Tuesday, January 25, 1994 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. We will begin with Prayers.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I would like to call the attention of the House to Maria Campbell. It gives me great pleasure today, as Acting Minister of Education, to introduce the Members of the House to our latest writer in residence and our first of First Nation ancestry. We are indeed honoured to have her with us.
Since her first book, Halfbreed, became a best seller in the early 1970s, Maria Campbell has taught and lectured across Canada and the United States on race relations, community development and creative writing. She has become a well-respected leader of the Saskatchewan Metis community and is known not only for her novels, short stories and articles but also for writing, producing and directing a number of documentaries for CBC, CTV and the National Film Board.
To come to the Yukon, she has taken leave from her current teaching position in the Department of English at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.
I invite all Members to take advantage of the chance to hear and meet Ms. Campbell at her first Whitehorse public reading this Thursday night, January 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Whitehorse Public Library.
Please join me in wishing her a most enjoyable and fruitful residency. Welcome to the Yukon, Ms. Campbell.
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have a legislative return.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have for tabling two legislative returns.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have two legislative returns and I have one legislative return as acting Minister of Education.
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 Question Period.
Question re: Faro, sale of mine
Mr. Harding: I will start off on the right foot. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
I have a question for the Government Leader. The Government Leader has been granted a pair to go to Vancouver tomorrow to meet with prospective purchasers of the Faro mine. The Official Opposition certainly hopes this is fruitful because we will be down to three Ministers in the Legislature tomorrow. Because the interim receiver has said that nobody will make an offer on the property without knowing the territorial governments position on important infrastructure issues, what position will the Government Leader take with these potential buyers on infrastructure matters?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The position that the government has taken is that we would be prepared to talk to any potential buyers of the Faro property. We want to hear what concerns the purchasers feel need to be addressed in order for them to make an offer on the property. I will be listening closely to what those concerns are to see what we can do to address them. I cannot be more specific at this time, because I do not know what their concerns will be.
Mr. Harding: It is difficult to accept the answer from the Minister or the Government Leader, because on December 17, 1993, over one month ago, the interim receiver, in a document filed with the court in Toronto, identified some of the concerns that have already been laid down by potential purchasers of the Faro mine property. I would like to ask the Minister why, over a month later, they still refuse to adopt a definitive baseline negotiating position with potential buyers for the Faro mine sale?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am sure that the Member opposite is not asking the government to say that we are going to subsidize the new buyer of the mine for X million dollars; that we are going to give the new buyers of the mine power rates at such and such a rate per kilowatt; that we are going to give the new buyer of the mine a break on bulk haul agreements. Surely, that is not what the Member opposite is asking.
We expect the mine to be sold as a private business, unsubsidized by the government in its purchase. I see no reason why the government should be subsidizing the purchase of the mine at this point. It would only be more money for the receivers and more money to distribute to the previous owners of the property, lien holders and those interests.
I believe that the mine has to be sold on the basis of the fact that it will be a viable, commercial operation without government subsidies. If it comes to supply and infrastructure, that is a different matter, and we will sit down with the new buyer at any point to see what we can talk about. However, if the Member opposite is asking me if we are going to strip the Grum ore body on the possibility that someone is going to buy the operation, the answer is, no, we are not.
Mr. Harding: The Government Leader has contradicted himself. On one hand he says that he should not be adopting a position on power rates, bulk haulage rates or anything like that, but then he says he is prepared to sit down and talk about it. I am sure that the Government Leader can realize that that is going to send out conflicting signals to potential buyers.
How does the Minister think that if his government is not prepared to take a position on some of these important issues we are going to accomplish the sale of the Faro mine, when the buyers who have already been contacted are not going to make a definitive offer unless the positions of both the territorial and federal governments are known?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: That is exactly what I just said. We are prepared to listen to what they need, but we cannot make a decision before finding out what they need. We have the broad parameters set out on what we are prepared to do, but we certainly are not going to be coming out and stating that we are going to do this, this and this for the new purchase of the mine. I truly believe - as I believe all Yukoners believe - that the mine should be sold as a commercial operation.
Question re: Faro, sale of mine
Mr. Harding: The receivers report states that potential purchasers have said that issues of environmental liability, reclamation obligations and local infrastructure requirements are all serious issues for potential buyers.
The federal government has taken a different position than the territorial government, in the interest of selling the mine. They have adopted a position on the federal environmental liability. Why does the Government Leader think that the federal government would adopt a position on this? Does he expect that it is to help to facilitate the sale of the mine?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is correct about the first two topics he mentioned; it is a federal responsibility. There has been a mining operation there for 25 years and the area has suffered environmental damage; the federal government cannot expect a new buyer to come in and accept all those liabilities. That is not feasible. We are prepared to sit down and listen to whatever concerns they have about the territorial governments position regarding the environmental aspect. We will address those concerns, but we have not heard what they are yet.
Mr. Harding: I suggest that the Government Leader read the receivers report. He will then know, before he goes to this meeting, what the concerns are of the potential buyers.
I seem to be getting nowhere with this line of questioning, so I will try another. What can the Government Leader tell us about the number of potential buyers with whom he intends to meet? Who are they?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I certainly cannot tell the Member opposite who they are. I would be more than happy to do so if it had not been requested that the meeting be on a confidential basis. They are not prepared to come forward yet. I understand that there are four or five parties. At this point, I do not even know who all of the potential buyers are that are dealing with the receiver. I will go there, listen to what they have to say and see what we can do to facilitate the sale. I believe that is our duty.
Mr. Harding: I want to try the question regarding the environmental liability on the Minister again.
As a result of the receivers report filed in December, the federal government adopted a position on a concern identified by potential purchasers, that being the environmental liability. I believe that was done to help facilitate the sale of the Faro mine. Now the territorial government is taking a different position - one in which they feel they do not have to adopt a position and the mine will simply sell itself. Why does the Government Leader think that the federal government adopted a position on the environmental liability?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am sure the Member opposite is aware that the environmental liability in the Faro area has been assessed at anywhere from $10 million to $100 million. Those are the figures that have been thrown around. That is an issue that the federal government is going to have to address, and that is why they have addressed it.
Question re: Abattoir
Mr. Cable: I have a question for the Minister in charge of abattoirs. I believe he, at the present time, at least in part, is the Minister of Community and Transportation Services.
Not long ago, the Minister indicated that the government would take a lead role in getting the abattoir project back on track. Subsequently, it appears that meetings with the Yukon Agricultural Association have been postponed. There appears to be some general confusion relating to the project.
Will the Minister update the House on the status of the project?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: We had a meeting with the three Ministers whose departments are involved with the abattoir, those being Renewable Resources, Economic Development and my department, Community and Transportation Services, along with officials from our departments. What we are intending to do now, after reviewing requests from past years, and so on, is to take a paper to Cabinet to get some full direction from Cabinet. The three Ministers are agreed, but we want to get Cabinet direction before we meet with the Agricultural Association.
Mr. Cable: As the Minister probably noticed, there was a letter to the editor in last nights edition of the Whitehorse Star from the chairperson of the Community Futures Association, the federal funding agency providing $300,000 for the project. The writer indicated that the money would be lost if the project was not in place within three months. Does the Minister anticipate that this deadline can be met?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I cannot second-guess what the Yukon Agricultural Association will be doing. They are the proponents of the project, so I cannot really say. But I believe that if everyone gets together and makes a good, honest attempt, certain portions of the project could be in place by that deadline.
Mr. Cable: The Ministers colleague, the Minister of Renewable Resources, in the document entitled Infarmation, the summer 1993 issue, a message from the Minister, stated, I also recognize the concerns many of you have regarding marketing and the lack of an appropriate infrastructure, such as an abattoir and a vegetable storage facility. Will the committee of Ministers, within its terms of reference, at the same time as they are reviewing the abattoir, review the vegetable storage facility?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The vegetable storage facility has not really come up as a request from the Agricultural Association. As a market gardener myself, I have a lot of problems with a vegetable storage facility and the need for it. But, if that request is received, we will certainly deal with it.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, industrial energy rate policy
Mrs. Firth: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Department of Economic Development with respect to the energy policy paper. Last December, one year ago, we were promised by the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation that we would shortly have an industrial policy on energy rates. This December, we were promised by the Minister responsible for the Department of Economic Development that probably within the following three weeks we would have a white paper announcing the governments energy policy.
Almost five weeks have now passed, and we have seen nothing of this white paper. Could the Minister give us a status report on where it is?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I have reviewed the draft of a paper that will be reviewed. I do not want to give a specific date as to when a final draft will be prepared.
Mrs. Firth: I hope this is not another position paper the Minister has to review and vet before he makes it public, like the economic forecast. I appreciate the governments principle that they want to review their policy before they make an announcement about it.
Can the Minister tell us if a position regarding industrial power rates is included in that white paper?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The paper in the review process right now deals exclusively with the industrial pricing strategy.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell us when he anticipates making an announcement about what the governments policy is? He also mentioned he was going to discuss it with stakeholders. Has he discussed it with any stakeholders yet?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The paper that should be ready very soon is the one that will be discussed with the stakeholders.
Question re: Yukon Energy Corporation, industrial energy rate policy
Mrs. Firth: I want to follow up with my other question to the Government Leader with respect to the same issue. The Minister of Economic Development, who is responsible for mining, and the Government Leader, will be attending the Cordilleran Roundup conference in Vancouver this week - I believe tomorrow, the next day and the weekend - at which time they are going to have an opportunity to meet with the mining community and give evidence of their policies.
I would like to ask the Government Leader what he plans to say to potential investors, or in response to other mining questions that are put forward to him, regarding the governments industrial rate policy for electrical rates?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Minister and I have been in continuous negotiations with some of the members of the mining community, regarding some of the potential mines that are on the horizon in the Yukon. We have been trying to get whatever input we can from them for this white paper on an industrial energy policy. We will be coming out with it very shortly. I have seen a draft of the white paper and I would expect that it should be ready for public presentation within the next two or three weeks. At that time, the paper will be going out to the public and to the stakeholders for critiquing before the final policy is drafted.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Government Leader tell us who he has had negotiations with in the mining community with respect to developing this policy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I did not say we had had negotiations; I said we talked with some of the mining community about what they were looking for in an industrial rate policy.
I can make it very clear to the House right now that it is very difficult for the government to say that we can set an industrial rate policy, at X number of cents per kilowatt, so we are looking at how we can address the issue for a mine that is coming, not knowing where the mine is going to be located. If we had a mine come up that was 400 miles from the nearest grid, it is very difficult to say that it is going to be X number of cents per kilowatt. So what we are looking at is an industrial rate policy in our whole mine development strategy, but the electrical rate policy is a key component of it.
Mrs. Firth: I want to make it very clear. I distinctly heard the Government Leader stand up this afternoon and say that he was in continuous negotiations - continuous negotiations with somebody - I can only assume somebody within the mining community, with respect to this industrial rate policy. This is a white paper that the Minister of Economic Development has promised and promised, but none of us has seen it yet, nor have other Yukoners. I know the expectations of the mining community at the conference this weekend are going to be that the government has something to say with respect to industrial power rates. That is one of the most contentious issues here right now.
I would like to ask the Government Leader who he has been having continuous negotiations with to establish this policy. I am sure they have not been having them with Curragh, so who is helping the government formulate its industrial power rate policy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: If I said negotiations, I was wrong in saying negotiations. We have consulted with Western Copper, with Pacific Sentinel; we have talked with Loki Gold Corporation, and we are looking at what their power requirements are and how we could satisfy those needs. I have talked with them several times, as I know the Minister has. The paper that is coming out is going to be taking into consideration some of the comments that they have made. That is why it is going to be a white paper that will be put out in the final draft.
Question re: Economic activity
Mr. McDonald: I have a question for the Minister of Economic Development. The territorys business and labour interests are crying out for the government to show some economic leadership in the face of fairly bleak prospects for the coming year. Many business people who have come to me have expressed the view that limited access to venture capital and confused communications with the investment community are helping to stifle economic growth. Last evening, the Minister appeared very reluctant to organize any specific working discussions between investors and small business.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not he sees this opportunity to lead discussions as a worthy expenditure of his time?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I discussed some of those issues with my deputy minister this morning and we are looking at ways in which we can accommodate something along that line.
Mr. McDonald: I discussed this matter with the Minister prior to Christmas and I know many of these ideas are not new. The Minister should be aware, of course, that even on the radio this morning we heard about the vacancy rate climbing dramatically. We have seen statistical documents recently that talk about the consumer price index rising beyond the national average for the first time in a while. We have had unemployment rates continuously rising. Could the Minister tell us when he will actually act - when will he actually get something done - when will he bring the investment community together with the small business community and actually facilitate discussions with them so that they might improve communications and perhaps even get businesses going?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Right now, our goal is to begin the process in February and hold the meetings in March, getting some of the material out to the communities some time in late February, and the meetings would be held in March.
