Wednesday, April 20, 1994 - 1:30 p.m.
Page Number 2201
I will now call the House to order. We will proceed at this time with silent Prayers.
We will proceed at this time with the Order Paper.
Introduction of Visitors.
Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Brewster:
I would like to table the second year report issued for the Aishihik recovery program.
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
I have for tabling the Motor Transport Board annual report.
Are there any Reports of Committees?
Petition No. 7 - received
I have had the honour to review a petition, being Petition No. 7 of the first session of the Twenty-Eighth Legislative Assembly, as presented by the Hon. Member for Mount Lorne on April 19, 1994. This petition meets the requirements as to form of the Standing Orders of the Yukon Legislative Assembly.
Petition No. 7 accordingly is deemed to have been read and received.
Are there any Bills to be introduced?
Are there any Notices of Motion for the Production of Papers?
Are there any Notices of Motion?
Are there any Statements by Ministers?
This then brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Energy Corporation, CYI participation in
A year ago, the Minister of Yukon Electrical promised the House that the assets of the Yukon Energy Corporation would not be privatized, but we soon learned that the Minister was secretly planning a sell-out of the Yukon Energy Corporation. Now we learn to our astonishment that one of the people hired to broker this sell-out is none other than the Minister's old chum, former law partner and former leadership campaign chairman. Can the Minister tell the House exactly why it was necessary to hire another Vancouver Tory lawyer, rather than engaging the services of one of the government's own well-qualified advisors?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
The Hon. Leader of the Official Opposition should try and refrain from having such argumentative content in his preambles because it is very difficult to answer briefly, as is my normal custom.
I must say initially that I did not, at any time, in the House, or otherwise, promise to never privatize some, or all, of the assets of the Yukon Energy Corporation; that is a misconstruction of what was said here. I talked about the current intent with regard to the assets, and that we might look at some form of rationalization, which, of course, was something that had been attempted by the previous administration. They attempted this with Yukon Electrical Company, the hated enemy of the socialist hordes, apparently, in the territory.
The question about our hiring someone to do some work on a small contract with respect to potential privatization, is a question that deserves an answer, and I am prepared to give that answer if I am not taking too long. That was the question asked.
The question is an interesting question. Mr. Boylan was hired by the Executive Council Office to carry out a small contract to do some preliminary work to find out what some of the issues would be, should we proceed with some negotiations with CYI regarding partial ownership of the corporation.
Mr. Boylan has been a member of the bar for some 20-odd years. He is fully qualified and has a background in the Yukon. He spent all of his time on issues pertaining to solicitor work, in particular corporation law, corporate takeovers and has worked with tax experts and other people in that area.
Order please. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Mr. Boylan was available to work as and when required at a cost far lower than we would pay to another lawyer with Mr. Boylan's experience.
Mr. Boylan is proceeding with a contract to look at some initial issues that are very important to us.
The other issue has to do with -
Order. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I certainly will accede to your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was simply trying to present some facts for the edification of the people opposite who asked the question. The Members opposite seem to want to have it both ways. On the one hand they want to scream and whine about not getting their questions answered, and when I try to answer their questions they think they go on too long.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Perhaps it is information overload.
Order. Before we proceed with the next question, I would like to draw the Member's attention to the guidebook, and this goes for both sides of the House. Yesterday there were several long questions.
"A brief preamble will be allowed in the case of the main question and a one-sentence preamble will be allowed in the case of each supplementary question. A repeat of a question that a Member did not hear does not constitute a supplementary."
Then, in guide item 9, "a reply to a question should be as brief as possible, relevant to the question asked, and should not provoke debate." So, I would appreciate your cooperation.
The record will show that the Minister did tell me a year ago that he was not planning to sell the assets of the Yukon Energy Corporation. The record will also show that it became evident that he was dealing on that matter without advising this House, before we accidentally discovered it here. The Minister did not answer the question of why he hired his former law partner and old friend to carry out this transaction.
The Minister met on January 26 with First Nation leaders and, according to reports from people who attended that meeting, I understand that he told the First Nations that if he could not make a deal with them, he would not be negotiating with anybody else. Can he then confirm that he has now shifted his position once again, that he proposes to bring representatives of the Yukon Electrical Company directly to the table to bargain with First Nations? Is that true?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I have a question for the poser of the question. Is this "20 questions" or something? Which question does he want me to answer?
If he insists on getting up with a shotgun approach, I am going
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to be in a position where it would take me hours to even attempt to answer what he purports to be one question. Have I spoken in terms of bringing anyone to the table to deal with CYI? No, I have not proposed that at all.
The Minister opposite does not seem to understand or be sensitive at all to appropriate public concerns about what is going on here, given his close family ties to Yukon Electrical and its parent company, Alberta Power, and now the retaining of his old law partner and political ally, on the taxpayers' payroll, in a bid to sell off valuable public assets, where one of the potential beneficiaries is, of course, Alberta Power.
I want to ask the Minister this: given the serious concerns out there in the street about appearances of conflict of interest, will the Minister please tell this House who is going to be protecting the Yukon public interest in these backroom dealings?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I have answered this until I am blue in the face. The methodology of the side opposite is rather interesting - creating these boogeymen in the minds of the public when there is absolutely, at this time, no Cabinet mandate to negotiate. There are exploratory talks with CYI to see if they are interested in proceeding to try to acquire an interest of up to 30 percent in the assets of Yukon Energy Corporation. At this stage, depending on the position taken by CYI, we would go back to Cabinet with a package that will deal with some initial exploratory discussions with CYI and the federal government. That is where we are.
If we get beyond the first hurdles, then we would also - and we have spoken about it - discuss selling up to about 20 percent of the shares to Yukon people. That is the extent of what is being explored. It is only being explored, because I do not have a mandate from Cabinet to actually go beyond that.
Question re: Energy Corporation, CYI participation in
The Yukon people have not been involved in these discussions at all and yet we know the Minister has had private conversations with Yukon Electrical. He has hired his old law partner, a Vancouver lawyer, and he has had private meetings with First Nations.
Since, at a recent meeting of the Association of Yukon Communities, the Government Leader seemed to be interested in putting some distance between himself and the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation on this question, could the Government Leader inform this House exactly what the position of the Yukon Party is with respect to the privatization of the Yukon Energy Corporation and the transfer of control of this valuable public property to outside interests?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
The Member responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation has already answered that question for the Leader of the Official Opposition. Nobody has talked about giving up control of the corporation. The Member opposite is not listening very well to what the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation has said.
As the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation has said, he does not even have the mandate to explore that, at this point. We are in very preliminary discussions with CYI to see if they are interested in buying 30 percent of the Yukon Energy Corporation.
The Yukon Party and that government opposite has no mandate to integrate the management of Yukon Electrical and Yukon Energy Corporation, but the Minister opposite is already doing it. They have no mandate whatsoever.
Let me ask the Government Leader this: the Government Leader promised to the Association of Yukon Communities that the Minister responsible for Yukon Electrical would meet with municipal representatives to discuss privatization of the Yukon Energy assets, but this has not happened in spite of written requests from AYC in January and, I understand, in March.
I want to know if the Government Leader has replied to these letters; has he responded to these requests; is there going to be a meeting and who will attend?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I have responded to a letter from the Association of Yukon Communities that I would meet with them. Currently, they are trying to set up arrangements with the president of the Association of Yukon Communities to have such a meeting. Such a meeting, of course, would not signify any intention by the Yukon Party or Cabinet or this government to sell a whole bunch of assets to the Russians, but I am sure that if we have such a meeting it will be confronted with something as absurd as that, from the Member opposite, because really the kinds of accusations being levied by him are absolutely ridiculous.
Since the Minister of energy does not want to deign to answer any questions in this House and chooses to treat every question asked of him as an accusation, and every request for information as an insult, could the Government Leader tell us, given the concerns about conflict of interest and fears about insider trading and dealings with old family businesses in the Yukon, why did the Government of Yukon hire a Vancouver lawyer, a former campaign manager of the Minister of energy to perform work on the privatization of Yukon Electrical?
Is the Government Leader not concerned about appearances of conflict of interest, or about concerns that a very important transaction dealing with the most valuable property is being carried out in secret and in private?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I will answer this question. It is interesting to see the histrionics on that side. I recall being on that side of the House asking question after question of the then Government Leader who passed the question on to his Ministers.
The question contained certain false premises - one being that Mr. Boylan was my campaign manager. He was never, at any time, a campaign manager of mine. That statement is false.
I am rather surprised at that suggestion that somehow or other the fact that somebody did practice law with me in the early 1970s, about 20 years ago, somehow or other disqualifies him from being an extremely competent lawyer and senior member of the bar. That is a rather absurd suggestion, but it seems to be the suggestion that is being thrown out by the Leader of the Official Opposition.
This government hired a person who was in a position to act at the government's beck and call to do preliminary work that required a certain amount of expertise, for a very reasonable amount of money.
Question re: Energy Corporation, CYI participation in
I have questions for the Minister responsible for the Yukon Energy Corporation on the contract to Mr. Boylan. It is not clear from the interchange we just heard why Mr. Boylan has been hired, whether it is for his legal skills, his preliminary negotiating skills, or the preparation of an option paper.
Would the Minister tell us what is in the contract with Mr. Boylan? Why has he been hired? What is he supposed to do, and what is the product the Minister expects?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
My understanding of the contract is that it relates to his having exploratory talks with First Nations, discussing the issues with existing consultants and lawyers who have done, and continue to do, work for the Yukon Energy Corporation and the Yukon Development Corporation, and to make a full report to Cabinet, which we expect fairly soon, with regard to his findings on the issues and the position of the CYI and First Nations regarding whether or not they are willing to move ahead, and discuss putting together a joint proposal with which to go to the federal government.
It is not clear why a Vancouver lawyer would be
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hired to do those sorts of things, when there are people here in town, and in the Economic Development department, who could do all those things.
Is the Minister prepared to table the contract between, I assume, the Government of the Yukon and Mr. Boylan?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Yes, we are prepared to table the contract. What is required is someone who has the kind of background that Mr. Boylan has to discuss issues, such as forms of corporations that might be involved, limited partnerships, tax consequences with tax experts, and a whole host of issues that a person with his qualifications is eminently qualified to work and report on. He also has the background to work with the kind of experts we utilize, and would be utilizing.
The amount he is being paid is somewhat less than what legal aid lawyers charge for performing legal aid in the Yukon Territory on a daily basis.
Presumably, at the end of the road of the short-term contract, there will be some written product. Is the Minister prepared, if the House is sitting, to table that written product, and, if it is not sitting, to make it available to the public as soon as it is received?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
No, of course not. This is a Cabinet document that will be utilized to determine whether or not Cabinet is going to move ahead with regard to its ongoing discussions with the CYI and First Nations.
Question re: Energy Corporation, CYI participation in
I have to pursue this with the Government Leader, if the other leader will permit us to.
The Minister for Yukon Electrical says there is no mandate to negotiate privatization, yet he is busy hiring lawyers to study the corporate models, look at limited partnerships, hold discussions with other lawyers, meet with the companies involved and First Nations - all of which looks like negotiations.
Can the Government Leader explain to us why there seems to be negotiations going on without a mandate having been delivered by Cabinet? Can he explain that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I thought the Minister made that quite clear. The mandate he has from Cabinet is to explore the possibilities of CYI buying up to 30 percent of the Energy Corporation.
This did not begin with CYI wishing to buy up the corporation. It began with Yukon Electrical originally proposing to merge the two corporations, which is exactly what the Minister himself is magically, suddenly proposing.
Can I ask the Government Leader this: if the government is not intending to privatize the Yukon Energy Corporation, why is it going to all this expense and effort to look at all these detailed questions? Can he tell me that?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I believe I can remember the debate in this House about one year ago about the high costs of energy in the Yukon and why is this government not doing something to try to control them? That is what we are doing. We are exploring ways in which, with the participation of CYI, we can lever some money from the federal government for the outstanding loans of the corporation, in order to give the ratepayers of the Yukon a break. That is what we are doing.
I would like the Government Leader to show me a single instance, anywhere in the world, where privatizing a public utility has meant lower power rates for citizens. It does not. What happens is that there are lower wages for the workers and a complete inability of the government to provide any rebates on power because there are no longer any profits and a few very rich people.
Is the Government Leader going to stand there and tell us seriously that what triggered this investigation and purchase of lawyers was the interests of the Council for Yukon Indians? Is he going to tell us that when we already know there were prior discussions between the Minister and Yukon Electrical?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
The Leader of the Official Opposition is the person who carried on talks about privatization and tried to privatize with Yukon Electrical Company. That took place and almost succeeded.
The Leader of the Official Opposition talks about mandate. He wasted some $16 million of ratepayers' money on the Watson Lake sawmill. Where was his mandate to do that? He did not have a mandate. This is something that he came up with at the beginning of his mandate to govern but it was never part of an election.
Here is a person who gives us the socialist dogma about how private is terrible and public is wonderful, and we are expected to believe that. Why is Saskatchewan pursuing privatization? Why is the NWT pursuing privatization? Why is every single government down south pursuing privatization? Let me tell him why. It is because some of the premiers down there, like his colleague Bob Rae, bankrupted the province, and the bankers came in and told him to raise the money and fire a bunch of workers, whether he liked it or not. They bankrupted the province. We are not in that position. We are steering a careful course here and we are trying to raise some money to lower the cost to the ratepayers. We are taking any profits that we make and putting them back into the corporation, unlike the socialist hero across the way.
Question re: Energy Corporation, CYI participation in
I have a question for the Government Leader regarding the appointment of Mr. Terry Boylan. I would like to ask the Government Leader why he did not approach any of the local law firms to do this work. Was there absolutely no other person in the Yukon who could have done this job?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I am sure there probably were other people but several of the law firms in the Yukon that we considered were in conflict. Some of them worked for the Energy Corporation, some of them worked for the Yukon Utilities Board, and this individual came to us at a very reasonable price, for a very short contract.
I have not spoken to any law firm that was approached, whether they were on the basis of being in a conflict or not, so I would like the Government Leader to bring back to this House a list of all the law firms that were approached and which ones were perceived to be in conflict. If he could provide that for us in the House tomorrow, I would appreciate that. Will he bring that information to the House tomorrow?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
No, I will not. These were Cabinet discussions. One does not need to approach a law firm in order to know who is working for us or who is working for the Yukon Utilities Board.
I have a message for this group of people across the floor of the House. Wake up, boys. This is not a poker game with a bunch of back-slapping, beer-drinking boys sitting around deciding who is and who is not going to work in the Yukon. When I phoned and made inquiries, do you know what I was told? I was told, "yes, it is payback time; it is payback time". That is what I heard. That is how much input was given to other community citizens, other Yukoners.
I want to know from the Government Leader when he made this big decision - he and his buddies - and why he did not make this information public. Why did not the Minister responsible for the Energy Corporation make this information public? They make announcements about every little piece of grass they plant, sod they turn, baby that is born. Why did they not make an announcement about this? Why did they keep this from Yukoners?
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Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I do not know what the Member is getting so upset about. The contract was sole-sourced, and it is well within the parameters and guidelines set out for sole-sourcing contracts.
Some Hon. Member:
Question re: Privatization of government services
I have a question for the Government Leader who has said repeatedly in the House that large-scale privatization was not one of the ways this government would deal with its fiscal responsibilities. In fact, last November 16, Mr. Speaker, in his former incarnation as Minister of Government Services, assured the Opposition that his government was not even considering contracting out - specifically, the janitorial staff. Can the Government Leader tell me why his government is now planning to contract out the custodial work in the Education building?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek:
I think the Member has erred. I was never the Minister of Government Services.
I do not know that that is happening.
They are taking Cabinet secrecy a little bit too far in this instance.
This spring, the government let a contract for the provision of specialized investigative services within the social services, that is to say "welfare cops", despite concerns of confidentiality. Why is the government privatizing social services, and how many more public sector jobs are in jeopardy of privatization in that department?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
There has been a contract advertised and let for a six-month term, renewable at the option of the government, to hire a fraud investigator. That is a position we do not have in the government, so there is nobody being replaced or fired by this action, so I am a little bit surprised by the accusation contained in the question.
The Ministers just do not seem to know what they are doing. The Government Leader has also said that his government does not plan to privatize highway maintenance. Where are the studies his government did on the privatization of highway maintenance, and what is the current position of the government on whether they will contract out highway maintenance?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
I notice that Ms. Moorcroft had asked that question in a written form on the Order Paper. I am unaware of any studies being done, but when I saw the written question this morning, I asked the department to provide the information, which I will provide to the House in due course.
Question re: Privatization of government services
This is quite a day. The Minister has said an astonishing thing. A few days ago I was in Ross River at a meeting where he and the Government Leader and the Minister of Justice were all in attendance, and where he told the public meeting that he, I assume meaning the department, had studied the option of privatizing highway maintenance and had rejected it. I recall that the Members opposite promised not to do this during the election campaign, but the Minister clearly said that they had looked at the costs and had looked at the options and the reason they were not pursuing it was because of problems with the union.
Could the Minister explain the contradiction between the statement he made just now and the one he made in Ross River?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
I do not think there is any contradiction at all. The Member opposite has said that we had studied it. I never said that in Ross River. I said we had looked at the possibility of privatization and had essentially rejected it.
I would be astonished to know exactly how the Minister defines the difference between "looked at" and "studied". In fact, I was so astonished by what he said at the time, I actually wrote down word for word what he said and I am going to go back and check my records.
The Minister implied when he looked at it that they had actually looked at dollars and cents and looked at numbers, looked at costs, looked at personnel implications, which implies that there is a document involved. Can the Minister tell me what documents were involved in their looking at this and will he table them?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
If there were any documents, I would be more than pleased to table them. If the department has, at some time in the past, studied the privatization of the highways, I will certainly table that document, but I am certainly not aware of any documents the department has.
Mindful of the fact that the Members opposite include people who promised never to privatize highway maintenance, and mindful of the fact that the Minister told the public meeting in Ross River that they had looked at it, even though he has now told us there are no documents - and he told this meeting that the union was the problem - raises fascinating questions about the Yukon Party policy-making process.
Can the Minister tell us exactly how he and his Cabinet colleagues and the department look at a major question like this and reach the conclusion that he announced in Ross River?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
In my term of office, nothing has ever gone to Cabinet on privatization of highways. I have thought about it myself. I have talked to various people about it, but never have we done a study nor have I taken anything to Cabinet on privatization of highways maintenance.
Question re: Watson Lake safe home, budget cuts
My question is for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
The Minister has acted on the advice of his department officials and severely cut the budget of the Watson Lake safe home by $31,000. The Minister has stated that it is unnecessary to have the home open 24 hours a day. Could the Minister tell us if he, personally, had any discussions with staff and board members of the home prior to agreeing with the government to cut the budget of the Watson Lake safe home?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
No, I have not had personal discussions with the board or staff of the home in question, but I have relied upon recommendations made by my department about the necessary requisite funding for the levels of services that we would be utilizing from that facility.
Let me say that it is really unfortunate that such a huge building was constructed in the first place at such a huge cost, which is expensive to run - a building that I understand has as many beds as the brand-new facility in Whitehorse.
The home for battered women is an essential service in the same manner as fire fighting, policing and hospital services. Could the Minister tell us how he can claim to support his government's policy of zero tolerance of violence against women, and yet drastically cut funding of this essential service for women in crisis?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
The principle of zero tolerance is one that we adhere to, as does our staff; they take this very seriously.
We are looking at necessary funding for such a facility to provide the kinds of services that are needed in a community.
With respect, the analogy to fire fighting really does not wash. For example, we have a situation in Carcross, where I live, where we do not have qualified firemen sleeping in a room above or beside the fire engines day in and day out, 24 hours a day. We have volunteers. We find ways of meeting the needs in a reasonable
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fashion. Those are the kinds of trade-offs that are necessary in managing a government effectively and efficiently.
The Minister's government has budgeted $1 million for a new liquor store in Watson Lake, and at the same time the safe home has cutback its community outreach program in an attempt to meet its budget.
How can the Minister justify his support to spend $1 million on a new liquor store and agree to a $31,000 cutback to the safe home for women in the same community?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
First of all, it is a red herring. It is a different department. In our department, we are trying to use -
Some Hon. Member:
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Apparently, the Member for Faro does not like hearing answers, not that he listens, even when his mouth is shut. However, he could at least try shutting his mouth and listening. It might prove edifying to him.
The interesting thing about the liquor store in Watson Lake is that it is the Member who is asking the question who actually put that project on the five-year plan of the then government.
Question re: PACE program
At the same time, we were not cutting funding.
I have a question for the Minister responsible for Justice.
The Minister has already announced cuts to programming that is vital to Yukoners. He said yesterday, in this House, that requests had gone out to departments and the RCMP to meet certain budget targets. Can he tell us if any discussions by him, or his department officials, with the RCMP resulted in the decision to eliminate the highly effective PACE program in the schools?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I am really glad the former Minister asked that question. There have been a lot of misconceptions bandied about in the media, and elsewhere.
The PACE program has not been cut back. The RCMP is looking at the delivery of the program in a manner that is more consistent with our high priority placed on crime prevention and community policing. We have taken steps to move the police into the community so they can play a valuable role in crime prevention.
