:
THAT the estimates pertaining to Bill No. 12, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1994-95, be amended in Vote 09, Community and Transportation Services, by reducing the line item Highway Construction: Alaska Highway, on page 26 in the capital estimates by $4,500,000; and
THAT the clauses and schedules of the bill be amended accordingly.
Is there further debate on the line item?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would like to take a moment to address the original purpose of the motion put forward by the Member for Riverdale South, to reduce the Alaska Highway reconstruction line item in our 1994-95 capital budget.
I want to review what was asked for, what was offered, and what is now being proposed.
As the Members will recall, the person proposing the motion put it forward as a friendly amendment. We addressed the comments made by Members opposite in their budget responses wherein they expressed concern with respect to the capital budget being too heavily weighted in favour of highway reconstruction as opposed to general building trade construction.
The Member for Riverdale South stated on December 13, when she proposed the motion, that she was responding to a positive comment I made in response to one of her questions that was asked of me on November 10, 1993. Specifically, the Member for Riverdale South asked me if I was prepared to discuss and accept any amendments and changes to the capital budget by the Opposition Members in order to gain their cooperation. I responded at that time by saying that, should constructive suggestions come from the other side of the House, certainly this government would take them under consideration.
I said this in good faith, knowing very well that we are a minority government and require the support and cooperation of at least one Member opposite.
In one of the newspapers, on December 15, 1993 - I believe it was the Yukon News - the Member for Riverdale South said that because her motion was about a money issue the government could consider it a non-confidence motion. If the government opposed the motion and the government was defeated in the vote, Yukoners could find themselves heading to the polls again.
The Member went on to say that is not why she brought the motion forward and that she would not want the public to get that impression, and that that would take away from the intent of her motion to get schools built.
In last Fridays paper, January 14, 1994, the Member seems to have changed her position, saying, I am prepared to go to the polls on this issue.
While I am quoting from that same news article, I want to set the record straight. The Member opposite said in that article, Ostashek told me that if we go with Selkirk and we run out of room, then we will put in portables there. That is not true, and the Member opposite is misleading the people of the Yukon.
The Member for Riverside was at that meeting, as was the Member for Porter Creek South. I told the Member that I was going over a list of options that was given to us by the Department of Education, and that was one of the options.
I told the Member quite explicitly that it was not an option that was acceptable to me. I told the Member that if we decided to go with Selkirk School only, we would be adding classrooms. She purposely twisted this around for her own political benefit, if she is quoted correctly. I discussed many options that were given to us by the Department of Education in that meeting.
I want to go back to what was asked for. Clearly, what was asked for was that a proper balance be struck between road construction jobs and building trade jobs. I can quote the individual Members responses back to them to refresh their memories, if they would like. On November 15, 1993, a budget response by the Member for Riverdale South reads, quote, I support the concept of spending more money on highway infrastructure. I support the idea, but I have some concerns about the balance between money spent on highways and money identified and allocated to the construction industry. Later in this debate, the Minister of highways will be addressing the balance that was struck in the budget. She went on to say, My concern is that perhaps the scales have tipped a little too much toward highways and roads and road construction, as opposed to the construction industry. She also went on to say, It is difficult to know which industry creates more jobs, or puts more people to work. My concern is that Yukoners get put to work.
If the Member opposite had researched her speech a little better, it would not have been that difficult to identify how many workers there are for highway, how many there are for building trades - plumbers, electricians, et cetera. On the same day, November 15, 1993, the Member for Riverside, in a budget response said, Why have the multi-year capital projects in the Education budget not been accelerated? Why the emphasis on roads, when, as I believe, the weakness in the construction sector right now is in the building trades.
Yet that Member has not come up with any evidence to support those types of claims. This is only his gut feeling. He has not produced any evidence, nor has the Member for Riverdale South.
The Member for Riverside went on to say, One of the things we will have to test in the budget debate is where the government is getting its information about the building trades. In my view, the building trades are, in fact, very hungry. Again, we produced the evidence of where we got the numbers; the Member for Riverside has not produced one iota of evidence except his gut feeling.
The Leader of the Official Opposition says we are all wrong. I would like to see his numbers. I would like to see what numbers he has researched. He has done nothing. In the budget response on November 15 by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini, One has to wonder whether or not they consider, as the Government Leader expressed last spring, whether education spending is simply debt creation and that spending on roads - no matter where the roads go, where they are or where they are going, for whatever purpose - constitutes wealth creation or a short-sighted, narrow-minded vision of the economy in our society. He went on to say, The question is, is the budget, as it is proposed, balanced? Does it respect the fact that there are a number of sectors in our economy that are worth preserving and nurturing over the long-term economic health of the territory?
I want to assure all Members of this House that when we put together the 1994-95 capital budget, we fully recognized the need to maintain a proper balance between road construction and the building trades projects to ensure maximum job opportunities for all Yukoners.
We believe we did a pretty good job in finding this balance but, if that balance can be fine-tuned, so be it. We are open to suggestions.
This leads me to what was offered. It is no secret that the motion to reduce the Alaska Highway reconstruction line item by $4.5 million is a particularly troublesome amendment for the government, and it is very detrimental to the well-being of the Yukon Territory.
The impact on the possible extension to the Shakwak project, the upcoming RCMP and gold rush centennial anniversaries and the opening of the mines in Faro and Watson Lake will all be negative. Many Yukon communities, companies and individuals are very angry with the Members opposite for even proposing such a motion, and the Member for Riverdale South has received numerous phone calls that we are aware of.
I am sure that the Members are all well aware of these concerns. The Member for Riverdale South received a letter from the Tourism Industry Association of Yukon that states, We believe that capital investment and highway infrastructure is a key element to realizing growth potential of the upcoming anniversaries, and we support the governments planned capital budget for highway construction. The Tourism Industry Association of Yukon went on to say, However, we are vitally concerned about any initiative which might jeopardize highway reconstruction and the negative impact the deferment or cancellation of such programs might have on the opportunities for potential tourism development in the next few years. I will table a copy of that letter, as well as one from the Yukon Chamber of Commerce.