Mr. McDonald: Even though there is no drum roll, this has been a bit of a breakthrough and I thank the Minister for that commitment, as much as it was. Will the Minister be inviting government as well as First Nations, lending agencies, private investors and the small business community to have working discussions that may prove useful to business activity?
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I indicated to the Member, we will be working on the way it is going to be done in February, and we will be discussing the needs with the various interest groups to determine exactly how it is going to be done. This will be done during February, and the meetings will take place in March.
Question re: Regulations
Mr. McDonald: The Canadian Federation of Independent Business and its membership in the Yukon have expressed the concern that another impediment to business growth is the existence of unnecessary regulation, or red tape, which is only there for administrative convenience. They have asked that this be eliminated. It has been suggested in the Legislature that businesses and regulators be drawn together to work at reducing the existence of unnecessary regulation and red tape.
Last evening, the Minister seemed a little lukewarm. After his coming of age this morning, has he had a rethink about this particular suggestion and decided that this might be a useful expenditure of this time?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I am not certain whether I was lukewarm or tired last evening. That is another one of the areas where I agree that we have to come up with ways to reduce red tape. It was also a commitment of our election platform.
Mr. McDonald: The moment I found out it was a commitment of the election platform, I was of the view that it was going to crash and burn like so many other campaign promises that were made over a year ago. I did not necessarily take that as being a government commitment.
Can the Minister tell us when he is going to act on this question, and how he will act?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I hope to address many of those concerns during the community tours and in the development of how we are going to proceed during the month of February. The Member should just be patient for a few weeks, and I should be able to give the Member a clear picture of how we are going to go about it.
Mr. McDonald: I have waited over a year, so a few more weeks will not matter too much, I suppose.
Will discussions about removing red tape and unnecessary regulations involve the public in focussed working groups, or does he have something else in mind?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I cannot get down to specifics right now. We are having discussions about how it is going to be organized. I had a meeting with the department several weeks ago. We threw some ideas around. They are supposed to present me with a paper within the next few days on how things will be set up. We will then determine exactly how we are going to do it.
Question re: Conflict of interest
Mr. Penikett: Given that the Government Leader has made one of his colleagues, the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation - while still a shareholder in Yukon Electrical Company - the Minister responsible for the Public Utilities Board that regulates the utilities and the Minister responsible for conflict of interest, can the Government Leader tell us, as a matter of policy, how he defines conflict of interest or appearances of conflict of interest?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Perhaps I should let the Minister responsible for energy answer that one.
As the Member opposite knows, there are documents filed in the Legislative Assembly Office describing the holdings of the various Ministers.
Mr. Penikett: Perhaps the most that I can hope to extract is a commitment from the Government Leader that he might come back to us with his definition of conflict of interest, because he has not defined it today.
Previously, the Government Leader was asked about how the flooding rights negotiated by the Yukon Territorial Government in the land claims agreement could be affected by the sale of the public investment in the Yukon Energy Corporation. Since the question was first asked, has the Government Leader obtained a legal opinion, from anyone other than the Minister of Justice, on this question, and in particular as to whether the flooding rights in the UFA might be nullified by the sale of the Yukon Energy Corporation?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe that the Leader of the Official Opposition is again putting the cart in front of the horse.
As the Minister responsible for energy has said, discussions are very preliminary and exploratory at this stage, and those issues, if these talks proceed, will be addressed and we will be getting legal opinions and whatever clarification that we need.
Mr. Penikett: I am prepared to accept the Government Leaders expertise on horses and carts, although I would want to observe that his seems to be moving backwards.
With respect to transferring the NCPC assets to the Yukon government in 1987, the federal government wrote off tens of millions of dollars worth of debt. In his capacity as Minister of Finance, has he developed a policy position about the prudence, viability or appropriateness of transferring to private shareholders of the Yukon Electrical Company that benefit?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Again, the Member opposite is making presumptions that may not even be valid. We do not know who the shareholders of the Yukon Energy Corporation will be. As I have said, discussions are very preliminary and exploratory at this time. As for the write-offs of the NCPC transfers, I wish that there would have been another $47 million written off.
Question re: Forestry transfer
Mr. Harding: I have a question for the Minister of Renewable Resources regarding the forestry transfer.
Forestry operators are worried about a sustainable harvest in the Watson Lake area and the future of their operations. I would like to ask the Minister what policy development is underway, pending the forestry transfer to the territory, to protect the viability of these forestry operations.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We have gone through this several times. We are against any raw log export. We prefer that the wood be milled in the Yukon. We have recommended to the federal government that, in their negotiations with Kaska Forest Resources, they look at their business plan very closely to see if they have to have an increase in log export. We would prefer that was milled in the Yukon.
Mr. Harding: That is the first time that I have heard that the territorial government is against any raw log export.
The federal government has stated that we have declining lowland spruce availability, and that these operators may have to move to a greater upland pine harvest. Is the Minister confident that these operations will be able to feasibly accomplish this?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: At the present time, I cannot say whether or not they could.
Mr. Harding: Perhaps the Minister could bring back some more information about his feelings about this issue in a legislative return.
The Minister of Economic Development has been unclear in explaining his view of what forestry sustainability is to his particular department. Can I ask the Minister what definition of sustainability the Ministers department is using? What cycle of growth are they referring to when they talk about sustainability?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: At present, they are completing the southeast Yukon management plan. When that is done, we will be able to make a decision on that.
Question re: Access to information legislation
Mr. Cable: I have a question for the Minister of Justice on a topic dear to his heart and to mine. It is with respect to the access-to-information legislation.
Last March, I asked the Minister some questions relating to his intentions to bring forward access-to-information legislation. I quote from one of his replies, I certainly am looking forward to seeing a new access-to-information act come forward. Would the Minister indicate whether or not that view is shared by his coalition colleagues?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Certainly, it is.
Mr. Cable: In view of the fact that the Minister seems quite interested in that legislation - and I know hes been a plaintiff under the present legislation unsuccessfully - could he indicate what instructions he has given to his staff to redraft the present access-to-information legislation?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are looking at it right now. Ive instructed them to look at some options, and we will be bringing those options forward.
Mr. Cable: I had a brief look at the Yukon Partys four-year plan, and a part of the Yukon Partys commitments was to increase access to public information and government files by providing real freedom of information. In view of the Ministers interest, and in view of the commitment of the Yukon Party, is the Minister in a position to commit to bringing forth this new legislation in the spring session?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Unfortunately, no. Of course, we have been very busy here in the House, and that keeps us all fully occupied. It is unfortunate that some of the priorities of the Members opposite are neglected as a result of the filibuster, but that happens in a minority situation.
Question re: Social assistance fraud
Ms. Moorcroft: My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services, who likes to keep busy here in the House.
I have here in my hand a memorandum to all social assistance recipients regarding the purchase of wood. The memorandum states, and I quote, Please note that we have a list of suppliers for wood. Funds for wood can only be authorized if purchased from one of these suppliers. It must be authorized in advance. If you need wood, please discuss it in advance with your social worker.
Why is the Minister requiring social assistance recipients to purchase their wood only from the state-approved list of woodcutters?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Clearly, it is an area that the Member is unaware of but, during the course of events over the past number of months, it has been discovered that a popular scam by people on social assistance is to go out and cut wood, and sell it back and forth to each other. They then come with receipts from other social assistance recipients, which are to be paid from the same office.
I know that the side opposite places a very low priority on dealing with fraud in the social assistance field, but it is an area that we are very concerned about, and we are trying to tighten up some of the loopholes that have been taken advantage of by some of the recipients.
Ms. Moorcroft: This answer goes along quite well with some of the Ministers other comments on record pertaining to people on social assistance. He talks about reducing welfare dependency, and yet he is taking away the ability of social assistance recipients to make even the most basic decisions. Has anyone been charged with the offence of cutting wood and cheating the system?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I cannot answer that question, specifically. There are 25 fraud investigations going on right now and we are looking at hiring a full-time fraud investigator as well.
Ms. Moorcroft: The government claims to support increased independent living skills so that people can function off the social assistance rolls, but their actions are having the opposite effect. They are removing decision making from the social assistance clients and they are not offering any evidence of wide-spread fraud to back that up. Is the Minister planning to create other state-approved lists of businesses that welfare recipients must purchase goods from, such as grocery and clothing stores?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am not sure where the hon. Member is coming from. She seems to want to see people earn extra money and perhaps move off the welfare rolls on the one hand, and seems to think the viable direction for us to encourage them to proceed in is fraud. Is she really suggesting that we should be taking steps to encourage defrauding the social assistance system?
Question re: Abattoir
Mr. McDonald: Now we have something to discuss when we get to the Health and Social Services estimates, do we not, Mr. Speaker?
Following up on questions about the abattoir that have been asked, I have a question, and either the Minister of Community and Transportation Services or the Minister of Renewable Resources is eligible to answer if they wish.
The Minister of Community and Transportation Services indicated that the government would not be conducting further discussions with the Yukon Agricultural Association about the abattoir until such time as they have had full direction from Cabinet. I was under the impression from the questions we asked in Question Period before that the primary concern was that there was very poor communication between the Ministers themselves and the Yukon Agricultural Association concerning the abattoirs business plan.
Could I ask either Minister why the Ministers have not personally discussed the Yukon Agricultural Associations business plan before deciding to go to Cabinet for full direction, as the Minister of Community and Transportation Services puts it?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: The one problem we have is that we spend most of our time in here. I am quite prepared to-
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I am pleased that the Member-
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Speaker: I will allow the Member for McIntyre-Takhini to re-ask his question so the Minister can answer it. I am not charging him with a supplementary.
Mr. McDonald: I have no change either, Mr. Speaker.
I will ask the Minister again, and I hope he can withstand a little bit of heckling. It is part of the business.
Will the Minister tell us why he has not had personal discussions with the Yukon Agricultural Association concerning the abattoir business plan prior to going to Cabinet and seeking full direction from Cabinet on the question of the abattoir?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Number one, we spend most of our time in here and, therefore, I am not able to get out and communicate with these people. My door is wide open, and they have never made an effort to come and see me.
Mr. McDonald: The last time I checked, we sit four hours a day for two days a week, and we sit six hours a day for two days a week. Then, we have a full day for our own business. That means that we actually sit in the Legislature for less time than most people spend at their jobs.
Consequently, given that they are Ministers and they knew what they were getting into when they were elected, knowing full well that they can work mornings and evenings, can the Minister tell us why even the briefest possible meeting with the Yukon Agricultural Association could not have been convened at the Ministers behest, because they were the ones who said they were going to lead the discussion, or get the thing back on track? Why could they not have organized such a meeting in order to help facilitate the development of the abattoir?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We have been trying to figure out how it got off track in relation to the money, and the difference between 146 acres and 20 acres, which was the original agreement. Until we can figure out where that got off track, there is not much point in talking. We promised 20 acres, and 20 acres is what we are doing our best to get.
Mr. McDonald: Would it not make some sense to have Ministers talk to the Yukon Agricultural Association about what they perceive to be the problem of the abattoir project getting off track? It is the Ministers own personal perception that the project is off track. It does not appear to have been the perception of the public servants who work for the Ministers at the meetings I attended.
Why would the Ministers be precluding the possibility of a meeting with industry proponents prior to going to Cabinet and seeking final direction on the question?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: We have not as yet gone to Cabinet, and we may take that in. I find it rather strange that, for four to five years, the same Agricultural Association tried to get some action from the former government, and they never even got an offer for a piece of land.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
Notice of Government Private Members Business
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Pursuant to Standing Order 14.2(7), I would like to inform the House that the government private Members do not wish to identify any items to be called on Wednesday, January 26, 1994, under the heading Government Private Members Business.
Speaker: We will now proceed with Orders of the Day.
ORDERS OF THE DAY
Bill No. 65: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 65, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Phelps.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I move that Bill No. 65, entitled An Act to Amend the Hospital Act and the Evidence Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Justice that Bill No. 65, entitled An Act to Amend the Hospital Act and the Evidence Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 65 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 65 has passed this House.
Bill No. 38: Third Reading
Clerk: Third reading, Bill No. 38, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Phelps.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I move that Bill No. 38, entitled Yukon Family Services Association Rent Guarantee Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Minister of Health and Social Services that Bill No. 38, entitled Yukon Family Services Association Rent Guarantee Act, be now read a third time and do pass.