We have the store front in the Qwanlin shopping mall. That is one example. We are looking at zone policing. We are looking at more foot patrols. It seems to us that it is really important to have quite a few more than one member go to the schools, meet the kids, and talk to them about the kinds of issues that are discussed under the ambit of the PACE program.
We want to see not just one member trusted, appreciated and known by kids in Whitehorse and the Yukon. We want more and more police to take that kind of interactive role with kids and with the community. That is the direction in which we are going.
The changes to the way in which PACE is being delivered is entirely consistent with the new emphasis on crime prevention.
The Minister can stand there and talk all he wants, trying to convince people that he is not eliminating a program. The government pays 70 percent of the RCMP budget, which amounted to more than $10 million last year. The Minister has to take some responsibility for the decisions that are made. It appears that he is not.
Has the Minister had discussions with those individuals in the schools who support this program before agreeing to the complete elimination of the PACE program?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I would recommend to the Member that she have her writers write her several alternate questions in case the question that leads to the supplementary question is not exactly what was expected by the researcher.
I just said that I would be happy to take full responsibility for not cutting PACE. We have not cut PACE. I am pleased to take full responsibility for not cutting PACE. I do not know what else I can say.
He certainly has to convince people out there who are concerned about it. There has been information in the news that the program is being cut. There has been information in the news saying that they are not going to cut it, but just reduce it. Day after day, there is someone lobbying on behalf of those people who take advantage of the program to keep it in the schools.
I would like to ask the Minister if he would make a commitment today that the whole PACE program, in its entirety, as it has been delivered in the schools, will remain as it is?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
The funding for PACE is not being cut. The way it is being delivered is being changed in a manner that is consistent with our priorities of crime prevention and having the police more active and interactive with children in the school and the public at large. It is consistent with a whole variety of things we are doing. The budget will be tabled tomorrow. We intend to have a full briefing for the media and public with respect to crime prevention generally, in the very near future.
I answered the question the first time around. This is the third time. I hope that the Member has heard the answer this time.
The time for Question Period has now elapsed.
We will proceed with Orders of the Day
ORDERS OF THE DAY
OPPOSITION PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
MOTIONS OTHER THAN GOVERNMENT MOTIONS
Motion No. 61
Motion No. 61, standing in the name of Mr. Cable.
It has been moved by the Member for Riverside
THAT it is the opinion of this House that a Special Committee of this Legislature should be appointed:
(a) To consult broadly, analyze and to make recommendations regarding modernization and restructuring of Yukon's social security system; and
(b) To examine and make recommendations on the role of non-governmental organizations in the delivery of social programs.
I rise today to address, in a Yukon context, a matter that is assuming great importance for Yukoners, as well as all Canadians, and that is the challenge of preserving our social safety network.
We can all take pride in the system of social security provided in this territory and across the country. As a society, we recognize and accept our responsibility to care for the less advantaged, to extend a hand to those in genuine need. However, economic realities are forcing us to re-examine how these services are delivered, to whom they are delivered, and at what cost. These are complex issues. Our social security systems have evolved over a period of decades, but there is a growing feeling among many people that these systems are no longer in step with the economy of the 1990s, in the economy of the 21st century - an economy characterized by global competition and rapid technological change. Complex government programs like social security cannot be approached on an ad hoc basis. The modernization of those programs cannot be approached on an ad hoc basis, particularly with the pressures that are bearing on the system. They require careful thought and planning and delivery.
Many matters relating to social security fall within the mandate
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of the federal government. However, there are also elements of the system over which we have some control. These include such programs as health care, social assistance, services for the handicapped, the physically and mentally challenged, legal aid, child welfare, addiction services and others. The provision of these services at both the federal and territorial level is costly. As such, we have a responsibility to ensure that these programs operate as effectively and efficiently as possible. Given our current economic climate, one characterized by declining resources, we also have a responsibility to deliver these programs as best we can, with what could likely be less money.
Our social security network, at both the federal and territorial level, is eroding, and this erosion is reaching crisis proportions. It would be a mistake to conclude that this situation is only a function of cost. It results from a number of factors. More people are in need in the Yukon and across the country, so the demand for services is greater, and, just as importantly, those who contribute to the system - the taxpayers - are no longer confident that the system is operating effectively and delivering the most to the most needy.
We have to acknowledge these facts and the need to modernize and restructure the delivery of these programs, not simply to save money but to ensure their survival.
At the federal level, this work is being done by a standing committee of the House of Commons, and many provincial governments have initiated comprehensive reviews of their responsibilities in this area.
It is my suggestion that the Yukon must be part of this process, but our approach must be long term, reasoned and carefully planned, not a collection of ad hoc thoughts in the minds of one or two people.
The Yukon government has recognized that there is a degree of public dissatisfaction with the delivery of these programs in the Yukon. I believe public dissatisfaction with the delivery of social services generally stems from a perception that the system is being abused, that it is ineffective and inefficient and results in an unfair level of taxation on those who pay for it. At the same time, however, I have not yet met a Yukoner who would not gladly lend a hand to someone who was genuinely in need of help.
This dissatisfaction, and the resulting loss of confidence in the system, and the financial challenges of the 1990s, require that we respond, and that we respond in a considered fashion. Our response cannot be ad hoc; it must be systematic and comprehensive. It is not enough to launch an expensive investigation into welfare fraud and to cut legal aid, to cut community policing, or to cut funding for non-governmental organizations who assist with the delivery of these programs. This approach, rather than being positive, creates fear, polarizes and divides the community, and results in questionable financial savings.
All Yukoners must be a part of this important debate. The critics of the delivery system, the proponents of the status quo, and those with innovative and constructive ideas can all contribute, and should be invited to do so.
What is needed is a comprehensive review that brings people together to exchange ideas and develop recommendations for modernizing and restructuring the social security system.
These recommendations could be provided as appropriate, either to the federal or territorial governments. The approach outlined in this motion will allow the opportunity for such a comprehensive review. It would provide for broad participation and legitimize a review process. It would permit the time that is required for a reasoned and comprehensive review. It would permit the calling of witnesses, if necessary. It would permit the analysis of the problem, based on the advice of people who spend their time thinking about these problems.
For years we have received messages from both inside and outside government of overlaps and inefficiencies. A review of the sort I am proposing, carried out by a special committee of this Assembly, is timely, not only as a result of financial considerations, but also because it would meet ever increasing demands for a more coordinated approach to this issue.
If this motion is supported, the result would be to strike a special committee of this Legislature mandated to seek the views of Yukoners on this important and complex issue.
I would say that it would be incorrect for the government to assume that it has a mandate to unilaterally reform or restructure social programs in the territory.
The Yukon Party election platform, the plan upon which some Members of this government were elected, did not contemplate the reform of social programs, as such. Similarly, it would be a gross misjudgment to assume that such a mandate arrived when the government only achieved 35.89 percent of the popular vote.
I would like to encourage the government to adopt more consultative practices, especially in areas as important as social programs, and to involve Members of this Assembly in the exercise.
I draw Members' attention to the December 14, 1992, Speech from the Throne, in which the Commissioner said, "My government is also committed to listening to Yukoners when designing or reforming social programs." The government can show that it meant what it said by supporting this motion today.
The government's approach to this issue thus far could hardly be described as consultative. It is not enough to ask public servants to canvass a territory in an attempt to legitimize the government's agenda, collecting wish lists. The challenges we face require much more than that, and they require more than a four-page document that miraculously was made public yesterday, dated February 1994.
Social assistance reform, on the back page of this three and one-half page document, has 36 lines, including the headings, and this is what we are going to march forth into the 21st century with, in the area of social assistance reform.
What I am saying to the government is that these issues are much too complex to be given a once over, not-even-broad brush, with a funny little letter on the first page and three pages of a little bit of meat following the letter. We need broad consultation, as well as careful thought and analysis. We require the presentation of options so the people in the street can understand the options and can discuss the options and can choose the options, so that they can give the government their priorities, after some consideration. This is needed not only to preserve valuable programs generally but also to ensure that we are able to respond effectively, especially in times like the present, when many people find themselves forced to seek assistance.
I ask all Members to support this motion today.
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I am pleased to be able to respond to the motion today.
When the Member for Riverside stood in this House last Monday and read his motion on the record, I have to say that I was a bit surprised. As a Member of Cabinet, we have been dealing with this issue - social assistance and social security reform - for the past several months and it is one that, as the Minister of Education, I have been discussing with the federal government over the last year.
I am also surprised because of the fact that this government this last year advertised and carried out a whole series of public meetings in every community in the territory. Over 280 Yukoners showed up at the meetings and made their representations in one form or another to the Government of the Yukon on social assistance
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reform. I have to wonder where the Member for Riverside was when all of this took place. I am not sure whether that Member took the opportunity when the meetings were in Whitehorse or in other communities to have himself or other Liberals participate in those meetings, and if they did not I would be disappointed.
A great deal of different information has been sent out over the last year or so, encouraging the input of Yukoners. In October 1993, the Department of Health and Social Services visited every community. That is when the almost 300 people showed up and made their representations known. It seems to me that the action the Member for Riverside is recommending today has already been done and the work is now proceeding on a restructuring based on some of those consultations. It appears that maybe the Member for Riverside is somewhat confused about social reform consultation.
Both the territorial and federal governments are discussing the idea of reforms. I wonder if our Liberal Member should have directed his motion more toward the federal Liberal government. From what I am hearing from other ministers across the country, it is the federal Liberals who are moving quickly on reforms without adequate consultation with the provinces or the territories. Just last week, Mr. Axworthy had to cancel a hastily called meeting in Ottawa to discuss some social assistance reforms because the Quebec minister, and many other ministers, felt they did not know enough about the content of the meeting and what was expected of people at the meeting. He is moving hastily on that.
Perhaps this motion requiring some kind of consultative process that would go across the country should be more directed to the federal Liberal government. The changes they make to their social assistance reforms will have a dramatic effect on all provinces and territories.
I could support the Member, if the Member for Riverside would amend his motion to urge his Liberal counterpart in Ottawa to consult more with the provinces and territories before they proceed. I know that all territories and provinces, right now, are in a bit of a panic to find out exactly what is happening at the federal level.
From the educational standpoint, we are being consulted by way of letters we are receiving from the federal government, when they announce their programs and what the contents of those programs are; for instance, the youth service corps and the youth internship program. There has not been a great deal of input from the provinces and territories. At the last meeting I attended in February, Quebec made the point that the youth services corps is actually up and running in Quebec already, that to start another youth services corps in this country would be a duplication of services, and that perhaps the federal government should sit down with the Quebec government to discuss that duplication of services.
In today's time of fiscal restraint for all governments across this country, we have to do whatever we can to try to avoid the duplication of services.
Let me get back to the idea at hand, that we should establish another committee, at great expense, to travel around the territory and hear what we have just heard in the consultations that took place less than six months ago. I am sure we will hear from the Minister of Health and Social Services what the cost of those consultations were. Having done some consultations ourselves in the Department of Education, I imagine it would be rather costly to do.
How valuable does the Liberal Member opposite think it would be to go back and again ask similar questions of the same people and get the same responses? Would the Yukon taxpayer feel that was a wise expenditure of our dollars? I do not think so. From having travelled around to a lot of communities already, I think people would be somewhat confused if we arrived, less than six months after consultations took place in their community, to say we wanted to hear their views and thoughts on social assistance reform. Those same people would ask why we did not listen the first time.
We were just there six months ago, so why are we here again? What kind of a government are we running here if we forget we were there just six months ago? It seems that the Liberal Member has forgotten that we were there just six months ago and did consult the people. This is a reasonable request if we had not done that; however, we have just gone through that process and had input from people. They were well-advertised meetings and a lot of people made presentations to us. We have listened to some of them.
I know the Liberal Member is fond of establishing committees. He is a great one to set up committees on almost everything; however, I am not sure if that is the route to go. We have several committees established now. Almost every time he rises to his feet, he suggests setting up another one. I do not know how we would all have the time to sit on all the committees he has been recommending. I think it would be a bit difficult for Members to fulfill that role.
I can remember last year when some Members on the other side, and perhaps even the Liberal Member, were criticizing us for too much consultation. We had too many committees going around the territory at the same time, as he and some of the others on that side said. However, last fall, when we were criticized, the Department of Health and Social Services was one of those committees. That was the committee that was going around at the time, the same one we were criticized for, where Yukoners told us what their priorities were for dealing with alcohol and drug abuse and health and social assistance. The government is now moving to act on some of those recommendations.
I think we would be re-inventing the wheel if we decided to form another committee and go around the territory, less than six months later, asking the very same questions of the very same people.
As well as this consultation that occurred, other consultations have taken place over the past few months from which we are drawing information for the social assistance reform. Under the Women's Directorate, we held a territory-wide survey of women's concerns and priorities. We held a focus group discussion among mothers on social assistance. They spoke about the difficulties they are having trying to get off social assistance and the disincentives to work. I have to tell the Liberal Member that that was an extensive study. Many Yukon women were questioned. It was probably one of the most extensive studies ever carried out regarding the concerns of Yukon women - what are the disincentives to work and how do they get off social assistance? They gave us recommendations. I do not know how much more thorough we could get, as MLAs, just going around the territory.
We are using the information from the public consultations and from the focus group's study to draw on recommendations for social assistance reform.
When we talked to Yukon women, we discussed all kinds of things; we talked about the inflexibility of current training programs; we discussed such issues as child care, child support and safety issues. If the Member does not have a copy of that report, I would be more than happy to make a copy available to him. It was released publicly. It lays out many, many recommendations from Yukon women on ways to help them to better cope with their lives. That will be the information we draw from in social assistance reform.
We have also been an active participant in the interparliamentary
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committee, headed up by Health and Social Services, which is reviewing all aspects of the programming over the past year. The director participated on two subcommittees: welfare services and the parents-of-preschoolers policy committee. The directorate has represented the issues identified by Yukon women throughout the process of social assistance reform. So, we have an absolute wealth of information in that survey, as I said to the Member, that survey was carried out by Yukon women. We would probably gain much more information from that survey, because the women of the Yukon really opened up to the interviewers, and the people realized that it was a very important survey, and they really told it as it is. I think they would be a little more reluctant to say some of the things they said in that survey to a group of MLAs sitting at the front of a public room. I think this was a little better forum, and Yukon women had an opportunity to express themselves, and express themselves very well, on ways that they think their lives could be improved with social assistance reform.
As well, the Women's Directorate sits on a social security reform committee initiated by Mr. Axworthy. The directorate sits on the interdepartmental committee headed by Health and Social Services within our government, and this committee will provide input into the federal process, which is steam-rolling ahead at a very rapid speed. Actually, as I said to the Member before, we are quite concerned that we are moving rather rapidly on social assistance reform, and many of the provinces and territories are not quite equipped to deal with that, so I think the motion in front of us, in my view, would be much more readily directed at the federal government to consult more with provinces and territories as opposed to us consulting more with the people of the Yukon.
I think extensive consultation has gone on over the past several years, with the women's survey and with the recent trips around the territory by the Department of Health and Social Services. The Member for Riverside has been fiscally responsible and reasonable in the House, so I think that Member would be the last one to have us go out, and like I said earlier, re-invent the wheel, when we already have the information at hand.
To agree to this motion today would be re-inventing the wheel, and it would be duplication, and it would also be a costly exercise because we would have to have at least three to four Members on the committee and adjourn the House at some time during the year in order to find time to do this. I know that we were here most of the winter and that we will probably be here most of the spring and summer, so it might be difficult to fit this into our schedule.
Having said that, I think that we would probably be criticized by some people in the public, and especially the communities - most of the people who made representations were from the communities - for not listening the first time, and going out and wasting taxpayers' dollars. I think that we all have to be conscious of that in these times of fiscal restraint.
For the reasons that I have mentioned, I am going to have some difficulty in supporting this motion. When the Member rose to his feet, he said that the last thing that we want to do is approach changes to social programs on an ad hoc basis. I could not agree more and I believe that the people would think that if we toured the territory a second time doing the same thing that we did only few months ago, that we were approaching the issue on an ad hoc basis and that we did not have our act together at all.
The people in the public and the communities are not stupid people. They would remember being there three, four, five months ago and saying the very same thing that we are going to be asking them to say in a few months if we accept this motion.
For those reasons, I will not be supporting this motion, and I would urge all Members of the House to allow common sense to prevail and realize that we have done much of the ground work, we have consulted with the people of the Yukon and that it is now time to get on with the job of social assistance reform. We have all of the information at our fingertips and recommendations from various groups about how to improve the system. It is now time to get on with it and improve the system by means of future consultations with various groups as we go along, stage by stage.
I urge Members to vote against the motion presented by the Liberal Member.
It would have been beneficial to people on this side of the House to hear what the Minister responsible for social services had to say. I suppose he will get his turn. According to the list we had, he was -
Point of Order
The Minister of Health and Social Services, on a point of order.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
If the Member wants me to go ahead of her and proceed with a speech, I am quite prepared to do that.
Lest my colleague's previous intervention of a couple of sentences be deemed to be her speech, I would hope that the Speaker could treat her intervention as a point of order, as was the Minister's.
I will permit the Minister of Health and Social Services to speak and I will not count the words of the Member for Whitehorse Centre at this point.
Motion No. 61 - continued
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I thank Mr. Speaker for his indulgence, and the Members opposite, and apologize for not being in my place when it was my turn. I thought that the mover of the motion had a lot more to say than he actually said, and so I was not in the Chambers in time to stand in my place and give my modest views on this issue.
I was somewhat surprised by this motion coming now, as it did, because of the history of the social assistance reform and social program reform, as it has been ongoing and has accelerated since we took office and I was made Minister of the Department of Health and Social Services. This seems to be an attempt, for whatever reason, to jump in at the last possible moment, or perhaps even after it is too late to jump in. I think that in order to explain this I will go through exactly what has been happening and what has occurred and where we are now in regard to reform of the social assistance programs in the Yukon.
I took the motion itself to be directed at social assistance reform. I can broaden that, however, if necessary, to talk about health programs, as well. A lot of preliminary work and implementation work has been ongoing for a considerable period of time in that area as well.
When I was appointed as Minister responsible for Health and Social Services, I gave the department my three initial main priorities, which were to examine very carefully the social assistance programs, have them analyzed and make changes as necessary to make them as efficient and effective as possible. The second priority was to do a thorough review of programs involved in the health side, and again to try and get control of those programs, a handle on them, and to implement necessary changes as soon as was possible. The third initial priority that I, as Minister, brought to the job was to develop an alcohol and drug strategy for government - something that was long overdue - and implement that as soon as possible.
Shortly after I took office, I was advised that there had been an interdepartmental committee struck to look at the social assistance programs and to try to rationalize them and get a handle on what was happening and why. The basic reason for this was that, despite
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the government's claims of high employment and low unemployment, despite record budgets, despite the fact that the two large mines in the Yukon were operating, social assistance, as paid by this government - which, of course, does not include status Indian people - had been increasing in cost at a very alarming rate. In fact, the impression of government officials was that it seemed to be totally out of control.
The payments went from something of about $3 million a year about three or four years ago up to in excess of $9 million for the year ending 1992-93, and we budgeted for a similar percentage increase for the year just passed. We actually budgeted for $12 million, I think, to be spent on social programs.
One of the reasons we did this was because we wanted to give the department a budget it could come within and we wanted to be able to free up some people to work hard on examining issues of reform and what was wrong with the system.
The interdepartmental committee was instructed to view its work as a top priority of this Minister, as well as of Cabinet. They accelerated the work they were doing, and moved as quickly as they could to develop a report on social assistance by January 1993. This is an extremely comprehensive look at, and analysis of, social assistance in the Yukon. It is an excellent piece of work that was done by top officials from a number of different departments.
Going to the record, Hansard, on May 4, 1993, during debate on the 1992-93 supplementaries, I spoke at some length about the priorities I had placed on the department, and about the work that was being done. If one looks at page 792, at the discussion on general debate in Committee of the Whole, I indicated that we intended to commence a consultation process - at that time, I said through the summer and fall - on initiatives regarding the three areas that I am discussing.
The record also shows that, on May 20, 1993, I tabled the report on social assistance, together with the companion reader's guide, in these Chambers. At that time, I gave a ministerial statement on social assistance. In that statement, I discussed the fact that we had developed a new mission statement for the social assistance program, which stated that the purpose of the program was to provide adequate assistance to meet the basic needs of those in need, to help people achieve self-sufficiency and to provide responsive and caring services while respecting the dignity of individuals.
In that statement, I also stated that we were in the process of final negotiations toward signing a SAR(S) agreement with the Government of Canada. This agreement would initially require us to spend an additional $200,000 under the SAR(S) agreement, to be matched by the federal government, and to be spent by the fiscal year just ended, 1993-94. As well, we entered into an agreement with the federal government with regard to loans made to individuals by this government under the social assistance program for people who were waiting for unemployment insurance payments, whereby when the first payments were made by the federal government, we would be paid back by the federal government for the bridging loans that we had made to individual people. I also spoke about an agreement with other jurisdictions that would provide for cooperation in trying to ensure that social assistance recipients are not double dipping by being paid in more than one jurisdiction.
