Tuesday, January 18, 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. Ostashek: I have a legislative return for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have some legislative returns for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I have a legislative return for tabling.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have two legislative returns for tabling.
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Introduction of Bills.
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Yukon Update
Mr. Penikett: Yesterday in Hansard the Government Leader described the publication Yukon Update as being just like any other legislative newsletter. Given the highly partisan political attacks on the NDP contained in the Yukon Update, I must ask - is the Government Leader aware of the rule that legislative newsletters shall contain no partisan content or partisan comment?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe Yukon Update, of which I have copies here, gives factual information to the people of the Yukon.
Mr. Penikett: It would be kind to describe the facts in the Yukon Update as half-truths.
I would like to ask the Government Leader if, to his knowledge, he is aware of any other partisan newsletter or newspaper put out by any party at any time in this Legislature that has been written, printed and mailed at taxpayers expense?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will check into it, but the information I have on the Yukon Update is that it is an information newsletter sent to various groups and individuals. It is paid for by the Yukon Party caucus budget. The Members opposite also have caucus budgets, and the Yukon Update is paid for by the caucus budget. We view it as an information update.
Mr. Penikett: The Opposition parties are given a limited allocation for the purposes of preparing a newsletter, which is mailed out to all constituents and must contain no partisan comment whatsoever. The Yukon Update is mailed only to Yukon Party members and supporters. It has recently invited Yukon Party members and supporters to put their names on the Yukon Party patronage list.
I ask if the Government Leader would agree that the Yukon Update newsletter is a party publication and not a government or legislative publication, and if he would tell his party to start writing, printing and mailing its political newsletter at its partys expense, not the taxpayers expense.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I disagree that it is going out only to supporters. The newsletter goes to many people. It goes to First Nations band offices, to mayors and councils of many communities, including hamlets and to various organizations throughout the Yukon. It also goes out to anyone who requests to be put on the list, including the MLAs. The Member for Laberge has included the name of the Member for Riverdale South and the Member for Riverside on his list.
Question re: Yukon Update
Ms. Moorcroft: My question is also for the Government Leader. I would like to satisfy myself that the Government Leader clearly understands the difference between this - the Yukon Update, a partisan publication - and this, an MLA report, a legislative newsletter.
I am asking this because yesterday the Government Leader said that this went to every household in the Yukon. Would the Government Leader tell this House again just exactly where the Yukon Update newsletter is being sent? Is it just like any other legislative newsletter, it goes to every household, as he told us yesterday?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I thought I clarified that yesterday. If I did not, I meant to and I am sorry. There was a mailing list, and it was not delivered to every mailbox in the Yukon.
As I said, this is a caucus newsletter. They have caucus funding and they have the ability to do what they want with it. If the Members opposite have a complaint and think this is a partisan newsletter, I wish they would write me a letter and I will take up their concerns.
Ms. Moorcroft: The Government Leader has consistently denied the written and verbal requests of this House for the mailing list of the Yukon Update newsletter, even though this reasonable request arises out of his statement that this was a government publication, for public distribution, and thus it was an appropriate means of advertising for applicants to government boards and committees. That is what the Government Leader said in the House.
Why will the Government Leader not give the House the mailing list for those issues of the Yukon Update, which were written, produced and mailed at taxpayers expense?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is wrong. I said that it was not a government publication and that it was a Yukon Party caucus publication. The government does not have the mailing list, the Yukon Party caucus has the mailing list.
Ms. Moorcroft: This is not a situation of you show us yours and we will show you ours. Even if the Government Leader thinks that the Yukon Update mailing list is a dirty topic, the House has been told that the Yukon Update newsletter was not sent to every Yukon household. Will the Minister tell us who received the first four issues of the Yukon Update? Will he tell us that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Many people, and I just received a note from the independent Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes stating that everyone in his riding gets it.
There are over 650 names on the mailing list. This publication is paid for out of Yukon Party caucus funds and I have the costs here.
The costs of producing the newsletter are covered by the Yukon Party caucus budget. The cost of printing the Yukon Update newsletter totals $495.88.
Question re: Selkirk Street Elementary School
Mr. Cable: I would like to switch to another topic. I have a question for the Minister of Education about competing demands for space in Selkirk Elementary School. I ask this because the news reports are somewhat confusing. Would the Minister explain why the Selkirk School council wants the Teen Parent Centre moved from the school?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Teen Parent Centre is not in the school. It is in a modular unit next to the school playground. I spoke this morning with the chair of the Selkirk Street Elementary School council, and he assured me that they have no problem with the program per se. They do have some traffic problems, as well as the role model that it may portray in the playground of an elementary school. That is the concern the school council has. However, he assures me that they have no problem whatsoever with the program itself and, in fact, support it.
Mr. Cable: I understand that the Teen Parent Centre is in need of more space. The Minister is quoted by the CBC as saying that a move for the centre would solve various problems. Has the Minister any plans to relocate the centre?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: We are exploring some options, but nothing concrete has developed so far. In a letter last year, the Teen Parent Centre expressed its concern about the need for more space. At the same time, the concern of Selkirk Street School council was expressed. We are trying to accommodate both needs at the present time, but we have not located an adequate space thus far.
Mr. Cable: Again for the record, could the Minister confirm whether or not he agrees with the concerns of the Selkirk Street School council?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I can understand the concerns expressed by the Selkirk Street School council, but I can tell the Member opposite that not only does the council support the program, I do as well. I think it is an outstanding program. One just had to listen to the two young ladies on the radio this morning to see how successful that program has been. Our government certainly supports it and is working to make sure the program continues. Whether we find adequate space for them immediately or not, the program will continue, at least in the facility it is in until we find some other adequate space for them.
Question re: Yukon Update
Ms. Moorcroft: The Government Leader still does not seem to understand that the reason why the Yukon Update is an issue is because the public trust has apparently been compromised. There is a blurring between the appropriate use for party and public funds that is profoundly disturbing. We do not have the right to mail out legislative newsletters that include any partisan content or partisan comment at taxpayers expense.
Is the Government Leader prepared to repay the amount they have spent in sending out the Yukon Update at taxpayers expense?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just said that I do not believe it is a partisan document. It is an information document. If the Members have problems with any specific area, if they bring it to my attention I will deal with it.
Ms. Moorcroft: We have been bringing to the Government Leaders attention exactly what our concerns are about the partisan content of the newsletters. If we had an ombudsperson, this is precisely the kind of issue that would be referred to her or him.
Will the Government Leader either table the mailing list that has been used to send out the Yukon Update, a partisan newsletter, or will he pay for it out of his party funds?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, the mailing list is not a government mailing list, it belongs to the Yukon Party caucus. I suggest that the Member get a hold of the Yukon Party caucus and see if they are prepared to release that list. I am not prepared to release the list as a government mailing list.
Ms. Moorcroft: Party mailing lists are for party use, which is perfectly understandable, but public mailing lists for public documents should be subject to public scrutiny, which is the issue today. What is the Government Leader so afraid of - that we will see how many supporters he has, or how few?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I said several times in my answers to this set of questions, yesterday and today, that the Yukon Update goes to more than just party supporters. There are over 650 names on this mailing list.
Question re: Economic forecast
Mr. McDonald: Well, we know that he is right about that.
I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. The government still has failed, despite numerous opportunities, to make public the winter economic forecast and they may want to present it at the last minute so that they can avoid questioning on the subject matter.
Is it the case that one of the reasons for the initial attempt to keep it secret was that the forecast projected a fairly bleak picture for mining activity during the coming year?
Hon. Mr. Devries: No.
Mr. McDonald: The Minister has committed himself to tabling the original forecast. Will he table the politically manipulated rewritten version that I understand has also been produced so that we can see how far the government was willing to go in manipulating the information in the forecast?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The Members asked me to table the original version and that is what I will be tabling.
Mr. McDonald: That answer speaks volumes.
On this same matter, the Minister has expressed some lack of confidence in his department, because they appear to have told him something that he did not want to hear.
On the question of economic forecasting, has the Minister consulted with economists familiar with the Yukon outside of his department, rather than simply taking his own counsel or the counsel of his colleagues in Cabinet?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The problem was not with the staff, it was with the process that is used to develop the economic forecast. As the Members opposite mentioned, they had problems with some of the documents that they released, and we feel by the departments vetting these documents they can be cleaned up and made more accurate, to ensure that the projections are correct.
Question re: Information, accuracy of
Ms. Commodore: My question is to the Government Leader. Yesterday in the House, the Government Leader made a remark with respect to the release of information to this House. He said, I am not satisfied with the system that is in place and it will be addressed before any more reports are released. The system that he is dissatisfied with is obviously the one that allows information to be made public that is damaging to the government.
I would like to ask the Government Leader what system he is referring to that he intends to change?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It is not that. It is not information that we believe will be damaging to the government. What I am talking about is that we want to ensure that if there are going to be banks and other financial institutions requesting information that is being put out by our Economic Development department, it is in fact factual information and has gone through the proper checks and balances within the bureaucracy - not up in the political offices. We want to make sure that it is a factual document and not just one persons opinion. Those are the checks and balances that we are looking to put in place and we will be addressing that in the near future.
Ms. Commodore: One of the Yukon Partys election promises was, to increase access to public information in government files by providing real freedom of information.
Will the Government Leader please clarify what is meant by real freedom of information. Does this mean access to information that the government has sanitized or that has been watered down by Dale Drown?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Members opposite consistently try to instigate character assassinations against people who cannot defend themselves in this House, and I resent that.
We are not sanitizing any information. What I am talking about is an economic report, and all of this has boiled down from that. I do not believe it is in the Oppositions best interests, our best interests nor the publics best interests to be issuing a report that is the opinion of one or two people and has not gone through the process of checks and balances within the system.
Ms. Commodore: Another Yukon Party election promise is, and I quote again, a special duty to be open and accountable and responsible to the Yukon public it serves. This government has done nothing to further this special duty.
Can the Government Leader tell this House why his government has opted to offend the principles of open and accountable government by restricting information and politically editing government documents?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Again, those allegations are unfounded and untrue.
Question re: Communications advisor, discussions with media
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the same Minister on virtually the same subject.
Yesterday, the Minister was asked if the communications advisor had discussed advertising expenditures with the media outlets, and whether he had attempted to mitigate the medias coverage of governments actions. The Government Leader admitted that the communications advisor had tried to convince editors to put heat on reporters to put a positive spin on government actions, but he took notice of the question as to whether or not this person had discussed advertising expenditures of the government with the media. Can he tell us now whether or not that happened?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would be happy to tell the Member opposite that this is exactly the type of thing I am concerned about. Members opposite make unsubstantiated and unfounded allegations, with absolutely no proof, attacking people who cannot defend themselves. I just filed a legislative return on that very topic.
Mr. McDonald: The suggestion that there are character assassinations going on here is absolutely unfounded. The point is that we are asking whether or not the Government Leader is giving direction to people who work for him in his Cabinet office to try and manipulate media actions. I am asking the Minister to stand on his own two feet and answer for himself, not through someone else. Did he ask his communications advisor, or anyone speaking on behalf of Cabinet in the political offices, to discuss advertising expenditures with the media?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said yesterday, I had not. I did not know if the communications advisor had done it on his own. I was checking on it. I filed a legislative return in answer to that. These allegations are unsubstantiated and unfounded.