The letter from the Yukon Chamber of Commerce states, While the Yukon Chamber of Commerce recognizes the importance of education, we feel this money should be used for the purpose for which it was appropriated. The road network, and the Alaska Highway in particular, has an impact on tourism, mining, the hauling of freight and all other sectors of our economy. We feel that since the funding in question resulted from the Alaska Highway devolution agreement signed in 1992 by the Government of Canada and the Yukon Territorial Government, this money should be spent on improving and maintaining the Alaska Highway.
They went on to say that, if new schools were a priority, they should be identified during the initial budget development. That approach would also allow the Department of Education to identify where they feel the need for new schools is the greatest. The Minister of Education will be addressing those priorities later in the debate.
The Yukon Chamber of Commerce passed a motion at its meeting and forwarded it to the Member for Riverside.
At the same time, I want to go back to 1992, when funding for the highway was devolved from the federal government to the territorial government. The NDP was in power at that time, and the Minister of highways, the Hon. Maurice Byblow, delivered a ministerial statement in this House that said he wanted to emphasize that it is our policy to ensure that the funds negotiated for the reconstruction of the Alaska Highway are in fact spent on reconstruction. That was a Minister of the NDP government, and he made that very statement in this very Legislature.
At the same time, the Member for Riverdale South responded that the Minister was taking the time of the House to make a ministerial statement to tell the Legislature that it was the policy of the government to ensure that funds for the reconstruction were spent on reconstruction. She said we had hoped that would be the case and that it would not take a ministerial statement to announce that the government would, in fact, be spending the money there.
I offered to sit down with the Members for Riverdale South and Riverside to listen to their suggestions about how we might fine tune the balance between road construction and building trades. To date, they have only made one suggestion: the Grey Mountain Primary School.
The Member has been quoted in the paper on the Mayo school, but I would like to advise the House that, during the meeting we had last Friday, the Member only mentioned the Mayo school during the last five minutes of the meeting. It was a red herring.
I advised the Members that we were prepared to look at suggestions, subject to an assessment being conducted by the Department of Education to further identify our school needs on a priority basis. Further, I offered to advance construction of the Hidden Valley School, which is the only school that is ready to go and has the numbers to justify construction.
I offered that last Friday. Up to this point in time, I received no favourable responses to any of my proposals from either the Member for Riverdale South or the Member for Riverside. These two Members are ultimately going to be held accountable for their actions.
This leads me to the current situation in which we find ourselves. The Member for Riverdale South was originally asking about maintaining a proper balance between road construction and building trade jobs. That is not what she is after at all.
What she is saying to this House is, Build the Grey Mountain School, or else. She does not give a damn if there are more pressing priorities for schools in the Yukon. She is an Independent Member, and that is why independents do not work. She does not care about the priorities for the Yukon; she does not care at all. She also does not care if, in the final analysis, a school may not be needed. She could not care less. Contrary to what she said in her budget response, putting Yukoners to work is of secondary importance to her.
What I find most intriguing of all of this is how she managed to dupe the Member for Riverside, and other Members of this House, into supporting her position. How is the Member for Riverside going to answer to his constituents, his party members, and all Yukoners for that matter, when they ask him why he agreed to support a motion for a school that may not be needed or is not a priority compared to requirements for other schools? An example is Hidden Valley School.
I am very surprised by all this. I would think that the Liberal Leader, the Member for Riverside, who represents all Liberals in the Yukon in this House, would be a bit more concerned about other things than just a school in Riverdale South. Perhaps there is no one in the Laberge area who votes Liberal. I do not know. Perhaps that is the approach he is taking. He does not seem to want to see the Hidden Valley School advanced. It is ready to go and will create the construction jobs he is so worried about. Yet, he will not support that.
How is the Leader of the Liberal Party going to answer the charge that he has acted as a mere puppet for the Member for Riverdale South, and that she pulls the strings?
Back in December, when the motion was made and debated to reduce this line item, I talked to the Member for Riverside. He said, You have some very compelling arguments, but do not confuse me with the facts. He said, I have made a commitment to the Member for Riverdale South, and I cannot break it. Do not confuse me with the facts. I have given my word. That is what he said. No amount of evidence would make him change his mind because he had promised the Member for Riverdale South that he was going to support her motion. I wonder how the hon. Members apologist, who writes letters to the editors of our local papers, is going to respond to that charge.
I also find it intriguing that the Member for McIntyre-Takhini would support this motion. There is an old saying that some people never learn, they just never learn. The Member for McIntyre-Takhini is the one Member of this House, with the possible exception of the Leader of the Official Opposition, who is directly responsible for constructing buildings all over this territory, but particularly in his former riding, where these buildings were not needed, were over built or should have been built somewhere else. There was no planning.
I need not mention the infamous Elsa curling rink, the Elsa school playroom addition, the Keno City fire hall, Yukon College, the Arts Centre. There are others, but other former NDP Members will want to take credit for the visitor reception centre, the Two Mile Hill reconstruction, and the Ross River arena. That is the type of planning that was done while they were in power.
The point I am making is that one of the main reasons the Members opposite are, in fact, Members opposite is because they squandered millions of dollars constructing buildings that were neither needed nor wanted. This government does not intend to carry on those disastrous practices. We do not intend to carry on the disastrous practices of the previous administration in relation to capital projects.
We were not able to influence the design of the Thomson Centre or the Two Mile Hill reconstruction project, but we did manage to catch the Whitehorse General Hospital in time.
Further, we know that if we were to continue the practice of the NDP administration in building white elephants all over the territory, the first Member to criticize us would be the Member for Riverdale South.
I made my offer to the Members opposite in good faith and it still stands. We on this side are prepared to accept a $1 million reduction of this line item. In the spirit of compromise, we are prepared to devote up to $1 million to advance the construction of the Hidden Valley School, and accordingly, I would ask the Members opposite to make such an amendment in the spirit of cooperation and compromise. That, they said, was the original intent of the motion that they put forward.
Mrs. Firth: I have heard it all now. I do not know who wrote that speech for the Government Leader, but if it was my political advisor who wrote that speech, they would be down the road. I have never, never heard in the 12 years I have been in this Assembly such evasive answers, innuendoes, changes of positions, allegations in all of the time that I have been here in the Legislature.
This editorial still holds water with this government. The title of the editorial is An Idea That Did Not Deserve The Fury; the fury is still there.