Mrs. Firth: At third reading of this piece of legislation, I just want to put my position on the record. Although I support the Yukon Family Services Association and the good work that they do, I do not support this government bringing forward this piece of legislation, which is precedent-setting. It would have been my preference that the government could have accommodated them in some way other than by making a new law in the Yukon Territory to do this.
Motion for third reading of Bill No. 38 agreed to
Speaker: I declare that Bill No. 38 has passed this House.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: 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 acting Government House Leader that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
Motion agreed to
Speaker leaves the Chair
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
Department of Government Services - continued
Mr. Harding: I would like to ask the Minister if he could provide, in the form of a letter to all Members, a chronology for the consultation process on the contract regulation review and a statement as to when the final report is due. Also, I wonder if he could include an explanation of the rationale behind his decision for that schedule of consultation. Could he do that?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, I believe that some of the information the Member wants is in the document, but I will bring back a legislative return.
Mrs. Firth: I want to ask the Minister some questions about the Queens Printer, specifically with respect to the Yukon Update printing.
The information I have is that the Yukon Update was printed privately, except for this last issue, which was printed by the Queens Printer. Is that correct?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I do not know. I would have to get back to the Member on that.
Mrs. Firth: A Cabinet spokesperson told the media that it was not, so I would have anticipated that the Minister would know the answer to this question, since it is a controversial issue that has been raised within his department.
Is the Cabinet spokesperson stating the absolute truth - that the last issue was not printed at the Queens Printer?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Again, if a Cabinet spokesperson said it was not, then I guess it was not.
Mrs. Firth: I think that the Minister had better check into it before he categorically makes that statement. My information is that it was.
Perhaps my information is wrong, but I would like the Minister to check into it and come back this afternoon and tell us.
Following that particular issue, I would like to ask the Minister if the Yukon Update is going to be printed at the Queens Printer, or is the Minister going to give direction, either to his colleagues in the Yukon Party caucus or whoever is responsible for the publication, that the government will not be printing this particular piece of information.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will check into it and get back to the Member.
Mrs. Firth: I have asked the Minister to check into the one point. I am now asking him on the floor of the House to tell us whether or not it is his position that the Yukon Update should be printed by Queens Printer. We do not think that it should be and I want to know what the Ministers position is, and if he will instruct the Queens Printer not to print the publication because it is a political publication.
Hon. Mr. Devries: If, according to the rules, we are not supposed to print it, then we will not print it. That is all I can say.
Mrs. Firth: I suppose I should rephrase that. It is not that I want the Minister to instruct the Queens Printer not to print it. That is not the position I want to put forward. That was poorly stated. What I want the Minister to do is to tell his Yukon Party caucus colleagues that they are not to send the Yukon Update to the Queens Printer to be printed, that that practice will not be allowed, and that the Yukon Party caucus will have to pay for the printing of the Yukon Update because of its political nature. Will the Minister give a commitment to the House and to the public that he will not use taxpayers money any more to print this piece of political information?
Hon. Mr. Devries: If that is what the rules are, I will. I will check on the rules first.
Mrs. Firth: This is an issue that has been discussed in the House for the last three or four weeks, the last three or four months, even. The Minister should know what the rules are. We are simply looking for some reassurance on behalf of the taxpayer that they are not going to have to continue to pay for this Yukon Party caucus publication. I am not asking about the MLAs newsletters that go out to all of their constituents. I am asking about this party publication that goes to a private list of people that is in the Government Leaders office. I am asking the Minister to give a commitment that that will not be paid for by the taxpayer any more through his Department of Government Services.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I believe that I have repeated several times that I will ensure that the Queens Printer will not print something that it is not supposed to print.
Mrs. Firth: Could the Minister tell us when he is going to come back with an answer regarding this? This debate could go on for a long time if we do not get an answer fairly soon.
Hon. Mr. Devries: On the first issue, I should have that information very shortly. On the last issue, I have to check to see what the protocol is on it.
Mrs. Firth: Why does the Minister not know the protocol? His department is responsible for the printing of these publications; surely, he should be familiar with the protocol.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I know a lot but I certainly do not know everything and I certainly do not know what the protocol is surrounding that. I will check into it and make sure that proper procedures are followed.
Mrs. Firth: I do not know why that does not give me any reassurance, but it does not.
I want to ask the Minister another question about another issue with respect to contracting. It has been brought to my attention by some contractors who are presently submitting bids to the government that they are being required to submit a provisional cost sum, or contingency fund, that is being built into the bid. I would like to ask the Minister why they have started this practice in the contracting business.
This is a contract from Community and Transportation Services so I suppose the first question is: is the Ministers department doing this? Has he issued some kind of new policy direction with respect to this, or is it another department that is just doing something else on its own?
Hon. Mr. Devries: To the best of my knowledge, it is nothing we have directed.
Mrs. Firth: The concern is that when a contractor is required to build in a 10-percent contingency fund to their contract, they have to have a bid bond for which they have to borrow money from the bank. Of course the interest payments go up and so on. I would like to know the Ministers position with respect to this. Does he support this direction or does he disagree with it?
Hon. Mr. Devries: In discussions with the contracting community, shortly after I became Minister, they expressed no major concerns with the existing regulations pertaining to some of those items. Recently, some of the smaller contractors have indicated they had concerns about the amount of money they required to bid on a job. We will try to address some of those concerns in the contract regulation review process.
Mrs. Firth: Does the Minister know what I am talking about?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The way it works now, on contracts under $500,000, a contractor has to come up with a 10-percent bid deposit. Upon being awarded the contract, the contractor would have to come up with another 10 percent - I forget the proper terminology. When a contract is over $500,000, the contractor has to come up with 100-percent bonding.
When the subcontractors put forward their bids, there is a bid depository set up to ensure that if the contractor should go belly up during the job, there is some way for the subcontractor to be covered.
Mrs. Firth: That is not what I am talking about. I am asking the Minister about contingencies being built in to contracts that are being awarded - that there is a requirement for a contingency to be built into the bid. On the tender form, they are referring to it as a provisional cost sum which, in this case, amounts to 10 percent of the overall contract.
The rationale given to individuals when they questioned it was that, if they had to change the terms of the contract at some point, they did not have to retender the contract.
I have some concern about that practice. It could be perceived to be undermining the contracting process, and it does have an effect on the contractors who are bidding, with respect to putting up their bid bonds. If they have to borrow money, they would have to borrow more money to build in contingencies. It could have an effect on the original unit price, if contracts are tendered according to original unit prices.
I would like to ask the Minister of Government Services to look into that for me and report back to me before the adjournment of the Legislature.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I will see what I can do. I will do my best to get that to her within the next day or so.
Mr. Harding: As much as I would like to engage in several hours of debate on architectural design, I am prepared to proceed line by line.
Mr. Penikett: I would like to ask one question. I am certain the Minister will not have the information handy, so he may want to get back to me.
From time to time, we have seen references from people in rural communities about rent increases to third parties in government buildings in the municipalities. Has there been a standard approach, since the Minister took office, to raise rents? Has it been done on a case-by-case basis or is there a standard policy? I wonder if I could get a return that describes what is happening to rents, particularly in rural communities, in the last year or so.
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, there is a standard policy. I will have to bring that back to the Member, laying out the specific details.
Mr. Harding: If the Minister has no introductory comments, we could move into line by line.
By way of notice, I will be asking for a breakdown in each of the lines in the supplementary vote. If I have any questions about the details, I will certainly deal with them then.
Hon. Mr. Devries: I am prepared to read the lines. I will respond to the questions.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Corporate Services
Hon. Mr. Devries: Personnel amounted to an underexpenditure of $36,000. The decrease was due to the following: a $111,000 reduction from partial position vacancies in administration - an administrative assistant coordinator, financial operations and financial assistant. This was offset by $40,000 in additional personnel requirements in policy and planning for the directors position and $35,000 in personnel requirements in contract administration for the contracts coordinator position.
There is another $25,000 overexpenditure. There was a $25,000 increase in insurance premium rates for additional schools.
Corporate Services in the amount of an underexpenditure of $11,000 agreed to
On Information Services
Hon. Mr. Devries: This overexpenditure is due to the following: $127,000 in estimated position vacancies were not realized; a $45,000 increase in utilizing casual computer operator positions; a $45,000 salary to fund an application specialist position as planned downsizing was deferred; an $8,000 increase in Yukon bonus costs due to rate changes during the year; and $8,000 in various personnel items. This amount was offset by $86,000 in position vacancies for project manager, application specialist, records indexer and records clerk and a financial officer and director. There was a $5,000 decrease as a computer operator was paid at a lower classification.
Mr. Harding: What was the reason there were not as many position vacancies as expected?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I would suspect that there would be several reasons. Naturally there was lower turnover in government employees, and this could be due to the economic downturn and people hanging on to their jobs. History has shown some staff turnovers and they budget accordingly, but they did not occur the same this year.
Mr. Harding: I do not think that most of the other departments have this request, so why does the Minister feel that Government Services would have the lower turnover and the request for position vacancies that were not anticipated? What would be the difference between his department and others in this respect?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Most of the other departments do this, but Government Services this year tried to trim the budget to the bare bones. We took a gamble, but it did not happen. That is all that I can say about it. It was a gamble, but it did not pay off.
Mr. Harding: I am shocked at what the Minister just said, It was a gamble, but it did not pay off. Are we going to be seeing more of these gambles in the budgeting process? I know that in the past the Members, when they were in Opposition, were quite critical of what they perceived to be budget gambles and the need to bring in larger supplementary budgets than they felt were necessary.
Is the Minister going to make some improvements in the budgeting process, or are we going to continue to see these gambles or gaffs in the budgeting process?
Hon. Mr. Devries: In our budgeting exercise this year, we have been much more conservative in estimating the vacancies.
Mr. Harding: Maybe there is lower turnover because everybody in the department likes the Minister so much. Would that be a fair statement?
Hon. Mr. Devries: I would like to take credit for it, but I do not think that that is necessarily the case.
Information Services in the amount of $142,000 agreed to
On Supply Services
Hon. Mr. Devries: In personnel, there is a $24,000 underexpenditure. There was a $72,000 reduction as a result of position vacancies. This was the manager of warehousing and stores clerk, which were offset by the following increases: $22,000 for the use of casuals and auxiliaries to backfill for vacation and special leave absences; $5,000 in overtime requirements; and $5,000 maternity leave pay out. There was a $4,000 Yukon bonus rate increase; $3,000 for acting assignments; $3,000 pay out in comp time; $3,000 adjustment to benefits calculation and a $2,000 miscellaneous increases. The other $145,000 in overexpenditure includes $100,000 in postage. As anticipated, utilized reductions in departments did not materialize. There was $31,000 in publication costs for Hansard due to the longer spring session; and $15,000 owing to a change in accounting procedures for auctioneering services. This was offset by a further $1,000 decrease in miscellaneous expenditures.
Mr. Harding: I have two questions. I think the Minister said there was a management position left open. Has it been filled or will it be filled? And, secondly, why was $100,000 less in postage fees expected, and why does the Minister think that we had such an amount greater than was anticipated by the department?
Hon. Mr. Devries: The management position will not be filled. As far as the anticipated postage cuts, it was based on the fact that there were government-wide cuts made, and it was anticipated that, proportionately, there would be a $100,000 reduction in postage requirements. That did not happen.
Supply Services in the amount of $121,000 agreed to
On Property Management
Hon. Mr. Devries: There was a $445,000 personnel overexpenditure in this department and $203,000 in planned position vacancies that were not realized. There was a $64,000 increase to reflect the industrial mechanic position transferred from the Department of Education for boiler inspections. There was a $42,000 increase to correct projections for shift premiums and auxiliary benefits for custodial personnel. A $42,000 increase was for an administration clerk mistakenly coded to capital vote, so that would have shown up in the other estimate. There was a $39,000 increase from a planned reduction of auxiliaries not implemented. There was a $27,000 increase as internal chargebacks to Community and Transportation Services not realized owing to reduced maintenance needs. There was $15,000 transferred from Community and Transportation Services for waterfront groundskeeping. There was a $7,000 increase as anticipated seasonal layoffs did not proceed as planned and there was a $6,000 increase in Yukon bonus and benefit costs.
The other $139,000 overexpenditure consists of a $188,000 increase in utility costs due to electrical rate increases, $92,000 in new maintenance expense for the Thomson Centre, $73,000 in projected lease reductions that were not realized, and $3,000 in miscellaneous increases.
This was offset by a $160,000 decrease in utility consumption due to less office space, a $29,000 decrease in window cleaning expenditures, and a $28,000 decrease in service contracts.