Mr. McDonald: What we are doing here is trying to ask questions. The government obviously has a hard time giving the Opposition unbiased information to simple requests. When we ask questions in the Legislature, we are subject to personal attacks by the Government Leader. I am asking a simple question of policy. Would the Minister ever permit anyone, speaking on behalf of Cabinet or the political offices, to, in one breath, talk about media coverage and, in the next, talk about advertising revenues for the media? Would he allow that to happen?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Certainly, I would not allow that to happen. I was very concerned when those allegations were made in the House yesterday.
Question re: Animal protection legislation
Mr. Penikett: When I was interrupted yesterday, I was asking the Minister of Renewable Resources a question about the complaints I received in December from the Humane Society to the effect that the Minister had not answered their letters on the question of animal protection legislation. Since the Minister obviously had a lot of free time yesterday afternoon, I wonder if he has had a chance to check into this question and establish whether or not this group has been given the courtesy of replies to their questions about animal protection legislation.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Of the three letters that came in, we answered two; the other is being held up until the papers are turned over to Cabinet, which was deferred, but I could bring them back at my pleasure.
Mr. Penikett: At some point I may want to pursue with the Minister when those letters from April, May and October were answered, or otherwise, but Question Period does not permit that kind of enquiry.
Since the Humane Society, in conjunction with the city and in consultation with officers of the Department of Community and Transportation Services, and perhaps even the Minister of that department, put forward an application to the community development fund for $200,000 to commence construction of the shelter and were denied, I wonder if I could ask either the Minister of Renewable Resources or the Minister responsible for CDF what the reasons were for turning down the Humane Society application, which another Member of Cabinet seemed to be so involved in developing?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not recall the exact particulars. I would have to get back in the form of a legislative return.
Mr. Penikett: The recent public discussion about the abattoir forces me to ask the next question, since an adequate animal shelter needs appropriate land upon which to build, and it so happens the Humane Society has identified a parcel that would, in their opinion, service the needs of the shelter. I would like to ask if any Minister - the Minister responsible for lands or the Minister of Renewable Resources - has been involved in any discussions with a view to providing the Humane Society with funding to build the shelter or, at least in discussions about the possibility of YTG helping them obtain land for the purpose of building the shelter?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: The first time I heard about them wanting the building was in the newspaper. We offered 20 acres - 20 acres is what we offered and 20 acres is what they asked for - and that was for the abattoir. We had nothing to do with the 146 acres.
Question re: Animal protection legislation
Mr. Penikett: With the greatest respect, I fear the Minister did not hear the question. I referenced the abattoir in my preamble, but I was asking about the interests of the Humane Society and the possibility of obtaining land for the purpose of building a shelter, or funding or other support from YTG, and whether the government had been involved in those discussions.
The Minister appeared to answer a question about the abattoir. I was asking about the animal shelter that the Humane Society is interested in. Has he been involved in any of those discussions with his colleagues? Is he willing to entertain a request for land or funding?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I simply meant that the article in the paper indicated that the Humane Society wanted part of the 146 acres to put their shelter on. We have not been approached on that. I just saw it in the paper.
Mr. Penikett: I am concerned that the Minister seems to be so unacquainted with the requests and needs of the Humane Society. Since they have been corresponding with him since last April on this question, could he tell me what the situation is with respect to the development of animal protection legislation? Can he give us a progress report? Will the legislation be coming in this spring? When might we see it?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We will see it when it goes through Cabinet and is either approved or not.
Mr. Penikett: The problem is that sometimes when this Minister takes things to Cabinet, they disappear. We were expecting a raw log policy that went to Cabinet last spring, and we have heard nothing of it since.
I am not interested in knowing what Cabinet may or may not do with it. Can the Minister tell us what he intends to do with it? Is he bringing draft legislation to Cabinet? Has he done so recently? If not, is it his intention to do so in the near future?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I said I had taken it to Cabinet. It was deferred. If we did not sit in this House all the time, we could probably arrange it.
Question re: Ombudsperson
Mrs. Firth: My question is for the Government Leader about an issue that I have previously raised with the Government Leader.
I am becoming very concerned about a trend that is developing with this government, giving a new direction and a whole new meaning to the word communication.
This government has a new media boss to whom the Government Leader has already indicated in the House that he has given direction to in some way manipulate the media to give the government more positive coverage. We now find that this individual is being involved with respect to the issue that has been raised involving manipulating government reports.
The last time that I asked the Government Leader about the position of the ombudsperson and the office of the ombudsperson, the Government Leader still insisted that this was a big priority, but there had been no position identified for this individual, and there was no legislation drafted or even in the process of being drafted.
I would like to ask the Minister - I asked the Minister this question on November 23, 1993 - if he will now report to the House now, almost two months later, whether or not anything has been done with respect to the office of the ombudsperson.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, we are investigating how we could institute an ombudsperson position in a cost-effective manner.
We have reviewed a paper that was prepared for the Official Opposition when it was in government. They got someone to do a paper on the subject. I think there are some very good things in that paper. The suggestion of having the ombudsperson perform his or her duties in a different manner than is done in other jurisdictions is one that we are looking at. I hope that we will be able to come back with some further information in the spring, and that we will be able to put the ombudsperson position into effect.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister is investigating a cost-effective way of having an ombudsperson office. I would like to ask the Minister what exactly that means and if that will in any way diminish the legislative authority of an ombudspersons office.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As I said, this is something that we are working on and we are going to look at further once this session is over. We hope to be able to provide this House with further information in the spring.
It certainly would not be our goal to diminish the office of the ombudsperson, but there are different ways to approach the position and I am very interested in some of the recommendations that have been made in the paper that was prepared for the previous administration. I am going to explore all of the options.
Mrs. Firth: Would the Government Leader be prepared to table that information in this House so that all Members of the House could have an opportunity to review the options?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I would not have any difficulty tabling a copy of the report that we received. It was mailed to us after we were sworn into office as a courtesy. We did not pay anything for the report and I will certainly make it available to Members opposite.
Question re: Pollution prevention
Mr. Cable: I have some questions for the Minister of Renewable Resources on environment policy. I know he likes matters of policy. The environment ministers conference in November of last year resulted in a number of press releases, and they were filed here in this House as a sessional paper. Part of the press releases indicated that the Canadian Council of Ministers on the Environment agreed that pollution prevention - as opposed to pollution clean-up - should be made a matter of priority.
Does the Minister of Renewable Resources agree with that particular proposition?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Yes.
Mr. Cable: In view of that positive response, can the Minister indicate what action plan he has implemented to put pollution prevention into effect in the Yukon?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I will take that under advisement as we are trying to prepare 14 or 15 sets of regulations.
Mr. Cable: Is I will take it under advisement what the Minister considers an action plan?
Part of the ministerial recommendations that are found in these press releases I referred to indicated that there should be specific educational or training programs for the public.
Would the Minister indicate what he has in mind for educating the public on pollution prevention?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I suppose mailing out some of these Yukon Update things that everyone is hollering about.
Question re: Teen Parent Centre
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Education regarding the Teen Parent Centre asked about earlier by the Member for Riverside. Students at that Teen Parent Centre and the volunteer board that directs its affairs have been at the centre of a government-sanctioned effort to relocate the facility. Yet it seems to me that the Minister has not really dealt too fairly with these two important groups in his attempt to relocate the centre. The society issued a news release last week in which it asked for a meeting with the Minister to discuss the matter directly.
Has the Minister responded to this request for a meeting? Has he or will he meet with them?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I received a letter a few weeks ago requesting a meeting. At the time set up for the meeting, I had an overlap of another meeting and could not attend. I think I replied that I would meet with them at a future date. I am going over to the Teen Parent Centre tomorrow for lunch, to talk to the young ladies who are there, and today I talked briefly with the chair of the school council, and he has agreed to communicate with the young ladies who raised the issue as well, today. So, we are trying to carry on an ongoing dialogue. I repeat that everyone involved supports the Teen Parent Centre and is looking at ways to provide more adequate facilities, which are satisfactory to all.
Mr. Harding: This morning, on CBC, several of the students at the Teen Parent Centre were interviewed, and I must say that these young women struck me as intelligent, responsible people. Earlier in some of the answers to questions from the Member for Riverside, the Minister said that he understood the concerns of the Selkirk Street School council, and he also felt the teen parent program was outstanding.
I would like to ask the Minister this question: does the Minister have any moral concerns about these women being located in the vicinity of the Selkirk Street School?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Like I said to the Member for Riverside earlier, I can understand the people expressing those concerns, and that is why we are trying to address those concerns. I think the Member is trying to make a real big issue out of this. All we are trying to do is find more adequate facilities for those young people, because I think it is an outstanding program and it is a program that the Government of the Yukon is committed to continuing. All we are trying to do now is find a solution and not aggravate the problem by continuing to try to divide and conquer, so to speak. We hope to find a solution to this problem in the near future, but in the meantime, the program is going to continue.
Mr. Harding: It is important for the Minister to show leadership in this instance. He is skating around the issue about whether or not he has an opinion about it. He says he understands the concerns of the Selkirk Street Elementary School council. Perhaps he could explain their opinion on this issue, since he understands it.
Speaker: I will allow the Member for Faro to restate his supplementary question. I am not sure whose opinion he is asking for, but he should be careful about asking for an opinion. Perhaps the Ministers policy or position on the issue would be the better way to state it.
Mr. Harding: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
The Minister says he understands the position of the Selkirk Street School council. What is that position, as the Minister sees it, if he understands it?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: In my conversations this morning with the chair for the school council, there were some concerns about a facility of that nature and the types of messages that might be sent to young elementary schoolchildren, since the facility is located right in their playground - young mothers were arriving at the school with their babies. That was the concern the individual expressed to me.
As well, there was a concern about the parking and the safety of children with cars driving in the back on a regular basis, transporting the young women back and forth from their residences. Those were the concerns expressed to me.
As a result of these concerns, and because the Teen Parent Centre has requested a larger space, I felt it was an appropriate time to try to solve both problems - to look for more adequate space close to F.H. Collins, rather than building on to a school that has a problem with them being there. We also have a problem about where we can build on to the school without moving right on to the soccer field and other facilities. It is a combination of issues. I am trying to sit down with the parties involved and come to a reasonable solution.
Question re: Teen Parent Centre
Mr. Harding: I would like to ask the Minister another question regarding this particular program. I am concerned with the manner in which these young women are possibly being portrayed.
The Minister said he was concerned about the messages being sent to the children at Selkirk School by having the women located there. Could he tell us what the messages are that he feels are being sent? He obviously feels that they are the wrong messages.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The message is quite obvious. The chair of the school council has indicated to me that the young children, seeing very young girls bringing their children to that school, may get the idea that it is okay to get pregnant and still go to school. That is the message about which there is a concern.