The Government Leader has not given us one shred of evidence as to why they cannot do this, except to say that it is going to be disastrous for the Yukon Territory if they do it.
I keep copious notes and I am very glad that I do - I keep notes on little pieces of paper, I keep notes on big pieces of paper. My ears perk up when the Government Leader says that he wants to see one school in Riverdale and that it may be down at Selkirk and if there are not enough classrooms to accommodate the students, he is going to use portables to do it. I remember that. I remember that comment.
This debate has gone well beyond what it had to - way beyond. When I brought this amendment to the House, I brought it here in a constructive and friendly manner, as I said. How was that greeted in this Legislature? We all know how it was greeted. It was greeted with one of the most vitriolic personal attacks any Member of this Legislature has ever had launched upon them.
I am not asking anybody over there to like me as a person. I do not care, but I do bring some good ideas into this Legislature, and I bring the ideas into this Legislature on behalf of the people I represent. I will stack my track record up against the Government Leaders track record any day - any day. When he has been re-elected as many times as I have, then he can take shots at me about the way I represent my constituents. Until then, he does not have that privilege or luxury at all - not at all. The jury is out on that issue. We will see if the Government Leader gets re-elected.
The issue here is that this amendment was brought forward not for one reason but for several reasons, as have been stated in this House. I have had people call me, extremely upset at the Government Leaders insistence that there are no people out there to work on construction projects. I do not understand why the Government Leader keeps bringing that argument forward, because it is just not true. I had an electrical contractor in my office today who had just laid off nine employees.
People are leaving the Yukon because they cannot find work here.
The Government Leader goes on about all this money that has been put into highways to put people to work. The last highways contract, which has just been tendered for over $5 million, went to a firm outside the Yukon Territory. I raised it with the Government Leader at the meeting we had the other day. He did not know anything about it, yet he comes in this House and tells us how he is putting more people to work in the Yukon because he has all this money in the highways budget. He does not know what he is talking about.
Let us just go back a bit to why we are here and why we are debating this issue. The Government Leader has this habit of telling everyone he is a minority government. I heard him on the radio just before we were due to sit for this session. He told listeners that if he did not have any support for his budget, and if the Member for Riverside or I did not support it, there would be an election. It is this government that likes to scare the public with their talk of a coming election. He thinks, because of what he hears from the people he talks to, that no one wants an election. People are not prepared to tolerate this just because the Government Leader, his Cabinet colleagues and advisors think people do not want an election. It does not work that way.
The first question I asked the Government Leader was, if he was concerned about his government, his budget and the possibility of an election, why did he not get some support for his budget prior to tabling it in the Legislature?
The Government Leader could not answer the question. So, we asked about giving positive, constructive ideas. He said to bring them forward, they would listen to whatever constructive ideas we had and consider them.
The first constructive, positive idea that was brought forward, and supported by the Opposition Members of this House, was shot down in a blaze of flames by the government. Do you know what? Ever since that day, this government, and the Government Leader, have not taken one step, or spent one minute, trying to find a way to accommodate this amendment. Everything they have done has been to oppose it and tell us why it cannot be done.
All the Opposition Members had a briefing session - the New Democrats, the Liberal Member, and I. We were briefed by the Ministers officials as to why this could not be done - all the excuses and reasons the Government Leader has cited this evening, none of which bear any validity.
I am not going to go through them one by one, because people do not believe it. There has never been one concrete initiative or step taken to look at this and see how this amendment could be accommodated and made to work.
The Government Leader indicated he wanted to meet again with the interim Leader of the Liberal Party, with me, and with the Speaker. He did not want the New Democrats involved in that meeting, because it was to be a negotiation.
This person, who is the Government Leader of the territory, does not know what the word negotiation means.
We went to the meeting. Again, we were told why this was a bad idea, only they had a new story this time. Before, it was just that there was no money. They found the money and, now, it was not just the money, but it was numbers, that $50 million worth of highway money had been reallocated to areas other than highways over the last five years, that the federal government was going to be eavesdropping on our conversations, that it was going to affect formula financing - every excuse in the book.
I found it very interesting when the Government Leader stood up and mentioned that he had talked with the Member for Riverside. I know that the Member for Riverside can defend himself, but I want to express a concern. I remember very well the evening I proposed that amendment in the Legislature. I remember very well the fury of the Minister of Education and the Government Leader when I proposed that amendment. I saw those individuals practically run from these Chambers after the Member for Riverside who had gone to his office - walked there in his easy going casual way - and they went into his office and I could see from the window as I walked past the Minister of Education waving his arms in fury and raising his voice and yelling and shouting. He was probably saying to the Member for Riverside, You cannot support this. You cannot support this. You cannot support this.
That is how these people talk to other people. I saw that and any other Member who walked out of this House and walked by saw it, because we were all commenting about it. We commented that the Liberal Member had the government Members in his office trying to put the thumbscrews to him and doing some arm-twisting.
Civilized people do not do that. I brought in a reasonable, logical, good idea that hundreds of Yukoners and parents agree with. Why is that it is only the government Members who cannot see the issue.
They stand and say that they could do the politically expedient thing and build the school. The Minister of Education says that if constituents want me to build a school he could just say yes and build it. This was a promise on the doorstep of people who live in that constituency during the election campaign. People said to me that he knocked on their door and he made a promise, and now they are breaking that promise.
Probably the most distressing thing about this whole issue is the fact that the people, the parents, the council, we here in the Legislature, have never ever been told the same thing twice by this government, nor has the same consistent statement been made twice by the government. Every time one turns around, they have another answer, another excuse, another reason, another line. All we want is for the government to be honest and straightforward with us. If they do not believe in Grey Mountain Primary School, they should stand up and say so - instead of the Government Leader, in the meeting I had with the Government Leader and with the Liberal Leader and the Speaker, subtly referring to it as if it were something that could be here today and gone tomorrow.
Stand up and tell us what the position of this government is. Do they support this school? I do not think Grey Mountain Primary is a temporary school. The facility may be temporary - it was supposed to be - trailers - they were not supposed to be there 20 years later.
I think Grey Mountain Primary is a permanent school. It is a school of which the parents and the teachers who work there are very proud. It is a school all Yukoners can be proud of because it is one of the best schools here in the Yukon.