Those three initiatives, together with the mission statement, were announced at that time. We were just completing the finishing touches on what is known as LISA, which is the computer programming based on the system in Alberta. This has allowed the department to get a much better handle on its records and information retrieval on clients, and that sort of thing. The actual deployment or startup of LISA resulted in extra available time for the overworked social workers in the department by giving them a chance to do work other than clerical or quasi-clerical work. They could do more work with clients and have more of a chance to look at such things as abuse, and so on. So, that is on the record.
On May 27, 1993, during debate of the operation and maintenance budget for the department for 1993-94, we had a discussion regarding reform of social assistance and health and what we were doing with the alcohol and drug strategy.
Again, the consultation was raised during that debate, for example, on page 1108 of Hansard. We also advised that, in addition to the three initiatives mentioned in our ministerial statement of May 20, we had begun implementation on a number of other areas - and a lot of this implementation has taken place - aside from continuing the negotiations and, ultimately, signing the SAR(S) agreement, and implementing the agreement on UI, which required a certain amount of tinkering.
Unfortunately, the federal government at first gave us lump sum payments for the actual amount owing to the social assistance borrower. This was not a really good way of handling the agreement and the program, so it has been modified to accommodate the individual or family that has borrowed money as interim financing - bridge financing - awaiting the first batch of UI payments. That has taken some time to settle, and there has been a lot of implementation work on SAR(S) itself. I will get to that a little bit later, because we gave a further ministerial statement in the fall.
Some of the other areas where ongoing work was carried on over the summer and fall, even before the consultation commenced, involved developing individual self-sufficiency plans with clients, holding information workshops, looking at the feasibility of hiring, on contract, a fraud investigator - and this has ultimately been implemented, just a few weeks ago, and I will have more on that later - and increasing the use of loans and advances to people who are temporarily in need, but who ought to be able to pay money back to the government, being only temporarily short of funds.
We also work with the RCMP on fraud issues. There were some 24 cases that were already under investigation by the RCMP and we needed to have discussions with them in order that social workers would know how to go about looking at issues of fraud, reporting on them and the minimum groundwork that ought to be done to facilitate the RCMP taking on a file.
We looked at in-house policies related to placer miners, miners, indigent burials, persons in treatment, wood purchase, furniture, dental policies, and things like that, some of which were being abused rather soundly by some clients.
We looked at an overview of caseloads. We developed an in-house client newsletter that has been going out to social assistance recipients, and we have undertaken a re-write of the policy manual for the social assistance program.
The actual consultation that took place started in the fall. There was a handout developed and meetings were scheduled throughout the Yukon. Letters were written to a whole host of organizations, mostly non-government organizations. There were more than 60 letters inviting groups to attend the public consultation meetings, or to have a private meeting with an assistant deputy minister or a deputy minister. Those letters were sent to the Child Development Centre, Foster Parent Association, Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, Yukon Advisory Council on Indian Child Welfare, Yukon Family Services Association, Second Opinion Society, Kaushee's, Dawson Shelter Society, Health and Hope for Families Society, Challenge Community Vocational Alternatives, Crossroads, Hospice Yukon Society, Learning Disabilities Association of Yukon, Teegatha'a Oh Zheh, Whitehorse Transit, Yukon Association for Community Living, Yukon Council on Aging, Yukon Special Olympics Association, Whitehorse Hospital
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Corporation, Health and Welfare Canada, Yukon Medical Association, Yukon Registered Nurses Association, Yukon Chamber of Commerce, Association of Yukon Communities, Health and Stroke Foundation, Cancer Society, Whitehorse Parents for Parents, The Victoria Faulkner Women's Centre, Yukon Child Care Association, Yukon Child Care Board, Canadian Physiotherapy Association, Yukon Arthritis Society, Alcoholics Anonymous, all 14 First Nations, First Nation Health and Social Commission, all churches in Whitehorse and in the communities, all RCMP detachments in Whitehorse and the communities, all YTG departments and corporations.
There was fairly heavy advertising regarding the public meetings. I know it was advertised on the radio, it was advertised in newspapers, and notices were posted in the communities in the normal fashion when one has public meetings in those communities, and the list goes on. The community consultation schedule involved 15 public meetings: Beaver Creek, October 4 at the community hall; Burwash Landing, October 5 at the band hall; Haines Junction, October 6 at the mezzanine; Carmacks, October 6 at the Carmacks community hall; Carcross, October 6 at the Carcross community hall; Dawson City, October 12 at the land claims conference room in the Tr'on Dek Hall; in Faro, October 13 at the Legion; Ross River, October 14; Mayo, October 14 in the board room of the YTG building there; October 15 at the Selkirk First Nation band hall; October 21 at Watson Lake at the Johnson Elementary School gymnasium; October 18 in Teslin in the meeting room at the public library; October 19 at the Council for Yukon Indians building at 11 Nisutlin Drive in Whitehorse; Whitehorse, October 27 at the Town Hall in the Gold Rush Inn, and in Old Crow on October 28.
I personally attended about three of the public meetings - at Carcross, at Teslin and at Watson Lake. I should say that, in order to have all these meetings within that period of time, we had three groups of three officials each - one in each group with expertise in social assistance, one with an expertise on the health side and one in each group with expertise on the alcohol and drug strategy, which had been tabled in this House more than a year ago and received wide circulation and the enthusiastic support of most of the principals or players throughout the Yukon.
I am trying to restrict my remarks, although, because of the wide umbrella given to the motion by the mover - because he seems to have been talking about all social programs, and I thought it was initially just about social assistance - I am not going to get into too much detail about the health reform, but that was part of the consultation, as was the alcohol and drug strategy.
Briefly, with regard to the health reform, it was announced as one of the priorities. One of the first things we did was to enter into an agreement to form the joint management committee with the Yukon Medical Association. We have been working with them in regular meetings on issues of health reform. There has been a lot of work done, which led into the community consultation we just spoke about. That was another issue that was consulted on, and which would fall within the ambit of social services, given the broad definition by the mover of the motion.
In addition to the public meetings, a lot of work was done with First Nations and the key players on the alcohol and drug strategy, many of whom I read out from the list of people who received letters.
About 280 members of the public, from all Yukon communities, attended the public meetings, and about three-quarters of those people were rural residents.
In addition to the public meetings, we had private meetings with the following organizations in rural communities: Old Crow NNADAP, an inter-agency committee; Dawson Recreation Board; Carmacks First Nation; Ross River Dene Council; Watson Lake inter-agency group; and the Liard First Nation, as well as members from the Kaska Council.
There was the Beaver Creek NNADAP and White River First Nation, the Haines Junction Health Centre, the Champagne/Aishihik First Nation, the St. Elias Community School and, of course, government workers, social service and health workers in each of the communities.
The following groups made presentations at public meetings, participated in private meetings or sent in written submissions: Crossroads Treatment Centre, Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, Whitehorse Parents for Parents, the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, the Yukon Arthritis Association, social assistance appeal committees, the Second Opinion Society, the Yukon Association for Community Living and the joint management committee, made up of YMA members and officials. There were written submissions received from individuals, as well.
Yesterday, we released the document, What You Said, which summarizes a lot of the issues that were brought forward by members of the public, what was said about setting priorities for alcohol and drug abuse, health care and social assistance. I am sure that Members have copies of that document. In that document, it states that departmental representatives spent a total of six weeks on the road talking and listening to people.
On November 25, in this House, I made a ministerial statement about SAR(S) - social assistance recipients. At that time, I announced that we had signed the agreement with the federal government and that we were implementing various programming under that agreement, including Headstart, which resulted in the placement of 30 social assistance clients into jobs with some funding from that program. We also discussed the training being done by CEIC with New Opportunities. We will be seeing an increase in the SAR(S) agreement funding in the upcoming year. I cannot divulge the amount at this time. It is very successful. There are a lot of ideas and it is consistent with what we want to do in terms of retraining people and encouraging them to get back into the mainstream workforce and develop their potential, whatever it may be, to the best of their ability.
It is very consistent with priorities expressed already by the federal government regarding its much-touted and widely-feared social assistance reform - widely feared because of the intention to cut back rather savagely the transfer payments from Ottawa to the provinces and territories, widely feared because of the devastating impact already on some regions of Canada, resulting from the unilateral cuts to the unemployment insurance program, and widely feared because, particularly in jurisdictions such as this, we are extremely vulnerable to unilateral cutbacks, given that most of the money this government spends comes from the federal government by way of formula financing money, or Canada assistance program money, or other forms of transfer payments, including established program financing.
I want also to speak about the issue of engaging a fraud investigator, because we have come under some criticism. We feel that some of the criticism is somewhat misguided but, nonetheless, there have been some fears raised. The fact is that there have been a lot of cases reported to the RCMP - and these cases are under investigation - for fraud by social assistance clients. Just recently, there was a guilty plea in court, and some of these cases are getting to the trial stage.
Upon advertising the contract in the newspapers, a rather interesting thing started to happen. That is that, almost daily, people would come to the social assistance office saying that, by the way, they had forgotten to report something, they made a mistake when they were applying for social assistance, and they would really like to clear up these mistakes and pay back money they might have received, because they had not realized at the time
Page Number 2211
that they were making these mistakes. This occurred almost every day, and certainly was further evidence that there was a fair amount of abuse of the social assistance program.
We intend to give people a period of time, an amnesty period, to come and report situations where they have fraudulently taken money from the government, on the understanding that they would only be required to pay back the money that they obtained through fraudulent means and that there would not be any further action taken with regard to investigation for fraud. It will be interesting to see the results from that exercise.
The individual who was awarded the contract will be working with the department for six months on several things: partly, on the interface between social services workers and the RCMP so that they understand the issues related to the elements of fraud and the kinds of things that would have to be established in order to take it to the RCMP and have a file opened. They will be working with this person with regard to reviewing regulations to see where they lead to abuse, due to being vaguely written and because they were probably drafted without understanding of the kinds of ripoffs that can occur.
It is not the intention of this government to implement some kind of police force or a person who is going to go out peeking through windows. We think we need the kind of background that this individual has for a short period of time for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to discuss how some of the regulations and programs should be designed to minimize the potential for fraud in the future.
Some of the fraud is kind of interesting and it gets around very quickly about how you can rip off the government.
One concern that we have and something that we are going to address is that there was no cap on how much could be spent on utilities by a family or individual renting premises. Lo and behold, it should not have surprised anyone that there were some buildings being rented by social assistance recipients that had all kinds of extension cords leading out of the house for use by others.
Of course, there was no policy in effect in previous years that would catch this. There is a policy now and there will be a cap placed on how much is available for utilities to families under the new policy.
I think that this step was simply a prudent one. It is a short-term position; at least that is the way we see it at present. I think that it is very important that we get a handle on the program and try to ensure that the program is not being ripped off, because we want to see that money goes to the people that deserve the money and need it. Social assistance really is the basic safety net for people in the Yukon, and it is important that that safety net always be there, and that some of the steps we take improve the safety net for those people who truly need it.
We also had frank discussions with the Health and Social Services Council and they have had a subcommittee go over a lot of the issues, in some detail, with our department. So, we have had their comments on the issues, both on the social assistance side and the health programming side. There is more work to be done and we look forward to their participation. This is one of the first meaningful tasks they have really been given by government since being appointed, they feel, and while we may not always agree with their advice, they have made a lot of good points and made extremely valuable contributions to our thinking on certain issues.
Some of the issues that are being dealt with by Cabinet and which I will be in a position to make a ministerial statement on, I hope, within the next month, are policy decisions regarding transient and hardship appeals, special needs, recoveries, parental leave policy, hostel or shelter for transients, welfare services, rate review, capping utilities, special needs, medical payments, income definitions, transitional benefits, earning exemptions - the whole area of disincentives for people getting back into the workforce - asset exemption, disabled, maintenance orders, and other housekeeping amendments to programs we now have.
One of the things I lost was the chance to speak at some length. I had forgotten that, because I was second to speak, I only had 45 minutes. That is unfortunate.
The Member has one minute to conclude his remark.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Let me say that, in addition to this, we are dealing with all of the new initiatives from the federal government, that the implementation we are looking at and the changes that are just about to be completed with our program are necessary, consistent with everything that has been said and done by the provinces, and is being stated by the federal government, and that even when we implement these changes they will be interim measures because a lot of other changes are going to come because of what the federal government is doing, and we are heavily into that process.
Let me say that, given all the discussion about consultation, for over a year, all the work being done, the implementation that has been done, I am surprised by this motion. It is almost as though someone comes along now and says he would like the job of architect and project manager of the new federal building on Fourth Avenue; it is already built, of course.
With regard to the NGO issue, let me say that we are reviewing the treatment of NGOs. I have a lot to say on that subject. We disagree with the motion. This has been an area that has been neglected and that we have been working on strenuously. We feel that by this winter, far in advance of next spring's budget trials and tribulations, we will have a comprehensive policy in place regarding NGOs, the main principles of which we are acting, in essence, at this time.
Order. Would the Member please conclude his remarks.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Thank you for this opportunity, and I, along with other Members on this side, will be voting against this motion.
The document that was released yesterday, as the Member for Riverside mentioned, mysteriously appeared after it had been in publication since February. I suppose the document was supposed to give us some gratification that this government was up to date on the issues in regard to social services and the programs, and social justice and everything else.
One would look at it and wonder what they were trying to tell us. I read through it, and it did not take very long, because it is only four pages long. If one took the section on page 4 and the small section on page 3, one would probably only have three pages. But I guess they had to even it out on one sheet of paper. I sat here and I tried very, very hard to listen to what the Minister was saying, and he talked about all of the things his department officials had done. I would have liked him to tell us what he has done, because he mentioned a lot of initiatives that had taken place in regard to where the department is going from here. At this time, he and his other colleagues on that side of the House feel that Yukoners no longer have to be heard.
I would disagree with that. I would disagree with it because many things have happened since the consultation they had on this subject. Meetings are still happening. We are still hearing from people in the public who are dissatisfied with some of the actions that this government has taken.
I really believe that they do not want to hear from the public any more. They have made some drastic decisions that are going to be affecting many Yukoners. They will be affecting them because of the cutbacks that have been announced after the consultation. I
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do not know whether or not there is anything in here that said we should cut essential services to those individuals out there who need it. If it said that somewhere here, I did not see it. They keep talking about being fiscally responsible. I agree that any government should. However, they are carrying things a bit too far.
About one month ago, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting that was organized by a church coalition, or whatever it was to be called at that time. I went there because I was interested in hearing what people there had to say. So did some of my colleagues. I looked around and thought I might see the Minister of Health and Social Services or the Minister of Education or someone from that caucus there. They were not. I heard comments from people who were there that they were surprised. This was a diverse group of individuals. There were church officials, people who are on social assistance, single parents, educators, government officials - probably on behalf of the Minister, because he does not appear to have personal discussions with them. I thought to myself -
Some Hon. Member:
I was very polite, as I have been taught to be, and listened to the Minister speak for his allotted time. I felt I controlled myself very well. He can continue to - what is the word? - heckle me - I forgot the word "heckle" for one moment, even though I at times did it myself - as he is doing, and that is fine, but I just thought that I would mention it.
I attended the meeting out of interest. I have always been concerned about social issues and the plight of people who are not as fortunate as the Ministers across the House. I was very surprised at a lot of the discussions that took place at that time and the number of people in the community who were interested in finding out what people had to say.
I disagree with the Minister that everything that was said is already known by their people who were out in the communities consulting. There were people at the meeting that night who had some very constructive things to say.
I do not believe this government should stop listening just because they feel they have done their thing. I do not know that they heard from 280 people. According to this small document they have given to us, 200 people participated. I do not know whether 280 people spoke to them, or made representation to them, or if that was the total amount of people who attended meetings. The Member for Faro said there were about 60 people at the meeting in his riding. I do not know how many people spoke up.
I could safely say, in looking at this document, a high school student could have attended that meeting, taken notes, and come up with a more thorough paper than this one. I believe that. It is like everything else they have put out. It does not really tell you much. They say they are going to use it as a guide, but it says we are not going to be listening to all the concerns, because we cannot do everything for all the people. They will pick and choose, as they have already done.
The Minister has bragged about his ministerial statements. He has said over and over again, during his 40-minute speech, that he announced this and that in a ministerial statement, and this is what they are going to do and he is announcing it in the House today because he has a commitment.
However, the public knows, as I do, that ministerial statements from that side of the House do not carry much weight. That is evident in the announcements he made in regard to the alcohol and drug strategy and all the great things they were going to do. I cannot recall the date. One of the great things included building a much-needed detox centre. We all know the state the detox centre is in right now. We all know it is inadequate to meet the needs of those people who need that service.
The Minister then turns around and says he is sorry, but he has changed his mind. He could not even answer, in this House, what other programs were going to be available to the people who needed them. He did not know, because his department had not told him what to do in regard to that.
The alcohol and drug strategy may be his in writing, and he may have something to say about what they have done but, according to what we have heard in the House, and to the message the public is getting, those kinds of announcements and decisions that have been made really do not carry much weight.
I listened to the first Cabinet Minister, the Minister of Education, stand and speak. He mentioned that he was not going to support this, because all these great things had been done. He mentioned the survey that was done by the Women's Directorate.
Once again, for the record, I want to say that was a survey approved by the NDP when they were in government, or it would never have been done. They would never have had that information.
I do think that the government would have had the foresight to look at something so constructive as looking at the concerns of women of the Yukon. It was something that was already started, but did bring back valuable information.
The government can talk about their consultation, the things that they have done, and say that they had 280 people in attendance at these meetings and now they know what they want to do and to heck with anyone else who may want to make any kind of representation to them.
The Minister of Education has already said that if we struck this committee we would have to go out there and ask the same old questions. How does the Minister know that the same old questions are going to be asked, because many drastic events have occurred since the consultation and many people are beginning to suffer the consequences of the actions from those Members on that side of the House. Their actions take us back to the dinosaur age and everybody knows that. As a matter of fact, the offices upstairs are now being referred to as Jurassic Park and it is appropriate.
When I talk about going back to the Dark Ages, it is evident that the people in the communities have something to say about some of the decisions that have been made.
Many things have taken place. We have asked questions in the House and the Minister gets up on his high horse, in his pompous manner, and talks about the kinds of constructive things that they have done, but they are not constructive.
I think that the public has a lot more to say than what was said at the consultations that took place by bureaucrats. I think that a committee such as the one proposed, consisting of people who have the power to make changes in this House, would be more effective because we would be there to hear from the people.
I am surprised that decisions are made based on information or advice coming from the departments when they have not even sat down to hear what the real problems are. For instance, the Minister today said that he had not had any discussions with the staff at the Watson Lake safe home nor the board, so the Minister did not really know what the problems were.
The Minister told his department to start cutting costs and they cut costs where they felt it was going to be very beneficial, but at the expense of the people for whom the program was there.
Only last weekend, because people know that I care about the young people in this government's care, I requested that they have a meeting with me. I met with parents and children at my home on Saturday, because they had some great concerns about the problems that they had faced while they were in the care of this government. The Minister is very well aware of this, because I continued to bring up the subject in the last session, and I will do it again, because people will feel that they have somewhere to go.
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The bureaucracy is not listening to them any more, and they probably never have.
That kind of representation is ongoing to each and every one of us on this side of the House. I guess it is not surprising to us to sit here and listen to Members on that side of the House disagreeing with setting up such a committee because they do not want to hear what people have to say any more, and that is evident to the people out there.
I would also like the Minister, if he gets the chance to speak again, to let me know about the figures in his document here regarding the 280 people. It makes a bit of difference whether or not there were 280 people sitting in a series of 15 meetings and whether they even had a chance to make their concerns known, because I do not know that. Could he give me a list of the 280 people who made personal representation to him, either through questions on the floor or representations at a meeting, or through writing to him? If the fact is that they had 15 meetings and 280 people in total showed up, that is not a very good representation of Yukoners, so I question that as well.
I question the ability to make decisions based on their four-page document here. They say, before one even starts looking at it, that they are not going to listen to all of them, just some of them, and that some demands may never be met. I think Yukoners already know that.
Consultations are very valuable. The motion presented by the Member for Riverside today carries a lot of weight in that people who are prepared to go before a committee such as this will know that the people who really care, or think they care, would hear what they have to say. They have taken it upon themselves to consult on game quotas. I have noticed in the past that any time there were discussions about animals the side over there gets livid. They rambled on about, "Let us have enough animals so we can kill them." To them, game quotas are very important, and they speak more passionately about saving the animals than they do children.
That has been evident for as long as I have been in this House. They made a big issue because a friend came along and said, "Hey, John, let us have some gambling video terminals in the Yukon." Right away, a high-powered committee started going out and getting paid per diems to hear what individuals had to say. To them, it was important that hotel-owner friends have these video terminals in their hotels. Those kinds of things were important to them, but we are talking about much more important issues: the lives of Yukoners. We are talking about the plight of Yukoners.