Mr. Harding: There is a lot of personnel information wrapped up in the breakdown in this particular figure. Was this another gamble in personnel requirements? I see a figure of $454,000 that was underbudgeted - was this by definition of the Minister another gamble, in that they were too conservative in their estimates of how many people they would need?
Hon. Mr. Devries: Yes, they would take the overall Government Services personnel, determine a percentage of anticipated vacancies and split them among the various departments so that they show up in each branch of Government Services.
Mr. Harding: I would like the Minister to commit to providing me with a breakdown for this particular line item of $584,000. He said a lot of things, like an increase in unexpected shift premiums, unexpected personnel requirements, planned reduction of auxiliaries - I would like to know why this reduction was planned.
There was a bundle of issues wrapped up in this regarding personnel. Could he provide me with a legislative return, going into extensive detail on each of the items in that line and tell me the rationale for each of them?
Hon. Mr. Devries: We will get them to the Member as soon as possible.
Property Management in the amount of $584,000 agreed to
Operation and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $836,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Corporate Services
On Business Incentive Policy
Mr. Harding: We went over this in general debate. I understand what the line item amount was spent on. We had a lengthy debate, so I am prepared to clear this line.
Business Incentive Policy in the amount of $347,000 agreed to
On Office Facilities and Equipment
Hon. Mr. Devries: The $3,000 increase is the cost of a printer purchased for contract administration, which cost more than had been anticipated.
Office Facilities and Equipment in the amount of $3,000 agreed to
Corporate Services in the amount of $350,000 agreed to
On Information Services
On Information Resources Infrastructure
Hon. Mr. Devries: There is a $100,000 decrease as the data dictionary project, under systems development, was deferred to 1994-95. There was a $25,000 increase to fund a job creation initiative relating to the consolidation of telecommunications cabling in the main administration building.
Information Resources Infrastructure in the amount of an underexpenditure of $75,000 agreed to
On Property Management
On Capital Maintenance and Upgrade
Hon. Mr. Devries: The $80,000 increase is for job creation initiatives related to improving handicapped access in the main administration building and the electric door openers in Yukon College and the Law Centre. Phase 3 renovations of the Executive Council Offices were not completed in 1992-93. There was an expected revote of $100,000, but the actual cost was $20,000 as their own resources were used. The lapsing revote amount has been redirected to fund the previously mentioned job creation initiatives.
Capital Maintenance and Upgrade in the amount of $80,000 agreed to
On Common Facilities
Hon. Mr. Devries: I believe I covered that already.
Common Facilities in the amount of $20,000 agreed to
Capital expenditures in the amount of $375,000 agreed to
Department of Government Services agreed to
Department of Finance - continued
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I just have a few comments. There are no additional funds required. The only change is in the recoveries section of the loan amortization. The loan interest recovery is reduced because no loans have as yet been made to municipalities this year; therefore, it is inevitable that the interest income will be less than budgeted. The loan principal recovery is increased because accrual of payments to be received was not made at the previous fiscal year end. I believe those are the only comments I have.
The Department of Finance is giving some money back in both operation and maintenance as well as capital. On the operation and maintenance side, there was a transfer of three positions to other departments and staff vacancies within the department, amounting to $194,000. On the capital side, office furniture, equipment and systems were reduced by $10,000.
I am prepared to answer any questions the Members opposite may have.
Mr. McDonald: The media reports that emanated from the ministers of finance meeting that took place last week seemed to suggest that the provinces had received some sort of concession from the federal Minister of Finance that transfers would not be cut and that the equalization payments would not be cut, but would be enhanced.
While obviously equalization does not apply to the Yukon, did the Minister have an opportunity to raise the issue of transfers to the territorial governments, in particular, the Yukon government, and did the Minister get any impression from the federal Minister as to what the general targets were for federal transfers for the next formula financing agreement?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member is quite right, equalization payments apply to the provinces and the formula for the territories is somewhat different. Neither I, nor the Northwest Territories received a specific commitment at that meeting, but as I stated in the report that was provided for the Members opposite, I would hope that the same sort of principles would apply in the formula negotiations.
As I also stated, our officials are in Ottawa right now negotiating the next formula and some issues associated with the perversity factor to see how we can get some relief from it. I hope that we come away from these negotiations at a break-even level. I do not expect that we are going to get any more money from the federal government. That is not in the cards, in light of the federal governments tremendous debt load, but I would hope that we would be able to maintain the same level, or ratio, of funding.
While there will be increases to the equalization payments, the provinces did not get that same sort of commitment when it came to the cap on payment for health, social services and education.
There was great concern raised by British Columbia and Ontario that they were being paid out with 29-cent dollars for their rebates on health, social services and education.
The feeling that I had coming away from the meeting was that the provinces felt that they would be quite comfortable if they could maintain the level of funding that they are now receiving under the cap programs, and did not have to suffer any further setbacks.
I would love to give the Member further information at this time, and once my official is back, if there is anything further that I can provide for the Member opposite, I will certainly do so.
Mr. McDonald: I thank the Minister for that. Even with the established program financing and capital assistance program payments still being, for future years, an outstanding consideration, and given that, in a sense, the formula financing agreement is as close as we have to the equalization payments - that is probably the closest parallel situation we have with the provinces - I would like to ask the Minister a question that was asked in Question Period. Perhaps I did not get a clear enough response.
The feeling at the ministers meeting was that have-not provinces were going to be given a better deal on equalization than the have provinces. Can the Minister tell us, first of all, what is considered, by definition, to be a have-not province? What are the criteria for being a have-not province? And how is the Yukon particularly regarded in that context? Are we a have-not jurisdiction or a have jurisdiction? Clearly, if there is already a predilection to keep providing additional support for have-not jurisdictions, then that ought to bode even more in the Yukons favour in the formula financing negotiations, if the federal government is going to support the have-not provinces. If they think that somehow the Yukon is a have jurisdiction, then consequently, we may be treated accordingly. What are the criteria for being a have-not province?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I wish I would be able to stand and give the Member every bit of rationale for the equalization payments, but I would go back to a topic that was raised at the ministers of finance meeting, when Mr. Martin said he had been briefed on equalization payments by the department. After several hours of briefing, he said, I do not understand a damn thing. The bureaucrats said, You and Mr. Mazankowski have a lot in common, then. It is a very complicated process, but my understanding of it is that the government, under Confederation, distributes wealth from the have provinces, which are Alberta, Ontario and British Columbia, to the have-not provinces, which are the rest, on the basis that equal services are provided to Canadians right across Canada. That seems to be the basis of the equalization payments. Then there are the established financing programs, for Health and Social Services and Education, et cetera, which are redistributed by the federal government on an equal basis, based on population - I presume population is one of the main criteria for that - because the provinces such as British Columbia and Ontario are very upset that, while they pay into equalization, they cannot get it back on the other side of the ledger.
I feel that the Yukon would qualify as a have-not part of Canada. The problem I see - and I am sure the Member opposite ran into it when he was Minister of Finance - is that the perception in Ottawa is that we get a substantial amount per capita now, and that has always been the problem, and is one I have found during the 14 months I have been dealing with federal officials. They always throw up how much per capita we are getting compared with other jurisdictions in Canada. That causes us some problems.
I hope that the principles in the formula financing arrangements that apply to the have-not provinces would apply to us here.
Mr. McDonald: The self-serving arguments put forward by some that, because the Yukon receives more dollars per capita, it is justification for considering the Yukon to be well done by, ignores the fact that the Yukon government has very significant responsibilities and a very small tax base. As long as there is any expectation that the Yukon government is going to fulfill a full range of responsibilities for a small population, there is going to have to continue to be fairly healthy per capita transfers.
In the past, the Minister said that they feel that there is about $60 million outstanding on funds that were still owed to the Yukon government for one reason or another. I think it added up to about $60 million. Is there an update on what the likelihood is of the Yukon actually receiving that money? I know the Minister had indicated that they did expect success, but there are always negotiations to deal with.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I cannot give the Member much of an indication. That was part of the negotiations going on this week. There is about $60 million in adjustments to the last five-year agreement, which came up for renegotiation in three years. That is being finalized now. Officials have told me we should expect to gain $2 million or $3 million, but not a lot.
As the Member opposite knows, we felt we were dealt with unfairly on the census undercount, and we thought we had a substantial amount of money coming - $28 million or so. I think we are supposed to get $6 million or $7 million from that. There is still the outstanding issue of the Kwanlin Dun land, which they have agreed to in principle, but we have not come to an agreement on how much money they will get for it. I hope some of those questions will be answered during this set of negotiations.
Mr. McDonald: It appears that one of the operating principles underlying the negotiations over the last many years, and probably projecting into the next decade or so, is that no matter how legitimate the arguments the territory may have to extract funds under previous agreements from the federal government, there will always be arguments of convenience thrown up by the federal authorities, which will ultimately justify whatever it is they want to give to us in the end anyway. It suggests too, though, that we should not be spending a whole lot of time trying to cater to whatever bargaining whim the federal negotiators may want to raise at any particular time because, ultimately, they are going to do what they want anyway. Consequently, it would behoove us to do what we want with the money that we do get.
I do not have a lot of questions about this department at this time. The questions to the Minister in a couple of months, after negotiations are further advanced, will be more useful. I also do not have many questions about the details here.
Could the Minister tell us this: of the loan funding that had been budgeted for loans to municipalities, are there any outstanding requests from municipalities at this moment for funds to be borrowed for any particular purpose?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, there is no request outstanding at this point.
Mr. McDonald: Were there no requests for funds from municipalities that were turned down by the government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: No, there were not.
Mr. McDonald: The contracts lists for the Department of Finance - other departments have issued lists of contracts to November of 1993. Can I ask the Minister whether or not he would be prepared to table a list of contracts from his department at this time?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will have my official look through his file here. I think we can find them for him now. There have only been four or five. If we can find them here, I will table them. If not, I will get them to the Member as quickly as I can.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
Hon. Mr. Devries: As I informed the Members before, there was a transfer of three positions to other departments and vacancies in staff.
Mr. McDonald: Were those positions associated with the accounts receivable? What were the transfers for?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Vacancies include a director of fiscal and management board analyst, a manager of financial systems and an accounts payable clerk. Acting and backfill positions are included in it, as well as savings of $10,000 in travel. Also, there was another savings of $10,000 in equipment purchases, which is on the capital side.
Treasury in the amount of an underexpenditure of $194,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Office Furniture, Equipment and Systems
Office Furniture, Equipment and Systems in the amount of an underexpenditure of $10,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures in the amount of an underexpenditure of $10,000 agreed to
Department of Finance agreed to
Loan Capital and Loan Amortization
Loan Capital and Loan Amortization in the amount of nil agreed to
Loan Capital and Loan Amortization agreed to
Public Service Commission
Chair: Is there any general debate?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I have a few opening statements to provide to the House. The Public Service Commissioner is responsible for corporate personnel services in the Yukon government, in partnership with departments, employees and Yukon communities. This includes staffing, staff development, compensation, classification, labour relations, employee assistance and health promotion, employee records and pensions, corporate services and employment equity.
The Public Service Commission manages these programs under the authority of the Public Service Act, the Public Service Staff Relations Act and the labour relations section of the Education Act.
The Public Service Commission is reallocating its resources to meet the operational needs identified in the 1993-94 supplementaries. The Public Service Commission is asking for new funds and all offsets are provided from within the commissions budget.
The Public Service Commissions ability to reallocate its resources primarily results from position vacancies that have occurred throughout the department. The result in surplus dollars will be reallocated to provide offsets for unforeseeable items related to the recruitment of new employees and leave for employees. Unreported leave accruals for 1992-93 were also covered by internal reallocations.
The remaining surplus dollars will be used to fund the acquisition of two computer workstations and associated software.
Expenditures in leave accruals total an underexpenditure of $54,000. There is an underexpenditure of $9,000 in administration. Line items are offset by reallocations from staffing of $4,000; employee records and pension is decreased by $8,000; the workers compensation fund is decreased by $41,000; compensation is decreased by $14,000; staff relations is decreased by $12,000 and the total provides $16,000 to fund computer workstations.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask a couple of questions relating to the collective bargaining dispute, which is being resolved now with the union and the employer ratifying the decision arrived at by the conciliation board. Does the Government Leader accept the clarification of the conciliation board on the matter of a joint subcommittee to deal with the issues of hours of work, grievance procedure and competition appeals, following the execution of the collective agreement?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, we do.
Ms. Moorcroft: Does the Government Leader support the grievance procedure as a mutually accepted mechanism for resolving workplace disputes?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, we do.