The children who go to this school have extremely dedicated parents who support them, who support the school, who have an admirable working relationship that sets an example for other schools in the territory. I have not heard one comment of commitment to this school from this government, other than during the election campaign.
The Government Leader has made a comment about how I did not want to go to the polls - that was not the intention - and then I changed my mind. Maybe the Government Leader had some influence over that because originally this was not the intention of the motion. The motion was to make a constructive recommendation to the government, to take some money out of highways and reallocate it for schools, to create some jobs in the building construction industry, to get a school built that is ready to be built and to look at getting another school built that is desperately needed in the community of Mayo.
The Government Leader says I only raised it at the end of the meeting. I was very curious by the time we got to the end of the meeting and I said to the Government Leader, Tell me, John, why is it that we keep talking about Grey Mountain Primary School here and you have never once mentioned the school in Mayo?
The Government Leader is laughing, but I know he remembers that that is exactly how I said it. The school was never mentioned by him, because he wants to paint the picture that all we want is the Grey Mountain Primary School. If that is what I have to do to get that school, the Government Leader can paint whatever kind of picture he wants, because I have a goal in sight. That goal is, first of all, to get some commitment out of the government that they recognize Grey Mountain Primary School as a permanent school - not to be combined with some other school. Second, I want to see that they get a new school - one that is safe, has good air quality, is not overcrowded and is not heated by electricity. It should be a school that is a safe, good quality environment in which the children can go to school. I will keep working toward that. I will take advantage of any opportunity or any legislative or parliamentary procedure at my disposal to do that.
The Government Leader has made reference to the letters he got from the Tourism Industry Association and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce supporting this initiative. I believe that this is as a result of a meeting the Government Leader called. At that meeting, he summoned representatives of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Tourism Industry Association and the Yukon Chamber of Mines. I had not heard from one of those groups about this amendment before the Government Leader summoned them to be briefed on the issue. I had one enquiry from the executive director of the Tourism Industry Association, asking me for a quick update on what this whole Grey Mountain Primary School was all about. He would not tell me why he wanted it. He said he wanted it, however, so I accommodated him.
I met with two highway construction contractors who expressed a great deal of concern to me about the money coming out of the highways budget. Mr. Cable was present at that meeting, as well. I told them at that time that if they felt that strongly about the money staying in the highways budget, I was quite prepared to withdraw the amendment. However, there had to be some money found within the budget for these two schools. I also offered that proposition to the Government Leader and he ruled it out of the question. I know he did not tell that to the Yukon Chamber of Commerce when he met with them, or had someone meet with them on his behalf, because that seemed to be their biggest concern. I have not had a lot of phone calls from anybody about this issue, other than parents who have been calling me to say that they support the initiative and contractors in the building construction industry who have called to say that they support the initiative.
The first evidence I had that there was someone in the community other than the government who was totally opposed to it was the letter that I received Friday from the Yukon Chamber of Commerce that had been sent to all of the media. I had never seen the letter before, nor had they spoken to me about it. I have made my comments about that letter. I do not have to raise them again.
We have a certain number of dollars to spend in the Yukon. I do not deny that that funding is probably going to be threatened because of the new federal government, and because money is going to be tightened up. I just do not buy the Government Leaders argument that someone in Ottawa is listening to what is going on here and is going to cut our money off because of this particular initiative - I just do not buy that argument. No matter how many times the Government Leader says that is what is going to happen, I just do not believe it.
There are a lot of other places in government where we could find the money. I have told the Government Leader that I was quite prepared to sit down with him and look at other areas. He does not want to do that. He wants me to compromise and set aside a million dollars out of this budget - for what? I do not know what for. He told me it was in case something happens when he has hard numbers.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: They are saying Hidden Valley. I know the government has lots of priorities other than Grey Mountain Primary. Perhaps, in the debate this evening, the Government Leader or one of his colleagues could stand up and tell us here in the Legislature and tell the members of the public just where on the list of priorities Grey Mountain Primary School appears.
Perhaps he could tell us whether this government is even committed to it. Perhaps the government recognizes it as a permanent school. Perhaps he could tell us that there is no chance they are going to combine it with another school in Riverdale. Perhaps he could make those kinds of commitments to us, because we have heard no comment from the government with respect to this project. We have all had shots taken at us. The Liberal Member has taken the brunt of it tonight. The Government Leader stood up and made comments about all the other Opposition Members, but he has not given us his position with respect to the Grey Mountain Primary School initiative, and whether or not they are committed to it.
There seems to be some inconsistency. What is the governments position with respect to the size of schools? Do they want to maintain the concept of small community schools? He seemed unclear about that at the meeting I had with him, yet the Deputy Minister of Education was very clear about it at a public meeting that the Grey Mountain Primary School council held. When the Deputy Minister of Education was questioned with respect to the policy, he said there would not be schools with more that 350 kids. Yet, in the Government Leaders proposal to combine the Grey Mountain Primary and Selkirk Street schools, we are going to have more than 350 students.
At that time, when I questioned him about the 350 child limit, the Minister indicated he was not quite sure what the policy is. He said the department was just developing it. I now see in the newspaper that one of the assistant deputy ministers has said that the policy might be 350 kids.
I want to find out what the policy is. The people who have come here tonight to hear these debates have a right to get some specific and conclusive answers from the government, not evasive, whatever-suits-the-moment responses.
There is a lot of frustration among the parents in Riverdale right now, because of importance to them, instead of a new school, is maintaining the school and the identity of the school that they now have, and that has been threatened by the Government Leader in his comments at our meeting the other day.
The Government Leader made some other comments that were quite distressing, saying that he could not support having two half-empty schools in Riverdale, and that the government was waiting for the grade reorganization to be completed.
Here we go again - say one thing today and another thing tomorrow. The school council and parents at a public meeting were told by three people, one of them the Minister of Education, that the grade reorganization would have no bearing on the new school being built. The Minister is shaking his head no, yet I know there have to be people in this public gallery who heard the Minister say that. This is what people find so discouraging.
When I have mothers tell me that they do not want to hear from the Minister again, because they have spoken with him and he has spoken to them and that they have nothing further to say to each other, I know that there has been a communication breakdown.
Chair: Order please. The time limit in Committee of Whole is 30 minutes; the hon. Member has one minute to conclude.