The Minister can stand in his place in this House and talk about the problems that people on social assistance face. He talks, in a joking manner, about electrical extension cords being hooked up to other houses, but he does not know what it is like to live on social assistance. A lot of those people do things to survive, because they have a very difficult time living on the kind of money that they get from his department. They do a lot of things, because to live from day to day is a very difficult thing for them in that situation. They cannot imagine what it is like to have groceries that will last from the one day when they get their social assistance to the end of the month. That is not possible.
There are actions to survive by those individuals, but it is not just confined to them. They are many other things outside of this House that the Members on the other side of the House are not familiar with because they have no idea. For them to personally sit down and listen to what these people have to say may give them some insight into the plight of the people who are in need of some kind of assistance.
I know that their priority right now is the budget and make-believe deficit, among other things. However, it is at what price? It is at the price of those individuals out there. That is pretty darn scary.
I talk to people daily. I talk to people about a number of things. One of the things becoming very clear to individuals in my riding - because I tend to talk to them more than other people, but I have all sorts of people coming to me to talk about the many different things that they face - is that there are a lot of people out there who want to make changes. They want to be a part of the changes that are taking place. That was evident. I did not get to the last meeting on April 13 because I had a riding association meeting that night, but the same people who would like to provide a lot of input into social changes were there. I believe that they will be having ongoing meetings, and it is unfortunate that this government is not prepared to even go to a meeting or to listen to what they have to say.
I think that the motion on the floor is a healthy motion. It would provide this government with a lot of information that it thinks it already knows, but it does not, and that is evident because of the things it is doing. I think it will be more evident when the budget is tabled in the House tomorrow, because we will know who is going to suffer and who is going to be happy.
I also think a committee such as this has to have some guidelines, and I would therefore propose an amendment.
THAT Motion No. 61 be amended by adding the following paragraph:
"(c) The mandate of the committee will be to conduct its business in the context of the following principles put forth by the Ecumenical Coalition of Economic Justice:
"(1) Human Dignity: The right of all people to be treated with justice, love and respect;
"(2) Economic equity: The right of all people to adequate access to the resources necessary for a full life, including adequate income security provisions;
"(3) Mutual responsibility: The obligation of the community to care for all its people, ensuring that basic needs are met;
"(4) Social Justice: The right of all people regardless of race, religion, class, gender, ability, or sexual orientation, to full participation in the life and decision making of the community;
"(5) Ecological Sustainability: The obligation of the community to practice responsible stewardship of the earth and its environment, so that the creation might be preserved for generations to come; and
"(6) Fiscal Fairness: The responsibility of all to contribute fairly for the well being of all."
It has been moved by the Hon. Member for Whitehorse Centre
THAT Motion No. 61 be amended by adding the following new paragraph:
"(c) The mandate of the committee will be to conduct its business in the context of the following principles put forth by the Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice:
"1. Human Dignity: The right of all people to be treated with justice, love and respect;
"2. Economic Equity: The right of all people to adequate access to the resources necessary for a full life, including adequate income security provisions;
"3. Mutual Responsibility: The obligation of the community to care for all its people, ensuring that basic needs are met;
"4. Social Justice: The right of all people, regardless of race, religion, class, gender, ability, or sexual orientation, to full participation in the life and decision-making of the community;
"5. Ecological Sustainability: The obligation of the community to practice responsible stewardship of the earth and its
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environment, so that the creation might be preserved for generations to come; and
"6. Fiscal Fairness: The responsibility of all to contribute fairly for the well-being of all."
This amendment was introduced to include some sort of guidelines for a committee such as this to follow. The guidelines were drawn up by a number of individuals who felt there had to be some mutual care and understanding in decisions that were made. These kinds of rules do that.
The committee that could be struck as a result of this motion would have guidelines to follow. These guidelines are very simple. They are the kind of guidelines that every single person should be able to look at and agree to. There are some people who feel that is not possible, and there are some people who, as they did with our human rights legislation, oppose some of the things in here.
An effective government has to have some kind of guidelines. We cannot look at cuts. We have to look at those individuals as human beings and their needs. A committee struck from this Legislature, consisting of Ministers and Opposition Members, would be there to hear what individuals have to say and for them to feel confident that their concerns are being heard.
It appears to be the case that, when bureaucrats go out and consult, they do not have that confidence. To have a committee with these guidelines would give them more assurance that their needs would be met.
I would like to speak in support of the amendment. When we have two Ministers of the government stand up and say that this four-page document is a serious policy document I know that we are in trouble.
We may as well encourage the groups in town that are taking some initiative in this area to know that the Members of the Opposition, anyway, are on side with the way they are approaching the situation.
I will be supporting the amendment.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Let me say, first of all, I am somewhat disappointed when, for purely political reasons, the esteemed Member on the side opposite, the Leader of the territorial Liberal Party, stands up and suggests that a summary of some views given at public meetings is a policy document. The document does not say it is a policy document; it is not a policy document; it summarizes what was said by many people at those meetings. Therefore, I am sure it was simply a situation of the hon. Member misspeaking himself and that he now realizes it is not a policy document.
With regard to the amendment, I am going to speak at some length in support of the amendment, because these are principles that we believe in on this side of the House, and they are principles that certainly guided our actions with regard to the very thorough consultations that we entered into. They are principles, I am pleased to say, with which Members of the Department of Health and Social Services approach their job and responsibilities. These are the kinds of principles that are welcomed by caring people, and the people who work for the department are, by and large, extremely sincere in the performance of their duties. They are really and truly deeply concerned about issues such as human dignity, economic equity, mutual responsibility, social justice, the ecology and sustainability of the ecology, and fiscal fairness, as well as fairness of all kinds in their dealings with the clients for whom they work.
I am disappointed, therefore, when I hear, in the context of the speech that supports these principles, the suggestion that somehow or other they are not caring, that they are not dedicated, that somehow they do not pay attention to people and what they have to say at important public meetings such as the ones undertaken throughout the territory. The Minister mentioned that she went to the meeting sponsored by some of the Ministers a few weeks ago. I certainly would have gone but I was in Ottawa attending the conference of federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers. Otherwise I certainly would have gone.
As I mentioned in my rather brief opening remarks, we corresponded with all of the ministers in the territory, invited their input and invited consultation with them. I am willing any time to sit down with ministers in the Yukon, and often do. I often have them in my office discussing concerns such as those we are debating in this House this day. My office doors are open and I am more than pleased to meet on these issues because I do not want anyone to say that I do not take these issues very seriously. We have differences in philosophy, I am sure, but I think the more fundamental differences between us, at least - and I thought only some opposite but perhaps all opposite - have to do with economic issues than with issues about social programs. Certainly, I have very, very fundamental differences on economic issues with Members opposite; it is something I am quite comfortable with and quite pleased to debate any time in this House.
Principles such as these are extremely important to bear in mind, particularly when we get into the fray that is going to be taking place between the federal ministers responsible for social assistance and UI reform and reform of transfer payments to the junior jurisdictions.
We are responsible for fighting for social programs in our jurisdictions on behalf of residents of every political stripe, every race, every creed and every sexual orientation in the territory. We, I am afraid, are going to be having some profound differences with the new Liberal federal government in Ottawa because of their intention to move ahead and slash social programs in order to apparently try and reduce their deficit.
I understand the need for them to make the government more efficient, and we could provide a really good model of fiscal responsibility and social caring in moving in that direction. However, we are going to be expressing severe concerns - and we expect this to happen - when there are unilateral cutbacks that will not be sensitive to the needs of individuals in this territory.
These principles are, therefore, very important ones, and we will be supporting them, as I say. However, we will not be able to support the amended motion. They are principles that we will take with us in our endeavours to provide the best possible negotiation posture in Ottawa when we meet with our counterparts from the provinces and the federal government.
I might just talk a bit about that process and how important those principles are to it, because I am not sure exactly how much information the Hon. Member for Riverside had when he was preparing this motion. I suspect he perhaps was not aware of what was happening at the federal level any more than he was at the territorial level. Liberal Minister Axworthy actually announced a strategy for social security reform on January 31. A joint federal/provincial/territorial meeting of ministers responsible for labour and social services was held in mid-February to discuss reform agenda priorities, processes and concerns. There are three components that influence social security reform, as envisaged and implemented by the federal government. There is a ministerial task force - a 14-member group - of personal advisors to the federal Minister. That is underway. There is also a standing committee on human resources and development, which is a parliamentary hearing process that is going to receive input from the public.
They are moving very quickly with this, and it is going to be a very curtailed process. There is also funding available for interest
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groups to prepare submissions to that standing committee.
Then, there is the intergovernmental process, which includes ministers of labour and social services. The junior ministers from the provinces and territories feel very strongly that we must be an integral part of that process. We were supposed to have a meeting, and had arranged pairing to attend the federal/provincial/territorial meetings in Ottawa that were set for April 18, the day that we started this session, but it was cancelled at the last minute - cancelled, I gather, for political reasons - but there were some real concerns being expressed from some of the provincial ministers outside of Quebec, deeply held concerns that there were going to be a lot of unilateral actions taken without them having input, as promised.
The draft papers that were released to our officials prior to their meeting, in preparation for the April 18 meeting that was cancelled, contained very little of substance, and there is just a feeling that there is a secret agenda that the federal government has.
From here, there are going to be further officials' meetings. I just heard that they are trying to set one up in mid-June. I look forward to receiving more details on that proposed meeting.
The fact that there have been public statements and a lot said about cuts to social programs underpins our concern regarding our budget and underpins our stating the need to ensure that we are not in a deficit position and, in fact, that we are in a healthy financial position.
We know that cuts are coming and we feel that taking appropriate action, now, is short-term pain for long-term gain. We do not want to be in a situation similar to Ontario, spending unwisely and foolishly, or forced by the bankers to make harsh decisions that go against our philosophy. The decisions made in Ontario would certainly flaunt the principles being proposed in this most worthy motion.
I would like to make another point in regard to the principles. These principles also guide us in the development of comprehensive policies regarding non-government organizations, and that is part of the motion that is being amended. These amendments will have impact on section (b) under the motion to be amended, which talks about examining and making recommendations about the role of non-governmental organizations in the delivery of social programs.
We understand in 1992 there was some movement afoot in government, and I believe that this was mentioned by the Leader of the Official Opposition during budget debate last winter, to try and come to grips with non-governmental organizations, but nothing really moved ahead on it. The interdepartmental committee went nowhere with the initiative.
Since I have been Minister, we have been coming to grips with the non-governmental organizations and moving in a direction that is consistent with certain principles that are important principles in our minds - namely, that any of our non-governmental organizations, certainly in this department, will be funded for services that we deem are needed in the territory. We are the ones who will make that decision just as the government makes decisions about whatever programs are made available to the public. That is the responsibility of government, not of non-governmental organizations.
Secondly, we must look at situations where we feel non-governmental organizations can provide the service more efficiently or effectively than can government, and that the services be provided according to fairly strict standards set by government. Again, that is our responsibility.
When we made those comments, we did at first get a rather hostile reaction from some of the non-governmental organizations who felt that the money should be given to them and they would determine what they would do with it, if anything. I am pleased to say that the initial attitude has changed rather dramatically with all of the non-governmental agencies that we deal with.
In developing the policy, which we will have in place by next winter, we will be looking at these principles, as well as principles that deal with more particular issues regarding how we determine who should provide the service, when the service should be provided, and looking at standardizing certain contracts with NGOs. We also have to look at implications of funding - we have discussed this in the House before - with respect to the implications on federal financing for First Nations and the implications on whether or not it would provide certain kinds of financing, and it might provide the opportunity for the federal government to offload its responsibility on to the territorial government.
In developing funding agreements with non-governmental organizations, there is the whole land claims negotiation and self-government area that has to be looked at by experts to ensure that what we do is not going to have some kind of dangerous precedental impact on the land claim negotiation process and the future negotiations leading to the implementation of self-government according to the agreements and law that will be in place, once the federal government gets a move on and passes legislation in the federal arena.
The motion to amend is a good one. I am glad to see the Member here, and I am pleased to commend her for this and to support the motion. I did not want to take my place until I had, as a contra to her comments about myself not being present at the meeting in Whitehorse regarding social reform, to say that I was somewhat disappointed and surprised that neither she, nor any of her caucus Members took the opportunity to get involved in the thorough consultation process that took place last fall. Given her very strong desire to attend these meetings, I was surprised that the same desire did not grab hold of her in terms of the meetings held in Whitehorse and throughout the territory regarding these very important subjects.
I am sure, however, that she has, as I had, good reason for not being able to attend. Perhaps she was in Ottawa at some kind of a ministers' conference at those times, and perhaps her colleagues were as well. I understand the very busy schedule people have and do not want to make too much of a point about this, but I felt I could not let the matter go without some comment, given that she had seen fit to raise the issue in this Legislature.
I am very pleased to support the amendments. We will not be supporting the main motion or the motion as amended, unfortunately, because the amendments do not do away with our fundamental concerns, although they certainly do make a very flawed and bad motion a heck of a lot better.
This has been a thoroughly fascinating dissertation from a Member, the Minister indeed, supporting an amendment to a motion that they do not support.
I was always taught that when one multiplied a negative by a positive, the result is negative - which is of course, when we get to the bottom line here, that the Members opposite may like the amendment but they are not going to vote for the motion, so why did he even bother speaking to the amendment?
It is doubly fascinating that the Members opposite should want to speak to the amendment, which is inspired by the work of the Council of Canadian Churches, which are - at least, the mainstream churches - fundamentally and absolutely opposed to the approach being taken by the government opposite, as well as most provincial governments and the approach being taken by the federal government in approaching the problems of human needs simply through their fiscal spectacles.
I want to return to that point but I want to deal seriously, as we ought to, with the original proposal by the Liberal Member and
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the amendment to it proposed by my colleague, the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
The Liberal Member began his intervention in the debate by pointing out the obvious: that the social safety net is eroding and people are falling through the cracks. We are beginning to see in this country the phenomenon that has been evident for some years now in the United States, where people are sleeping in shop doorways and wandering, homeless, on the streets. We are seeing an increase in family violence. We are seeing evidence of social decay, and we are seeing the abdication of responsibility for these problems by governments everywhere in the country.
At the same time, there is a second concern - and the first may be a function of the second - by Canadians for, as the Liberal Leader said, efficient economic services. It is interesting that we come to a debate like the one we are having today from the knowledge that there is public dissatisfaction both with the services that are being provided and the costs of those services. There are complaints from clients and taxpayers, both, though obviously for sometimes, but not always, different reasons.
The Liberal Leader chastised the Tories opposite for their ad hoc approach and their socially divisive approach. I must say that I share his comments, including those on the February document that was published in April, which, as he says, contains 36 lines that he is suggesting indicate a march toward the 21st century. My concern, actually, is that they indicate a crawl backwards to the 19th century.
I am actually concerned because the Member for Faro attended the meeting in that town, where something like 60 people attended. This is a very large percentage of the total number of people who are claimed to have participated in the public review. They said things very differently than are reported in the summary. Their views do not seem to be represented in the document, according to my colleague.
The Minister of Education talked about the 282 individuals who attended the meetings and suggested that somehow if MLAs - the Liberal Leader and others of us here - had wanted input into this process, we should have attended those meetings. There is nothing wrong with attending those meetings, but that is not the place where MLAs have input into public policy. It is not the main forum. The place where we do that is here. The way we do it is through instruments such as were proposed by the Liberal Leader.
I want to return to the amendment before us. What the Minister of Education did not seem to understand when he was making his speech about how exhaustive this process had been, which involved the attendance of 282 individuals out of a population of 30,000 or so - suggesting that was the be-all and end-all of consultation about social policy - it was fairly disturbing. What he did not seem to understand was that while this government, which has taken a fairly simple-minded cutback approach, has been going about its business, other groups in this community, including the churches, have been meeting in a parallel time frame to talk about alternate, more compassionate and more intelligent approaches to the ones being taken by neo-Liberal governments.
We will not have occasion to get into all the various possibilities about addressing the huge social needs that are out there - the family dysfunction and the unraveling of community, which has, I think, been very much manufactured by a right-wing agenda - but I do want to say that cutbacks are not the only approach.
It is true that every government is having to deal with a financial crisis, but not every government is proceeding in the same way. Many governments, faced with the problem of rising social service costs, have been looking at alternatives, by way of training, jobs, and so forth. However, given the level of unemployment in the Yukon and the lack of any interest in direct job creation by the government, especially for the poor, we are not seeing any evidence of those kinds of more progressive alternatives that are being carried out elsewhere in the western world.
One of the things that the church language in the amendment does very well is make clear the links between the different dimensions of public policy. It is, if you like, a holistic approach that links questions of human dignity with questions of economics, with questions of responsibility, social justice, ecological sustainability, and fiscal fairness. That is highly desirable when we are approaching these difficult questions, because I believe that a narrow-minded, cost-cutting, approach in the end not only produces considerable human pain, but may be penny-wise, pound-foolish.
I want to make that case in a serious way, by entirely using information coming from the present Government of the Yukon. It is my view that the cost-cutting, right-wing, cutback approach at the local level is just the same kind of behaviour as the federal government has just been criticized for, in terms of off-loading. It is not off-loading from a federal to a territorial level, or even from the territorial-provincial level to the municipal level, but it is off-loading on to families and individuals who may not be able to carry the burden. Something in the rhetoric we have heard from Members opposite recently suggests that, somehow, even families that cannot afford to should be assuming the burden for other people.
It is the kind of approach that U.S. Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in a brilliant essay recently pointed out what was happening in his home state of New York, whereby, at the turn of the century, there were tens of thousands of people who were in mental institutions at great cost to society. It became fashionable a couple of decades ago to de-institutionalize mental patients, a process that many of us believed was the right one and supported it.
Moynihan pointed out that if you did that without providing any community level supports, if you sent mentally ill people out into the streets without any guarantee that there was the support of family or community to help them not only recover, but manage, these people would fall through the cracks.
Senator Moynihan pointed out that the situation in New York state is that the population in mental institutes is a tiny fraction of what it was at the turn of the century, simply as a result of redefining those people. They are now no longer mentally ill; they are simply called "homeless". They have no right to claim a high degree of highly sophisticated medical treatment, or even a high level of care; they are simply people who occasionally receive a gift of food or some temporary shelter.
I think that there is a real danger of seeing something akin to that approach in the behaviour of many of our provincial governments.
I want to refer to one document only, published by the Government of Yukon that involves work by the Executive Council Office and the Department of Health and Social Services. It is, I confess, a project that was begun during the NDP administration, but it was completed during the term of the current government and was published very recently. It is entitled the Yukon Health Promotion Research Program, Part IV: An Accounting of Health, What the Numbers Say.
It is an extremely interesting document, because I think that any fair-minded analysis of its findings would suggest that the present government's approach to social policy is dead wrong.
I seem to recall that the Minister of Health said something about being from Missouri on the usefulness of this study and I accused him of once again kowtowing to outside interests when he was making that statement, but I said it lightheartedly, as he knew. I do not know whether he has had a chance to read the documents
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so I will refer today only to the summary document, not the full one, because this information is all contained in the fat document. The summary here will be adequate for today's debate.
One of the things this document does, it seems to me, as the church's language suggests, is make clear the links between the economic policy, social policy and health policy.
Today, I just want to talk about the link between health policy and social policy, and not get into questions of economics, about which I am sure I will disagree with the Minister of Justice.
This document reiterates some of the definitions of health that have been under discussion in this House previously. It points out, in its findings about Yukoners' attitudes to health, that "Some see health in social terms, both in quantity and quality of the relationships with family, friends and co-workers. Others are concerned with psychological or mental aspects of health, where good health is considered a mental attitude and/or an emotional state, which determines health and wellbeing. Others view health as a primarily physical quality where health seems to correspond to physical attributes such as strength, energy and vitality. Finally, others view health spiritually, as a function of the relationship to something or someone larger than themselves that creates harmony and balance."
Many of the people who were talked to in this project, of course, saw some combination of these attributes contributing to their idea of health.
The most important finding of the research conducted by the territorial government is that the self-rated health of Yukoners is strongly correlated with income. That may not be a surprising statement but I want to pursue for a few minutes the number of occasions where that truth is reaffirmed throughout this document, and then discuss briefly the implications of that truth for public policy.
What it means is that the lower your income, the lower your health standard. It means that, the lower your income, the lower your health status is going to be and, as this report discovers, probably the higher health costs are going to be produced for the territory.
In the section on quality of life in this book it says, "As in the case of self-related health, income and quality of life are positively related. The greater the level of income, generally speaking, the more likely a person is to report an excellent, or very good, quality of life."
Under the section on mental and emotional health, it says again, "Relative emotional happiness also appears to be related to income. Of those classified as rich, 24 percent are in the highest quintile of the Bradburn Scale, 10 percent of those classified as poor are in the highest quintile." So, far more people who describe themselves as wealthy are seen as having, if you like, emotional peace or good mental health than is the case for the poor.
It is interesting that one of the findings of this study was that the Yukon has more underweight people than the provinces. People who are underweight are often people who are malnourished, or who have an alcohol problem - in other words, they are consuming the wrong kind of food. We know, from information elsewhere in this study, that that is also a function of poverty.
It is also interesting that there is some suggestion that people with the poorest incomes have fewer opportunities for exercise and the health benefits that come from exercise.