I am looking at the problem to see if we can find a solution. It is a genuine concern parents may have with regard to the young elementary schoolchildren at that school. However, that program is an outstanding program. It has a huge success rate. Many of the young women have gone on to college and other programs. We are going to continue it. I am just trying to solve both the problems at this time.
Mr. Harding: I would like to ask the Minister this question, then. If the message is that some people are concerned in that they feel that young women who get pregnant and have children should not go to school, could he tell me if he agrees with that message and the concerns that have been expressed in that area?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I agree 100 percent with the program that is there at the present time, and the program will continue. I am just trying to address some concerns expressed by the school council - the one concern I mentioned plus some parking and some traffic problems and some others. It is not as big a deal as the Member is trying to make it out to be.
The Child Development Centre wants to have a better and bigger facility. They are hampered by the area they are in now. We are looking at whether we build it bigger there or look for some alternative space. We are trying to solve both of the concerns that have been raised by both the parties involved. By consulting with both parties in the future, we can come to a reasonable solution.
Mr. Harding: I am not trying to make this a big deal but I do believe it is very important, and I do not like some of the perceptions that are being shared throughout the community about these young women in the program.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Harding: The Minister asks me what perceptions - he has just told us what the messages are and he is now promoting them by his actions.
Will he take a position one way or the other on this issue? It is important to have some leadership in this area on this question. Will he take a position?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I do not know where this Member is coming from. I have clearly told him that I support that program. I am looking for alternative space or better space for that particular program. I do not know what more I can tell the Member opposite. It is an outstanding program for young women. I think these women are doing very well to be going back to school and the Yukon will benefit in the long run for it. We, on this side of the House, will continue with that program.
Speaker: Time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of Opposition Private Members Business
Mr. McDonald: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(3), I would like to inform the House that the Official Opposition does not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, January 19, 1994, under the heading Opposition Private Members Business.
Speaker: We will now proceed to Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Bill No. 12 - First Appropriation Act, 1994-95 - continued
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Community and Transportation Services - continued
Chair: We are dealing with the amendment in the line item set aside, the Alaska Highway.
On Transportation Division - continued
On Highway Construction - continued
On Alaska Highway - continued
On amendment - continued
Mr. McDonald: I would like to conclude my initial remarks on this question today by raising a few issues that we briefly discussed last night, and respond to a few things that a number of Members said.
Firstly, there was the argument put forward by the Minister of Education and supported by his colleagues, certainly the Government Leader, that the number of students projected for the Riverdale area was so conclusive that it did not warrant reconstruction of the Grey Mountain School, and perhaps did not even warrant a future for Grey Mountain School. The Members went on to perhaps quote a few words that I had said - in planning the capital program, the age of the neighbourhood, busing and walk-in population are all relevant factors, among other things, in determining whether or not the placement of a new school was justified in a particular area.
I think that all of those things are worth considering, and I think when one considers whether or not a school should be rebuilt or expanded, certainly the demographics of the neighbourhood are an important factor in assessing the viability of any new public institution.
Certainly, some thought went into the planning for the schools that were built in Whitehorse over the last seven years - all four of them - and there was a lot of thought given to rebuilding Grey Mountain Primary School, which was also a part of that planning process.
I would point out to Members on the government side that, at one point during this discussion, they might want to mention the J.V. Clark school, which is also being proposed for a rebuild, because clearly that school is in a community that has been around for the last 85 years and will probably be in existence for the next 85 years. I think that it would be a reasonable risk to build a school in that community, being that it is the only school for that community.
I would like to point out a few things, from memory, that may help the Members assess the claim that the school population in the Riverdale area is declining and will decline to the point that it does not justify two elementary schools: Selkirk Street Elementary School and Grey Mountain Primary. It has been suggested that Grey Mountain Primarys days are numbered, as a result.
I would like to point out the first policy decision that was made by the Department of Education some time ago, with the support of the Minister. Until we hear otherwise, the operating policy should be that the department promote, particularly at the elementary school level, the existence of small schools - meaning small student populations.
It has never been considered to be reasonable, in terms of the pedagogy, to have schools that have 350 or 500 students, or even schools that are larger than 250 students. We have to live with history. We have to live with the fact that there are a couple of schools now, such as Jack Hulland School and Whitehorse Elementary, that have large student populations, but that is not the best learning environment for children, particularly elementary children, where there is an attempt to create a community or family environment for those children while they go to school. Anyone who cares about that particular feature of policy should be promoting the existence of small schools, particularly those schools placed within walking distance of the childrens homes.
It creates a better neighbourhood atmosphere and it fosters a better learning environment. That is one of the reasons why Grey Mountain Primary School has been considered to be such a success, because it captures the basic elements of the features of not only a small school, but also a largely walk-in population.
I would like to point out, too, that over the last few years the situation at Selkirk Street Elementary School has always been one of crowdedness. Certainly in the last years of the NDP government, there always seemed to me to be some competition to enter Selkirk Street School, and it almost came to the point that parents were trying to convince the department and the school administration to squeeze one or two more students into that school so that it would be filled to the limit.
I do not think things have changed that drastically since then but certainly with the declining numbers one has to try then to understand what the future of the Riverdale neighbourhood is all about.
I took the opportunity to speak to a person I know who is in the real estate business in Whitehorse - I will point out right now that I am not referring to any ex-Members of the Legislature - who said that they believe that the Riverdale neighbourhood would experience some rejuvenation, in terms of the numbers of children over the next few years, as the Riverdale neighbourhood becomes more of a location for starter homes than it has been in the past. Starter homes are usually associated with people who are starting their families and have young children. That person suggested that, in order to understand those demographics, at least in their opinion, we should be expecting that school populations will rebound in that area, if they are declining now to any significant extent. So any proper planning process should be thinking about the number of school spaces in the area, if we want to promote the idea of neighbourhood schools at all.
I think that is something that ought to be taken into account, and it is something the Department of Education planners, at least at one time, considered when there was a discussion about a rebuild for Grey Mountain Primary School. It helped to aid in the decision to provide the financial resources to initiate, not only the planning, but also the construction a year or two ago.
The point that was made yesterday with respect to the amount of building construction versus the highway construction, as I mentioned last night in the dying hours of the discussion, is an irrelevant issue. This debate should not be about roads versus schools, or that one has to build schools at the expense of roads, or vice versa. It should be a question of balance.
Any reasonable person would particularly notice that the Education capital budget has taken a nose dive in the last couple of years, and that new building construction has not been the priority it once was. For whatever reasons that that is the case, it appears it is not justified, at least in the case of two building projects - one being Grey Mountain, and the other being the J.V. Clark School in Mayo.
In doing a little bit of research in the last few hours with respect to the number of trades people - I listened to the Member for Lake Laberge last night toss out the statistics on the number of people who were working on road construction and the number of people who were working in building construction - I was drawn to some comments made by a couple of people who worked on the Shakwak project this summer. They mentioned to me that they felt, at some point during this debate, it would be worthwhile to bring forward the point that a lot of people who worked on the Shakwak, irrespective of the fact that some of them worked for Yukon construction companies, were not Yukoners in the sense that they did not live here year-round. They were Yukoners in the sense that they lived here during the period of the construction project, but there were a lot of people from Alberta and B.C. who have since left the territory and intend to be back next summer to continue working on the road projects. I throw that out for Members information.
The second thing and the most interesting information is that there are literally hundreds - well over 1,000 - of active unemployment insurance claimants right now who otherwise would be engaged in building construction or some kind of construction activity - labourers, semi-skilled and skilled. Those people clearly would have an opportunity to work on building construction. The fact that the amount of publicly funded institutional building construction has declined to the extent that it has should only serve to reinforce concerns about job prospects for a lot of our constituents.
When I was canvassing and working on the most recent federal election campaign, in the trailer courts in Whitehorse that I represent, there were a large number of people unemployed, and the first thing they mentioned at the doorstep was that they were unemployed, and the second thing was that they were unhappy about being unemployed. They wished there was some kind of work available to them. These people are people who would otherwise be engaged in building construction if the opportunity arose for them, so we should not be making comments that all trades people are otherwise preoccupied right now because they have a housing project or something else to do. The fact is that a lot of them are truly unemployed; they are collecting assistance from the public purse and they want to get jobs - real jobs. No matter what anyone says to me, nobody can erase the impression I received from canvassing hundreds of trailers in my riding of all the people who mentioned the need for work. That provides for me a lasting impression of the true situation on the street.
In any case, it is important to mention that, besides the fact that the school projects would provide work both in Mayo and in Whitehorse, there are good reasons for rebuilding these two schools in the first place.
Some years ago - both of these schools are trailers - there were promises made by politicians like us who said that these facilities were temporary, that these facilities, however adequate, were not substantial enough to stand the test of time, but would in fact be replaced.
Over time, we have reiterated this statement in order to allow other priorities to be played out and funded. We have reiterated the claim that we do intend to replace the portables and trailers, and ultimately at some point we will rebuild them. To come along now after 20 years and say that these no longer seem to be priorities, after having relayed the message over and over again - that if people bide their time and are patient the schools will be rebuilt - ought to be very disconcerting to everybody who has waited for so long.
I am admittedly more familiar with the situation in Mayo than I am of Grey Mountain, even though I have some working knowledge and have had some discussions with the Grey Mountain School council in the past. In Mayo they do believe very strongly that there is a need for a replacement school. The roof is rotting, has been rotting for a long time and will continue to rot. The underpinnings of that school have been suspect for some time, and the electrical system in the school is considered to be unsafe. That particular school is worthy of being rebuilt. The current Minister of Education mentioned, having been there, that he too believes - at least at one point he did - that this school is worthy of being rebuilt.
The people in Mayo - and the Government Leader will have to forgive me - do believe that their community is going to be around for awhile. They feel that even though the numbers have declined, they still intend to send children to school. They still intend to have children and they intend to have those children go to school and graduate at J.V. Clark School.
That is not an uncommon aspiration for most parents in the Yukon. We have schools in this territory right now with only eight to 10 students attending. So far, we have heard no word from the government benches that perhaps these schools have a finite life.
There are a couple of schools in the riding of the Member for Kluane, in Destruction Bay and Beaver Creek. In a good year they would be lucky to have 20 students attending their school, but they have a principal and teachers. Of course, the number of teachers corresponds with the number of students in the school, but they have schools and it has always been considered to be legitimate that they do have schools.
In my view, we should not be preoccupied with the number of students attending J.V. Clark this year, which has an enrollment of 80 students. This is not unlike the Ross River School, which has approximately the same number of students, or the Eliza Van Bibber School in Pelly Crossing, which has approximately the same enrollment.
Certainly those communities have fairly wild fluctuations in student populations throughout their history. They can run anywhere from 70 to 150 students over a period of 20 years. We should be building schools that are lasting in those communities and will accommodate kindergarten to grade 10, 11 or 12 for the families there. In the case of Grey Mountain School, it would be fairly reasonable to assume, under the circumstances, that the student population will remain in the 75 to 100 student range over the next many years. There is nothing the government has presented to lead us to believe otherwise.
One can only suggest that if the government were to rebuild the two schools - J.V. Clark and Grey Mountain Primary - they would have an opportunity to create two schools that are relatively maintenance-free, at least in their initial years, and ought to be much more energy efficient than the ones they are replacing, so there should be cost savings as a result.