Ms. Moorcroft: Could the Government Leader indicate how many outstanding grievances there are before the commission at third level?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I do not have that number right here, but we can get it and table it for the Member opposite.
Ms. Moorcroft: Could the Minister provide a breakdown of the number of grievances at first and second level and which articles of the collective agreement are aggrieved?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We can get the statistics on first and second level, but we cannot get them on which article of the collective agreement is being aggrieved. We do not keep that information.
Ms. Moorcroft: Do they have a record of that information relating to the final level grievances?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We will check on that and provide the Member with whatever we can in that respect.
Ms. Moorcroft: What has the good government committee done with respect to productivity gains or suggestions? Have they received any employee suggestions in suggestion boxes?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We have received some, but the system is in the process of being formally set up. I know they are working very diligently on it and hope everything will be in place and working efficiently in the very near future.
Ms. Moorcroft: Have any suggestions been acted upon or any rewards given?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There have been some suggestions. The Ministers have acted on the suggestions coming from their own departments. They have not gone through our department or through the good government committee, or any of that. I know some of the suggestions that have come forward - I believe in Renewable Resources and also in the Liquor Corporation - have been put into effect.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would like to ask about the use of auxiliaries. Have they been reduced overall in government, and could I get a breakdown of what departments?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There have been some cutbacks but they are not substantial. We will pull what numbers we can for the Member and get her a list of them.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would particularly be interested in those of Health and Social Services and Community and Transportation Services, as those departments do tend to employ a lot of auxiliaries.
During the main estimates, the Minister estimated that there were 10 term positions in the native training corps in the employment equity branch. Are those people still employed and is the plan to keep the native training corps going?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Yes, we fully intend to keep going with it. My understanding is that we have a fund that is set up and some long-term positions and some short-term positions are set up, depending on what money is in the fund; we certainly intend to keep it going.
Ms. Moorcroft: I would also like to ask some questions about term employees, as they constitute a large number of the workforce in the Yukon public service. A recent arbitrarial decision has decreed that term employees can no longer carry over their benefits should their term be extended, nor move up the salary scale, nor accrue benefits, and must even go through probation again. As a result of this decision, is the government now prepared to hire people for terms of three- to five-years duration, rather than the current one-year or 18-month periods, as suggested by the Public Service Commission?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We underwent a review with regard to an extension of the terms. We had a legal opinion on it. It is going through the process now, and we hope that it will be sorted out and that we will have a definite answer in the next couple of weeks on that issue.
Ms. Moorcroft: I thank the Minister for that answer. The decision has not garnered much support from term employees who already live with little job security as it is. They will now see their odometers turned back to zero, as it were, with each extension of their term, despite the years of quality service that they may have provided.
There was also a concern that the new rules are not being applied universally. Some employees are retaining their benefits, while others lose theirs. Can the Minister tell us what the policy is for applying this new rule for term employees, and if there are any exemptions for term employees of the Public Service Commission?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I understand that is all under review. Any term employee who has been negatively affected by any of this will see this corrected.
I just want to draw it to the Members attention that, since we have been in government, we have taken quite a few term positions and made them permanent. We feel that the term employee positions were badly abused. Employees in term positions were being renewed year after year for six or seven years. I do not think that was the original intention of term positions.
In land claims, we have turned quite a few of those term positions into permanent employees. I think that is only fair.
I do not know what reasons the previous administration had for continuing that practice. I will not question it at this point. I know I was not happy with it. We are looking at eliminating term positions that are not really term positions. They will be put into the system even if they will be with us for a period of only four or five years. It is better to put them into the system as an employee, and identify them as such, than it is to create term positions.
Term positions are supposed to be just that. If there is a program that is going to expire in six months, 18 months or even two years, then the term expires with it. That way, we will not be constantly getting into these debates about renewing term positions. If term is used in the proper manner, when a program finishes, so does the term position.
Ms. Moorcroft: Can the Minister commit to bringing back information when the review has been completed about what decisions they have made regarding term employees?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Certainly, we have no problem with that.
Ms. Moorcroft: With regard to the workers compensation fund, through an order-in-council the government has deemed all of its volunteers to be workers and therefore the government must pay assessments on that. The new act does not permit them to cover the volunteers on a pay-as-you-go basis. What is the government paying and how are they estimating this?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I wish I could answer that question for the Member opposite. As she knows, that turned out to be a fairly contentious issue with the board, and we are awaiting some rules from the board as to how we are going to address that issue. We have not received those rules from the board yet.
Mr. Cable: I have a couple of questions on the survey that the master of public administration students are doing from the college. What are the Ministers plans, and the departments plans, with respect to the results of this course? Is there some structure set up to deal with whatever comes from this survey?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: As the Member opposite is aware, this is being done as a class project for the people who are enrolled in this class. When the report is completed, it will be published, and it will become public information. The government will make whatever use we can of the information. We felt that it was a fairly cheap way to have this done, and also it was a good learning experience for those who are enrolled in the program.
Mr. Cable: I am certain that is the case. The program does involve a number of people who have experience in the public service, people from outside and, of course, professors who have some thoughts about how the public service should be run.
Does the government, at this time, have any views as to what it is going to do with the report, other than simply read it?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We hope that they will do more than just read it. The idea is to make it available to all of the managers, who will be able to use this report in the administration of their departments.
On Operation and Maintenance Expenditures
On Finance and Administration
Ms. Moorcroft: I was trying to follow all of the figures as the Government Leader read through them in his initial presentation, but I would like to ask him if he could just briefly define the lines as we go through them.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Finance and administration is forecasting an overexpenditure of $9,000. This is as a result of maternity leave and additional Yukon bonus benefits that required being topped up. The overexpenditure of $9,000 is offset by surplus funds from the compensation branch.
Finance and Administration in the amount of $9,000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Staffing is forecasting a surplus of $4,000 due to position vacancies within the branch. Surplus funds will be used to provide offsets to other areas in the Public Service Commission.
Staffing in the amount of an underexpenditure of $4,000 agreed to
On Employee Records and Pensions
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Employee records and pensions are forecasting a surplus of $8,000, resulting from a vacant personnel clerk position not staffed. Surplus funds transferred to capital include $3,000 for the acquisition of computer workstation, and leave liability of $5,000 to cover overexpenditures.
Employee Records and Pensions in the amount of an underexpenditure of $8,000 agreed to
On Workers Compensation Fund
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Workers Compensation is forecasting an underexpenditure of $41,000, based on lower activity encountered in the old claims. The Government of Yukon is still responsible for the old claims. The premiums that the government pays are based on an assessment rate of $1.00 per $100 of earnings, to a maximum of $43,000 in earnings per employee. The Workers Compensation Act was amended during 1992. Section 101(1), Definition of Employer, was amended to include the Government of Yukon. This underexpenditure of $41,000 will be used to offset the overexpenditure in the leave accruals line item.
Ms. Moorcroft: Earlier, we were discussing the amendment to the workers compensation fund and the assessments on volunteers. Does the Minister have any indication of when he might be hearing from the Workers Compensation Board and when they might be resolving that controversy?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I am sorry. I do not have any idea at this time. I know it has been a back-and-forth discussion, and we are waiting for some movement by the board on how they are going to handle it.
Workers Compensation Fund in the amount of an underexpenditure of $41,000 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Compensation is forecasting an underexpenditure of $14,000. This is the result of a position vacancy created while the incumbent employee was on temporary assignment. The position will not be backfilled. There will be $9,000 used to provide an offset from the finance and administration branch. The remainder of $5,000 is an offset for the leave accrual line item.
Compensation in the amount of an underexpenditure of $14,000 agreed to
On Leave Accruals
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This overexpenditure is resulting from accruals that were not identified as of March 31, 1993, from the 1992-93 fiscal year. The overexpenditure of funds is offset by surpluses from staffing, $4,000; records and pension, $5,000; workers compensation, $41,000; and compensation, $4,000.
Leave Accruals in the amount of an overexpenditure of $54,000 agreed to
On Staff Development
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Staff development is forecasting a surplus of $12,000. Position vacancies within the branch and an acting situation at a lower rate Ihave contributed to this surplus. Surplus funds are transferred to finance and administration capital for the acquisition of one personal computer and related training administration software.
Staff Development in the amount of an underexpenditure of $12,000 agreed to
Operations and Maintenance Expenditures in the amount of $16,000 agreed to
On Capital Expenditures
On Finance and Administration
On Computer Workstations
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: There are computer requests, records and pensions for $4,000, which includes one personal computer, and pension calculation software. The federal government is providing training at no cost to records and pensions staff, in order for them to perform pension calculations in appropriate federal government formats and printing of the required documentation. The computer would be shared by all records and pensions staff. Currently, there is only one personal computer in the unit and there are 10 full-time equivalents.
Staff development requests of $12,000 include one personal computer, at $4,000, and software called The Training Administrator, which will allow the branch to document, monitor and report on the training progress of all of its employees - that is $8,000. I will give a small sample of the tasks that will be automated using The Training Administrator. It produces a list of employees who wish to take a particular course; it automatically generates course confirmation letters, tracks individual course budgeted amounts and costs; it can produce up to 140 reports in user-defined formats; it tracks instructors; it documents formal education competencies and skills of employees; it records individual training and development plans for employees and maintains information on employee career paths. This would be a stand-alone PC dedicated to running this software and would be accessible to all staff development personnel.
That probably caused more questions than it answered.
Ms. Moorcroft: Yes, I seem to remember that we have, in the past, got into some interesting discussion about computers.
How many workstations was this?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: It was for two workstations and the software.
Computer Workstations in the amount of $16,000 agreed to
Capital Expenditures in the amount of $16,000 agreed to
Public Service Commission agreed to
Chair: We will move on to Health and Social Services.
Department of Health and Social Services
Chair: Is there any general debate on Health and Social Services?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am pleased to present the first supplementary in 1993-94 for the Department of Health and Social Services. In this supplementary, the department is turning back $246,000 in O&M monies and $8,732,000 in capital funds. At the same time, O&M recoveries are expected to increase by $144,000, while capital recoveries will drop by $9 million.
By far the biggest impact is on the capital side. Due to the delay in the construction schedule of the new Whitehorse hospital, the $9 million expenditure and associated capital recovery will be carried forward into future years.
On the O&M side, the main impact is due to the holdup in negotiations regarding the phase 2 health transfer. As a result of that delay, the department is turning back $200,000.
The details regarding these and other items will be discussed during line-by-line debate.
Mr. Penikett: To set the stage for the line of inquiry I want to follow with respect to the supplementary, I would like to table a document that provides a graphic illustration of the trend lines in the expenditures of this department, going back five years. I would note that the reason for my wanting to ask the questions at the time of this supplementary is to act, if you like, as an overture to a more lengthy discussion we may want to have in the O&M budget and to try and get a handle on exactly where the department is going in terms of its expenditures.
I note, for example, that in the fiscal year 1988-89, the department budgeted total operating expenditures of $42,601,000, and for the 1993-94 fiscal year it budgeted $98,271,000 - as the Minister well knows, a fairly remarkable rate of growth over the period.
I also note, for the years that I have examined, the pattern for the actual expenditures has been to somewhat exceed the budgeted expenditures. In recent years, the divergence between the two lines has grown, which suggests that the - if I can call it this - macro economic approach to cost control in the department has not been hugely successful. I am mindful of the fact that, for many years in this House, the Minister, in Opposition, believed that social expenditures were too high and should be cut. In several ways, he has indicated his interest in cost cutting, during his time as head of this ministry.
However, the budget year we are currently in has seen the highest budget ever. Indeed, the operating budget for this year has been described as the biggest ever, I think in the order of magnitude of 30 percent.
The Minister has previously said that he wanted the budget to be realistic and to reflect the real needs of the department. That is fine, and that is why we have the budget as high as we do, but I am puzzled by the scraps of information that we get from casual conversation on the street in town. I recently heard one person talking about the possibility of spending $20 million on social assistance this year and then, a day later, someone else said something to me about lapsing $6 million in social assistance.
I really would like to get a big picture sense of where the department is at the time of this supplementary.
I wonder if the Minister believes the budget will be adequate to his task this year or if we will see the actuals exceed the budget. Perhaps as a result of him - I cannot remember the adverb he used - budgeting accurately or properly, we will actually see the expenditures come in below the budgeted amount. The Minister is turning back a small amount here and he has given his reasons for that. I do not want to focus on that.