Under the section on dental health, it says dental disease is likely the most prevalent health problem in the Yukon. I assume that is really a problem for those who do not have the benefit of health insurance, which includes people who do not work for government, or for large corporations, and certainly includes many people in our small communities, even though we have had an excellent school dental program. There are obviously many adults, particularly in rural Yukon, who have serious dental health problems. Again, the study affirms that the need for dental care is strongly related to income.
On the section on nutrition knowledge, it talks about the kinds of foods that Yukoners eat and the significantly high percentage of Yukoners who say they usually eat foods high in fibre, and the small number who admit to eating fatty foods. It also points out that income is strongly associated with using Canada's Food Guide.
Nine percent of those respondents classified as poor on the income adequacy scale report following the food guide, compared to 29 percent among those classified as rich.
Again, in the section on stress. I quote, "Stress appears to be related to income adequacy. High levels of stress are seen at both ends of income distribution. Twenty-seven percent of those classified as poor report very high levels of stress, as do 16 percent of those classified as rich." When you start exploring what types of stresses are suffered by the poor, they are the obvious stresses of inadequate incomes and job insecurity. If you talk to a chambermaid or a child care worker in this town, or someone who is an auxiliary or casual employee of the government, they all feel stress about income insecurity.
All of the agendas of government about privatization, contracting out and cut-backs all add to the stress and add to the potential health problems of that group of people.
The next section in the report deals with smoking. It talks about smoking being the most obvious, preventable cause of disease and death. It is associated with heart and blood vessel disease, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, respiratory infections, stomach ulcers and cancers of the lung, larynx, pharynx, oral cavity, esophagus, pancreas and stomach. Quitting smoking, it points outs, is one of the most important steps that one can take to improve personal health.
It also points out that smoking is linked to drinking patterns. Seventeen percent of abstainers are regular smokers as are 30 percent of light drinkers. Forty-six percent are frequent drinkers and 61 percent of heavy, frequent drinkers smoke.
Every study in this country and everywhere in the western world shows that a disproportionate number of poor people smoke and the tendency to smoke is greatest among the poor.
This report goes on to deal with a number of other health issues, as the Minister knows: alcohol and drugs; drinking and driving; sexually transmitted diseases; child safety and seat belts. There is also a passage on people's comments about improving health.
The report also talks about social relationships and how important those relationships are as an indicator of social health. These indicators include social health and they include important factors such as having someone to confide in, good relationships, spouse and partner support. It goes on to talk about family support and that makes you immediately think about family support programs, which are operated under the Department of Health and Social Services, as one of the kinds of initiatives that is designed to help prevent, not only social problems, but, as this report clearly indicates, health problems as well.
The latest section of the report goes on to talk about working conditions. It talks about the negative effects of work on health, and talks about the stress of job demands, the anxiety about job security - which all this talk about privatization and cutbacks contributes to - and the general climate of worries about cuts and layoffs, and so forth, which all contribute to the stress of working life, or the stress of being marginally attached to the labour force.
Near the end of the report, there is a section on the dealings with health professionals. I do not want to go on at great length about this, but I want to quote one paragraph. It says, "Generally speaking, people who rated their health as fair or poor were more
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likely than others to use the services of health professionals." That means, in simple terms, if you see your health as fair or poor, you are more likely to go see the doctor.
Looking at doctor visits, for example, 91 per cent of those with fair, self-related health, or 85 percent with poor, visited a doctor within the previous year, compared to 79 percent with good self-related health, or 80 percent with very good and 72 percent with excellent.
Remember that the cost of seeing a doctor, especially on the fee-for-service system that we use, is directly borne by the territory and the health insurance scheme. The cost of curative medicine, as we all know, is many times higher than the level of investment in health promotion and disease prevention. It is very clear from this report that income is the best predictor of health and, presumably then, a poor income is probably a predictor of poor health.
I come, therefore, to the main point I want to make. The simple-minded approach taken by this government and, I confess, many governments in this country, to social service spending cuts may be counterproductive. While we may be concerned about the social assistance and social service budget, which is, admittedly, high and growing, if there is one item in the territorial budget that is even bigger, it is the health budget. If, as this report seems to suggest, the long-term implications of cutting social spending, social supports, family supports and income supports for the poorest people in the territory is to add to the health insurance costs of the same department's budget, we may be no further ahead, even from a narrow-minded financial point of view.
That is why, for all the time that I have been involved in public life and interested in politics, I have also been interested in the argument made by Tommy Douglas, the pioneer of medicare, that if we simply have a medicare system as a collection agency for doctors, it will be a failure. If we do not allocate an appropriate share of the portion of the health budget into health promotion - in other words, investing in the health of the community as opposed to just spending money on curing sickness and disease - we are going about things the wrong way. I would believe and argue that the same analysis would hold true for most of our social problems. An ounce of prevention is, indeed, worth a pound of cure, as our parents and grandparents used to tell us.
I do not want to speak ad nauseum today. There are many fascinating issues here, which I will have the opportunity of exploring further with the Minister during his estimates. I think this whole question of fiscal fairness and fiscally appropriate policies is a debate that should rage just as widely when we are talking about the Justice budget as it does with the Health and Social Services budget. I believe that there are huge, inappropriate expenditures in the justice system. We seem to spend a large fortune incarcerating a relatively small number of people in a revolving-door process. This is of benefit, I admit, to some professionals, but I cannot believe it is to the benefit of our community or, perhaps, even to justice. We may have a chance to get into that.
Some Hon. Member:
I am not going to get into legal aid. My colleague has already spoken about that. However, there are issues around expenditures under the control of the one Minister in this House that go beyond the searching out for fraud among the poor and disadvantaged.
No one in my party is going to defend theft of power, inappropriate use of utilities, or theft in the department.
I am also one who believes, not just as an article of faith on some evidence, that there is also, in society, abuse of privilege by wealthy people who are ripping off the system, and I wish as much energy were devoted to dealing with those abuses as it is for people at the bottom of the income scale.
The point I want to make is that I think there is some danger in dealing with any one of these issues in isolation. That is why I am very pleased to support the amendment to the motion today as it is inspired by the work of the Canadian churches who, with the greatest of respect to the Minister who says he supports their sentiments, is intended, quite consciously, as a criticism of the approach being taken by this government and others in the country.
I will only conclude by saying that I think the committee being proposed by the Liberal Member is a good idea. I believe the debate on this question could be improved by having more than one point of view introduced. I think some serious discussion is needed - discussion not bound by ideology or previous prejudice, but some real soul searching and some real open-minded discussion about how we deal with what is not only obviously a serious financial situation, and I concede that, but it is also a serious problem for society and for our community. Therefore, the committee is a good idea and I support it, and I would certainly support having the kind of mandate that has been suggested by the Canadian churches and proposed today by my colleague, the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
I rise to support the amendment before us. I believe it is very important that we include the underlying values in forming a committee such as the one that was put forward in the main motion - to consult and make recommendations regarding modernization and restructuring of Yukon's social security system.
Our social vision is too important to be determined by economic and financial considerations alone. As a society, we will be judged not by our treatment of the well-to-do, but by our treatment of less advantaged groups. The principles outlined in our amendment provide the necessary foundation to ensure that all Yukoners are offered a reasonable opportunity for full and meaningful participation in the life of our communities. We must strive to meet personal and community needs.
The Minister responsible for the Women's Directorate talked about a social services committee as reinventing the wheel. The Yukon Party and their stone age economics have taken this territory so far back into the Dark Ages that they might just need to reinvent the wheel.
On social programs, they are consistent with one note: cut, cut, cut. Their idea of a solution is to cut programs and to not offer any credible alternatives.
Social programs and services must address the goal of social justice, offering not only the insurance of an adequate standard of living, but the real prospect of economic self-sufficiency, freedom and dignity for all Yukoners, and especially for those who have encountered barriers to economic participation because of their race, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation.
The provision of adequate social services must be recognized as a right and not a privilege that governments may suspend or modify in accordance with their particular economic agenda.
We feel that it is important that the proposed committee allow people a real voice and a real say in decisions affecting them.
Effective liaisons must be established with social justice groups, such as the local chapters of the Ecumenical Coalition for Economic Justice, the National Anti-Poverty Organization and other advocacy groups. When we talk about respect and dignity for people, I believe we must change our decision making to include a broader spectrum of human society. Endorsing the principles that are articulated in the amendment is a means of doing that.
One specific goal that we should be focusing on is the safety of women and children who flee violent situations at home.
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Ultimately, we must eradicate the factors that contribute to the pervasive problem of men's violence against women.
Looking at some of those factors, we have to eradicate pornography and we have to increase the participation of women in positions of authority, government and business. We must no longer tolerate the use of force or aggression to settle differences, whether it is between individuals, groups or nations.
In addition, we must deal with the unresponsiveness of the courts, the justice system and the police to men's violence against women. This government has repeatedly identified family violence as one of the most pressing social problems that we currently face and has even supported a motion for zero tolerance on violence against women. However, we are faced with funding cutbacks to transition homes that could mean that women seeking a safe shelter are turned away and denied the protection and supportive counselling they require.
Twenty-four hour staffing of women's shelters is critical. Men's violence against women is not a nine-to-five phenomenon.
I think it is fair to say that we all agree on the need to reduce people's dependence on welfare. This is best achieved, not through cuts and curtailments of services, but by providing training programs leading to well-paid, full-time jobs with long-term future prospects. It is important that employment training for women should place greater emphasis on acquisition of skills for non-traditional jobs, so that we may better address the problem of the feminization of poverty.
As we all know, drug and alcohol addiction are major barriers to the acquisition of health and well-being for individuals and communities in the Yukon. We all know of numerous alcohol-related deaths in our respective communities. The provision of adequate treatment and prevention programs is thus absolutely critical, requiring immediate, committed, and creative measures to deal with what amounts to a social emergency. Yet, so far, we have experienced nothing but inaction on the part of the current government, with even the commitment to adequate detox services having been conveniently forgotten. Residential treatment programs and the establishment of community-based prevention programs seem even further away, while the overall health of our territory hangs in the balance.
The Minister of Education said that this work has already been done, and that is why there is no need for a committee of this sort. The government went around to the communities, and I know that, in many of those communities, it was told there was too much information for one meeting. They wanted the government to come back, to listen to the suggestions, that all the time had been taken up in presentations by the department and what its ideas were. Did they not come to listen to the people, and when are they going to come back?
The Minister responsible for the Women's Directorate says he has heard it all, and he says that his department will use suggestions made by women in the survey. What are they doing to implement those suggestions? What gives us any evidence at all that they have heard Yukoners?
My colleagues have referred to the very slim document that was put together. It barely scans the issues. I think that Yukoners deserve better than that.
Social programs must be given equal emphasis and priority by government as economic development initiatives. Social goals must be pursued irrespective of fluctuations in the economy. I hope that the Members opposite will support the motion as amended by my colleague.
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I do not intend to speak for a long time, but I think it is important to speak to the amendment as presented by the Member for Whitehorse Centre.
I do not know how anyone could actually not support the principles laid out in the amendment; however, unfortunately, even with the amendment, it still does not solve the problem that consultation has taken place in many areas, in many ways. I would see this as going back over old ground. I think that would be an inappropriate way to deal with it. I think we should get on with the job.
The Member for Mount Lorne mentioned the concern about the women's survey and that we have not seen any action on it. When we come in with the budget, I will be talking a lot about some of the areas with which we are dealing with respect to that survey. In fact, many of the areas in the programs relating to violence toward women and some of the programs in the schools now deal with some of the issues that were raised in that survey.
I can assure the Member that the Women's Directorate and the survey itself is having a significant impact on any changes that will be made to the social assistance programs. The government is concerned about women in the Yukon and has listened to them in a very thorough, lengthy and extensive survey. We are implementing some of the recommendations from that survey.
Aside from the fact that these are sound principles and ones that we should all adhere to, I still do not think that it merits just voting for the overall amended motion, just to do something that has already been done. I can certainly support the amendment. It makes the motion better, but it does not solve the problem of going out and repeating what has already been done. I will not be able to support the amended motion.
Amendment to Motion No. 61 agreed to
Is there further debate on the motion as amended?
I will be fairly brief on this, but I do have a couple of things that I would like to say. As the Leader of the Official Opposition duly pointed out, this is the place for the MLAs to make their contributions to these sorts of things.
I would like to start off on a bit of a personal note by saying that I hear what people are saying on the opposite side of the House about social safety nets. The health care in this country is a part of this country and I would hate to ever see it damaged or hurt. I know that if we did not have the medical program that we have in this country, I sure as heck would not have any money. As all of you know, my wife and I had triplets a little over 10 and one-half months ago. One of those babies is still in the hospital and probably as I am speaking right now is undergoing surgery in Vancouver, so I can certainly appreciate what is being said about that.
I do think that there is room for improvement. This document that was put out has been mentioned by both sides, one saying that it is good and one side saying that it is bad. Personally, I think that this is a pretty good document. It shows that the meetings did take place, the government was out there, they were listening to what people had to say. They put on paper what people had to say and the next step is to act on those comments.
When I talk about health care and how important it is, when I look into the chronic disease and Pharmacare part of this program, where it says that people have lifestyle diseases, for instance smoking and alcohol abuse, I certainly think that is an area that should be looked at and those people should be more responsible for their portion of those health care costs. I am getting a bit off topic here, so I will try to refocus myself.
With regard to the consultation process - I think that I understand what the Liberal Leader is trying to do here. I think that we all know that the system is not perfect and people do not tend to come to these meetings unless they have a real hot issue, or something that is burning inside of them. I know that the Member for Faro, or the Leader of the Official Opposition indicated for him that there were some 60 people at the meeting they had in Faro.
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At that time there were many hot issues in Faro and people wanted to get out to those meetings. That is what I am trying to say: people do come out to these meetings if there is a reason for them to come out.
As another example I would like to cite something that has happened in Dawson in the last little while. Late last month there was a meeting held by the Department of Justice. Representatives came to discuss community justice and issues related to that, and there was a specific issue in Dawson that people wanted to talk about and that was the stay-in-school initiative.
There was a large turnout at that meeting and at the beginning of the meeting there was a lot of controversy. The officials were saying they had not come to talk about that and the people were saying they wanted to talk about it. That is something that governments do - they tend to draw lines between departments. By the way, I am not trying to condemn anybody there because they did eventually sit down and listen to what the people had to say and they brought it back and are giving it to the appropriate people. That is my point. That is something I would certainly like to see a little bit more of.
I would like to see the departments being able to work together like that, helping each other out.
They were trying to tie the stay-in-school initiative into a justice issue. They were right. It is as relative to justice, as a lot of things we talk about in this House are to the motions we discuss. Sometimes I wonder what we are talking about. They were saying that if they keep the stay-in-school program in place, it will keep people off the streets, get the kids a better education so they would be able to get better jobs, et cetera, et cetera, and they are dead right.
That is why it is important that what they did was good. One department was able to get the message and bring it back to another department. Not just because of that but because of an awful lot of other lobbying that went on by the citizens of Dawson, by the territorial government, by the First Nations people and a whole bunch of others, that stay-in-school initiative has been renewed for another year.
If the Member for Faro wants to take credit for it, if it makes him feel good, I will let him have the credit. I do not really care so long as it gets renewed, and it did. It has only been renewed for one year. We hope we will be able to work with the federal government and keep it.
I would like to bring up one thing that is related to this topic and which I would just like to let people, particularly on this side of the floor be aware of, which I am hearing in Dawson and the Klondike Valley right now, is that the phase 2 of the health transfers are beginning to take place. Over the last few years in Dawson, it has become very clear that the facilities in Dawson - the hospital, the nursing station or whatever - are simply not adequate to do the job. There is an awful lot of concern and there are a lot of groups and organizations in Dawson that would like to see this government, when it is doing the negotiations, trying to get a cottage hospital in Dawson, perhaps in conjunction with the McDonald Lodge, or something like that, so that people who are getting older can come back to Dawson and die.
There have been a number of situations in the last little while where they have had to come to Whitehorse or even go to Vancouver, because the staffing is not available. It is not that they needed really intensive medical care, or anything else, it is just that they do not have the 24-hour staffing that they need in order for this to happen. It is not that they are looking for a real fancy hospital, because that is not the case, but they are looking for something in a 24-hour facility.
I am not going to be long. In closing, I would like to say that they have taken a good first step and now they have to act on it. A lot of the statements I have heard here are certainly the things that I have heard on the street, and I think it would be repetitive to support this motion. These meetings have just happened within the last six months. Why go out and do it all over again? We have to show some fiscal responsibility.
I rise today to speak in support of the motion that has been brought forward by the Member for Riverside. It is interesting to hear the discussion that has taken place this afternoon. The message that kept getting repeated is that this has all been done, so we should not do it again. I can remember some time ago getting into a little bit of trouble as the Minister of Education, for criticizing a public consultative process.
The then Opposition - the NDP - had launched an education consultative process for the public. At that time, I felt that we were getting a fair amount of input from school committees, that department officials were certainly keeping in touch with people, that we were getting a lot of feedback and knew what was going on. We had assigned an individual to go to the meetings and see if there was information to be gained. As a new politician, I had enough sense to do that. I am not saying that we gained a lot of valuable information, but we gained some. We can talk about the costs of consultative processes and the merits of them, but we cannot weigh off the costs and benefits of a process like this and say that it is worth it or it is not; that it costs too much money or not. There are inexpensive ways to do things, if there is a will.
I made reference that the one message that was coming through was that this had already been done. It has been done, but it has been done by department officials. I keep hearing the Members on the other side saying that the departments have gone out and met with people, and they did this and that. I think that the politicians should go out and meet with the people. I think it would be of benefit to some of the politicians in this House to get out and meet with people, to hear what they have to say. This is particularly important in the area of health and health concerns. Today, this area is probably one of the most changing, controversial areas of concern for all Canadians, not just for Yukoners. There are going to be a lot of new ideas and changes in the delivery and quality of health care services that we have. I feel that the public should have an opportunity to express their concerns about those changes, or make recommendations to the politicians - that is us.
I do not see it as being a big deal that we have to take all these hard lines, in terms of being for or against it. I think it is a good idea. It may cost a few dollars. I think we could look at it being done in an economic way. I would certainly be interested in hearing what Yukoners have to say about potential or upcoming changes to the health care field. I think it would be interesting for the Minister of Health to go to these public meetings in the communities and tell people what kind of concerns he has and what kinds of changes from the federal government we may be facing as Canadians. This would allow people to get that information, digest it, and have some input with respect to how their health care services may change.
I am going to support it. I do not see it as a great big deal, and I do not see why we have to take any hard party lines that we are opposed to it or that we are in favour of it. Just to remind the government Members again, it is fine that the department officials have gone out and heard this. I understand that one of the officials who did go around, the deputy minister, is no longer with this government, and we are always in the position where we may lose some valuable information because that individual is not there any more. We may have some kind of skeleton framework to work with - I think the Liberal Member is alluding that this document may be just a skeleton document - but, as a politician, I certainly think we should take the opportunity to go out and hear from the
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people. I do not think we should leave it entirely up to department officials to come and pass on to us only one side of the story, or one point of view, or one interpretation of the issue.
That is why I am supporting this motion.
Hon. Mr. Nordling:
I had not planned to speak on this motion, but I stand to agree with what the Member for Riverdale South has said. I think the MLAs should go out and talk to the constituents in their riding. They should hear from them. It is a very valuable exercise.
My concern with it is that, although the Member for Riverdale South says it will not be a big deal, I am afraid that having a special committee of this Legislature would be a bigger deal than what we need in this case. It would be another committee going around the territory, renting rooms, having people come in front of the board, and expecting people to give input of a very personal nature, in most cases.
If the Member for Riverdale South is serious about that, and the Member for Riverside is serious about it, then they should hold meetings in their ridings and talk to people and, if they can make the effort, travel around the territory this summer and talk to people in other ridings.
The Member for Mount Lorne is laughing. Maybe she thinks it is funny to hold a meeting in her riding to talk about health care issues; maybe she needs the framework of a special committee to talk to her constituents.
One of the most beneficial things I have been involved in as a Member of this Legislature was as a Member of the Opposition when that government was in power, when the Leader of the Official Opposition took over Health and Social Services, replaced the Member for Whitehorse Centre and brought in Nick Poushinsky, the dream team that was going to fix things in the territory.
There are shelves and shelves of reports on this subject that could be dusted off and put into effect. We do not need another special committee running around the territory.
Mr. Speaker, you and I travelled around the territory. We did the task force report on suicide. The Official Opposition went around the territory and did an education task force. That is what I recommend. I recommend that there be some initiative taken by the MLAs, that it not be up to the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly to organize meetings, and have the Legislative Assembly budget pay for things we could be doing as MLAs. I encourage the MLAs to find those things out, come into the House, and present their findings.
As the Leader of the Official Opposition said, he will discuss these issues in the supplementary Health and Social Services budget. That is when the MLAs will have their chance for input.
I was not going to speak, but I have just heard such a load of rubbish from the Member for Porter Creek South that I felt I had to get up. The Member is talking about how to do their job. Given what we have seen and heard from the Member for Porter Creek South over the last few weeks, since he jumped ship, I think he should re-evaluate how he does his job.