The Government Leader made some comments about the role of the Yukon Chamber of Commerce and the Tourism Industry Association, and their support of the governments position. With all due respect to both those organizations, I respect them on many things, but when it comes to this issue, I do not respect their position any more than I respect the governments. I do not think they understand all the elements of this equation at all. One suspects that they were summoned by the Government Leader to support the government in taking a stand with respect to the schools. As there was no real cost to them to do so, they did as asked.
The Tourism Industry Associations letter goes some distance in supporting not only this particular action by the government, but also another issue dear to the governments heart, and that is the attendance of the Minister of Tourism at the Florida State Fair. There seems to be a list of issues that the Government Leader had in mind when he summoned them. They seem to have reiterated those issues, presumably in the order they were presented by the Government Leader.
The Yukon Chamber of Commerce, which seems to be concerned about the future of Alaska Highway funding, should take note, as was mentioned yesterday, that there are substantial funds being dedicated to the Alaska Highway. That is something we support, but there is no inclination on our side - at least not from anyone who has spoken so far - that we should do damage to highway construction funding.
One of the arguments that has been made is, if we spend large amounts of money on highway construction, we are going to increase our chances of attracting local bidders to successfully acquire construction projects in the Yukon. That is not the way it works. I think most people in the road building industry, and certainly people in government, know better than that.
The more work that is laid out for the Alaska Highway, the more attractive it will be to outside construction firms. Ironically, if we were only to spend approximately $10 million on the Alaska Highway, there would be a better chance of Yukon contractors and Yukoners getting work on the highway than if we spent $50 million, and we are getting close to spending that. Suddenly, $50 million becomes a threshold that does attract large construction companies with a lot of equipment - much of it sitting idle right now - along with people who are used to working for wages that are much lower than that accepted by Yukon workers, people who have to live here year-round and have to endure the higher cost of living in this territory.
The reality of the matter is, the higher the expenditures, the more interest there is. Department officials, during a briefing, made it very clear that, given the size of the expenditures, we should be expecting U.S. and southern Canadian contractors to take a very direct interest in the upcoming Alaska Highway construction, and we should be expecting them to bid very competitively and to get some of that work, if not a lot of it.
The chances of Yukoners getting work on the Alaska Highway are lessened by the increased expenditures the government is proposing.
That is not an insignificant issue. It should be something that is an essential element of the governments planning. It is a fundamental point they should be taking into consideration when they are talking about promoting jobs for Yukoners in highway construction.
That, coupled with my concerns about the arguments they made last night about devolution, should be taken into consideration by all Members when we decide this question, in the end.
I would like to point out that Members opposite, and certainly the Government Leader, took great pains to try to dismiss the source of the arguments, by suggesting that, perhaps, we were personally inept, or inadequate, to the task of arguing this case. They brought up issues like Yukon College, the Arts Centre, and the Keno City firehall as being examples of poor planning.
I took the opportunity to go back this morning and look through the debates on Yukon College, the Arts Centre and the Keno City firehall, in particular, and I did not find one Yukon Party Member who was opposed to those projects, in principle.
I could trade concerns about credibility of the source with the Government Leader, and concerns about credibility of the governments job creation figures. We spent some weeks talking about those prior to Christmas.
We could talk about the governments credibility when it comes to trading numbers about the availability of trades people, but the important thing right now is to try to elevate this discussion - not to one where we have to compete one industry against another but to try to achieve a balance of expenditures. We have to try to show some respect for not only road construction, but also for education and some of the other things that are very important to this Legislature, our Members and our constituents.
In creating that balance, we should not be characterizing a debate about whether or not that balance is struck by trying to pit people against each other. It is not necessary, and it is dishonest in my view.
There is every possibility that, even with the expenditures being proposed - including the revotes projected for next year - we could be building schools and spending twice as much money next year as we spent this year on the Alaska Highway.
I will allow others to engage in this debate, but I do believe strongly that small schools are pedagogically sound. They promote community. They have been in the governments capital plan in the past. They have been assessed by administrative staff thoroughly prior to being inserted into the capital plan. They have been promoted by Members in this Legislature, both past and present, and there is every expectation on the street that we will come to a conclusion to this debate that actually seems reasonable and balanced. I am hoping that we do.
Mr. Cable: Last night after the debate I sat down and attempted to reconstruct what was going on. I reached the conclusion that it was the Minister of Education at his best. He has had his down moments sometimes, but he was at his best last night. I would also have to say that it was the Government Leader at his worst. When he sat down there was the faint smell of vitriol in the air and I think if I could draw an observation, his speech was full of vitriol, but short on the facts.
I do not intend to respond in kind, but I must take the opportunity to say that if there were any lingering doubts in my mind as to whether the Opposition, or for that matter anybody else, could deal with this government and the Government Leader, they were dispelled last night.
In my view, people elect a government to bring people together, to develop good will and some common goals. Also, in my view this government is not able to do that. It is not able to bring people together and cannot provide Yukoners with a sense of direction.
The Government Leader takes the position that the facts are on his side. Here are the facts, he says, accept them or we will run out of this House and we will tell the people. I say to the Government Leader, There is the door, go out and do your best, give it your best shot.
Let us look at some of the facts and assumptions that have been put out by the government, and I may be using the word facts rather loosely.
The first proposition is the sky-is-falling proposition, that unless every nickel in the budget that is allocated to roads is kept in the budget, the tourism business will drop off.
By way of history, I first came to the Yukon 24 years ago. Over those last 24 years, the Alaska Highway has come from a dusty, dirty, dangerous road to a highway that compares, not unfavorably, with highways in the mountainous portions of British Columbia and the northern United States.
The Minister of Community and Transportation Services indicates that the highways must be maintained. That is almost a truism. No one is disputing that. However, let us look at some of the numbers in the previous budgets. If we go over the numbers from the last three years, we have the 1992-93 actuals of a little over $25 million. The 1993-94 forecast - the present year and the governments first capital budget - indicates $32 million. The spending in this particular 1994-95 budget estimate is $40,478,000. If this would be reduced by the $4.5 million in the amendment put forward by the Member for Riverdale South, we would still have $36 million in the budget, which is about $4 million over the present years budget.
I travelled to Watson Lake and back last weekend. It is safe to say that it is not a super highway. It would not compare to the spaghetti one finds outside of Toronto. However, over the last 24 years, the Alaska Highway has certainly been improved, and improved markedly. It will certainly do so in every year in the future, as well. To say that if we suddenly yanked this $4.5 million - less than 4% of the capital budget - out of the budget, the sky will fall on us, is certainly an exaggeration.
Let us look at another one of the sky-is-falling propositions put forward by the government. These are the sorts of propositions that the government issues to get us to believe that they are facts. We, as the Opposition, do not have the extensive research staff. We cannot simply pull some chains and have the bureaucracy pull all sorts of numbers for us. We have to judge the governments numbers. The way we do that is by judging the propositions and numbers with which we can deal.
One of the propositions the government is putting out is that unless the road portion of the budget is left intact, the Ottawa bureaucrats will possibly stop signing the cheques in the future. We were handed a three-page document full of a blizzard of statistics. Let me just state a few that I think are important. We have the formula funding through devolution for the last four years and the upcoming year, to which the capital budget applies, starting in 1990-91. The total funds devolved for the purposes of highways is set out at $85,820,000. The total difference between the devolved capital and the actual expenditures is $50,910,000.
In the footnotes on this page, the party that wants us to believe the fact that the Ottawa bureaucrats are going to suddenly jump up and down and change their position say that the present budget represents 32 percent of the devolved amount. They say that taking out $4 million and reducing it to 12 percent of the devolved amount will suddenly change that pattern - a pattern established at least three years ago and perpetuated by this government in its last capital budget. The ratio between the percentage of devolved amounts to the actual amounts spent on the highways, which they say will be 32 percent this year, as I mentioned, is only marginally different than last year.
If we are to believe that the Ottawa bureaucrats are going to take the removal of $4.5 million as a danger signal, then the numbers are going to have to be a lot more persuasive than as presented. Certainly, the pattern has not markedly changed.
I should remind the Government Leader, who has been making this proposition assiduously, that Yukoners elect their politicians, not the bureaucrats in Ottawa, to set priorities. I remind the Government Leader that his party was elected to provide responsible government and to set those priorities.
Now, I want to turn to another issue of fact, one of those issues where people on limited budgets can, in fact, establish a few of the facts. The Government Leader, on December 13, 1993, went over the list of the building trades, the trades we would like to see working, and he indicated the proposition that he was somewhat concerned about the economy overheating. Those were not his exact words but all the building trades would be employed. Of course, the response was Some Hon. Members: (Inaudible) - and we can imagine what the inaudible was when that proposition was laid on the floor. He went on to spell out the various numbers of the trades. He said there are three structural metal erectors, 20 plumbers, 264 labourers and 22 electricians.
That number has to be patently false, and it is so by several orders of magnitude, I would suggest. I would suggest that the Government Leader, and anyone else supporting that proposition, check with the number of electricians who are registered in this territory. They will find it is significantly higher than 22. That is a number of firms, which may or may not have one person; they may have several people. If whoever is making that proposition will just thumb their way through the phone book, into the Yellow Pages, they will find at least 20-odd firms - not electricians - listed there. I am sure that that is not exhaustive of electricians across the whole of the territory.
When numbers like that are put out to persuade us to believe all the other barrage of statistics, then we, on the Opposition side, become a little bit suspicious of the whole proposition being put forward by the government.
I think it was established, in the earlier debate, that the first reason the Grey Mountain School was removed from the budget was financial. The Minister of Education took pains to clarify that last night. I am happy he did that, because it indicates to me that some of the facts and figures we have been viewing are after-the-fact justifications for the removal of the Grey Mountain School from the budget.
The Grey Mountain School is in the long-term capital projects, so there is certainly no doubt that, as recently as last summer, it was a viable project. Now, we have this after-the-fact rationalization that the demography is changing from what was expected when the budget call was put out. We have this new proposition that perhaps all the kids are going to be put into Selkirk, which did not sit too well with some of the parents last night.
We have this rabbit-out-of-the-hat proposition, by way of so-called compromise, that we might put $1 million into the Hidden Valley School, which immediately raises, in my mind, the question: if we are so fastidious in getting numbers lined up for the Grey Mountain School, why are we not jumping through the same hoops for the Hidden Valley School, when I am told the Hidden Valley School population is dropping off marginally?
These sorts of signals that come from the ether raise the suspicions of the Opposition and indicate to me anyway - and I am sure that this is shared by the other Members of the Opposition - that maybe there is a different approach to the setting of the budget. I have to say that after hearing the debate last night and being mildly amused by the vitriol of the Government Leader, that is basically what is going on. We are going to have to agree to disagree; we have different priorities, different ways of going about things and it is plain to be seen that the likelihood of this side of the House agreeing with that side of the House is virtually nil.
Mr. Joe: I would like to add a few words about this issue.
If our children do not get a good education, what good are a few roads? Who will use them? Who will be left here to take care of all the tourists who will want to come up and drive on all these fancy roads?