Mrs. Firth: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I know that I will get another 30 minutes and another 30 minutes.
I know that the people who have told me things that have been spoken of or spoken about at the public meetings have no reason to misrepresent what has been said at those meetings.
I am going to stop for now. I have some more comments I want to follow up with respect to what the Government Leader has said, and I will take that up in the next half-hour. We will talk about how the Government Leader will do what is right for Riverdale South in the next 30 minutes.
Chair: Is it the wishes of the Members to take a brief recess?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I think it is important for me to enter the debate, as the Minister of Education, and put some facts on the record concerning the allegations made by the Member for Riverdale South and the reasons for our debating this amendment to the budget tonight.
The Member stated in her speech that one of the main reasons for debating the changes to this budget was that she wanted to see Grey Mountain Primary School built. That was her number one concern and goal.
I think it is important to go back in time and set up the chronology to illuminate how we arrived at the point at which we are today. The Member for Riverdale South was quite correct that in the last election I went from door to door supporting the building of a new Grey Mountain Primary School. The Member for Riverdale South is also quite correct when she said that I have stood up in this House many times in the past in support of it being a stand-alone school. I want it on the record again that I certainly do support better facilities for the students at Grey Mountain Primary School, and I will work toward that end.
In November of last year, there was a change in government. I was assigned the responsibility, as the Minister of Education, to be responsible for education throughout the whole territory. When I took on that job, we had to look at the various capital projects that we had on stream and where we were going. At that particular time, the building of the Grey Mountain school was a project that was onstream and almost ready to go, but it got cancelled mainly because of the discovery of the $64 million deficit and the need for all departments to reduce their spending. At that time, that was the main reason that that particular school was put on hold, and I gave a commitment to the school council at that time that I would do whatever I could to see that that school would be a very high priority of this government and would be built in the very near future.
The Member for Riverdale South also said that I told them that grade reorganization would have no bearing whatsoever on the school. Grade reorganization will not have a major bearing on the school, but it will have some bearing on that school. Of course, as we all know, grade reorganization is adding an extra grade, so it will have some bearing on that school.
Each year in June, we project in the Department of Education what we expect to be the enrolment for September in all our schools. At that time, Grey Mountain was projected at 129 students and Selkirk was projected far above what it is today. In September, when the students went back to school, there was a marked decrease in the number of students that attended and signed up for Grey Mountain Primary School and the Selkirk Street School - the Riverdale area.
This was brought to my attention by the Department of Education. I then asked the Department of Education to do a forecast for future years for that school, based on the numbers that we had. When I received that forecast, I was a bit dismayed to see what is happening in Riverdale. Many of the younger children are moving through the system into junior high and high school, and there are not that many children moving into the elementary grades. In fact, the projections I was given - without doing any further investigations - based on the students now in the school system, have shown that if we built a new Grey Mountain Primary School, which would accommodate 225 students, and we have the Selkirk Street School with a capacity for 380 students, by 1996, we would have a capacity for 605 students in Riverdale, when the school was complete.
The population projections that I have available to me now, show that in 1996 in Riverdale, there will be 380 students in Riverdale. Those figures are quite significant. If we go from kindergarten to grade 7 with the grade reorganization, the student population will increase to 440 students in Riverdale with a capacity of 605.
That number is significant, because when I asked the Department of Education where they felt the future priorities would be in schools in the Whitehorse area, they said that there are a couple of priorities. Firstly, there is the new high school in Whitehorse because we have an awful lot of students moving into the higher grades and we have to build a new high school fairly quickly, and with the growth of the Granger subdivision, we will need a new elementary school in 1997-98.
We also have some crowded schools in Dawson City, and some crowded schools in Hidden Valley, where there is also growth projected. It would have been very easy for me, as the Minister of Education, as well as the Member for Riverdale North, where possibly half of the students in that riding go to Grey Mountain Primary, to just say, Lets build Grey Mountain Primary. That is what has been done in the past. That is what the previous government did. It built schools that were much more expensive than they should have been in the Granger area; they built a very expensive high school in Watson Lake, when the people were wondering who had asked for the school and why they got it.
We were elected to be financially responsible. As I am the Minister of Education, when these new facts came to light I had to have a second look. I could not just go ahead and build a school.
If I was not representing Riverdale North, if I was in some other riding in the territory where the school population had dropped between 15 and 20 percent, and it was projected by the numbers we have today to drop another 10 to 15 percent over the next couple of years, and I decided to build a $4.5 million school in that area, I can assure you that the Member for Riverdale South would be the first Member to rise to her feet and scold me severely for deciding to build a school in an area where there was not a demonstrated need. That is what is ironic about this particular project.
When we look at where we are building schools, and why we are building schools, we have go look at many issues. We have to look at issues such as future land development, whether the neighbourhoods are young or old, what type of municipal services might be required to support the school, what services are currently available, what the operating costs of a particular school would be, the bus routing costs, and the school programming. That last little section that I just read comes out of the April 5, 1989 Hansard, and was stated by the Hon. Mr. McDonald, when he was asked what he looks at when he builds schools.
I would think that a 15- to 20-percent reduction in the school population in Riverdale warrants a second look - it really does warrant a second look. What we have asked the Member for Riverdale South to do is to give us the time to have a second look. Within the next couple of weeks - the first week or two of February - a survey will be conducted in Riverdale, which will help us to determine the number of students who are preschool - the children who are one to five years old, who are not in the system today.
The Member for Riverdale South wants to know who is doing the survey. We plan to solicit the services of a grade 11 economics class at F.H. Collins. They will call each and every resident in Riverdale as part of the grade 11 economics project. They will provide the information we need by contacting those households.
It is a good project for the school. It is not complicated. It just means soliciting each and every household. It is also good for the students and is all part of their program.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Member for Riverdale South says that I am serious. You bet I am. I imagine the Member for Riverdale South, who is so cost conscious, would not want me to spend $25,000 on a survey when there is no need to do that. The last survey that was done in Golden Horn was done by the school council. We asked the Grey Mountain School council if it would like to conduct the survey, and they said no, that they were going to conduct it with students.
I can assure everyone that every resident in that school area will be contacted. If they are not, I hope they will contact the Department of Education to let us know if they do not hear anything by the middle of February about whether or not they have children in school.