Would the Minister be prepared to comment on the trend lines and what he thinks is happening in this current year? I do not know whether or not my little chart is helpful.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Essentially, upon taking office, I was struck with some of the problems the department had been experiencing. One of them was that the estimates for several years in a row had been unrealistically low - set at figures about the same or lower than the estimates or actuals for the previous year. This meant that the department knew full well, on the social assistance side and the health side, that no matter what they did, they would not be able to even come close to being within budget. It was my position that we should get the best guess estimates from the department and try and budget what they sincerely believed would be the amount for the two main programs: health on one side and social assistance on the other. I felt that, instead of scrambling on in an attempt to do an impossible task, we should go through a fairly thorough exercise of reviewing social assistance and health to see what needed to be done in order to make the programs more efficient and effective.
As Minister, two of my three top priorities over the course of the past year has been the issue of social assistance reform - and I am sure that the Member knows the history of that - and health care reform.
On the social assistance side, we pushed ahead with the inter-departmental process and produced an - I think - extremely good, comprehensive report of what we were doing in social assistance. It included some of the factors that seemed to be driving up costs. That report was published and released last spring, during the O&M debates.
We then proceeded to go through what we saw as the priority issues. Last spring, we announced three steps. One was the signing of the social assistance recipients agreement, which was finally implemented in October. The main intent of that reform was to obtain more monies for training and getting people into the workplace, so a program has been implemented on our side that has put a number of recipients into the workforce with subsidized earnings.
Another one that was announced in the House was the agreement with Canada regarding their paying back advances or loans against UI payments, whereby we advance monies as a loan and the Government of Canada pays the money back to us from the first payments that are sent - double cheques.
These two were partly made possible by the implementation of the long-awaited LISA computer program.
The other one we announced in the House was the interchange of information with other jurisdictions, to try to get people who were collecting in more than one jurisdiction.
In addition to those, which have been implemented, and of which we have not yet felt the full impact, because of LISA we have had a situation where our workers have had more time to spend on clients and have been able to ensure the regulations are being applied strictly according to the rules, doing some follow up, and making sure there are no grievous errors or fraudulent practices being carried on.
In Question Period today, I mentioned that there are 25 files under investigation for fraud by the RCMP. Many of these are things that might have been caught earlier but, because of the extra workload prior to LISA, they were not.
On the health side, in January we struck what was known as the joint management committee with medical services. That is a committee on which there are three doctors sitting full time and three people from the department. They are going through aspects of health care, with recommendations to me. They have been looking at issues concerning the chronic disease program. As Members may recall, this was announced in the House to be the original $67,000 per year, with an estimated cost of $170,000. That was changed by the Minister within days to the original $67,000 and $360,000.
Since that time, it has grown to about $1.5 million per year.
We are looking at the way we fund prescription drugs, and that sort of thing, to see what can be done and, of course, we have been looking at what other provinces are doing. We are not the only ones concerned about these issues.
We went through a fairly heavy consultation process on those two areas with the public in the fall, and there have been consultations undertaken right up to today with various groups. We hope to be in a position to announce some changes, with regard to both social assistance and to health, prior to April 1.
The regulations are really old. It is my understanding that the last time the regulations on social assistance were reviewed was 1971, so it is high time they were reviewed and updated. However, as a result of the steps taken and the tightening up of the regulations, and perhaps of external factors beyond our control, we anticipate that we will be underspending social assistance and health care.
On the basis of the material we have before us, I would not want to make a prediction, but we were looking at social assistance going up to as high as $12 million, and we expect it to be at least $1 million under that. With regard to health care, we anticipate spending about $1 million under the projections that we had based the budget on.
On the health care side, to date, my understanding is that most of this will be the result of a reduction in our costs of out-of-territory hospital care. I quite freely suggest that is something that is just a matter of luck. However, there have been no real increases in other areas, and I think the fact that this is a priority may have something to do with it.
We hope to move into introducing and implementing some changes to both programs, as I have said. We hope to be able to move on and address other priorities, one of which is the Alcohol and Drug Strategy. These will have long-term cost implications if we are at all successful. Another is looking at youth at risk and focussing on our youth programs and what can be done about youth at risk in the territory. That is something that will be in the next wave. The Alcohol and Drug Strategy was part of the first wave of priorities.
Mr. Penikett: I would like to thank the Minister for his information. As I look at the numbers, if the Minister hopes to save a million on the social assistance budget and a million dollars on the health budget - and I assume the Minister is talking about savings against the budgeted amounts - the actual expenditures would be somewhere in the neighbourhood of $96 million. That would still be $15 million over the last final year actuals we have. That amount is very similar to the amount that the government has described as having an accumulated deficit of - $13 million. I say that only to make the point about the order of magnitude of the Health and Social Services budgets and the cost problems in that area. That is not a question; I am only making an observation. The Minister wanted to say something.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: One of the very large increases, aside from the curve of social assistance and health, is largely attributable to opening the Thomson Centre, which amounts to roughly $4 million and the first year takeover of the hospital, which is in the range of $15 million or $16 million. That is funded as a result of the negotiations of the health transfer.
The increase is as a result of the Thomson Centre opening and the hospital budget. This year the Thomson Centre was more like $3 million. Some of these costs were one-time-only costs, but the centre has only been open since September 1 and the hospital costs were for a full year. If I recall correctly, those costs were around $16 million.
Mr. Penikett: I say this not to provoke debate, but the Minister will forgive me if I remain a little bruised by my inability to impress upon the Opposition when I was in government something of the nature of the problem of the operating costs of such facilities. Indeed, the Minister may forgive me for thinking that I found the Opposition of the day woefully indifferent to that problem.
As the Minister of Health and Social Services in New Brunswick once said to me, the easiest job in Opposition is to be the critic for Health and Social Services and the hardest job in government is to be the minister. That may be true of New Brunswick, but I am sure it is not the case here.
Let me make it clear to the Minister where I want to go in the next few minutes on this question. He mentioned the social assistance costs and I confess I have an interest in that. The interdepartmental committee that looked into that question was established by our government and continued its work through the transition.
I personally was very disappointed in the final results of that report, which seemed to concentrate entirely on cost controls, the eligibility, term of coverage, and rates of social assistance, and so forth, rather than the more innovative thinking that seemed to be going on in other parts of North America - alternatives to social assistance and marrying work options and training options, and so forth, to social assistance - but perhaps we will hear more about that later. Unfortunately, the critic assignments prohibit me from exploring that issue very much and those questions will be taken up by my colleague, the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
What I would like to focus on in my time are the questions of health costs and the way in which the Minister is addressing that issue.
If I remember correctly, in this jurisdiction, as in many other jurisdictions in the last few years, the pattern of cost increases in the health insurance program was of the order of magnitude of 10 percent annually. I wonder if I can ask the Minister if that trend is still observable or if the rate of increase has decreased since he has come into office. Just let me ask that question first.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The rate of growth has been decreasing here and across Canada. This has occurred across Canada partly as a result of capping on hospital budgets. I should correct the record slightly. I said $16 million for the hospital. Last year, $10 million was contributed to the federal government, so the net was about $6 million. We will have better control over the hospital expenditure through the hospital board. We expect them to do a good job in terms of controlling costs. This is something that we believe the federal government was not exactly on the cutting edge of in this aspect, despite their good intentions.
There has been an effort across most provinces to cap the increase in costs of physicians. This is a delicate issue on which we are dealing with them right now, especially in terms of utilization, but also relating to fee-for-service increases, if any. The utilization issue was quite interesting in itself. We intend to set up a project to study utilization in all its aspects and its impact on costs for physician services in the Yukon.
In the meantime, we are certainly looking at ways to - for lack of a better term - hold down the costs in that area.
Mr. Penikett: Throughout this exchange, the Minister may feel a great temptation to anticipate me. Utilization is one of the questions I want to get into. However, I wonder if I could - as pedantic as I am - move through this slowly, step by step.
The Minister said that the 10-percent annual rate of increase, which approximates the trend in the Yukon in recent years, has decreased. Could he tell me what he expects the rate of increase for the current year to be? Also, what are the causes here of this moderation of the trend since, as far as I know, we have not introduced either caps or utilization controls similar to those employed in other jurisdictions?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: This year, we anticipate a reduction in the rate. The primary reason is the saving of more than $1 million that we anticipate to be coming out of the territorial hospital. That is the primary reason. Also, if anything, we sense that the population is decreasing, although Statistics Canada reports do not appear to bear that out as yet.
The health reform we are looking at, and about which I spoke earlier, will not be kicking in for a few months.
Mr. Penikett: The Minister did not say what he thought the percentage increase might be. Perhaps he would take that question as notice. I appreciate the point about population, and I think that ought to cause some reduction in the increase in health costs, though, of course, if you look at my little graph, the trend line indicated by the departments budget indicates a higher increase rate. Now, the Minister has explained that in reference to the Thomson Centre and the hospital. Let me just say that by the time we get to the O&M mains in the spring, I will probably want to segregate those issues and explore them further.
Of the components of health insurance costs, if I remember correctly, two that we had a great deal of problem with were out-of-territory physician costs and hospital costs. To what extent does the Minister think that he will be able to control them, either anticipating his reforms or now, as the program manager?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The issue of out-of-territory physician costs would, of course, largely be under control, except that we are, to some extent, rewarded by steps being taken by our sister jurisdictions with regard to what they are doing about physician costs. I guess one of the dangers is that if physicians have a cap on utilization, they see out-of-territory clients as one safety valve. That is an issue we are aware of, but have not fully addressed by any means.
The other issue was hospital costs - here or out-of-territory?
What has happened thus far with respect to out-of-territory hospitals is that we have been lucky in that not that many people have used services of hospitals out-of-territory. One thing that we are doing, I think, has a global impact, though, and that is that the daily fees charged by the hospital since the transfer have been upped by the board from some $450 per day, I believe it was, to $785 per day. In terms of reciprocity, it means that we are charging very close to what a lot of hospitals in our sister jurisdictions are charging.
Mr. Penikett: I take the point that if southern jurisdictions, in particular Alberta and British Columbia, are taking tough measures to control their own health and hospital costs, that there is the potential for us to profit from those measures. I am sure that the Minister has also noticed some appetite in those two jurisdictions for the governments wanting to pass on costs to other jurisdictions, and pass on costs to people from other jurisdictions. The reciprocity agreements that we have may be very important in that context.
Areas that we have talked about in the past in which to control costs locally have included physician costs here, which the Minister mentioned, the fee for services and the chronic diseases program for which the Minister has budgeted a relatively low amount. It is now costing many times what was originally forecast. I recall that was somewhat related to drug therapies for psychiatric patients. I may be wrong about that, but I seem to recall that was one of the components of the increased costs in that area, and of course the related costs of the Pharmacare program - I recall that we were looking at options such as generic drugs in that program - and the medical travel program.
Would the Minister mind if I took a few minutes to go through each one of those programs, because I would like to know where he is going with each of those programs?
I hope the Minister will not mind my saying that, faltering as they may have been, many of the initiatives that he is bound to be considering were not being considered for the first time since he came into office. Some of the programs have been at least discussed for a long time and other programs may be brand new under his ministry, and I am interested in finding out what those are.
The Minister mentioned utilization and there are obvious problems about aging and expanding populations and, as I have mentioned before in this House, high-tech medicine, expensive drug therapies, hospital-based services and all of those things.
There is a belief among advocates of theories of free-market economics that one of the problems with our system is that there is no disincentive for people to go and see doctors as many times as they like, since the bills are all paid. If someone wants to go outside of the territory, there is no disincentive for them to go shopping from doctor to doctor until they can find someone who will send them outside. There is no disincentive, it is argued, for people who are not really sick to go and see doctors. I guess an extreme form of this argument comes in the form of those who claim that there are people who are elderly or lonely who will sometimes see a doctor for purely social reasons.
Some jurisdictions talked about user fees, some jurisdictions talked about other disincentives, most of which, at least at the moment, are forbidden under the Canada Health Act, because the territory or province would forfeit a large amount of money for implementing them.
Could I ask the Ministers views on the question of the disincentives for patients, to start with, to behave in a way that is economically advantageous to the government?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: On the narrow issue of physician utilization, I do not believe that charging fees per visit, or that sort of thing, is the way to go. It is certainly not one of the options that is under active consideration at this time, if that is the question.
One of the interesting rationales for going ahead with the joint management committee was the argument made to me by several physicians that the one thing required for physicians and doctors were some self-imposed standards of utilization. It was put to me that an individual physician often felt that he was the only advocate for the patient, and that was his duty so, if someone came to him asking for something that was less than borderline necessary - like a CAT-scan or one of the various expensive kinds of tests - it would be much better if that physician could say, My colleagues have set certain standards and you do not fall within those standards, I am sorry. Otherwise, of course, what happens is that almost any kind of vaguely related test can always be justified for a particular illness, if that is what the patient is demanding. That is one of the reasons for the joint management committee - to try and get some codes of utilization, for want of a better word, adopted by the profession, in order to overcome that problem.