Without a good solid education, they will not be able to find a good job and they will not be able to stay home. The young children of Mayo need a school really badly. I have been asking about this school in this House for a long time now and I still do not get any answer. As a result, the children of Mayo still have to live in poor conditions without a proper building.
We have supported this government many times, but when we ask for something we do not get any support from them and this is not good government. This is not the way to do things.
The government must learn to listen to us. They need to learn how to reach a consensus. They cannot have everything their own way.
They have asked for suggestions about how to make things better. This is one of them and now they turn their backs on us. The roads that this money will build will all be a mess in a few years anyway. They will need more and more money to fix it up and then they will have to tear it up and start all over again.
But the education our children will get, the good experience they will have in their new school, will stay with them forever. They will pass this on to their children and it will continue like this.
When we build good schools for our children to learn in, they will learn better. They will want to stay in school longer and learn more. They will have a good experience from going to school instead instead of staying at home all the time. They will want to go to school because it is the best thing going.
I did not have this chance when I was growing up. This is why I want to speak out about this. I want for the children what I did not have.
Let me put it this way. In my days, one did not have these opportunities, but todays generation gets an education.
In my day, education was very poor. I can see today why we are having problems with money. I have been in this House long enough to have seen money used in useless ways. Let us talk about the future - our young people.
I would like to speak about how well we are prepared for something like an earthquake. A good solid school is a safe place for our children. It seems to me that every time we begin to speak about the future of the younger generation, we run into government stumbling blocks. I am beginning to become uptight. I have been too quiet and have sat back, but I understand what the government is saying. I listen - what do you think I have two big ears for?
I am pretty sure everyone in this House understands what is being said, but why do we stand around playing politics? I do not think it is good for the people of the Yukon, in my way of thinking.
These are the reasons I will be supporting the amendment.
Chair: Is there any further debate on the amendment?
Mrs. Firth: This afternoon, I would like to spend some time discussing some of the details, figures and facts that have been presented. Now that everyone has got their feelings off their chests, as the Member for McIntyre-Takhini said, I would like to turn the debate to some constructive alternatives, point out what has happened with this whole issue and the direction the debate has taken, and provide some positive alternatives.
Since last evening, I have had a bit of time to sit back and look at this issue objectively. I do not know if this will make the government feel any better, but I want to let them know that I had another amendment for this capital estimates. However, when I saw the reaction to the first amendment I proposed, I decided to withdraw the second one. I had initial agreement from all the Opposition Members to proceed with the second amendment.
It is called having a safety net in place. I had anticipated some debate with respect to this particular line item. Surprisingly enough, I had predicted the attack and the approach the government was going to take, and they were going to very strongly try to make this into a highways-versus-schools issue.
That was why, at the time I met with the two highways contractors who had expressed a great deal of concern about the money coming out of the highways budget - although I think there has been a lot of debate to substantiate that it is not going to hurt the highways budget - I had expressed the point that I was prepared to withdraw the amendment if the government could see fit to find money in other areas. That option was dismissed by the Government Leader. He was not interested in doing that.
I think it is only fair that, as a Member of this House, I have an opportunity to present whatever alternatives I may have proposed to the Government Leader.
In some ways, I agree with what the Member for Riverside said, that, from the looks of the issue now, it does not seem that there is going to be any room for compromise, that the twain shall never meet. That side will have their position, and we will have our position.
There are two things that I do not want to do, and that I do not want people to be able to say about me. I do not want people to say that I gave up, because I am not going to, and I do not want people to be able to say that I did not present some positive alternatives and do my research and my homework.
This brings me to the first, and really the only, issue that I have heard from the public, that has had even a glimmer or flicker of credibility. That is the issue with respect to numbers.
The government tabled its projections. Members of the school committee, the public and all of us as Opposition Members have had an opportunity to review these projections.
The Government Leader also told me in this meeting that we had that the birth rate was dropping. That kind of perked my curiosity, because I think that I have a fairly good idea of the numbers of babies that are being born at the Whitehorse General Hospital. I talk to nurses frequently, and I am quite often told that there is an increase in the number of babies being born.
I checked to see what the birth rate was doing, and for the last five years the figures fluctuate from 448 to 533, 489, 540 and 476 for the last year. This may be perceived to be a drop if that is the way the figures are presented to him. When the figures are averaged over the five-year period, the number comes out to 497, which calls into question the statement that the birth rate is dropping. I think it is very dangerous for us to base our whole argument on statistical information, particularly when we are dealing with such small populations.
I asked my researcher to do some work with the statistics. This person is a very competent individual who can do work as competently as the government statisticians. As the Member for Faro reminds me - much better.
I asked my researcher to do this, because I think that we have to look at realistic averages. When the government presented their statistics, they took a negative trend and carried on with that trend.
That is a fact. There can be no other conclusion drawn. A negative trend presented itself, and the government continued on that negative trend until 1996.
We looked at the figures. I asked my researcher to just use an example of, say, two families moving into Riverdale with five children between them. One family has children aged four, six and eight. The other has children aged three and seven, and perhaps have another baby on the way. Just that small number could provide us with another way of looking at things. Instead of looking at one school with 300 children and one with 100, as the government has presented its statistics, let us look at two elementary schools with about 200 children and a potential for growth. That is a concept I think a lot of Yukoners can live with, if we believe in the philosophy and concept of small, community schools and healthy educational environments for children, particularly in the elementary grades when they are just starting their education.
The figures were not presented in that light. They were presented in a disproportionate way to make it look like there would be this fancy new $4 million school for only 100 or fewer children. They said that the population was going down. I want to prove the point that there are positive ways to look at this, if the desire is there to do so. That way, we can present a well-balanced, positive argument.
The subdivision of Riverdale is not a new area, where the population is fluctuating. It is an established community. People will always live there. My concern, when the government used projections instead of logic to try and sell their argument about the declining number of children, was that they forgot to look at the logical aspects of it. Some of the logical aspects are that people are going to continue to live in Riverdale. They will continue to have children. Riverdale offers some of the more affordable housing in the City of Whitehorse. It is only logical that it will continue to have young people living there, raising young families; therefore, they will be requiring elementary school services.
If the government has a philosophy that they believe in, that small schools are what they want to provide, then they should be able to support this initiative.
I want to respond to this question about the money, about finding the money, because really that is what the issue was before we got into the statistics game and before we got into the debate of highways versus schools. I asked the Minister some time ago about the Grey Mountain Primary School. He got up and reiterated the similar speech about how the previous government had spent so much money so there was not enough money left for this government to spend on schools. Yet this government tabled in this House last session one of the largest budgets the Yukon has ever seen - the largest. I went through that budget very carefully last session and asked a lot of questions. It was quite interesting because, during that time, the government had to find some money for a commitment they had made to one of the communities - to the community of Dawson, the riding of Klondike - for a sewer system. They were looking for $1.8 million out of the budget so that they could start on this new sewer system in Dawson City.
This government brought into this House - I have them here - 45 amendments to the budget. Forty-five. Every time we got to another department, another line, there was another amendment to the budget. We are asking for one amendment. These amendments were in almost every department.
Education gave up its share. Even Grey Mountain Primary made a contribution to this money that had been left over. Community and Transportation Services, Justice, Economic Development, Tourism, Renewable Resources, Health and Social Services, Executive Council Office, Education, Justice and the Yukon Housing Corporation.
What does this say about this government? This says that, if there is really a will, they will find a way to do something, even if it involves 45 amendments. I will warn the government now, when the next capital budget comes into this House, and after I review it, if Grey Mountain Primary School is again not listed, and if there is no school for Mayo - and I am positive there will not be, because the Government Leader has indicated to me when that priority will be; it is pretty close to the year 2000 - I will go through the budget and find 101 amendments, if I have to, and I will talk to the Opposition Members 101 times to get their support for those amendments, if I have to.
I personally feel that the whole budget process has a lot of flaws in it. When that is combined with, or compounded by, a government that demonstrates an unwillingness to negotiate, or get people onside, compromise, or address others concerns, it is Yukoners who will suffer from that process.
There is another issue that presented itself to the House. The government wanted to announce a job creation plan. That was after quite some time; it took the government awhile to realize there were people out there who did not have jobs. They recognized that, and they wanted to have a job creation plan.
The government was able to find $7 million within their budget.
The government was prepared to borrow almost $1 million for that job creation plan. In the meantime, keep in mind that we are all paying the bills; this is all of our money. This is our money, your money, the money of the people sitting in the gallery, Yukoners money and Canadians money that this government is managing.
I want to address my last concern and that is providing some more alternatives. I want to begin by saying to the government for about the fifth time, this is not a highways-versus-schools issue, as other Members have said. The constituents I represent do neither want to get into a debate with the Yukon Chamber of Commerce as to whether their project is more worthy than the highways, nor, should the Yukon Chamber of Commerce be wanting to enter into debate with the school council of Grey Mountain Primary School as to whether their highways are more worthy than the school. That is up to us to resolve in the Legislature. It is up to us to deal with that issue for those people. I support what the Liberal Leader said about bringing people together as opposed to putting people at odds with each other. By reinforcing this approach, that is what the Government Leader has done.
I have some concern about the way the budgets are developed, and I have raised the issue with the Members opposite in budget debate in this House. My concern is about how governments do their budgets and how the political end of government sets their priorities.
The trend in the past has been that every department traditionally gets a little bit of money for all of the projects within the department. There are no major priorities set and no one department sacrifices something so that another department may get a little more money in one area and move ahead a bit that year; that does not seem to happen. The government does not seem to have priorities - for instance, the Department of Education - so maybe we will not buy $1 million worth of computers this year for the whole government, we will put that toward education and take care of some priorities in that area.
I would like to see the government consider taking an approach like that. Each department gets the feeling that they are entitled to this money for all these various little things in the budget every year. I will give some examples. This was a capital projects public briefing that was held for our last budget. I know that there will be another held for this one. These are the kinds of things that departments buy: Community and Transportation Services annual replacement program for worn-out or obsolete equipment in the amount of $75,000 to replace outdated TV equipment, modulators, transmitters and receivers. I am not saying that there is not a need for some of that, but just to identify $50,000 for this outdated equipment and another $75,000 for an annual replacement makes me question whether or not the government should be examining this item and seeing if the replacement of the worn equipment could be postponed one year because there is another priority. There are two schools in the territory that need replacing. Children are going to school in trailers. The air quality is terrible. The trailers are unsafe; the space is crowded and two schools should be built.
There are more examples. I have an interesting one here that I came upon by accident - it is the relocation of the Whitehorse weigh scale. There was $350,000 set aside. This is an issue that has been the subject of great debate in the House. The Minister of Community and Transportation Services has been telling us that we voted these funds. I have been maintaining that we do not have an opportunity to vote the funds. There is $350,000 here, and we just found out the other day that this project is going to cost over $1 million. This is a huge expenditure of funds that we, as MLAs, had no control over. It was money that could have gone toward building school facilities.
We have purchases of filing cabinets, calculators and photocopiers in the amount of $10,000, just for the Department of Finance.