As I said before, it could have been really easy to build that school. However, as the Minister of Education, I am expected to make responsible decisions on building schools. The grade reorganization will have an effect on Riverdale. In fact, the Member was made aware the other day that if, for instance, the grade reorganization goes ahead with grades K to 7, and 8 to 12, that may free up a school in Riverdale. It may allow one of the schools in Riverdale to be vacant and, with the building of a second high school, we will have an empty school in Riverdale.
There are then all kinds of scenarios we can look at for providing better facilities for the students of Grey Mountain Primary. We have to take the time to look at the numbers, and at the results of the grade reorganization. I do not think it is asking a lot of the Member for Riverdale South.
As I said before, the Member for Riverdale South would be the first one to go up one side of me and down the other if I went ahead and built a $5 million school in someone elses riding, where all the projections we have to date show us that the populations in the area would decrease.
I do not have a crystal ball, and I do not have the expertise to make a guess on what is going to happen in Riverdale or know if the figures that I have are absolutely accurate, but they are figures given to me by the Department of Education and they are currently based on the number of students in that school and in the various grades. When I talk about the bubble that is in the school - why the numbers are actually dropping - it is significant to note, when one looks at the report the Member for Riverdale South has - for instance, take Selkirk in 1993 - in the lower grades, in kindergarten, there are 25 students this year; in grade 1, there are 33; in grade 2, there are 27; in grade 3, there are 42. This is where the difference comes in. In grade 4 there are 58, in grade 5 there are 76 and in grade 6 there are 72. What is going to happen in the next couple of years is that these students are going to move through the system. If we do not get the equivalent number coming in at the kindergarten end, we are going to have vacant schools in Riverdale.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I did not interrupt the Member for Riverdale South when she was speaking, so I would expect the same courtesy from that Member when I am speaking.
The projections I have are the only ones I can go by at this date. I have asked the department to do a survey of all the students in that area, and that will give us the data we need. Based on that data, there will be a decision made on whether or not we proceed with the new Grey Mountain School. We cannot go without that data, and that will all be done this spring.
If we were to go the route the Member for Riverdale South wants us to go right now, we would have the two schools in Riverdale with roughly 380 students with 605 spaces. That would mean extra teachers with smaller classroom sizes in those two particular schools, and extra costs for us. If we needed to provide elementary space in the future for Whitehorse, we would have to bus elementary school students from Granger or other growth areas of Whitehorse into Riverdale to fill up those schools, and I am sure the Riverdale people would not want their children bused to Granger. When people want elementary schools built, they prefer them to be built in their neighbourhoods or close to their homes.
All we are trying to do is make a reasonable, sound financial decision here. We all know that, although they are currently safe and are not in as deplorable a condition as the Member for Riverdale South would like people to think, it is time to get those children out of those trailers. We are trying to do that, but in a responsible manner. We cannot just go and build a school in an area because the Member for Riverdale South wants us to. As I said before, that Member would be after me with all her power and might if I had done that in any other area of the territory.
It was not an easy decision, but, based on the facts I had, I think that postponing building the school until we had more adequate information was the route to go. It is the route we have chosen.
Ms. Moorcroft: This amendment to reduce the Alaska Highway line item by $4.5 million represents a shift in priorities. I would note, for the Government Leader, that it is not just a balance between road construction and building trades. Educational opportunities for our children is one of the most important investments that we can make.
I would like to look at the numbers. With this amendment, we would still spend $27,935,000 on the Alaska Highway. Of that, $26,325,000 comes from the federal government in recoverable funds. The $27,935,000 would still represent the largest amount ever spent on the Alaska Highway. That is $2 million more than in 1993-94. That is $14 million more than in 1992-93.
The $4.5 million could build two schools. It has the potential to create approximately 35 construction jobs and new facilities for school children.
The Grey Mountain Primary School council lobbied extensively for a new school. The Minister of Education knocked on doors in Riverdale North saying he supported the new Grey Mountain School. Here is another broken promise.
A new school for Mayo was scheduled in the capital plan. It is silly to spend money now putting on a new roof and patching up a school that really needs to be rebuilt. The Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, the Mayo school council and community support the need for a new school.
My colleague, the Member for Mayo-Tatchun recently tabled all kinds of correspondence about the inadequacies of the existing school in Mayo, and the need for a new school.
The Alaska Highway amendment certainly provoked debate, an acrimonious debate at that. On December 13, 1993, the Minister of Education launched a vitriolic attack on the Member for Riverdale South for proposing an amendment to spend $4.5 million on two new schools. This is the Minister who is supposed to be responsible for the education of Yukon school children and who might have been grateful for the support of school initiatives, especially when this Minister campaigned on the issue of a new Grey Mountain School.
We have seen the Government Leader indulge in the same kind of personal attack again tonight. It was a pathetic display and that kind of personal attack is what I think really troubles our constituents.
I certainly hope that I will not be hated for speaking up for my constituents and wanting to contribute to the budget process. I may be naive, but I thought that that was what I was elected for and what we are all elected to do. The amendment is sensible. The government reaction to the amendment has been completely unreasonable.
The Government Leader came in here and engaged in some irrational rhetoric. The Government Leader is spouting statistics to prove his claim that there are no trades people to be had for love nor money, that the government cannot build schools because there are no trades people. There are indeed 171 carpenters in the Yukon and 100 of them are presently unemployed. Generally, many trades people in the Yukon are unemployed.
The government says that the hospital will put all of the available trades people to work, but they do not know what kind of hospital or if a hospital will be built in the current year.
The government seems to have the attitude that only the strong, real Yukoner shall survive. They like to talk about real Yukoners. Well, trades people have not left the Yukon, and although many electricians, plumbers, labourers and carpenters are unemployed, there are more than enough of them still in the Yukon to build a Grey Mountain Primary School and the Mayo School.
As MLAs, it is not unreasonable to expect us to speak for our constituents. It is not unreasonable to expect us to speak for our constituents who are real Yukoners, and that includes trades people, First Nations, parents and school children.
The Minister of Education said we need to look at many issues. Let us look at this budget. There is $1 million for a liquor store in Watson Lake. There is $5 million to be spent on cars, computers and furniture. The total capital budget is $126 million.