My job is to talk to my constituents and other Yukoners, and I do that. With this government, it is absolutely pointless, 99.9 percent of the time, to make representations to them. I do it because that is what I am paid to do, but they never listen. They are the most stubborn, arrogant bunch who ever walked the face of this earth, and that has been proven time and again in this Legislature.
He talks about holding a meeting in his riding. I would have liked to see him hold a meeting in his riding before he decided to jump ship to the Yukon Party, because I think that would have been an interesting meeting. I really would have enjoyed watching the Independent Member at that particular meeting. From the comments that I have heard from people in his riding, they were not very appreciative about that lack of consultation.
Point of Order
Point of order.
Hon. Mr. Nordling:
On the point of order, I would be willing to debate the Member for Faro at any time on the issue of my joining the coalition with the Yukon Party. I had not realized that was open for discussion on this amendment. If it is, I would like an opportunity to respond after the Member for Faro has finished.
On the same point of order, I would be more than happy to chair that debate as long as it took place in the Member's riding.
There is no point of order. Would the Member please try to keep his remarks on the topic we are discussing.
Motion No. 61 - continued
I will have to apologize to the Member for Porter Creek South. Sometimes I think he is still the Speaker. Anyway, he is not, he is a Member of the Yukon Party Cabinet. He is an Independent Member.
Here we have the Government Leader, as the Member for Porter Creek North, talking about a fancy committee being sent around the territory, and what a waste of taxpayers' dollars that would be. I have a bit of difficulty in understanding where he is coming from as he nods his head up and down like one of those poodles in the back of the cars with a spring for a neck.
This is the government that in 18 months, with an economy being flushed down the toilet, managed to pull together, with all of the resources of the 3,000 employees that they have, one economic consultative initiative, and that was gambling.
The government sent the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment all around the territory and gave them all kinds of money because their buddies wanted VLTs in their hotels.
They had no problem pumping all kinds of money into that initiative. But when we talk about some serious issues, where we feel the politicians should get out into the community, and try to take off some of their partisan hats, we get called down. We get called down because they want us to have individual meetings in our ridings, as if we need to do that. I talk to people in my riding every day; I talk to them on the street; I talk to them in the coffee shop; when there are public meetings, I talk to them. They tell me what they want for health reform and social services reform. What they tell me, I tell the government. Now, what does the government do? It ignores it.
A case in point is the document we have been talking about this afternoon - the so-called compilation of comments that the Minister referred to. What a ridiculous statement. I was at a meeting in Faro with about 60 people there, and 60 people - I will tell you who chaired it, it was the former Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, who ran time lines for the people who wanted to speak. There were all kinds of comments raised about things like medical travel, and how rural Yukoners already paid more for health-care costs, for non-emergency services - things like rural pregnancy, women from rural communities having to come into Whitehorse to have children and being reimbursed at $30 per day, which comes nowhere near covering the cost of staying in a Whitehorse hotel for months at a time. In the comments sheet, it says there was some feeling expressed that perhaps there would be tolerance for less reimbursement for people travelling in the Yukon.
I never heard that at that meeting. The comments of people who expressed the opposite point of view are not in that document. Why is that, if it is simply a compilation of comments? Why are those comments not there?
Page Number 2222
The second point I would like to make is with regard to non-emergency services outside the territory. At that meeting, a couple of other people and I raised the point that, as rural people in the Yukon, there are a lot of extra costs we pay. We pay the same tax dollar, and we did not feel that we should pay more than people in Whitehorse. That comment was not in there.
I know the Member for Porter Creek South is trying to be the sensitive person on that side of the Cabinet. From what I know of him, he has probably doubled the IQ over there since joining it. As he spends more time over there, he will see exactly what we face on this side of the Legislature.
The Member has two choices. One is that he can continue to be moderate and make suggestions like that. I do not agree with his suggestion but, nonetheless, he has the right to make it as a so-called Independent Member. His suggestion was that there be some kind of consensus solution to this debate today. However, I think the reality of it is simply not there.
When the Member was Speaker, he used to talk all the time about how there was no consultation on budget issues with the Opposition Members.
That seems to be forgotten by him now that he is sitting over on their side. He should remember that this same thing he used to speak of is still here today - period. He should realize that. Just because he is sitting there now, it has not changed.
Some Hon. Member:
He says he has been there. There were many all-party committees put together by the previous government and the Member opposite had a chance to be on some, and I am sure that he felt the results of those committees were fruitful.
I am sure that the other government did not always say to him if he wanted to have some input, hold a public meeting in your riding, come into the Legislature and tell Tony and he will put it into policy for you. That is what the Member suggested to us today. It is absolutely incredible that he would stand here and seriously suggest that this bunch running this government would actually listen to the elected representatives.
This government does not even have the decency to talk to us on budget issues. They do not have the decency to talk to us about issues affecting MLAs' pay or to have it go to the proper committees. The Member for Porter Creek South should know all about the broken negotiations in that area. I have talked to him about that one.
Why on earth would he stand here today and say to us, in this Legislature on this side of the House, that he really believes that if I held a public meeting, Trevor Harding, MLA for Faro, in my riding on health and social services reform, took down the ideas, came to this Legislature and represented them that they would be heard?
I have made all kinds of representations on health and social services issues to the Minister since I have been an MLA. I have to tell you that it is incredible - even the most mundane issues, issues that I would think that even he would take under his wing and say yes, there is something wrong here.
For example, he brought in the policy for people to get social assistance as they wait for unemployment insurance to begin, and then get dinged to the point where they cannot live on what is left of their unemployment insurance when it does begin and have to go back to social services. Even he, I thought, would accept that as being a problem and would go back and take a look at it. When I suggested this to him, what was the result? The Minister said he would look at it, sent me a snotty letter saying that it was a federal government problem, that it is too bad, and if this woman had gone to social services in the first place, she can bloody well go again.
That is what he said to me. About three weeks ago, I finally received a letter saying that he admitted it was a problem and he has corrected it, but he never said that in the Legislature. He just subjected me to an aggressive response that, even from him, I thought was out of character.
I also want to comment on the report a little bit more. This two-page compilation does not, in any way, portray what was intended. I know what was said at the meeting. I requested the notes of what was said at the meeting in my community and I believe the notes alone are four pages, from one public meeting. So I do not understand how this two-page summary can accurately contain all of the things that were said, or even the general gist of what was said. There is just no question - it does not. I pointed out two clear examples and I will have to go and research my notes and find the notes that were made from the tape and sent to me, because clearly, in those notes, there are statements that contradict what this claims was the consensus or the general gist of what was said in the communities, yet they are not reported.
That is a very, very important point in an issue and range of concerns as important as this.
When you take a look at an issue, such as social assistance reform, and generally classify what people have said, I think it can be fairly misleading to people. For example, several people expressed that social assistance payments were too high. Well, I heard a few people express to me and to the officials that social assistance payments were not high enough for people with children, but that was not in the report. How can you call it an actual compilation of what was said? It is not.
It may reflect the Minister's agenda, in terms of where he wants to go in terms of social assistance. It may reflect the country's agenda, and it may reflect the provinces' agenda - of all political stripes. However, if you are going to call it a compilation of comments from the people of the Yukon, if it is going to be accurate and fair and honest, it should reflect what was said. I do not think for a second that they could have put every comment in that document, but, surely, they could have done something a little bit more complete than what was put before us.
Their point always seems to be that there are pages and pages of studies done, so they are not going to do any more studies. Yet, they are not going to use what is in those studies. They are just going to take their own agenda, put out a little light-weight document, and say this is what the people have said, even if it is not. Then, they are going to implement it.
That is why I am very afraid for this territory and where it is going. Every day we turn around the circle gets closed more and more. Now we are told by the Member for Porter Creek South that, rather than have the actual decision makers come before the people in my community, for example, I should have a public meeting and take their comments to the people. That has been done. It is still not reflected in the document that has been produced. There is a four-page summary of what was said at that meeting. What happened? None of the comments are in that document, so how can he really believe that that is going to work?
I expect we will get more of this over the coming days from the Member for Porter Creek South. He is starting to fit in very nicely over there and he is sounding exactly like the rest of them. I knew it would not take long. On the first day he did an interview on the radio, he started to sound exactly like them. He had all kinds of reasons for the rollback legislation. He was going to fight the federal debt and the people of the Yukon had to help him. He still cannot stand up and tell us whether or not he will write them an outright cheque from the savings from government employees or if he will just suggest to the Government Leader that he take a compromised position at the formula financing negotiation table for the amount of the savings from employees and throw that back at the federal debt. Perhaps we are just going to send that infrastructure money back. Perhaps we will send back the money
Page Number 2223
we got from Mazankowski. How ridiculous can we get? We have a problem in this country with debt, but we do not in this territory. We have no problem in this territory. It must be managed properly, but ignoring the principles of collective bargaining when there is no serious justification will simply not work.
I just thought I would go right into it, because I know the real fondness the Government Leader has for collective bargaining. He eats it up. He just loves it. In the last session, he told us how much he believed in collective bargaining and what he thought of unions and how great a role they had for the working people in this country. Then, what do they do? They bring in a repealing of the Employment Standards Act that was never even proclaimed. Then, they go out and bash the unions -
Order. Would the Member please get back down to earth and discuss the subject that is before us?
I look forward to the employment standards debate. I just thought employment standards and wage rollbacks were very much related to social democracy and social democratic principles, and the alcohol drug strategy and social assistance recipients. As the Member for Whitehorse West was pointing out, a lot of the time, health reform and economic situation can dictate and have an impact on the overall health of the population. Therefore, the two are certainly related. Nonetheless, I will accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I will move on to the question of the amendment that was put forward by the Member.
When reading this motion, I was a little unsure at first as to whether we should go ahead with this particular motion, simply because I had not had a lot of time to spend with the particulars of the motion taken by the social justice coalition put forth by the churches. Nonetheless, after taking some time to read them and think about them, certainly the principles in the areas of human dignity and economic equity are very important. I think mutual responsibility is important. I see so much of the politics of hate in this country and in this territory since this government was elected. I find it absolutely astounding. There is the playing off of people against people. There is the singling out of particular types of people to listen to and take advice from, except when it is politically convenient and politically expedient.
Time and time again, day after day, we see more of that. People who do not really have a say are being pushed to the outside. The old boys' club is being brought back in. It is really a disturbing trend. I see this government look to the same group of people for advice on just about every issue. Everyone else, it seems, can get out of the picture. I think it is important that everyone in the territory has a say, because we all have a responsibility to each other, a mutual responsibility. People who do well, I believe, have a responsibility to others who are not doing so well, to see what they can do for them. I think that is the foundation of social justice.
It comes down so much today to who can afford to pay and who cannot afford to pay, and that is a legitimate question, especially with the debts being faced by Canada. Paul Martin is there to solve Canada's debt problem for the government in Ottawa. I do not know if he is going to do a job better than Brian Mulroney did, but we will see.
There are some significant problems in this country, in all the provinces. It is important, when looking at the question of who can afford to pay, that we do seriously look at these issues.
We are not saying that this committee would take any term of reference other than broad principles. The broad principles outlined in this document, and this amendment, certainly meet the type of terms of reference that I think would be fair, that any person of any political stripe in this Legislature, whether they be Independent Alliance or independent party from Ross River-Southern Lakes or Yukon Party, or whatever the case may be, could actually wrap themselves around. Well, at least most of them.
I think fiscal fairness is another question that demands being looked at very seriously.
Order please. The time now being 5:30 p.m., I will leave the Chair until 7:30 p.m. tonight.
Debate on amended Motion No. 61 accordingly adjourned
I will now call the House to order.
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I move that the Speaker do now leave the Chair and that the House resolve into Committee of the Whole.
It has been moved by the Hon. 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
I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
We are dealing with Bill No. 40, entitled Subdivision Act.
Bill No. 40 - Subdivision Act - continued
On Clause 26 - continued
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
On Monday, in general debate, the Member for Riverside brought up a point on clause 26 that is somewhat contradictory to the intent that is expressed in section 3.
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
I would like to propose an amendment to clause 26(2). I move
THAT Bill No. 40, entitled Subdivision Act, be amended in Clause 26(2) at page 12 by deleting the phrase: "in the subdivision regulations, the subdivision regulations operate notwithstanding any planning scheme."; and substituting for it the following: "in a planning scheme, the subdivision regulations operate subject to the planning scheme."
Before the amendment is distributed, is there further debate on clause 26(1)?
I would like to begin by briefly acknowledging that we have a number of guests in the gallery, and although I know there are some Mount Lorne and Laberge residents there who are greatly interested in the Subdivision Act, I know we want to move on expeditiously to other things as well. Nevertheless, when the Minister said that a lot of people get quite irate when one mentions land use planning, I think he was speaking for himself. The notion of regulations establishing minimum size and shape and standards is contrary to the whole concept of land use planning, so we will be carefully scrutinizing the regulations when they come in and we hope we will be able to participate in that process.
Is there further debate on clause 26(1)?
Clause 26(1) agreed to
On Clause 26(2)
It has been moved by the Hon. Mr. Fisher that Bill No. 40, entitled Subdivision Act, be amended at clause 26(2) at page 12 by deleting the phrase: "in the subdivision regulations, the subdivision regulations operate notwithstanding any planning scheme." and substituting for it the following: "in a planning scheme, the subdivision regulations operate subject to the planning scheme."
Is there any debate on the amendment?
Page Number 2224
I do not see that this amendment really accomplishes the Minister's goal. The language here is, at best, obscure. It makes me wonder what happened to the plain language initiative committed to by the previous government. Even with the amendment, this clause is not understandable. It now reads "unless the contrary is expressly declared in the subdivision regulations, in a planning scheme, the subdivision regulations operate subject to the planning scheme." It makes no sense. The concern that has been expressed previously is that when you take the trouble to develop a planning scheme in a neighbourhood, it should operate. I do not see why this clause is necessary at all, and I still have an amendment to bring forward to delete the clause.
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
The amendment is in response to questions that were raised by the Member for Riverside and the Member for Mount Lorne.
Those Members felt that the community plan, or the planning scheme, should take precedence over the Subdivision Act. In other words, if the planning scheme for an area indicated that lots should be, hypothetically, five acres, or two hectares, then that planning scheme would be the means for the allowable subdivision. This is in response to questions that were brought up, I believe on Monday, during general debate.
As I read the amendment it is still possible to pass in the subdivision regulations something contrary to the planning scheme.
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
No, that certainly is not the intent and I do not believe that the wording does that. However, there have to be some subdivision regulations that may very well prevail if there is no planning scheme in an area. For instance, an awful lot of the territory is not covered by area development regulations or any other type of planning scheme. In that case, the subdivision planning regulations would take precedent.
Why, then, are you leaving in the phrase "unless the contrary is expressly declared" and where would you expressly declare the contrary to a planning scheme?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
There are some area development regulations in the territory that actually do not have lot sizes. In those cases, the subdivision regulations would operate.
I find it scary that the Minister is bringing in an act that he does not seem to understand. That explanation did not make sense. Does the Minister have a briefing note there that might make this a little more understandable?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
No, I do not have a briefing note for this. I believe it is the Member for Mount Lorne who does not understand.
Could I walk through the amended clause, just to make sure we are all on the same wavelength? It is quite a mouthful.
As I read it, it says, as amended, unless the contrary is expressly declared in a planning scheme, the subdivision regulations operate subject to the planning scheme. We have taken out both of the quotes that were in the first draft. Am I reading that correctly?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
Yes, the Member is.
Is there further debate on the amendment?
Could the Minister bring this back in a plain-English version? The Minister said it is the Member for Mount Lorne who does not understand it, but I defy anybody to make sense of that gobbledygook that he just put forward.
Could the Minister set it aside and bring it back in a plain-English version?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
If it is the wish of the House, I will withdraw the amendment and go with the original reading. As I stated before, this amendment was brought in to address the problem where the House felt that the planning should be paramount. We have agreed with that.
There is a big difference between agreeing to the principle - indeed, the policy - and agreeing to the language. I think it is fairly important, if both sides subscribe to the idea of plain English, that we operate on the assumption that ordinary citizens need to be able to pick up this legislation and understand what it means, without having to hire a lawyer. It seems to me that if people on both sides of the House are having a bit of a struggle with the language here, it ought to do no harm to take it back for a day to see if it can be expressed more simply and more elegantly, and, if possible, in plain English.
Is there further debate on the amendment?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
If it is the wish of the House, I will stand this aside. We will deal with the rest of the act and bring that one clause back later.
The amendment to clause 26(2) is stood over?
Amendment to clause 26(2) stood over
On Clause 27
Consequential amendments, clause 27. Is there any debate on that clause?
Clause 27 agreed to
On Clause 28
Clause 28 agreed to
On Clause 29
I believe the Minister was going to look into the effect of section 356(2) of the Municipal Act, and whether the decisions of the board were final and binding, as that section sets out, or whether, as he said in his opening remarks, the applicant has at all times the right to appeal to a court of law.
Has the Minister had a chance to consider that problem?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
Yes, I have checked with the Department of Justice and, as I said before, there is a right to appeal to a court of law, and I will read the legal opinion.
"This will confirm my advice that the power of the Yukon Municipal Board to hear appeals under the Subdivision Act flows from that act and not from section 356 of the Municipal Act. Therefore, section 356(2) of the Municipal Act, which some might interpret as limiting appeals from the Municipal Board to the Supreme Court, would not limit appeals from decisions of the Municipal Board made under the Subdivision Act to the courts. I add that section 356(2) is itself not a privative clause in that sense that section 96(3) and 96(4) of the Workers Compensation Act, when read together, clearly are privative."
Just for the benefit of people who might want to litigate that clause, can we have it tabled? Can we see it?
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
I do not have any problem tabling it. I only have one copy, though. Certainly, I will table it.
Clause 29 agreed to
On Clause 30
Clause 30 agreed to
On Clause 31
Clause 31 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Fisher:
I would like to report progress on Bill No. 40, entitled Subdivision Act.
Motion agreed to
We will now move on to Bill No. 42, An Act to Repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act.
Bill No. 42 - An Act to Repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
This is a fairly simple and straightforward bill. It contains one clause. It seems to be a crowd pleaser for the one party on the other side.
Our position is clear. There is an act that was never made into law on the books. We have said that we do not intend to make that
Page Number 2225
act into law. What we propose to do is to pass legislation to repeal that bill and replace it with a less controversial - we hope a non-controversial - bill. That action would accomplish several things: it would put into effect the non-controversial aspects of the work that was done by the department, officials and then Minister that led up to the enactment of An Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act.
It means, too, that rather than being solely reliant as we are now on the old Employment Standards Act, there would be a new act passed by this House, which would go some way toward raising the safety net of the workers who are covered under the existing Employment Standards Act.
I do not intend to bring legislation and policy to Cabinet until Bill No. 42 is passed; however, I can say that one addition that I would propose to Cabinet to include in the new bill would be an amendment that would provide for the protection of the wages of employees in the event of a bankruptcy or insolvency of a company. That is legislation that was proposed in principle by the Member for Faro. We would certainly put that into the new act, which would be important new legislation for workers. Otherwise, it seems to me that many of the non-controversial but good things in the present bill to be repealed would probably be adopted and put into legislation.
With respect to consultation, it would be proposed to table the act and allow consultation to take place for a period of a time before a new act were to be passed. I guess we would want those who had an interest in the legislation to have an opportunity to read it and make representations.
Whether or not we would proceed to attempt to have a new act put into law during this current sitting would somewhat be up to Members on the side opposite.
In our view, the position is fairly clear. This is a necessary step toward enacting legislation that would be beneficial to those covered under the Employment Standards Act, and we look forward to debate on the numerous issues that I am sure will be raised by the side opposite.
We all know that this act was never proclaimed, so it is not law. So, we stand here and talk about an act that does not have to be repealed. We are talking about a bill that included paid time off in lieu of overtime, increasing vacation pay and vacation time, parental leave for parents of either sex so that they may care for natural and adopted newborns, increasing notice of termination to employees, increased unpaid leave for illness and bereavement, prohibiting set-offs and unauthorized deductions from wages, encouraging employees to settle wage claims, clarifying the powers and duties of the Employment Standards Board, clarifying the application and the operation of the fair wage schedule and binding the Government of the Yukon and its employees.
Now, how controversial can that be? What government in Canada would not agree to something like this, other than those people across the House?
Order please. I would ask those in the gallery to let the Members speak on their behalf and not interfere with the proceedings in the House.
There were a number of new amendments that were forwarded, after a lot of controversy, from people who were opposed to better working conditions for workers, to the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment. They returned to us a report that indicated that they agreed with a number of things that were included in the proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Act and there were, I believe, 53 recommendations from that council, and they were very encouraging, in that the amendments being proposed were going to be fair, not only to workers, but also to employers as well.
There was a lot of controversy from Members on the side opposite when they were in Opposition that we did not follow through with a number of recommendations that were made by the Council on the Economy and the Environment, and there was only one out of 53 that we did not follow through with, and we did that on moral grounds.