Replacement tools, $15,000. Internal renovations to government office space, various small projects, $100,000. I do not think any reasonable, thinking person would think I was being unreasonable in questioning whether we needed to do that this year, so there is another $100,000 that could be spent on some other project.
What are we purchasing now? There is some laundry equipment. Maybe this is necessary - $25,000 worth of dietary laundry rehabilitation and recreation equipment. Maybe some of it is not. Maybe there are some savings to be realized there. Purchase of vehicles - that is one I am going to save; I want to come back to that one.
Office renovations, again, $190,000, in Health and Social Services. Purchase of new and replacement furniture, computers, photocopiers, et cetera, $178,000. Department-wide computer systems, $80,000. Computer workstations, $100,000. Just desks and filing cabinets, $25,000. Minor alterations, moving walls, et cetera, $15,000. Miscellaneous equipment, another $50,000. Purchase and replacement program equipment such as boats, snowmobiles and ATVs, et cetera, $100,000. Purchase of computing equipment, photocopiers, fax machines, desks, et cetera, $140,000.
I can go through the whole budget like this and I am sure that after I am finished, there would probably be quite a substantial amount of money that we could at least raise some questions about and ask the government to examine whether they really needed to purchase all these little bits of equipment in one fiscal year, or could some of the departments not be told, no, we are not going to do that this year because we have a special project we want to do and we do not have a lot of capital dollars to work within. So, as a government, we see two new schools as a priority and we would like to build these two new schools so we would like some of the other departments to sacrifice their et ceteras for a year. I do not think that is unreasonable. It is probably what every householder does when they set their own personal household budgets.
Where else could we get some money, besides going through the whole budget and making hundreds of amendments? I was thinking of just the issues I have raised since this session began about expenditures where I thought the governments priorities could have been better aligned and met with some controversy within the community - not a lot. There was $500,000 spent on a special gym facility, not all of which came from the community development fund. The government said it was on the list of priorities.
The sprung roof on the skating rink in your riding, Mr. Chair, was another $500,000 expenditure. I understand it is sitting in a YTG storage shed in Old Crow right now. That was another priority of the government. We are up to $1 million worth of priorities.
There was over $500,000 spent on new vehicles. There was over $1 million for the liquor store and government office space in Watson Lake. The community development fund, which the government is phasing out, still has $1.3 million provided for in this budget.
There is furniture and computers. We have a computer in this government called the mainframe. I have more phone calls about the mainframe gobbling up $1 million a year. The Government Leader nods his head, and we had a great debate in this House about spending $1 million every year for I do not know how many years, and we are continuing to do it. That is another $1 million we could look at.
Systems and computing is an interesting phrase. Millions of dollars are spent on this: $400,000 in Justice last year, and another big allotment this year; $300,000 in the Yukon Housing Corporation. I have no dispute with computer technology, but I would like to see some justification from the government that these expenditures are absolutely necessary. They have not been able to give that to us.
We were debating administration costs for some of these programs in the Department of Economic Development, when we were discussing the economic development agreement. I had made an observation that the administrative cost to administer the economic development agreement is almost $1 million. We have a whole Department of Economic Development, with many employees.
The government debated who spent more money when, and criticized the previous government. An issue that I have been raising in the House recently is the issue with respect to the cost overruns of the Two Mile Hill construction.
Chair: Order please. While the House is resolved into Committee of the Whole, Members may speak for 30 minutes. The Member has one minute left to conclude.
Mrs. Firth: Thank you, Mr. Chair. I do have a few more points to make and I may have an opportunity to make those points after someone else speaks.
As I was saying, the Two Mile Hill project was to cost just over $5 million. From information tabled in this Legislature by the Minister, it has now been indicated that it is going to cost in the neighbourhood of $14 million. That is a tremendous expenditure of money.
I have two or three more points to make. I will take my seat now and allow someone else to speak. I will resume my comments later.
Chair: Does any Member wish to speak at this time?
Mr. Harding: I have a few brief comments. The ground has been well covered by the Members on the government side and the Opposition side in terms of their positions, and the priorities of each individual party and the Independent have been laid out very well.
I feel that I would be somewhat remiss as the public schools Education critic to not say a couple of words about my feelings on this particular issue, in conjunction with the feelings expressed by the other Members in my caucus who have done a fine job of it.
I am very disturbed and disappointed in the governments response to this amendment. I have been, since their very first reaction to it on the night that it was introduced from the Member for Riverdale South. Their responses were absolutely unbelievable.
If anyone has taken the time to read Hansard to see what their stump speech is regarding the Members amendment, I think they would be quite horrified. Since that time the government has regrouped and put some interesting spins on their arguments, have tried to bolster it and have brought in the troops - in terms of groups that are prepared to support their position. Nonetheless, the issue remains the same. The issue is one of balance and priorities.
This is not a highways-versus-schools issue, it is one of balance. The Members of the Official Opposition are quite prepared to invest in our highways. As a matter of fact, when the Official Opposition was in government, they negotiated the devolution agreement for the Alaska Highway funds - it has been stated before.
We spent $13 million in 1992-93. In 1993-94, we budgeted $27 million, $9 million of which could not be spent because there was just too much work there. We ended up spending $19 million. This year, the Yukon Party government proposes to spend $32 million on Alaska Highway construction.
We support the investment in highways. However, there is a point where we have to question whether or not it is doing what was intended for Yukoners. The amendment is simply to take $4.5 million of that discretionary capital - meaning money that can be spent as seen fit by the government of the day and is not tied to a particular agreement - and reallocate that money to build the J.V. Clark school in Mayo and the Grey Mountain Primary in Riverdale. These are two schools that have demonstrated a need in the past and have enjoyed acknowledgement of that need by Members of the government in the past in this Legislature. As the Member for Riverside put it, they have now come up with a blizzard of statistics regarding that particular area.
We believe in small, neighbourhood, community schools. We believe it is a good environment for learning. We are not going to get swallowed up in statistics. We believe our arguments are sound on the basis of past statistics that have been raised on the issue, and also on the basis of our philosophical leaning toward small, neighbourhood and rural schools. With respect to the argument on the governments numbers, our position was stated very clearly by the Member for McIntyre-Takhini earlier today.
Children are not going to learn properly in large school factories. We want to continue to invest in small community schools. Children are not economic units to be turned out. They sometimes need to be nurtured and cared for and sometimes the only environments that can provide that special care, that special attention, are small schools and we will continue to support that concept and that idea. I have heard some interesting arguments from the government about why they were not prepared to build the Grey Mountain School. The Minister of Education - and I have to admit he did a much better job last night than he did the night the amendment was introduced by the Member for Riverdale South, when he just about hissed for half an hour - came up with some interesting points. Last night, the Government Leader was absolutely unbelievable in the ferocity of his response and the irrational nature of his response.
The Minister of Education stated last night that fiscal restraint in last years capital budget was the reason for not building the Grey Mountain School. I hope the message gets out to people that last year was the biggest budget in Yukon history - any way one slices it. They can talk about the Auditor Generals report or anything else. The Yukon Party government, in the last fiscal year, had more money to divide up and spend than any government ever before in the Yukon Territory - ever. This year the revenues will increase another three percent, as has been predicted by the Finance officials we have questioned on that issue.
I have never accepted the Minister of Educations fiscal restraint argument on this particular school. What I see is the Minister of Education sadly lacking weight in the Yukon Party government Cabinet in influencing them and the rest of the government into believing that education is an investment for children. It is not debt creation but, rather, it is wealth creation. We have seen two capital budgets now, courtesy of the Minister of Education, that have been absolutely shellacked by the other Cabinet Members. Now, we have such a shrinking capital budget that one wonders if we are ever going to have another school built in this territory. We now realize that there are plans in the works to incorporate Grey Mountain into another school. We are also being told that we are going to have to wait until the year 2000 for the J.V. Clark School in Mayo, or in that vicinity, and it is very low on the governments priority list. This is extremely disturbing for the Official Opposition.
We need to have a Minister who is prepared to go to bat for education in this territory. I am not seeing that. I am seeing the Minister stand up and make convenient statistical arguments that have been found by extrapolating statistics. The Member for Riverdale South pointed out the birth rate today, and showed the fluctuating rates and, through that, established that we do have a situation of fluctuation here. If you take the last year when there was a drop, and extrapolate it for five years, of course you are going to have some very scary statistics. However, if one really looks at the trend, and analyzes it rationally and accurately, not conveniently, it will become clear that those figures are made of convenience. It is because the fiscal restraint argument is no longer acceptable and, given the list of priorities that have gone amiss by this government just read out by the Member for Riverdale South, I am even more convinced that the fiscal restraint argument is absolutely preposterous, and not credible, in these particular circumstances.
I want to address the two themes that have come from this government most clearly, in terms of their reason for not supporting this amendment. The first one is that it sets a bad precedent for negotiation with the federal government. We had a briefing with Finance officials. The government tried to put forth the argument that, even though, by the end of this fiscal year - taking the end of the 1992-93 year, the 1993-94 and the 1994-95 year - they are going to spend over $1 billion of taxpayers money, if we somehow take this $4.5 million and redirect it, it is going to cost the Yukon a lot of money. I do not believe that is credible.
When we asked the territorial Deputy Minister of Finance if he had one single complaint from federal officials about the way the territory has seen fit to spend the money, he said no, there had not even been one peep, one iota of comment, from the federal Finance officials.
I might add that we are the ones charged with directing the finances of this territory, not federal Finance officials. Continuously in this Legislature, this government plays to the whims of federal Finance officials, whether it is the taxes they increased last year, or bowing to their whims regarding the expenditure of money, whims that have not even been expressed, but which they live in fear of being expressed.
In a nutshell, that is the argument against the first reason.
The second reason they give us is that negotiation on the budget should have taken place at an earlier time. This position was echoed by the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, when they said, if new schools were a priority, they should have been identified during the initial budget development.
This school was identified long before the initial 1994-95 budget development. It was identified years ago. A commitment was made to build it. The Minister of Education actually campaigned and knocked on doors in Riverdale North, promising a new school and new lanes for the Riverdale bridge, and other things that have not come true.
They then criticized the Official Opposition and other Members of the Opposition for not being more involved in the process. We would have loved to have been more involved in the process, but there was no negotiation, discussion or consultation. This is a closed government. They are a very machismo government, as well, I might say. When things do not go their way, they react in one particular fashion, as a minority government, with vinegar and ferocity. There is not one hint of consensus building. I am shocked at their behaviour.
I am not going to speak at length. Most of the things have been said. I was, however, going to make mention of the other priorities of this government, but they were well-identified a few moments ago by the Member for Riverdale South regarding the statistics and what has been spent on what.
There is one more point I would like to address, and that is the outrageous and incredible comment the Government Leader made on the night the amendment was introduced. He said there was too much work for the construction industry in this territory. Come hell or high water, if we made this amendment, we would have to be bringing in people from outside. First of all, I want to tell him that I know a lot of people who worked on the Alaska Highway project last year. They knew a lot of people who worked on that project and did not live in the territory. They probably spent some money in the territory while they were here, but they did not pay taxes here, and they did not have homes and families here. That is the kind of priority I would want to have. I would like to build a Yukon where people can work and live with their families.