The display on the side opposite is because this government does not like to be challenged. They seem to resent anyone taking a contrary position, no matter what the issue, nor what merits there are to the contrary position.
In this case, the merits of school construction are needed jobs in the construction industry, and needed improvements to our public school system. I would say to this government that they have to listen to everybody, not just to their friends.
There is a lot of evidence that if this government does not like something, out it goes. For example, we were told they would table an economic forecast. We were then told they would not table it, because they did not like what it said, and that everyone the Minister showed it to had problems with it. However, to whom did they show it, other than Yukon Party Cabinet and supporters?
This government has also repeatedly made commitments to First Nations interests. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services, in talking about land development, said they have to deal with First Nations to make sure everyone is involved in whatever we eventually develop. They sure did not do that in Dawson City with the recent boundary expansion.
It seems this government thinks the First Nations are involved, even if their clearly stated position is completely ignored.
On the amendment before us, the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation supports the new school for Mayo. The Yukon Party government wants to ignore the amendment to spend $4.5 million less on the Alaska Highway although, even with the amendment, this capital budget still spends almost $27 million on the highway.
The Yukon Party government does not want to build two schools. It does not want to create jobs, even though there is a large number of available and unemployed trades people in the Yukon. This government does not want to accept the representations of the Grey Mountain Primary School council, or the representations of the J.V. Clark School council, or the representations of the MLAs for Mayo-Tatchun and Riverdale South, or the representations of the Na-Cho Nyak Dun First Nation, or the views of the Yukon community.
I have no hesitation in supporting this amendment. It goes a little way toward making this capital budget more balanced. With this amendment, the government would spend $4.5 million less on roads in order to build two new and needed schools.
The government would spend a little less on improving the Alaska Highway, but still spend more than ever before on the Alaska Highway and on the overall transportation budget. In point of fact, more than $4.5 million of what was forecast for the 1993-94 budget for the Alaska Highway was lapsed and was not spent.
The Official Opposition caucus will be pleased to support the amendment before us.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I am not going to talk about the schools at all, but I do want to set the record straight on the budget amounts for highways, as compared to building construction.
When the Member for Riverdale South moved the amendment to reduce the line item by $4.5 million, she went on at some length about the lack of general building construction projects in the capital budget. I sincerely hope that the Member for Riverdale South honestly has the perceived plight of these construction workers at heart and that this is not just a political ploy to buy some votes in her own riding because, if we give the Member opposite the benefit of the doubt, we still have to correct her arithmetic or, at least, her assumptions.
The 1994-95 capital budget, which we have been debating for some time, contains approximately $44 million worth of building construction-related projects, while the transportation division of Community and Transportation Services contains approximately $39 million worth of highway construction-related projects.
In 1992, a summary of Yukon trades people was conducted. It listed 921 resident trades people. Of these trades people, approximately 600, or over 65 percent, are eligible for highway construction-type work, yet the capital budget reflects more dollars in the building construction area.
Therefore, the argument about construction projects does not wash. I have a chart of all the building permits that were taken out last year by the Yukon government and by the City of Whitehorse. The total in 1993 for Yukon government projects - this is for building permits issued by the Yukon government - was $47,147,673. For the City of Whitehorse, for the same time period, it was $25,570,655. That is somewhere around $72 million for building construction in 1993. The highways budget is somewhere in the $39 million range.
I would like to talk for a moment about some of the implications of reducing the highways budget by $4.5 million. The average daily traffic on the Alaska Highway from 1985 to 1992 has increased from 355 cars per day to 498 cars per day, which is about 113 cars more per day in 1992 than in 1985. In the peak season, which is the summer months, the average per day has increased by 235 cars.
The Member opposite is talking about stuffy classrooms. That Member said in the House on December 13, As I said earlier, the Government Leader has indicated that he would be prepared to look at possible changes to the budget, and there have been a lot of concerns expressed by Members on this side of the House with respect to the lack of general construction projects. If that is her motive, as seems to be indicated by Hansard, then her motive is quite badly flawed.
I will mention some of the implications of reducing this line item. The Alaska Highway operation and maintenance has been steadily coming down because of monies invested in capital. The reconstructed sections of the Alaska Highway place a heavy demand on maintenance, which I just indicated to Members, by the increase in the number of vehicles on the highway.
If the kilometre 1170 to 1180 section is not to be reconstructed, it will be necessary to put in additional O&M money into extensive patching of the existing BST. That amount is estimated now at about $275,000.
I am sure that all Members are aware that when we project capital reconstruction to take place, the department does not continue with BST overlays, and so on. If they rebuild the highway, they will not spend a lot of money on O&M this year by replacing BST. In this particular section, the $4.5 million was slotted for the area that they call the double dips, just south of Swift River. If they do not do that construction, it will be necessary to replace the BST on the existing highway. If that is the case, it will cost approximately $275,000 that we had not intended to spend.
We talked about the total budget for the Alaska Highway. I am sure that most Members opposite are aware that approximately $20 million of that is United States federal government money for what we call the Shakwak project.
The United States government is providing substantial funding to upgrade the North Alaska Highway. Over a five-year period, it is approximately $100 million Canadian, for the benefit of the large American proportion of the North Alaska Highway traffic.
The present funding program amounts to $112 million - sorry, I previously indicated $100 million, for the 1992-97 period. A further $120 million is required to complete the Shakwak project. Our government is lobbying to have this included in the next United States transportation funding bill.
Our position in maintaining the $112 million existing program in securing the $120 million additional funding to Shakwak is weakened by our reluctance to invest the funding provided on the devolved Watson Lake to Haines Junction portion of the Alaska Highway. In other words, if the Yukon government is not prepared to invest funds devolved to us from the federal government for upgrading the Alaska Highway between Watson Lake and Haines Junction, we have diminished credibility in lobbying both Canada and the United States for Shakwak funds.
The uses of the highway in the Swift River area is that it is a general supply route to Whitehorse and the Yukon. It is important because of the ore haul from Sa Dena Hes. We all heard the other day that Sa Dena Hes had been sold, and we are all hoping that it will open again. It is very important that we continue to maintain our highways and continue to upgrade. I think some of the Members opposite will recall, when they opened Sa Dena Hes, there was the decision whether to haul the ore to Stewart, B.C., or to Skagway. The decision as to which way to go was very close.