Otherwise, they are involved in the whole issue of looking at a formulary, if that is the right word, for drugs and the kinds of steps that can be taken to reduce some of the costs to government in that area. Of course, they are having input into the other issues the Member wants to raise, but the simple answer is no - at this time, I am convinced from my conversations with colleagues and physicians, and so on, that the imposition of a fee, even were it possible under the federal law, is not the way to go.
Mr. Penikett: I would welcome the Minister to this fascinating world, especially when he gets into dialogues with doctors on the subject. I remember when I was Minister of the department, I made what I felt was a simple and sensible suggestion that might have the effect of, I thought, discouraging the overutilization of physician services. I suggested that the department might require every doctor to post prominently a sign in their waiting rooms showing what the fees were in terms of the costs to the system of every service. I was actually quite amazed by the ingenuity of some of the objections. One physician complained that If people knew that I got less per hour than a plumber, they would not respect me any more.
By some professionals, my idea was regarded as a bit facile and not very well thought out. I notice that other jurisdictions are doing a very expensive variance of it, such as mailing patients annually copies of the bills of the charges they have made to the system, which must cost a ton of money. I would have thought spending $50 on a printing press to have posters made for doctors offices stating exactly what their visits are costing might be of some use. Some responsible citizens might then think twice before taking their kid with a cold to the doctor, when - not to be unkind to the kid - the doctor is not going to be able to do much about the cold and the child would probably get better.
The Minister mentioned the CAT scan, which is one of the favourite toys of health reform rhetoric. I recall being roundly abused during my time as Minister for not acquiring instantly certain forms of technology for the Yukon. For example, I was accused of being a heartless, illegitimate person for not acquiring a kidney dialysis machine on one occasion for one patient. I seem to recall that some of the debate about the mammography machine was not entirely constructive.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible).
Mr. Penikett: Indeed it was effective, as the Member for Riverdale South says, but the interesting thing was that, while the government was trying to rationally wrestle with some of the questions about costs and efficacy - a debate that was still going on in the medical profession, and still is - we were responding, as politicians usually do, to pressure.
And when politicians respond to pressure - let me say, with respect - they do not always behave rationally or with prudence, in terms of public expenditures. That is why I was interested to make provision in the Health Act for things like a technology advisory committee, so that one had some objective, professional advice about things like the usefulness or value of CAT scans in a community of this size.
The Minister made mention of the joint management committee. I hope the Minister will forgive me for skipping over many of these interesting and important topics because I understand that some Ministers are anxious to get on to other things, but I only want to say this as a preview and want to get back to some detail with the Minister in the spring session.
The Minister mentioned the JMC. Now, I do not share this view myself, but there are other advocates of market ideology who argue that doctors have a conflict of interest when it comes to questions of health care expenditures and particularly, as the Minister said, they are kind of, if you like, the gatekeepers of the system. They are essentially the people who have the power to decide for, or to advise, a patient whether to come back again, what kind of pharmaceuticals they may have, whether they should go to specialists, and whether they will be sent outside for tests.
Given that we still have a fee-for-service system, that they, consciously or not, have the ability to improve their incomes by encouraging repeated visits. I am not suggesting that physicians do this, but I am saying that, in behavioural terms, that is possible.
The Minister told me in the last sitting, I think, that the JMC was composed half of physicians and half of other professionals or other departmental people. I did ask the Minister at that point whether he was satisfied about the balance of interests - if I can put it that way - on the committee, and would ask him if, in the months since we last discussed this, he has anything to tell us about the effectiveness of the committee or, indeed, whether he believes that those unfair people who have said that doctors have a conflict of interest in this question are correct or not.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Conflict of interest seems to be coming up over and over again in these hallowed Chambers. With respect to the JMC committee, I am quite pleased with the kind of advice that I am getting from it. It is only advice. It is not the sole source of information upon which Cabinet documents or decisions are made, of course.
I am of the view that it is important to work with the medical profession on a large number of issues, rather than take an adversarial stance right off. There is no question in my mind that there are all kinds of ways that doctors can cost a lot of money, outside of their fees, by simply not making the effort to effect cost savings. There were many examples provided to me by the president of the medical association when I first started. He is in Somalia or somewhere now, but he had some pretty good examples.
So far, there has been nothing that has come to me that has caused me concern about the issue of conflict of interest, but I admit that there is that perception and that is something to keep an eye on. Thus far, I am quite pleased with the work and professionalism of the doctors on the committee.
Chair: Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members: Agreed.
Chair: I will now call Committee of the Whole to order. Is there any further general debate?
Mr. Penikett: We were talking about controlling health care costs, and the Minister mentioned negotiations with physicians about fees. The last time we were talking about this, I made the point that I thought volumes had more to do with rates, or that utilization was probably a larger factor in the total health care cost than rates - the Minister is nodding, so I assume that is true. Therefore, the focus of any cost control measures would inevitably want to address the question of utilization, as the Minister has said.
What precise measures will the Minister be looking at in terms of the problem of utilization? Before I put the precise question, I want to emphasize that I was not quoting my own view in terms of physicians and conflict of interest, but I think that I was making the obvious point that doctors do not have the same interest in controlling costs that governments do. In fact, they may have a contrary interest, and their self-interests may not be served by governments controlling costs. Although, I would argue that their enlightened self-interest would be to share and have a community of interest with us on this question, because the consequences of uncontrolled health care cost will, at some point, be brutal responses by governments, which will not be to the satisfaction of the profession at all.
The Minister mentioned caps before - caps on increases or caps on utilization. I gather, in some provinces, if one earns over a certain amount, ones income, or ones return from the health insurance, is taxed. Others have looked at caps on the rate of increase of physicians incomes annually or the increase in the physicians rates. Can the Minister tell us what his thinking is about caps - where he wants to go, how he wants to proceed? Does he have any plans yet?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are just on the brink of negotiations with the physicians on their contract, so it is a difficult area to get into at this point. I will just make one point, though. We are jointly looking at solutions or attempts at solutions in the other jurisdictions. We are alarmed, and this may be a bit off topic, for example, that B.C. is going to be passing a regulation or law whereby new physicians in the province will only be able to obtain 50 percent of the fees. We are concerned about similar kinds of noises coming from Alberta and right across the country and we will probably be doing something very quickly to offset what might be a forced migration of doctors from some of those jurisdictions to us while we grapple with a more humane and sensible approach.
I attended part of the last joint management committee meeting and they were quite interested in doing something along the lines Prince Edward Island is doing, which works. What we will do is something that is harsh and brutal while we come to grips with that particular problem, which is the issue of new doctors coming into the territory - the issue of current doctors wanting to sell their practices or semi-retire. There are a whole bunch of issues that have to be dealt with and we are just starting to get into it.
With regard to the other issues, these are things we will be negotiating.
Mr. Penikett: I do not want to intrude unnecessarily into the negotiations. I am sure the Minister knows that, at one point, we had a collective agreement with the doctors that allowed us to pick up the liability or malpractice insurance, but we only paid it for the established number of physicians in the territory. We did not pay for the new doctors, which I suppose provided some disincentive for new people to operate here.
I guess ones point of view on the wisdom of that would depend on whether one is in a small community that is looking for a doctor, or in Whitehorse, where one may think there is an adequate number.
Without intruding on the negotiations, I did see the headline that Dr. Mitchell won for himself in the Yukon News, expressing a lack of enthusiasm for some of the instruments that were apparently under consideration by someone in terms of controlling physicians incomes.
Does the Minister have in his arsenal, or among his options, the ability to cap the rate of increase of the physician fees, perhaps below the rate of inflation? Is he considering caps on physician payments, which would amount to caps on total income or increases in those fees? He mentioned also the Prince Edward Island model, but he did not explain to the House what that was. I wonder if he could comment as a matter of policy, rather than as a bargaining position.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: In regard to whether or not we are considering caps, we are naturally looking at various models that we might introduce at the bargaining table. With regard to the Prince Edward Island model, my understanding of it is that it is a system whereby the province and the physicians have a methodology whereby they determine which practitioners are allowed to obtain licences to practice medicine there. It is based on various criteria which, at this point, are beyond me.
However, two of our people on the joint management committee were at a conference recently. The president, Dr. Mitchell, and the past president, Dr. Reddoch, obtained some material on Prince Edward Island. It was felt that there are some similarities between the two jurisdictions, the obvious one being size and population. They have a reasonable handle on the requirements of the territory. We will be looking at that.
It deals with the issue of additional physicians coming in. The evidence seems to be that a new physician coming in will make $150,000 to $200,000 gross in their first year, without seeing anything diminish from the so-called competition. That is just some wisdom that has been passed on to me.
Mr. Penikett: Since the Minister is in negotiations, I will not pursue this aggressively at this point, but it is a subject that I would like to pursue in the spring session. By that point, we should have an agreement with the doctors.
The Minister mentioned problems with the chronic diseases program and he also mentioned problems with Pharmacare and the idea of a formulary and I would like to get back to that in a minute.
There was a problem when I was in government that I recall had to do with extended health benefits and the problem of the government having become the insurer of first resort, rather than the insurer of last resort. I know that officials in the department were grappling with that problem at the time I left the ministry, and I assume that they continued to grapple with that during the time that my successor was in office. I wonder if that grappling has produced any result, and if that is an issue that has been resolved.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Sorry, I could not hear the Member for Riverdale South. These are issues that we are grappling with now and, of course, it is premature for me to make any kind of announcements because no decisions have been made. In fact, we are still in no position to bring a paper forward in Cabinet, and we will not be until some time in March. However, that is one of the issues we are looking at, and it is a serious issue.
Mr. Penikett: I am trying to be kind and gentle today. I will not do what was done to me. We had only two years in the department, and it was decided after a year and one-half that I should have solved all of the problems. The Minister is approaching the year and one-half. He may have a lifetime tenure on the job - I do not know. I am being urged to get him by the Member for Riverdale South. It is not my purpose this afternoon, and I want to keep on topic if I can.
I have heard there is also a problem in terms of the non-insured health benefits offered by the medical services branch to status Indians, in that the territorys extended care benefits are superior, or more valuable, than the federal ones, and there may be a problem with First Nations people who are in the employ of the government accessing a territorial program at some cost to us, when there is an inferior federal program under which they are also eligible. Has that been identified as an issue by the Minister?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Certainly, it has been identified as an issue. It is one of those things that sometimes old land claimers, or ex-land claims negotiators, talk about. There was a time when the federal government was willing to pay a bunch of money to buy out the non-insured medical services for Indian people. They would then have that money and, in addition, according to the 1984 agreement, be eligible for all programs, including the ones we are speaking of here. Since that time, there has been great slippage. We have identified the problem. We do not have any solutions at hand, but we will actually be considering some options between now and March.
Mr. Penikett: I understand the Minister said earlier that one of the problems with the regulations under the Yukon Health Insurance Plan is that they have not been changed since, I think his expression was 1971-
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Social assistance.
Mr. Penikett: SA, sorry. Then let me ask the Minister, if it is just a question of changing regulations under the health insurance plan, for example, or on something like extended care benefits, is he contemplating some changes to regulations? I guess I should ask the more specific question: is he planning to de-insure any services that are now covered?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Certainly, we are looking at the option to de-insure. Those plans can be under the Health Act or the Health Care Insurance Act, and there are technical issues relating to that. We are talking about the uninsured services such as chronic disease and so on, and that is an issue we are looking at.
The kinds of things we are looking at are certain levels of difficulty with regard to making changes - that is another dimension. We would like to come forward with some things in March or April that are relatively easily accomplished and without prejudice. Other things might come later that would be more complex to introduce. It is important that we get some changes or controls put into place as soon as possible, and it seems to me that we will have some kind of a package that we will be announcing by the end of the fiscal year.
Mr. Penikett: As a process of government decision making, some questions are not hard to execute because, under the health insurance list, there is a list of insured services and, at least in our time in government, there were still applicants to get on the list, such as chiropractic services, for example. We not only looked at the cost but we also experienced, if that is the right word, an energetic lobby from physicians on the question.
If we are now in the mode, as a result of costs, of looking at the possibility of de-insuring, could the Minister at least give us some sense of what insured services are potential candidates for de-insurance? I am not asking him to commit himself because he says he is going to come forward with a package in March or April, but could he indicate what he thinks should not be covered by health insurance - that should be covered by private citizens, or should be covered by private insurance rather than the medicare system?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am not saying whether they should or should not, but we are certainly looking at chronic care, for one example. We are also looking at extended health benefits.