We have over 1,100 unemployed trades people in this territory. I do not know where the Government Leader got his figures. They were folly. They were sad. We got ours from Unemployment Insurance and Statistics Canada. In the last few days, we have heard how the government does not trust statistics from other people very much. However, I suggest that they start to move in that direction.
We need to balance this budget. We need to balance the needs of education, the needs of economic industry in this territory, in terms of tourism and in terms of things that the Yukon Chamber of Commerce is interested in, but we also have to take a look at their employment situation and what is better for the overall good of the territory. It is not a schools-versus-roads issue. We are prepared to spend lots of money on roads, but we also want to see some balance with some money being spent on schools.
Before I close, I want to make one more comment. We received a copy of a letter - we did not receive the letter, we were not extended the courtesy of a copy being sent to us - from the Tourism Industry Association. In that letter they stated that capital investment and highway infrastructure is a key element to realizing the growth potential of the upcoming anniversaries and they are in support of the governments planned capital budget.
Well, we also believe that highway capital infrastructure is important. That is why we negotiated the deal. That is why $13 million was spent in 1992-93 on the highway. That is why $27 million was budgeted to be spent the year before, and that is why, even with this proposed amendment, $27.5 million will be spent in this coming fiscal year.
The government also indicated, Any action that would prevent the Minister from participating in the Florida State Fair, or necessitate calling a general election would not be in the territorys best interest. Well, I am going to have to disagree with the president of the Tourism Industry Association, because I believe an election and a change in government would be the very best medicine for this territory and I believe in the best interests of the territory. I do not share his view.
On that note, I say that this is an issue of balance. It is an issue about what we want to do in the best interests of all Yukoners, what our education system means to us and what we see as our goals and priorities as government decisions are being made.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: We will take a brief recess.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there further debate on the amendment?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will not be very long, but there are a few things I would like to get on the record, and I would like to maybe clear up a couple of points that were raised by the Member for Riverdale South.
The Members on this side of the House did not want this to devolve into a debate between highways and schools. We did not want that at all. We believe in schools. We believe in educating our young people. Even though we had not wanted it to devolve to that level, that is what has happened. The fact that it has is because, to this point, the Member for Riverdale South is not prepared to accept that we do not have good enough numbers to build a school. If the numbers were there, we would be building the school. The Minister of Education stood up last night and asked for more time to do the surveys that are necessary, to do the grade reorganization, so that we know when we go to do something, we are doing the right thing. On the statistics regarding birth rates and so on, the Member is right; I have to go by the figures that are given to me. These came from the Bureau of Statistics. These birth rate figures are not figures that I picked out of the air or anywhere else. That is the thing about statistics - they can be turned to enforce the argument of any side. The fact is, we have to go by the information that is given to us.
It would be nice to be able to replace Grey Mountain Primary and J.V. Clark in Mayo. There is no doubt about that. However, there are other priorities in the education budget, as well. I discussed some of these with the Member when we met. We have a high school that is nearing capacity, and a lot more high school students are coming into the system right now. That has to be a priority for the government.
I offered a compromise yesterday, which does not appear to be acceptable to the other side, regarding the Hidden Valley School. It is scheduled to be built in the 1995-96 year. The design is being done now and will be ready this spring. The statistics are there to back up the additions that are required for that school. That is why I suggested it.
The dilemma we are in is that it appears that the Member for Riverdale South will not be satisfied unless we make a commitment to build the Grey Mountain Primary School. Until the rest of the surveys are in, it is very difficult to do that, based on the information and projections we have now. We have to accept them until we get better numbers. We have no choice. These are not numbers that we are picking out of the air. Elementary schools, as I told the Member in our meeting, will be needed in Whitehorse, but the projections right now are not that one will be needed in Riverdale. It will be in Granger, Porter Creek or one of the areas of Whitehorse that is growing quite rapidly with young people.
She is correct in that Riverdale is a stable community. That is the dilemma we are in. We are sort of in a turn where a generation of children have grown up and gone through the system. Many people in Riverdale have their homes paid for. Their families are grown up, and they have no intention to leave. I agree with the Member that somewhere down the road - five, seven or eight years, I do not know when - Riverdale is going to be the place where starter homes are going to be available. That is not the case right now. The homes in Riverdale are still fairly high priced, for the most part.
So, we have a dilemma. The dilemma is that we do not have the numbers to justify building a new Grey Mountain school right now. As I said, the Minister asked for some time to build that school.
If the Members opposite felt that we needed more building trade jobs, which we do not agree with, we conceded that we would do something. However, we cannot make the commitment to build a school when the numbers do not justify it at this point, not with tight fiscal dollars.
The Members opposite say that we are spending $1 billion, which is a very unfair and untrue statement. The Member for Faro is laughing, but he has to realize that, when we took power in November of 1992, the budget that they had been put forward was all spent. We did not spend that money; it was already committed.
We are into the ninth month of this year, and we have not spent the total budget that we put forward last year, so that is not a fair and accurate statement. If that figure is cut in half, you might be close to what this government has been responsible for spending. I want to clear that up for the record.
The Members said that last year had the largest budget ever, and I agree, but what the Members are not saying is that, last year, when we put our budget together, we had the smallest discretionary capital budget to work with that there has been for years in this territory.
The items that increased the budget were the Shakwak project and the Whitehorse General Hospital. We had $40 million last year in discretionary capital expenditures, which was small. This year, we had $51 million in discretionary capital, and that restricts what governments can do.
The Member opposite is correct. We could probably find the money somewhere else in the budget, and put the $4.5 million back in the highway budget, if I had the figures to build the Grey Mountain School, but I do not have those figures.
J.V. Clark is another one I would like to replace, but I just said we have priorities. We have an overcrowded high school in Whitehorse right now, we have an overcrowded school in Dawson City, and we need another elementary school in Whitehorse. We are talking about priorities.
I just wanted to clarify that.
The Member for Riverdale South said we had over 100 amendments to the budget last spring.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Well, 45, or whatever. I am not sure, but I want it clear for the record that it was not because of the Dawson City sewer and water project. It was because we had changed our position and phased in our tax increases. We had to remove $3.5 million.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: For the job creation program? Yes, we found money within departments that we redirected toward job creation. I think it was the right thing to do to keep people working this winter. I do not think anyone in this House has any problems with that.
The Member does not like the budgetary process. There are always ways to improve, there is no doubt about it, but I do not believe that saying that departments feel they are entitled to certain amounts of money in the capital budget is an accurate statement. The Member was in Cabinet at one time, and I am sure she was part of the budgetary process. The requests come from the departments, and then some paring back has to be done to find a balance to satisfy everyone.
I would like to put on the record that I believe the discretionary capital requests that came forward during the last budgetary process were in excess of $80 million. We had to pare that back to $51 million.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is part of the job of making decisions. The Member is right. I am just saying that the departments do not get what they ask for.
The departments are challenged on every one of those things. The Member has to remember that a lot of the equipment she mentioned - the vehicles and that - was deferred from last year to this year. There were a lot of deferrals, but that is another issue. The dilemma we are in is that we do not have the information to go ahead and build the Grey Mountain School right now. We asked for more time on it, but it has not been forthcoming.
I just received a letter from the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce addressed to the Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, which I will be tabling. The Chamber of Commerce says in here, On behalf of our some 350 members, we wish to indicate to you that the Yukon Chamber does not stand alone in their opposition to Mrs. Firths motion to direct some $4.5 million from spending on transportation to construction of new schools. While the Chamber in no way diminishes the importance of education, our opposition is founded on two fundamental principles. Primarily, expenditures on education and other essential matters must be planned expenditures, carefully budgeted and established as priorities within the budgeting process. That is what this government did when we were budgeting.
The reallocation of monies from highways to education or any other example cannot occur in an ad hoc manner such as the motion proposes. This should have been debated when the original budget was tabled. The budgeting process also for this $4.5 million, if transferred to education, is not clear. We do not know if the construction of these two schools would actually cost $4.5 million or some other figure. Well, we know in this House that we cannot build those two schools for $4.5 million. The Members opposite know that.
Secondly, the monies in question were specifically transferred to the Government of Yukon when the responsibility for highways was devolved. What type of message does this sort of reallocation send to the Government of Canada in terms of how responsibly funds are spent in the Yukon? The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, as constituents of most of the Members in the Yukon Legislative Assembly, recommends that this motion not be supported.
I will table that.
Again I say, that is the dilemma we are in. We do not know what the trade-off is because we just do not have enough information to make a commitment to build the Grey Mountain School at this time. Once the information is there, if it says that we have to build the school, I can assure the Member that we will be going ahead with it.
Mrs. Firth: Despite the softer tone of the Government Leaders voice today, I do not find his words any more reassuring than I did last evening. I could have believed the Government Leader when he said he did not want this to become a highways-versus-schools issue. I could have believed that, had he not called in the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Mines, the Tourism Industry Association and the Yukon Chamber of Commerce. He then tabled their letters in the Legislature. None of these organizations called me, as I said yesterday. They adopted the governments position, almost word for word.
I am a member of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce. I think I should reconsider that membership, but that is a personal issue. I know that these organizations are dependent on government. When they are summoned to government to be briefed, a subtle message is there as to what is expected of them. Perhaps they fulfilled the governments expectations. I will tell Members, however, that is will not affect my decision one bit. I know that when this government does something like raise the minimum wage, the chamber members will come to me to ask for my help to fight against the government for doing that.
Neither one of the letters that the Government Leader has tabled will have any influence on my decision. Until those organizations show that they are prepared to give me a fair hearing, the issue is completely one sided. Like I said, I could have believed the Government Leader if he had not taken this step.
I used my own method to lobby and garner support. I went to the parents of Grey Mountain Primary School. I went to the school council and the people in my riding to see what they wanted. They want the school. They do not want to get embroiled in a battle between the chambers or over the issue of which is more worthy, a highway or a school.
They just want a fair hearing. They want the truth. They have been patient. They have been pragmatic. They have been reasonable. They have been promised year after year that this was going to happen. It was supposed to happen and it has been in the budget, until this government came along and pulled the rug out from under the feet of the Grey Mountain Primary School council, parents, teachers and the community. The whole constituency is affected by that decision.
I could have believed the Government Leader when he said that he had no choices and that it was a dilemma, but we have just demonstrated in this House this afternoon that what the Government Leader did was accept, without question, the statistics that were given to him.
The Government Leader throws up his hands. I am not saying that the statistics could be better; I am asking the Government Leader why he did not even question them. Every parent I have talked to questioned these statistics. I question these statistics and my office questions them.
The government took the low number from 1993 - 25 kids - and they projected that same low number, that same negative trend, over the next four years. I am told that already that figure of 25 has changed to 28, because there are three new kids in the school.
There are choices and the Minister does not have to accept whatever someone drops in front of his face and says, Here is the reason. Oh gee, that is it; we cannot do anything. That is not a dilemma. A dilemma is a choice between two unpalatable alternatives. There is a palatable alternative here. For heavens sakes ask some questions. The parents are asking questions, so why cannot the government Members ask questions?