We have continued to indicate to people interested in that mine that the highway will continue to be upgraded, and that will make a difference as to which way the ore haul goes.
There is a wood haul in the winter from Watson Lake to Skagway. Last year, I believe something like 550 truckloads of logs travelled on the road.
My colleague just indicated to me that this year it is projected that there will be 800 loads going to Skagway. The point is that the highway must continue to be upgraded. The double dips area is one of the worst areas for accidents. It is approximately a 10-kilometre section from kilometre 1170 to kilometre 1180. Interestingly enough, as recently as this past Friday, we had a pile-up of vehicles there that could have been very bad; luckily, there were no injuries, but it could have been an extremely bad situation.
In the summertime, if a B-train meets another B-train at certain corners in that section, somebody has to stop. It is an extremely dangerous section.
The main point I wanted to bring out here is that the Member, when she spoke of reducing this line item, said it was for construction jobs. Now it seems we are playing off schools against highways, which I do not think any of us want or are interested in doing, but if we go back to what she originally said, it does not wash. There is far more money being spent on building construction projects than there is on highway projects. Yet, more trades people are involved in highways.
Mr. McDonald: I would like to say a few words about the motion this evening, largely in response to some of the things Members have said that I find extraordinarily disturbing.
First of all, I would like Members to remember one thing: by the time this government finishes the 1994-95 mandate year, it will have spent over $1 billion. They will have spent, on the combined operations and capital for the 1992-93, 1993-94 and 1994-95 years, well over $1 billion.
We have had a lot of discussion in this Legislature about the balance in this particular type of capital budget. We have expressed some concerns that the government has wanted to spend $1 million on a liquor store in Watson Lake, and yet has refused to adequately fund the education program. We have talked about the very significant highway spending that is being proposed at the expense of capital construction projects. I challenge the Minister of Community and Transportation Services, despite his comments about the building permits, to hunt through this capital budget and find any significant public construction project in this entire budget.
This particular capital budget shows, in the Alaska Highway expenditure, $32 million. The proposal is to reduce that $32 million by $4 million - not $14 or $24 million. The government side is clearly wanting to turn this debate into a roads-versus-schools question. This is not a debate about whether or not the Opposition Members believe in road construction. The Opposition Members have consistently supported very high capital appropriations for highway construction, both on the Alaska Highway and throughout the territory. There are millions of dollars being spent on other highway construction projects throughout the Yukon.
I want to remind the Members that, once this amendment passes - if it is passed - and takes effect, the Alaska Highway expenditure will then read approximately $28 million. That by itself is approximately three times what we have historically spent on the Alaska Highway.
This year, the government proposes to spend $26 million on the Alaska Highway. We find, through information that we have recently received, that now millions of dollars of that money is going to lapse, because the government simply could not spend it. They simply could not put the machinery together to let the tenders to actually initiate the capital construction work.
When one adds the revote from this current year to the planned spending for next year, even without the $4.5 million, the actual spending on the Alaska Highway next summer will double, compared to what happened in this current year, and spending this current year was many times more than what was historically spent on the Alaska Highway.
It was the Members on the Opposition benches who pursued the Alaska Highway agreement and saw it through to completion. To say, for one moment, that the Members in Opposition are not in favour of highway reconstruction is totally false and does a disservice to this debate.
The Members in the Opposition are concerned about the complete collapse of the Education capital budget. There is a total disrespect for education spending.
The Government Leader, in his opening remarks, raised a remark that I made that took the Government Leader to task for referring to education spending as debt creation, and that road reconstruction was wealth creation. This statement is in Hansard, and we on this side are philosophically opposed to that statement, but perhaps it does reflect the governments true intentions about its spending priorities.
We take the view that the government is fundamentally wrong and that it does damage, not only to societys future in the Yukon, but also to our economy.
It is important to remember a number of other things. I will deal with the question of devolution, because that is a red herring that has been raised on a number of occasions by Members on the government side, including the Government Leader this evening.
There is a suggestion that if we do not spend money that was allocated through a devolution agreement from the federal government to the Yukon we somehow jeopardize our future opportunities in our negotiations with the federal government on other devolution agreements. How patently false and self-serving that argument is.
Can we honestly say that all the money we have had transferred to the Arctic B and C program is being put in to airports? It is not, and the Members know it. Under the engineering services agreement for highway reconstruction, the money was supposed to be spent on the Klondike Highway, the North Canol Road and the Top of the World Highway. Is that money being spent where it is supposed to be spent? No, it is not.
There is the oil and gas transfer of only a few months ago. This new government is spending less than 50 percent of that money for what it was intended. When we asked the Deputy Minister of Finance whether or not the federal government, through any negotiations on devolution transfers, or on formula financing, or at any time in his memory, had received any concerns at all, he said no. No negotiator, no civil servant, no politician of the federal government had ever raised any concerns, to his knowledge, about the Yukon Legislature directing money where it saw fit, according to its priorities, depending on what it sees as being appropriate for its public. The only people who have raised this as a concern are the government Members who have used it as an argument to deflate the initiative that has been taken by the Member for Riverdale South.
I am sure the Chair is quite right in reminding me that we have to call the Speaker back in and report progress on this bill, but I will just end by saying that this does not have to be a roads-versus-schools debate. The Members do not have to take us to the brink and play chicken on this question. They can do the decent thing. They can respond to what are clearly the needs of this territory as expressed through many different avenues. I am not talking about the needs as expressed through the people they have strong-armed into sending us letters. I am talking about the advice freely given by constituents. They can do the right thing and have a truly balanced budget that makes sense for our times in this territory.
Mr. Chair, I would move you report progress on this bill.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 12, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1994-95, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:30 p.m.
The following Sessional Paper was tabled January 17, 1994:
Elementary school needs in Riverdale; Enrollment history and forecast of Selkirk and Grey Mountain Schools (Phillips)
The following document was filed January 17, 1994:
Letter dated January 13, 1994, and letter dated January 14, 1994, from the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce respectively to Mrs. Firth, Member for Riverdale South, regarding an amendment proposed by Mrs. Firth to reduce funding for the Alaska Highway construction by $4.5 million. (Ostashek)