We have not made any decisions yet.
Mr. Penikett: The Minister indicated that the chronic diseases program was running at about $1.5 million. I forget what the extended benefits are. I do not want to phrase this hypothetically, but what order of magnitude of savings are we talking about if those two were de-insured?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are hoping to see a modest reduction and curtailment of the growth. Everything that we are looking at in Social Assistance and Health is to curtail the growth and see some room for a slight downward curve in the future.
With respect to the two areas that we are talking about, there have been various numbers bandied about, but we would hope to see a modest decrease in the chronic disease program, and less potential for growth. The program has increased by leaps and bounds, year after year, as the Member for Riverdale South has reminded previous Ministers and as I am sure she will remind me.
Mr. Penikett: Let me be clear about this. I understand the problem and the objectives, and that there has been a real problem everywhere with the rate of growth - it does not matter what political stripe you represent. I think Ontarios rate of growth in their health care system for many years, ironically, until the NDP came, was 13 or 14 percent annually. They were heading toward 50 percent of their original budget in their health care program. Under one deputy - Mr. Dector, I think - it came down to one or two percent per year. He was an economist, and he had a different approach to these things than health care professionals typically do.
I am not asking the Minister to pre-judge the conclusions of the processes in which he is now engaged, but are there any other services beyond the standard health care benefits and chronic diseases that are potential candidates for de-insurance?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There is Pharmacare in that package. Medical travel is going to be examined at some stage.
The whole purpose is to see some moderate reductions in some of these in the long term or, at the very least, less rapid growth. What we are doing here is a fairly comprehensive analysis of how we compare with other jurisdictions. We really cannot afford to be that much broader in our coverage.
Mr. Penikett: There are some things about which I would question the value, such as the cosmetic question. I have many friends who believe that optional cosmetic surgery - not surgery that might have to be done due to an accident or rehabilitative surgery for someone who has been seriously scarred in a fire accident - such as nose jobs or whatever, should not be covered by health care. The Member for Riverdale South says that they are not. The fact of the matter is that they were in some jurisdictions, and some jurisdictions have been moving away from that kind of coverage.
I will get to Pharmacare and medical travel in a moment - I am sorry that I am not doing it as quickly as I would like. I asked a question about chronic diseases. I remember probably asking questions of the Minister, and perhaps the Member for Riverdale South, as well, and the choice of our becoming the insurer of Firth resort, instead of the insurer of first resort. The Minister says that they are grappling with this question. I grappled with it, as well, as did my successor. Is the Minister about to resolve the question or not, or is it just a hopeless Gordian knot?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I am in the awkward position of saying that we are going to be developing a paper to take to Cabinet. With regard to whether or not I am about to make certain recommendations, I will be doing so in March. We will see which of them get through. That is all I can tell the Member.
Mr. Penikett: Several times the Minister has referred to public consultations about these issues. Forgive me, I have not taken part in any of the meetings in rural communities, but the reason I am asking these questions is that I have not heard much public discussions about them. Perhaps that will happen after the Minister comes up with his proposals - I think it is just about guaranteed that that will happen.
I would like to move on to the question of pharmaceuticals. When I was Minister, we were talking about the planning to substitute generic drugs, when we could, for the higher-cost brand name drugs. The problem of drug prices was exacerbated, of course, by the federal governments decision to extend the patent protection on some pharmaceuticals. The Minister also mentioned earlier the development of a formulary. Is this something about which the Minister is keen? Is he an advocate or is he not willing to express an opinion on that yet?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I have certain views on the subject, and I will be including those views in the papers that I take to Cabinet. That is all that I can really say until that is done.
Mr. Penikett: As I understand it, a formulary involves some kind of lists on which you can try and agree with professionals in the field about the lowest cost drugs. Normally, you will try and negotiate an agreement with somebody like the Medical Association that they will prescribe these things, and the government will cover the drugs on the list, but not drugs that are not on the list.
The Minister is being coy about whether or not he favours that. Is there any reason why he would not?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The sheer politics of it. It seems to me that it is reasonable to look at a formulary whereby the low-cost drugs are those which are prescribed. If the patients want the high-tech, time-released or the special brand name, then they should pay the difference. That is the kind of information that goes into development of a formulary, and that is what we are considering at this time.
Mr. Penikett: I think that we have established that the Minister is looking at the regulations and policies governing a number of the programs, including chronic diseases, pharmacare and extended care benefits, and I take it that the Minister is at least looking at the formulary question.
The Minister also mentioned medical travel. What is the Minister looking at in terms of options of controlling the costs of medical travel? During one year when I was Minister, I think we were over 12 percent, an item that we had very limited funds for, but we were stuck with the bills, nonetheless.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There are some very strongly held views in the territory with respect with the current policies, in particular the in-territory ones.
There is an issue about whether or not there ought to be some kind of a share for people who have to travel outside - a modest portion of the travelling costs.
These are all issues that we will be looking at. All I can say is that they are not going to be included in the first round of decisions, but they will be left until after we deal with the various areas that he has already canvassed. It will be an area that we will be grappling with more directly by the time we are here in the spring.
Mr. Penikett: Even though this will not be in the first package, it may be in a later package. The Minister is entertaining the idea that the patient themselves might have to pick up a share of the travel costs? The Minister used the word modest. What does that mean? Does it mean 10 percent, 20 percent?
I am not asking the Minister to nail that down, but is he talking about equal shares for the government and the patient, or is it based on ability to pay? What range of options is the Minister looking at?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are looking at the modest end, not the equal share. We are definitely looking at a persons ability to pay as one of the criteria. The other is the nature of the situation, and if there is an emergency, or need, perceived.
Mr. Penikett: I will signal the obvious to the Minister. For some families and some individuals, this could be a powerful disincentive to travel and I think we would be extremely concerned if it became a disincentive to obtain necessary medical care, either for some elderly member of the family or some young child. That one, I think, could be the source of some quite heated debate.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: We are sensitive to it and that is why we want to take a good deal of time in trying to see what kinds of options would be palatable to, first of all, me as Minister, because it is certainly not the intention to erode health care. But, on the other hand, we have got to find ways of curtailing the rapidly escalating costs or else we are in deep trouble.
Mr. Penikett: Is the Minister also looking at changing the rules in any way of who could qualify to take advantage of medical travel, and is he considering disqualifying any group or class of people who may now be eligible for medical travel?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: That is premature. To be honest and extremely frank with the Member, I really have not had a chance to get into this issue very much. I know that there is some concern about some abuse, but that is not the key issue. The key issue is what is a fair way of curtailing the increase in cost without severely prejudicing the health of lower income people or families or groups.
Mr. Penikett: I have mentioned before, and I am sure the Minister has encountered evidence of people who, for all practical purposes, do not live in the Yukon Territory but, for one reason or another, are still taking advantage of the Yukon Health Insurance Plan. Indeed, the one concern about using health care registrations as our population data may be that they are almost certainly inflated to the extent that there may be people living in Vancouver or Alberta - and I think there is one other jurisdiction where they charge medicare premiums - who may, just to avoid those premiums, continue to list themselves on the Yukon Health Insurance Plan even though they are no longer resident. I am interested in what action the Minister may be taking to address that problem, because it almost certainly produces costs for the taxpayer here from people who may pay no taxes at all to the territory.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: There has been a movement afoot, I think before I became Minister even, to start pulling off people we find on there who should not be. One particularly blatant example, which I am sure the Member is aware of, is a person who perhaps was the father of medicare in Yukon - I am not sure if he was a member of the NDP or not - oh, Liberal, okay - anyway, he was finally off that list, as I understand it, a year or two ago. That is continuing but it is an issue that we are going to have to address and it is another issue where, I must confess, I have not had the time to look at all the options.
Mr. Penikett: Without reviewing individual cases, I do recall the last straw for me was seeing a former prominent citizen of the Yukon try to add their new bride to the list even though the bride had never ever visited the place - but that was a long time ago.
I wonder if I could, in view of the hour, perhaps try and summarize this issue a little. I have a couple of other issues on health care costs that arise from the minutes we have been provided from the health and social services council but maybe it would perhaps be more useful to start that line of enquiry tomorrow. I will not be long after that, but I do want to cover it.
We have established this afternoon that the Minister is in negotiations with the doctors, looking at not only fees for service but also utilization issues. He is, with respect to the Health Insurance Plan, looking at the questions of chronic diseases, extended health benefits for certain and perhaps others. He is looking at the possibility of a formulary in respect to the Pharmacare costs. He is also looking at the problem of medical travel costs and the possibility of some group of clients sharing some of the costs of a modest amount yet to be defined.
That latter item is probably in the second stage of his reform package, to use his words.
Let me express a general concern about health reform. The problem of costs and shifting emphasis from sickness to wellness, putting resources into prevention and investment in health promotion rather than cure is not new. It is a discussion that has been going on for the best part of the last decade. However, if this comment does not sound too gratuitous, I think we are dangerously close to exhausting some of the publics patience with rhetoric about health reform if it seems to be nothing more than a cost-cutting exercise. I say this to the Minister without aggression. It is an observation not about this government, but about all governments in this country. After awhile, the public might be quite cynical when they hear politicians talking about health and the only effect, for them, is to see a diminution in health service or the availability of a range of services or an increase in the costs of the same.
As a way of rounding out this discussion, can I ask the Minister if there are any other dimensions of his health care reform package, other than these items we have been discussing this afternoon, that are largely about cost containment?
Hon. Mr. Phelps: At the same time, we are looking at developments in community-based health, and we have talked about that in the past. We are looking at the whole issue of holistic healing, particularly as it is seen by Yukon Indian people. We are looking at inter-relationships between things like the health, alcohol and drug strategy, which is in social services, but relates very much to health.
There are the issues of mental health, counselling and all of the problems that we have, and a growing awareness of problems in the sexual abuse area, the family violence area and other areas.
My personal view, which I boldly stated, is that one of the most lucrative areas to make some real progress is to deal head on with some of the real terrible social problems that we face, particularly the First Nations. Many of these programs will produce great benefits in terms of overall health costs over time. When one looks at problems of diet, stress and all of the obvious things that arise from violence and alcohol and drug abuse, those are areas that are blatant and that, by doing a few things, we could really get a good payback, if nothing else, in the area of health and other social areas. That is an area of great interest to me.
The issue of health education, and other issues, are issues that we intend to address. As in the area of social assistance, we want to get a grip on why some of these programs are spiralling out of control. We want to look at some of the technical reasons, and try to repair some of them.
Precautionary steps should be taken to try to get obvious controls put in place and be able to more firmly address the positive side, if there is a negative and positive side to this, which deal with those issues I have just discussed, and look at things like home care and other similar programs.
Mr. Penikett: I have one question to the Minister before he sits down, because we will conclude this debate tomorrow, and I would like to see if he might come back tomorrow. Last time we sat, I quoted to him some passages from the Second Opinion Society report, which I think at that point he had not had a chance to read. I am wondering if, in his observations tomorrow, he might be ready to offer some response to what is essentially a representation from the Second Opinion Society. If he cannot do it tomorrow, perhaps he might give an undertaking to doing it in the spring sitting.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: To do it justice, I would like to do it in the spring sitting.
Mr. Chair, I move that you report progress on Bill No. 11.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I move that the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
Speaker: I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
Mr. Abel: The Committee of the Whole considered Bill No. 11, entitled Second Appropriation Act, 1993-94, and directed me to report progress on it.
Speaker: You have heard the report of the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Member: Agreed.
Speaker: I declare the report carried.
Ms. Moorcroft: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Member for Mount Lorne that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 5:28 p.m.
The following Legislative Returns were tabled January 25, 1994:
Ombudsperson discussion paper (prepared prior to October, 1992) and covering letter, dated December 9, 1993, to Hon. Mr. Phelps, Minister of Justice, from Brian McLaughlin, author of the discussion paper (Ostashek)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1984
Whitehorse General Hospital: operational review and report of the British Columbia Department of Health and Alberta Public Works officials not made public at this time; no hospital transfer funds have been used to operate the Thomson Centre (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1762 and 1764
Whitehorse General Hospital design changes: time line charts to be completed by mid-February, 1994 (Phelps)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1781
Cable television services: Northwestel application to CRTC (Fisher)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 2000 to 2001
Land sales with active mineral claims: Granger and Arkell subdivisions; Callison subdivision (Fisher)
Discussion, Hansard, p. 1904-1905
Department of Education: chronology of grade organization consultations (Fisher on behalf of Phillips)
Oral, Hansard, p. 1746-1747