I could have believed the Government Leader when he said that his government supported this school. After I listened to him refer to the Grey Mountain Primary School as a temporary school several times, I had my doubts and I still have my doubts and I guess that those doubts will have to remain with me as they do with the parents of Grey Mountain Primary School.
Look at what this government is planning to do: there was an interview conducted with one of the Ministers. This government is planning to build a new jail. The Minister of Justice said that the present jail was an embarrassment. That may well be the case, but the schools are also an embarrassment. Any reasonable, logical, tax-paying citizen would agree that schools should have some priority over new jails.
I think that the Hidden Valley School could be enhanced, Grey Mountain Primary could be built, Mayo could have a new school, we could probably get started on a new high school, and all for what it would cost to build a new jail.
I will let the Members know that I am not supportive, as a Member of this House, of a vote to have a new jail built next year. I do not support that initiative. I hope that the Minister of Justice does not win that one in Cabinet.
I am asking the Government Leader to go back to his department and ask for these figures to be re-examined. He should have done that in the first place.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mrs. Firth: The Minister of Education says we are. This representation is not a fair representation. This is what the Members sold to the organizations that were brought into this government building to be briefed on what a bad idea this was.
I have offered another alternative this afternoon. The government has the option to pursue that alternative, or not.
The government has a responsibility to indicate to this House whether they support the principle of Grey Mountain School. The Government Leader has not addressed that issue. I want him to give some measure of support for the principle of that school being a school. The parents want to know if this government is going to close down Grey Mountain Primary School and the Government Leader has a responsibility to address that question. That is what has become the issue. Some parents have expressed to me a great deal of concern that because they raised as an issue that they wanted a new school they are now being punished and being told, You are asking for a new school? We might even close down the school that you have.
I want a commitment from this government that they are not going to do that. I want to hear from the Government Leader when he thinks we are going to get a new school at Grey Mountain Primary. When does he see a new school being built there, and will he review these numbers and ask for some realistic statistics - something positive instead of taking the negative trend? Will he question the statistics that were provided, and ask them to be more realistic with their statistics? Can he answer those questions for us this afternoon?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: What I will tell the Member is that we are questioning those figures, and that is why we are asking for some time. That is why the Minister is doing the survey. We are waiting for the grade reorganization to come in. When that is completed, a decision will be made on the Grey Mountain School. It is not our intention, at this time, to close down the Grey Mountain School. The Member opposite has to be aware that we have to look at the numbers. We have to justify the expenditure for a new school if, as in one of the scenarios that the Department of Education pointed out, we have an empty school in Riverdale. Those issues have to be addressed before we can go ahead with the construction of another school. We hope the issues will be addressed within the next few months. At that time we can make the right decision.
I will let the Minister of Education speak to the subject now.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I kind of said it all last night. I can ask the department, if the Member wishes, to have another look at the figures we have now. My understanding is that, in approximately the first or second week of February, the survey will take place. By mid-April or so, we should have all the data compiled. I am hoping there will be a decision by the school councils early in the spring on the grade reorganization. That will give us enough information, since the Grey Mountain Primary School is on the shelf, to proceed with the project in this building season if the numbers warrant. As well, we have to look at the grade reorganization and what it will do.
The grade reorganization could conceivably empty one of our Riverdale schools. We could have a completely vacant school in Riverdale. That would be another option. Possibly Grey Mountain School could take over one of those schools.
There are all kinds of options out there, but it is premature to be saying that we will be building a new Grey Mountain School for sure. As I said, we will do the survey, get the results from the grade reorganization and, at that time, make a decision on the needs for a school. I want to assure the Member of my commitment to the children of Grey Mountain Primary and their parents. We are working to get those children into better facilities as soon as possible. That is our goal; however, I think we need a bit more time.
The numbers the Member questioned were ones I questioned, as well. They were quite alarming. The trend is moving downward. There are all kinds of scenarios that would lead to this downward trend. I am hoping that, by going door to door to the 1,500 or so residents in Riverdale, we will get an accurate account of the number of preschool children in the area. This would give us an idea of the future population of school children in Riverdale for the next three or four years.
I hope that satisfies the Member. We are not saying that the school is cancelled. We are just saying that we need more data. When the figures show us that the trend is moving the other way, and things like the grade reorganization are going on, it is a responsible move by government to take the extra two or three months to evaluate all those scenarios before we make a decision.
Mrs. Firth: The Minister made an interesting comment just now. He said, if the numbers warrant. Could he tell us what he means by that statement? How many kids do we have to have before we get the new school?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: That is something on which I would have to consult with my officials.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Phillips: The Member for Faro laughs. For instance, if there were only going to be 380 kids in Riverdale in the next two years, and we were going to have 600 spaces, I would want to know how much busing from other areas was going to cost to get kids to the school, how much more it would cost for extra teachers, because we would have a lower number of students in each school. There is a whole range of things I would have to enquire of the department. I do not know the exact number right now. I would have to get back to the Member on that.
My belief is, somewhere down the road, as other Members have raised in the House, the lower-cost homes in Whitehorse will be in Riverdale, and there will be a need for two elementary schools there in the future. That is something we will be looking at. I do not have exact figures here at my fingertips.
Mrs. Firth: I thought the whole basis for this argument was numbers. If the whole basis of the argument is numbers, and the Minister stands up and says, if the numbers warrant, I expect him to have those numbers at his fingertips.
This is the whole problem with any issue we raise with this government. They stand up and say anything, but they cannot back it up with anything, and we are supposed to blindly accept it, sit down, and say, Okay. I am not prepared to do that.
If this is the whole basis for this argument, we want to know what the numbers are. People want to know how many kids they have to have there before they are going to get the school. Tell them.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I have to look at all kinds of things other than numbers. There is no way you can go to an area like Mayo and build a school, when you know you will have two schools that are not even half full. You have to realistically look at what it will cost to operate them.
The Member knows that governments all across this country are encouraging people to cut back, reduce, and get costs under control. The taxpayers of the Yukon are going to have to pay the higher costs of those schools in the future, if schools are sitting half empty. I do not think we should be going in that direction. We should make sure that we have a substantial number of students in that school area, which is what we are trying to determine right now, and we have to make a financially responsible decision.
We cannot just build schools for the sake of building schools, and have them sitting half empty, with the operation and maintenance costs, the extra teaching costs, and all the other costs.
The numbers are not in yet, but we will have to look at them. It is far too premature to determine whether or not we will build a school, until we get the results of the survey and the grade reorganization.
Mrs. Firth: I have nothing further to say. I think the Minister has demonstrated this afternoon that his argument is hollow. All the air has come out of it. He cannot answer the question. The whole argument has been based on numbers. First it was money, and we got rid of that one. Now, it is the numbers, and that one has just fizzled right out. I have nothing further to say. I am prepared to vote on this issue right now.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I would like some advice from the Member opposite. Could she tell me what she figures the numbers should be? Does she figure the school should be 50 percent full, or 60 percent full? How many children does she feel should be in Riverdale to warrant two schools? Could she give me an idea of how many would make it necessary for the Government of the Yukon to make a decision to build right away?
I want real numbers, not just ones out of the air. If that Member was the Minister of Education, what number would she need in order to make the decision to build another school?
Mrs. Firth: I am asking for the school to be built. Obviously, I am satisfied with it the way it is. This is the Minister who is standing up using the where-numbers-warrant argument. It is fine to stand up and say, Well, we will build the school when numbers warrant. When I ask for some substantiation and backup for that, I expect the Minister to know it, not to ask me what it is. He is the one who is cancelling the school and looking at getting rid of Grey Mountain Primary School. I support the school.
We can vote on the issue now.
Chair: Are you prepared for the question on the amendment?
Chair: Division has been called. Would all those in favour please rise.
Chair: Would all those opposed please rise.
Chair: The results are eight yea, seven nay.
Amendment to line item Alaska Highway agreed to
Chair: Is there any further debate on the line item as amended?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We will accept the wishes of the House that this line item be reduced by $4.5 million. We have stated our case and clearly we have lost it. I will be addressing this $4.5 million over the winter, and I will be taking into consideration all of the representations made by the side opposite. We will be reviewing all of the information that the Minister of Education is going to get, and I will be bringing in a supplementary capital budget in the spring session.
Alaska Highway agreed to as amended in the amount of $27,935,000
Transportation Division agreed to as amended
Department of Community and Transportation Services agreed to as amended
On Schedule A
Schedule A agreed to as amended
On Schedule B
Schedule B agreed to
On Schedule C
Schedule C agreed to
On Clause 1
Clause 1 agreed to as amended
On Clause 2
Clause 2 agreed to
Title agreed to
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that the Chair report Bill No. 12 out of Committee, with amendment.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move 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: Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 12, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1994-95, and directed me to report it with amendment.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
May I have your further pleasure?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I would request the unanimous consent of the House to waive Standing Order 59(2) in order to give third reading to Bill No. 12.
Speaker: Is there unanimous consent?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Speaker: Unanimous consent has been granted.
Bill No. 12: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 12, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Ostashek.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that Bill No. 12, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1994-95, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 12, entitled First Appropriation Act, 1994-95, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 12 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 12 has passed this House.
Speaker: We are now prepared to receive the Administrator to grant assent to the bill passed by this House.
Administrator enters the Chamber announced by the Sergeant-at-Arms
ASSENT TO BILL
Administrator: Please be seated.
Speaker: Madam, the Assembly has, at its present session, passed a certain bill, to which, in the name and on behalf of the Assembly, I respectfully request your assent.
Clerk: First Appropriation Act, 1994-95.
Administrator: I hereby assent to the bill as enumerated by the Clerk.
I just want to take a moment, on behalf of Yukoners, to say that we all watched the House of Commons yesterday while they elected a new Speaker. Some of us will remember that we once had a Yukoner sitting in that chair, occupying that gracious apartment and being the official host, with his first lady, to all the great and the near-great from around the world. Mind you, they did not have a country home in the Gatineau. They did not have a limousine and a chauffeur, but George and Martha Black did okay.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
Administrator leaves the Chamber
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:01 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled January 18, 1994:
Cabinet Communications Advisor met with Yukon News representatives in November, 1993; newspaper rate negotiations conducted by Government Services and ECO (Ostashek)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1969
Ambulances: placement of new and used vehicles (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1889
Crossroads janitorial work done by paid staff (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1888
Speech and hearing unit: equipment replacement and upgrading; waiting list (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1889
Raw log export policy: continue to oppose in principle (Brewster)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 1968
Carbon dioxide threshold levels (Brewster)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 1909
Yukon-Canada Northern Accord: explanation of; status of; agreement between the Yukon and N.W.T. re oil and gas arrangements (Devries)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1956
Business Incentive Policy: changes; comparison of rebate claims paid between April 1, 1990, and March 31, 1993 (Devries)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1801
The following Document was filed January 18, 1994:
Letter dated January 18, 1994, from the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce to Members of the Yukon Legislative Assembly regarding an amendment proposed by Mrs. Firth, Member for Riverdale South, to reduce funding for the Alaska Highway construction by $4.5 million (Ostashek)