I think everybody believes, except people on the other side of the House, that every single person who works for an hour should be paid for that hour. We were going to be taking that out of the section of the old act, but these Members on the other side of the House disagreed with that. To them, it did not matter whether or not an employer deducted a week's pay from wages. It really did not matter to them.
I am really concerned about what the Minister is doing. He has already indicated to us that he will not come forward with new legislation until this act has been repealed. He said that on December 7, 1993. He indicated that he planned to come forward with amendments when this bill is repealed, and he will then bring a position paper to Cabinet and at the same time he will determine which amendments will come forward. That will not occur until this bill is amended. Then he goes on to say - if you can believe this - he will come forward with a bill that will protect the rights of Yukoners in an admirable way.
He says we will have protection for unions and collective agreements - and it is very plain to everyone that they do not even believe in collective bargaining any more - and that the bill will be fully supportive and one that Yukoners can be proud of.
We know the kind of legislation that Yukoners can be proud of and we know the kind of legislation that will benefit those workers out in the field, and we had a bill that did exactly that - a bill that every single Member on that side of the House opposed. There is not one single person over there who will speak on behalf of the workers in their riding - not one - because they have chosen not to do so. Maybe the Member for Riverdale North does not have any workers in his riding; maybe the Minister responsible for Justice and the new bill does not have any workers in his riding - and it would appear that they do not.
I worry about what they plan on doing with this. We could have gone ahead. We could have had legislation that would protect those workers - a bill that had gone through the scrutiny of the Council on the Economy and the Environment and the recommendations that came forward - and the one we did not follow through on; I just mentioned which one that was.
I would be really interested in having the Minister tell us exactly what he does not like in Bill No. 13. What is there that is so controversial that he is choosing to wait - he said maybe up to three years - I think he said that last December - or whatever, until he came forward with new legislation that would protect workers in the Yukon who did not have unions to protect them.
He has not been very thorough tonight in telling us what he disapproves of in the old bill, or Bill No. 13, except that it is very controversial. I am really interested in finding out from this Minister what, in the old Bill No. 13, he does not like and maybe what he does like.
Can he give us a very quick rundown of the old act, Bill No. 13 - the things he thinks workers or employers will not like?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
The Member said there was an act there that could have been promulgated and put into law, but was not. The question is why. They had an opportunity, but chose not to, we think, and, I would propose, for sheer political opportunistic reasons.
There has been an election. There is a new government formed in the Yukon Territory. We want to go forward with amendments to the Employment Standards Act. We do not intend to go ahead
Page Number 2226
with the former bill. It was extremely controversial. In fact, there were meetings I know of where the then Minister, who just spoke, refused to attend. There were a lot of people who had serious reservations and concerns about certain elements of the former bill.
It is our intention to repeal that piece of legislation, which is not law, so we can move ahead and bring the Employment Standards Act more up to speed, based on the consultation work that was done, by adding to it at least one new feature that was brought forward in view of the serious plight faced by workers in Faro who worked for Curragh and were unable to collect monies owed them by that company because of various legal problems that are faced by them and by government, and because other interests have been allowed to take priority under the current legislation.
I understand the politics that are being played here, but I would be rather disappointed in the seriousness of the professed concern of the Member and members of her party if, for political reasons, they do not wish to move ahead and see to it that there is new legislation put in place that will protect the workers better than the laws that are now in place.
Our party, and our government, at the time, were prepared to move ahead, and we would have done so with the proclamation of this bill. Unfortunately, it did not happen. The Minister has talked about our lack of interest, and mentioned, once again, a meeting I did not attend. It was a Tory meeting. I do not attend Tory meetings; however, I did have the opportunity to meet with the same people who were invited to the meeting. They came to a meeting called by the government at that time. The very same questions were asked at that meeting. I did hear what they had to say, and I did speak to them.
I stood on my feet for possibly two hours, answering questions from the floor. I had my ears wide open, and I did listen.
I asked the Minister a question. Once before when we were discussing this bill, and we talked about who the Minister was going to consult with in regard to amendments to the Employment Standards Act, it was suggested the people they might consult with were the Chamber of Commerce. They agreed they would, but it would not be with the unions. The Minister said that on the floor of the House.
The Minister is talking about putting together amendments to the Employment Standards Act. He is talking about going to Cabinet and getting approval for new amendments to that act. Then, he is going to consult. I will ask him again: I would really like to know with whom he is going to consult. We have been told that he has had some consultation with the Chamber of Commerce. I can believe that, since they pay them to do their lobbying for them.
Can the Minister please tell us and the people in the audience, who are interested in how this government operates, how he is going to consult with the people with regard to these very important amendments to the Employment Standards Act?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I am clearly always delighted to attend, as I am tonight, NDP meetings. This argument and discussion has gone around and around on a single-clause bill, for days, in second reading. It is, of course, the right of the side opposite to filibuster.
The very clear intention of government is to table a new bill that would have one new thing in it, which I have already spoken about. It would be circulated among all the interest groups: unions, workers, chambers and so on. The bill will be tabled, sent out to those people and they will have an opportunity to comment on it. It will be tabled in this House; that is what we intend to do.
If it is the intention of the Opposition to simply filibuster this bill and try and prevent it from going through, it seems to me that what they are really doing is ensuring that we will be stuck with the old Employment Standards Act for as long as they filibuster. I do not think that is really in the interests of workers.
The problem we are facing here, on this side of the Legislature, is that the legislation that the Minister is proposing is absolutely and completely unnecessary. He has described the amendments to the original bill that the Member for Whitehorse Centre had promoted in this Legislature as having not been passed and having no force and effect for any business in this territory because it was not law. He also indicated that it was not going to be law, because the government had no intention of proclaiming that bill. There is not one single employer in this territory who is going to be affected by the amended bill, which was amended one and a half or two years ago - not one employer.
The act of going through this Legislature now and repealing a bill that has no effect on any business is a waste of time and the Minister knows it.
Under normal circumstances, what happens - and the Minister knows this, too - is that when there is a new bill being promoted by the government that has to involve the deletion of clauses or a bill then to be redundant, there is a follow-up clause in the new bill that states that the old bill shall be deleted. It is as simple as that. What the Minister is saying now, in a pouting kind of way, is that unless he gets his way with this particular bill, which is a complete waste of time as not a single member of the public will be affected by the provisions of this bill, he is not going to table a proposal that they are suggesting would be an appropriate compromise for employment standards.
The Minister is now suggesting that because we refused to engage in this waste of time, this completely artificial phantom exercise, he is going to refuse to bring in what he has already admitted were reasonable changes to the Employment Standards Act.
In the course of debate that took place in second reading - where he again was the sponsor of at least two or three days of wasted time - what he has refused to do is identify what he believes to be the reasonable provisions of the bill that was introduced previously, approximately one year and one-half ago.
The Minister has not identified one single element that he believes should be promoted.
Yet, there are people in this territory, including many people in my riding, who are earning the minimum wage and who are living hand to mouth who could take advantage of some of those provisions and who would appreciate them greatly. With this completely artificial exercise going on, to which there is absolutely no reasonable point to it at all, those people are going to continue to suffer an inability to take advantage of provisions that both sides ostensibly agree upon.
What technical reasons does the Minister have for insisting that the bill be completely repealed before he even attempts to make public any intentions that they have to propose new legislation?
I would like to remind the Minister that he promised, in this Legislature during the spring, a bill that we would all debate. It was not a bill for the purposes of consultation, but a bill that we would debate that would come into effect. The Minister promised that in December and January.
I was led to believe through discussions with the government that perhaps we would not see any bill until next fall. Yet, we are supposed to take on face value the Minister's claims that he has good intentions for working people, and good intentions to bring in an appropriate bill.
There is no reason why we should have any such faith in him at all on this question, and other questions, but this question in particular.
I would like to only point out that, until he gives us a good, technical argument as to why this has to be repealed first, because it has no effect anyway, why we have to spend legislative time
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doing this when we could be debating the supplementaries and talking about other things that may be of some interest to others. If he is going to be wasting our time, why does he insist that this course of events must take place?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
The waste of time is clearly being brought on by the actions of the Members of the Official Opposition party. This is a bill that can be passed in minutes. This is a bill that we want passed so that we can then come forward with our own legislation, and it is our intention to repeal the current bill that is sitting there and was never promulgated.
I am asked why. I do not know why. They were the government and they did not do it. They had six or seven months. They promulgated other legislation that was passed that seemed to be in their best interests during an election. Because there was an election coming up, they decided to wait with this one, clearly because it was highly controversial. We are taking a very simple position that we would like to get on with commonsense amendments to the Employment Standards Act, based on the work that was done. The only new element that we would intend to put in such a non-controversial bill would be one based on the proposal made to me by the Member for Faro; otherwise, we will be going ahead with most of the existing bill, I would think, but that is up to Members of this government.
I am being asked if there is something to get specific about their bill. We are not talking about bringing their bill ahead. We are talking about a new government bringing in a new bill to amend the Employment Standards Act. Every amendment therein will be a positive thing for workers, covered under the act.
I do not know what else I can say to the side opposite, but I cannot understand how they feel that simply delaying is helping anybody, particularly those for whom they express concern.
I wonder if the Minister would be kind enough to tell the House, as a lawyer and as the Minister of Justice, if there is any legal necessity for him to repeal the legislation passed by the previous government but not proclaimed prior to him bringing new legislative proposals before this House.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
The necessity is political. It is our intention not to proceed with the current bill and have it promulgated. I received all kinds of correspondence from various interest groups and businesses and people when I first became Minister of Justice and I made a commitment that we would not proceed with that bill because it was too controversial. That is our political position.
The issue about whether or not we proceed with this act and then with an act to amend the old Employment Standards Act is one we would like to go ahead with because we feel it would be a good thing for the protection of workers and a good thing for the effective operation of the Employment Standards Board. There are all kinds of modest changes that ought to be made and there are other changes that I am sure would be agreed to by Cabinet. I just do not understand the position of the side opposite who seem to want to drag their feet for political reasons to prevent us from proceeding.
We have told them what the political position is, and that is how it remains.
With the greatest of respect, the Minister has just wasted several minutes dancing around the issue but has not answered the question I asked him.
What is the legal necessity for repealing the old legislation prior to bringing new legislation before the House? Does any legal imperative make this law necessary?
If the other lawyer on the other side of the House, representing the other party in the government, has a different opinion he would like to give us pro bono, I would be more than happy to hear it, but I would like to hear it from the Minister of Justice first since it is his job to tell us why he is bringing legislation before the House - legislation that everybody else in this House knows is absolutely unnecessary.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I would like to know if there was a legal reason for the other party refusing to promulgate their bill until just before an election. We know what the reasons for that were: political expediency. They managed to promulgate those portions of other acts that they thought would do them good during an election and leave whatever was controversial aside. Unfortunately, they were not elected.
They did not become government again. My simple answer is that we have decided, politically, that this is the way we are going to go. If it is the political desire of the Official Opposition to filibuster, then it seems to me that what they are doing is detrimental to the good of workers who are protected by the old Employment Standards Act and who will have that protection enhanced by a new bill.
An example of political expediency would be voting for legislation before an election and then repealing it afterwards, which I think is the case for the Members opposite. A good example of a filibuster would be a Member who talks for several minutes around a question, and requires a Member of the Opposition to ask it three times before he gets a straight answer. I am asking again. Is there any legal necessity to bring in this legislation, prior to the Member opposite and his government bringing forward their own proposals on the employment standards?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Let us re-answer it - we will find out.
The Minister has conceded there is no legal necessity; he said it is entirely a political imperative of the Members opposite, even though before the election, in the House, they voted for the legislation; they now claim they have a mandate to trash it. They tell us that they must repeal this legislation so they can bring in new legislation, something we know is nonsense. There is absolutely no requirement anywhere to repeal a piece of old legislation in order to bring in a new piece. As my colleague, the Member for McIntyre-Takhini says, you simply bring in a new piece of legislation. You have one clause and it says "the old bill is repealed". We are asked to accept, on faith, the Minister's statement that there is a new bill coming. There has, as far as we know, been no consultation with any employee groups. I cannot think of a single chambermaid, a single dishwasher, a single waitress, a single cook in my constituency who has been consulted by anybody in the government about employment standards. In fact, given the evidence of the previous debate, where they spoke only to the interests of the small business community, we have no evidence that there is any interest on that side in the concerns of these people who do not have the protection of employee organizations. Let me ask the Minister: does any draft of his proposals exist? Has he shown them to anyone outside of his Cabinet colleagues, such as certain representatives of the Chamber of Commerce perhaps. Oh, he has not shown them to the Cabinet yet. Let me just ask him, does he have any proposals written down anywhere on a paper? Does he know what he is going to propose?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I am not going to propose it until this bill goes through. It is a rather unique experience for me to hear the side opposite start demanding to see legislation before it has gone to Cabinet. We asked that of them on numerous occasions, and the individual Ministers involved always refused that, without exception.
There are two big differences. The bill the Minister wishes to expunge is the product of extensive consultation, not only with working people and their representatives, but also employer groups and the chambers of commerce.
Yes, it is controversial, but in every struggle and debate between employer and employee interests there is controversy. The
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former government did not impose its own prejudices and views without consultation. We listened extensively and we accepted all of the recommendations but one of the Council on the Economy and the Environment in the final draft.
As my colleague, the Member for Whitehorse Centre, says, the only reason we did not accept that one recommendation is because we thought it would be immoral for an employer to steal a week's wages from someone who had done the work.
Because the Minister has not told us, we do not know what provisions of the legislation he does not like. It is a complete mystery. We suspect he does not like the whole thing, but we have not heard any specifics.
If he were coming here with a bill to amend the previous legislation presented by the Member for Whitehorse Centre, and passed in this House - it was voted for by all sides, including the Members opposite - that would be a perfectly normal process, and we would understand that. I would find it perfectly reasonable for the Member to present his amendments and then say he would have consultation.
We have not had any consultation. We do not know what the government is going to propose. Even though the Member is now saying that some of the provisions of the bill presented by the Member for Whitehorse Centre were improvements on the old legislation, he is not willing to see those improvements come into law. He is not even willing to proclaim the sections he likes. In fact, he is not even willing to tell the House which ones they are.
We are in a quandary. We have a totally unnecessary piece of legislation here, because we do not need to repeal this law. It has no force in law. It has not been proclaimed. Why does the Minister not simply come forward with his new bill?
He says to us, in a strange way, that he will not be moved or dictated to by Democrats, or told what to do by the Legislature or the public. He is not going to bring in his new law until we do what he wants and expunge the old one. We do not understand why.
That is his sandbox, I realize that, and he is king of the castle, but can I ask the Minister this: has he written down his idea of the perfect Employment Standards Act? Has he written it on paper anywhere, shown it to anyone, provided a discussion draft or given drafting instructions to the lawyers in the Department of Justice? Has anything happened that would give evidence of good faith in terms of his commitment that a new bill is on its way?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
It is a really interesting position the Member is taking. He is telling us what the current law is - and I am sure he agrees with this in law, because he is really keen on law these days and uses the word all the time - and I am sure he would agree with all concerned that the current law, when it comes to employment standards, is the old Employment Standards Act. I am sure, as well, or at least I would think, that the side opposite would be interested in seeing some new legislation come along that would amend the old Employment Standards Act. We are willing to bring in such legislation. I have said that on numerous occasions. However, before that, we want to pass Bill No. 42.
The Member wants to see some evidence that we are going to go forward. I totally intend to go forward, once this is through. He does not trust that, so he wants to stay with the old law.
I am not sure how he thinks, in this convoluted logic, he is doing anything to further the interests of the workers who are protected under the old Employment Standards Act. What I am saying is that we will be bringing forward provisions from the bill that were never made into law and the one additional new thing that I have mentioned and have been persuaded, by the representations made to me, is needed for the protection of workers in the territory. Whatever we bring in will be an improvement.
I am left having to conclude that, for political reasons, they want to draw this matter out or that they do not think we will come forward with a bill, as we said we would. We were not the ones who filibustered. We did not go on and repeat our arguments five or six times over the course of five hours, as did the Member for Whitehorse Centre. We have been, I think, very clear about what our intention is.
If we are able to pass Bill No. 42, we will very quickly move ahead to table an act to amend the old Employment Standards Act, which will contain a large number, I am sure, of the non-controversial provisions - and most of the provisions were non-controversial - of the act that was enacted previously.
Some Hon. Member:
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
There certainly is. I guess I could sit down and let the Member get on the record, but I think she prefers to heckle. I think she acknowledged that this afternoon during debate.
It seems to me that the position being taken by her party is that they want to draw this out at a cost to the workers of the territory. All we have to do is repeal the current act and then we can bring in a new act that can be made into law.
Let me try, in a non-controversial way, to explain the problem.
The Minister tells us that he is going to bring in a bill to improve the lot of the workers in the territory.
Now this is a government that has done nothing yet to improve the lot of the workers in the territory. They have increased unemployment. They have taken away collective bargaining rights, or have proposed to, from not only government employees, but also teachers. They propose to legislate a wage settlement and they want to do away with all of the modest reforms that were contained in the Employment Standards Act.
The only thing that they have done to indicate any evidence of interest in improving the lot of the workers was, after fiercely opposing the legislation proposed by Ms Joe, in the end they voted for it -
Pardon me, Mrs. Commodore. It was Mrs. Joe when the legislation was passed. So Mrs. Commodore's legislation...
Ms. Commodore's - whenever I am faced with the Members opposite I regress; I fall back on Victorian manners.
The only evidence that we have is that they voted for that legislation, but the first thing that they did after they got elected was to say they were going to trash it.
We are a little skeptical, when the Minister says that he wants to bring forward legislation to improve the lot of the working people, because we have never seen any evidence of any desire to improve the lot of working people. In fact, we saw plenty of evidence during the debate on this legislation that they did not give a damn about working people because whenever we talked about their concerns, they kept talking about business person X not liking this and business person Y not liking that and business person Z not liking that.
There was never a scrap of concern or any mention of women working at $6.00 plus an hour, having to be single parents, looking after kids and working horrible, dirty and unsafe jobs.
Some Hon. Member:
We did not proclaim that legislation as we did not proclaim other legislation -
Some Hon. Member:
Because there were regulations required and we wanted to communicate about it.
They are asking why we did not proclaim it. Why did the Members on the side opposite not proclaim the legislation? They
Page Number 2229
voted for it.
You did not proclaim it because you were not acting honestly when you voted for it.
Some Hon. Member:
These people have had a year and one-half. If they gave a damn about working people, not only would they not have taken away collective bargaining rights from government workers and teachers, they would have proclaimed this legislation a long time ago, or they would have proclaimed the parts they say they like.
They do not have to wait another six months to bring in the bill Mr. Phelps will have his name on, which adopts the parts of the previous bill that he likes while expunging the parts the Chamber of Commerce does not. It is totally unnecessary.
The Minister has just finished saying to us that the bill he wants to repeal does not exist in law. It has no life. It is a dead parrot. It does not exist. It has not been proclaimed, yet he wants to set up the dead parrot on the stage in this Legislature and then knock it down. What for? This is not Monty Python's Flying Circus. This is the Yukon Legislative Assembly. Why are we doing this?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Primarily we are doing it so as to give the hon. Member centre stage. He does want to appear to be the champion of the working class - the only party in Canada that is, apparently. He does love to go on about these things.
Then one has to measure his words by his actions. They were in power for something like eight years and never did get around to doing anything for the workers and never did manage to come forward with sensible amendments to the Employment Standards Act. Now, because there are some measures in that act that are extremely controversial - indeed radical, by the judgment of many Yukoners - they want to hang on to that at all costs.
That is really what is happening here but what they do not seem to have learned is that they lost an election; they are not the government, and all that is left for them right now is filibustering - they certainly go on and on filibustering and wasting time. I am sure we will hear the same speeches and the same accusations from this Member as we have heard over and over and over and over again - hollow words from a person who could not bring his government to the point where they would have passed amendments to the Employment Standards Act long before they did. They had a mandate of almost eight years, but did not get around to it. When they finally did pass it, they felt it was too controversial to promulgate it just ahead of an election. Yet they were able to go to the Commissioner - his office is half a block across the street and about 50 paces west. They were able to find the time and summon the strength to get up there once because they passed one part of a four-part act, the good government act or the Public Government Act, I think it is called, and the rest was too controversial to pass, but that one part they felt would get them some votes so that was okay. This part was too controversial. "We really care about workers but not enough to pass it should it cost us some votes in the election."
Now, we are saying that we want to bring our act forward and, in order to do that, we wish to repeal the bill that was never promulgated. Part of that reason is legal in the sense that we are providing certainty in the minds of employers and other Yukoners. The current situation is one where I suppose the posturings are wonderful and stimulating to some, but I do not think it is very good government or very good opposition and it certainly is not furthering the rights of Yukoners in the territory.
Is it the wish of the Members to take a brief recess at this time?
Some Hon. Members:
We will take a brief recess.
I will now call Committee of the Whole to order.
I am happy to answer the question put to me just before the break by the Minister of Justice, who was curious to know what the NDP had done for working people during its time in office. I was sorry that he was not paying attention, but I would like to go on the record that we created something like 3,000 jobs, we introduced pay equity into the territory and we introduced an employment equity program.
We successfully negotiated collective agreements with every employee group when we came to the table, and indeed, the collective agreements we have negotiated have been consistently vilified by Members opposite as having been excessive, and "we gave too much money to the employees", I think was the position of this government in the past, even though there was a new policy introduced the other day in Question Period by the new Minister for the Public Service Commission, who said that the employees were not being rolled back because they were being paid too much, they were being rolled back because, of course, the federal government needs money. But we will not get into that now, because that is another bill. I was just happy to answer the question for the Member.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I want to thank the hon. Member very deeply for attempting to answer the question. He did not really answer the question as to why they had not moved earlier on amending the old Employment Standards Act. That was something that made me rather curious, because he does love to go on about it now, despite the fact that they waited until the last few months of their regime to bring the amendments through the House. Then, they could not get around to walking a block down the street to the Commissioner to have it proclaimed, although they were able to go down to have other pieces of legislation from that same sitting proclaimed - parts of bills they thought were politically attractive going into an election. Of course, that is nothing new. They had a tendency to play sheer politics with people's lives, with electrical rates, with the largess of the public purse just before election time.
As I recall, they sold the Watson Lake sawmill in an horrendous deal just before the election in February 1989. Of course, that was a God-awful mess, but this is the kind of action we take for granted from the NDP, which seems to be pretty well decimated across the country, and about to be in Ontario, where the Premier, Mr. Rae, has placed himself in the position where he has turned all his brethren in the unions against him. He has been quite severe in the cost-cutting measures he has taken.
This was forced upon him, because he put the province into bankruptcy and was forced to do these things. Now, we are being urged by his brother, Mr. Penikett, to take a similar course in the Yukon, and break the Yukon so the bankers can do the axing for us, rather than take some preventive measures now, as we are doing. I am sorry, but I do not buy that prescription. We do not buy that prescription. We are going to proceed in a manner that does not attempt to champion the interests of one group, or one "class" above another, but to try to be fair to all Yukoners in this small territory, from whatever walk of life they come, and whatever their background.
That certainly is not in keeping with the dogmatic approach that we hear from the side opposite, from those who were born, unfortunately, 60 or 70 years too late, and were not able to speak their piece in the glory years of the class struggle.
I have sympathy for them. When they do get excited, they tend to make a few mistakes: calling people by their former names, calling people Mrs. instead of Ms. - political correctness is not
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always possible when speaking passionately. I am sure we can forgive that person. I am sure the Hon. Member for Whitehorse Centre has.
This can go around and around. I am sure it will and I am sure we will hear the usual speeches that we have heard time and time again from the Members opposite. They talk about this government being old-fashioned and not being in keeping with the new vision for Canada. It is rather strange that the NDP is pretty well dead across Canada. People really are not interested in what they have to say any more. Commonsense thinking, based on unbiased and objective projections, based on polls and the like in the places such as Ontario, make it pretty clear that they will be wiped out there.
I know, however, that we are not debating this on purely partisan grounds. I gather that the position that has been taken by the Opposition party, who are now in a minority position in the House, is that they want to filibuster, because it is their way, or we will not have a new law in place for the protection of workers. That is their way. It is their sandbox. They have the right to filibuster for as long as they want. It is their way or no way.
I rather think it is disgraceful that they would take this kind of stand on an issue that they think is a serious one for those workers that do require some extra measures of protection by the law that is to be a safety net for the workers of the territory. Certainly we, on this side, recognize the very obvious problems of trying to protect a worker's wages when companies go bankrupt. We have seen that situation in Faro. We want to ensure that the current act is upgraded and modernized. We feel that we can do this in a non-controversial way, and we certainly hope that this gamesmanship will not go on forever. We hope that the side opposite will allow us to pass this very modest bill, so we can get on with the new package of amendments to the old Employment Standards Act.
The fact remains that it was not necessary to bring in this bill. It has already been asked about on this side of the House and the Member agrees that it is not necessary to bring in this bill. His friend sitting behind him from his happy coalition is sitting there saying let us get with it.
The Members on that side of the House are the government and they can get with it. However, it appears that they have not lifted a finger to plan or propose any new amendments to the existing act and they are saying let us get with it. Let them get with it and table something tomorrow. They have now had 15 months to put together a bill. They have expensive lawyers working in their departments and they have a bill that the Minister says has some good things and some not so good things.
The Minister has refused to name anything in the bill that is controversial. He will not say it in the House, but there is nothing in this world that is stopping the boys on the other side of the House from bringing in a new bill, a bill that the Minister says is going to be fair to all workers and an admirable bill that everyone can be proud of.
The Members on the other side of the House stand and talk nonsense. They will not tell us anything, but let us be very clear about it. There is not one single thing that is stopping the boys on the other side of the House from bringing in a new bill to amend the existing Employment Standards Act. We are sitting here talking about a bill that the Minister did not have to bring in. What is to stop them from introducing the legislation? Nothing.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
It is the Members opposite in that particular group, the party that likes to espouse its support in the struggle of the classes for the working people of the Yukon, who did not bring forward legislation until very, very late in their second mandate and then were too timid to have it made into law, even though they found the time and made the effort to have some other parts of some other legislation made into law because they thought it would buy them some votes in the last election. That same party, in this House, wants to prevent us from moving ahead with what they say is very important to them - a package that will enhance the protection of workers. The last time such a bill was passed into law in the Yukon was under the regime back in 1983, I think, pre-NDP. They saw fit to not do anything until the last minute and then lacked the gumption to bring it into law because the politics were just not right for them. Now they are saying, "Well, if we cannot do it their way - " even though they are not government any more, and I think they have acknowledged that - maybe they acknowledged it just by the fact that they are sitting on the other side of the House, not trying to occupy these desks by force. If they really mean what they say, perhaps they will have exhausted themselves with the same arguments we have heard over and over and over again with all the stuff about the class struggle - they yearn for the years of the 1910s and 1920s of England so that they could really have a cause. The NDP has apparently lost its cause because it is vanishing as a political force in Canada.
We are saying that we are prepared to go ahead with commonsense, rational legislation that will be non-controversial. We are happy to do that, but we want to get this bill passed so that we can do it. If we are prevented, I guess it will drag on and on and on with no appreciable changes to the old Employment Standards Act, which is really unfortunate because we really were willing to proceed, unlike the very talkative kibitzer on the side opposite who, when I see her outside this Legislature, I will always refer to as "Ms." - the very talkative Member who really could not get around to doing anything for the workers with respect to this important act for seven full years in their mandate.
Can the Minister imagine, for one moment, what the response in this Legislature would have been, if I had come and stood in my place as Minister of Education and said, "I am not going to introduce any new Education Act or even discuss the Education Act until we repeal the School Act." That is ridiculous. The Minister now says, "Well, it is not law; it had no effect". That is precisely the point. It has no effect; this is an artificial exercise. There is not a single employment relationship in this territory - not one - that is going to be affected by what happens tonight, whether this is passed or not. That is exactly the point. The Minister bringing it forward now, making not a legal argument, but what he calls a political argument, is suggesting he wants to show the macho bravado to his supporters that he is going to simply get his way in this Legislature, remove the act, and then leave some shallow promise in return that they are going to do something in the future that is still incredibly undefined. The Minister has made something of the claim that they are now in government and they can do what they like, and that somehow, we, who are also elected, should simply toe the line and accept whatever rationale, however irrational it is - we should simply accept that rationale because they are in government. The difference between my election and his election was that I said I was going to be a New Democrat, if elected. The Minister said that he was going to be an independent. What did he do? I am still a New Democrat. What is the Minister?
Some Hon. Member:
There is at least one independent with principles.
Some Hon. Member:
How a guy who has done so little for working people can stand in his place and insist that other people in this Legislature justify why they want a new bill, is beyond me.
When it comes to the issue of playing politics, the only reason we are debating this particular provision this evening, or at any
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time, is because that Cabinet gave that Minister the authority to come in here with a bill to erase from the books a law that has no effect on the public. That is the reason. Who is playing politics? Who introduced the political equation?
The person who introduced the political equation, and who insisted on debating the politics of this, even though it has no effect on the public, is the Minister opposite.
The Minister is saying he has to make a political gesture to his supporters. He can, and he has. He has already said they are not going to proclaim the old bill.
Then, he tries to pretend that, somehow, there is some sort of political expediency to the NDP not having proclaimed the bill before. That does not make any sense at all. Why would the NDP government, four months before the election call, go through all the debate about the employment standards bill and then think, if they do not proclaim it at election time that, somehow, the people who do not like it are going to forget about it. That political analysis makes absolutely no sense. It makes no more sense than the political analysis the Members opposite are using to try to lay claim to the legitimacy of this particular bill.
There are a number of provisions the Minister has indicated that he supports. There are a number of provisions in the bill the Member for Whitehorse Centre proposed under the NDP administration that many of our constituents would very much appreciate. One would have to ask the Minister - because the Minister is the one who proposes the bills, and is the one with the department and the resources behind him: a bank of lawyers, policy analysts, and everyone he needs - why he has not even proclaimed the sections he likes.
He has the power, he has the ability, and he has the time. Why has he not proclaimed those provisions? I do not know. Can he answer that?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
The first point I would make, with the greatest of respect, is that he keeps talking about my supporters. It was that very Member who turned his back on rural Yukoners and changed his riding to run in the big city. I would think he would remember that, in the rural ridings, there are not very many businesses. The riding I represent, for example, Ross River-Southern Lakes, has very few businesses. He should know that, but perhaps he has forgotten what rural Yukon is like in his zeal to become an urban Member.
It is hard to keep them down on the farm after they have seen Paris. That is an old Jimmy Durante song.
The fact is, in my riding, there is no Chamber of Commerce. I had to get a few more votes than the handful of people who own businesses in my riding in order to obtain a majority, and I managed to do that.
I am not doing this to ingratiate myself in my riding to my constituents. What we wish to do is update the Employment Standards Act in a way that will not be controversial, but will be for the good of workers and allow the Employment Standards Board to carry on in a more effective way.
The proposition put forward by the Member at the end of his little talk was why do we not proclaim certain sections of the existing bill and leave the rest hanging? I gather that is what he would have us do.
We want to see certainty with regard to the state of the laws in Yukon. We want to repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, which was extremely controversial.
We proposed various amendments and argued at some length against certain clauses in that bill; it is a matter of record. We held public meetings and there have been all kinds of briefs sent in from people who were opposed to that bill.
I do not understand why the Official Opposition party wants to drag this issue on to the detriment of workers. It really is beyond me, except, I gather, that this disease known as political expediency is one that is very hard to shake once you get it. I have a virus like that. I picked up a cold, Mr. Chair, while you were up in Old Crow, a bit of the flu, and it is very hard to shake it once you have it. I guess that is the kind of virus that Members in the Opposition party have. Once they have the disease of political expediency over principle, they just cannot shake it.
If I gave this Member more time to speak this evening, I think we would be crowded out by the arrogance and would have to move into the chairs in the gallery to make room for his arrogance.
I have represented rural Yukon longer than the Minister has been in this Legislature, even considering his ill-fated attempt at election in the mid-1970s. I am very familiar with the interests of rural Yukoners.
The reason I am interested in this bill is because there are many rural Yukoners that care deeply about employment standards. They depend on the minimum standards to ensure their survival in the workplace. It is at least civil and people are always drawn to remember the basic fundamental protections that every human in the workplace deserves. That is why I am interested in it.
I also happen to be familiar with Whitehorse institutions, and I was familiar with them even while I was a rural MLA.
The reason it is important not to let this particular bill go is, at this point, we can encourage the Minister to put the issue on the table. We can try to encourage the Minister through rational argument - it will be a tough struggle, I admit - to proclaim the sections that he likes, or that his Cabinet likes and the Yukon Council on the Economy and the Environment said that they liked - that everyone said they liked, or at least the ones for which there was virtual unanimity.
Why would we want to do that? It is because this is not an artificial exercise at policy development. It is an exercise to determine appropriate working conditions for people who need it most. If there is anything an MLA in this Legislature should stand up and be counted for it is a vigorous defence for people who are less articulate, eloquent and powerful than those who populate the chambers of commerce, federations of labour, businesses, or even the upper echelons of government, including Cabinet. There are many people in this territory who need our help.
That is the reason we want to hold on to this, on the slimmest of hopes that the Minister will do precisely as he said he would do and can do virtually immediately. He does not have to go through the process of eliminating the things he likes and leave it open that perhaps next month, perhaps next fall, perhaps next spring, or some time or other, there will be some additional protection to bring the employment standards law into the 1990s. There should be no reason why the Minister could not accept that those people deserve the protection now.
The Minister has all the instruments to do so at his disposal. He does not have to play politics with this law and make a gesture to people who he thinks did not like the bill. He does not have to do that.
That is what is disturbing about the Minister's approach. This whole exercise is artificial beyond belief. The Minister opposite says there is no legal imperative; he says there is only a political imperative. So he has admitted that his initiative to bring this into the House is a political initiative. He is practicing politics. He has made a political argument.
The Member for Klondike says we should not worry about it, that this is a political arena.
First of all, why would the Minister accuse the New Democrats of playing politics with this issue, if he admits that this is a political arena? Why would he then state that he wants to go through this entire exercise simply to make a political gesture to people who
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do not like the bill, when he knows that the result of this measure is going to be people continuing to suffer from not having provisions that are already contained in the amended bill that he and everybody in this Legislature likes, the people on the Council on the Economy and the Environment like and people all around this territory like?
When we talk about playing politics, I am sure that those people would feel that it would be playing politics in the worst possible sense of the term to simply make this gesture now - this in-your-face gesture to working people - so that the bill's detractors can feel somewhat satisfied, because they have a complete and total, 100 percent victory. Yet, the provisions that are positive, that even the bill's detractors have supported, and which would have a practical effect in homes around this territory for people who need the protection the most, are going to be ignored and put into second place. That is of secondary importance to the gesture the Minister is promoting.
I do not understand this guy.
I would just ask the Minister this, once again, because he has not answered the question although he has been asked a number of times: can he tell us one provision of this bill that he likes, precisely what is it that he likes about the amended bill that he wants to repeal? I need to go out to my constituents and say, "Look, he liked this, but he was not going to proclaim it. We all wanted him to; he said he wanted to, too, but he would not do it because he was too busy making an in-your-face gesture." I would like to ask him, what provisions does he like? Which provision did he like?
Some Hon. Member:
We liked them all.
The Members opposite ask why we did not proclaim the bill. It has already been explained on a number of occasions, and I have already de-bunked the stupid, political arguments they seem to have latched on to, to explain why the NDP did not proclaim the bill. The real issue here is, after 15 months, what has prevented the government from proclaiming even the provision that it likes, and what provisions are there that the Minister likes? Can he identify them specifically for us, please?
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
It is interesting that the Member opposite is still hanging on to the thought that he is a Member of government, and that seems to be it: do it our way, or do not do it at all, no matter what the impact is on the people they profess to be concerned about.
I am interested in what the Member is saying. Is he saying that if we did go ahead and proclaim what we saw as non-controversial sections of the bill, whatever those were, that they would then pass this Bill No. 42, repealing whatever is left? Is that the concern, that they want us to go first and at least have some sections proclaimed, because they are afraid we will not come ahead with a new bill? I am at a loss to understand the mulish stance being taken here, but I am interested in hearing about it.
If we come forward with 25 or 30 clauses in the current act, and proclaim those, will they simultaneously pass Bill No. 42, or repeal what is left? Is that the proposition that is being made? Can I read that into what he is saying? I am interested in that way of breaking the deadlock. Otherwise, we can go on and on to the detriment of the workers.
Some Hon. Member:
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
Just before I sit down, in response to the heckle, they are not the government.
We have gone through this Don Quixote exercise for many hours. Before we clap, let me just make my point. There are many things we agree on here, on which we have a consensus. Just let me go over them for a moment, so that we might break out of this mold and get something going here so we do not spend the next three months debating this piece of legislation.
What we know as a fact is that the government has a majority. It can do what it wants, eventually. It will get its own way. What we also know is that the present Employment Standards Act - not the act that was brought in in 1992 and passed, but the one that is on the books now - is not satisfactory and needs updating.
We also know, and I think the government would be the first to agree, that the vast majority of clauses in the amending bill are satisfactory. Some of them are workshop clauses, and some are progressive legislation that they will accept.
What we also know is that the Department of Justice lawyers, if whipped, will come up with amendments really quickly. We know that those certain clauses the government and the Minister of Justice agree to could be proclaimed in force if the bill is amended with a brief amendment saying that the bill could be proclaimed in part. That would then define the issues.
We would then know what we had to deal on with the people - what issues are controversial and what issues are not controversial. There are some that I would like the public to have some further input into, as I am sure the Minister of Justice would.
If we can get that off the table, get the act proclaimed in part, I am sure the Minister can respond by getting those controversial issues on the table, so that we can all start the debate on those particular issues instead of wasting time on a bill, the majority of which is a very good one.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
In response, my sense of it is that the Member for Riverside is trying to find some accommodation here - if one exists. I can certainly say that we would be quite pleased to pass non-controversial sections of the bill, if there were a way to do it. We would have to find out if there were, on condition that whatever was not proclaimed would then automatically die; it would be repealed. Then we would look at some of the other things that we might bring forward in addition that may require some further consultation. That is one way, I suppose, that this whole issue could be approached.
I am not really sure why the Official Opposition is delaying and delaying if it is not for sheer political points. Perhaps there is some kind of a compromise that can be worked out. We want to pass into law those aspects of the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act that are not controversial. We are happy to do that.
We also want the slate clean with respect to the sections that we do not intend to pass into law at this time.
We are also quite prepared to look at some other issues, as I have said, for example, the proposed amendment by the Member for Faro about protecting wages in the event of insolvency of a company, and that kind of legislation.
However, we do not want what we see as controversial clauses - which are a minority, granted - hanging over us.
I am quite prepared to listen should the Member for Riverside want to broker some kind of arrangement like that. Maybe there is some kind of compromise, but there are sections of the bill that I am sure we will not support.
I have a couple of brief comments and a question.
There is a lot of concern surrounding this bill simply because, as has been stated many times before, it is not a necessary bill. It is simply an in-your-face bill, and a new twist has been taken tonight, whereby the Minister has said that he will not bring any new legislation in until we pass this completely unnecessary, purely political bill, which he has admitted to.
I find it quite disturbing that the Minister would think that we would have no opposition to such a politically suitable exercise for I guess what he perceives to be the Yukon Party constituency.
I do not like the back and forth either, but we simply have to have some answers. We were promised a bill to replace this one
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in this particular session.
Some Hon. Member:
No, that is not what the Minister said at the time. The Minister has a very selective memory.
Maybe the Member for Porter Creek South was out in his office when we were in Committee and did not hear what was really going on, because he was the Speaker back then.
What I find wrong with this bill is that it is incredibly indicative of this government's attitude toward working people, not just the unorganized people who are covered by the Employment Standards Act, but the action they have taken with the Yukon Teachers Association and the Yukon Employees Union, and their obvious disdain, with no financial or moral justification for completely absolving themselves of the collective bargaining process.
Some new developments came up this afternoon. I guess we will have to wait with bated breath. I hope they work out, but I think it is important to point out to the public that this is completely unnecessary by the Minister. He brought forth a political exercise, I guess, to appease his constituency. It becomes increasingly apparent in this territory that if your first name is not "chamber", you do not have a chance with this government. My first name is not "chamber" and I do not know any "chambers" in my riding. Time and time again, that is what we see.
By way of brokering something here that can move us forward, perhaps I can ask the Minister this simple question: will he come back to the Legislature with a statement identifying what sections of the act he does like and what sections of the act he does not like - just that simple statement - so we can have some form of a working document to go from.
Hon. Mr. Phelps:
I have made one recommendation. On the issue as to how political versus legal, it is our judgment that, by cleaning up the present situation - getting rid of the overhanging legislation that never was proclaimed - is a better way of governing than leaving a whole bunch of acts hanging there and not dealing with them.
There is no legal requirement to do that. It is political judgment - judgment as to what is best in terms of governing - that drives us to bring forward an act such as this one we are debating right now. I still cannot understand the reluctance of that particular party to move ahead and do what is best for the worker.
Mr. Chair, I move we report progress on Bill No. 42.
Motion agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I move the Speaker do now resume the Chair.
Motion agreed to
Speaker resumes the Chair
I will now call the House to order.
May the House have a report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole?
The Committee of the Whole has considered Bill No. 40, entitled Subdivision Act, and Bill No. 42, entitled An Act to Repeal the Act to Amend the Employment Standards Act, and directed me to report progress on them.
You have heard the report from the Chair of Committee of the Whole. Are you agreed?
Some Hon. Members:
I declare the report carried.
Hon. Mr. Phillips:
I move the House do now adjourn.
It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
This House now stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. tomorrow.
The House adjourned at 9:30 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled April 20, 1994:
Aishihik Ungulate Recovery Program: second year report (News Release, dated April 20, 1994) (Brewster)
Motor Transport Board Annual Report, 1992-93 (Fisher)
The following Document was filed April 20, 1994:
Appeals under the Subdivision Act; power of the Yukon Municipal Board (Fisher)