Thursday, December 8, 1994 - 1:30 p.m.
Speaker: I will now call the House to order. At this time, we will proceed with
Recognition of International Human Rights Day
Hon. Mr. Phillips: As Members are aware, December 10, 1994, is International Human Rights Day commemorating the 46th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In 1948, for the first time, nations representing the majority of the world's population agreed upon a common standard of human rights and the fundamental importance of protecting the rights of all people.
December 10 is not only an opportunity for all of us to pause and once again appreciate the value of the rights and freedoms we often take for granted, but it is also a time for us to review our commitment to ensure that all who live in our territory enjoy these rights. These rights are enshrined in the spirit and the letter of our Human Rights Act and we must guard them jealously.
December 10 is also a time to reflect on how fortunate we are to live in a territory
where we are free from the strife and warfare that, unfortunately, is so prevalent
elsewhere in the world today. The commitment made in 1948 came in the wake of the terrible
atrocities committed during World War II.
Sadly, we have far to go in ending the atrocities still occurring in some parts of the
world today. It is our duty to join together to ensure that all forms of discrimination do
not have a place in the Yukon and to serve as an example for other regions of Canada and
the world. If we fail in that duty, not only will we be worse off for it, but will give
lie to one of the greatest expressions of human peace and goodwill, the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
Ms. Commodore: I would just like to say that many years ago, when we did not have the protection of human rights in any act here, one of the things that I used extensively was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because we knew there were inequalities. As an aboriginal person, I found the discrimination atrocious. So, whenever we needed to look at any kind of legislation, we used to use this because nothing else was available until 1985 or 1986.
One of the sections of the declaration says that everyone is entitled to all of the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. I think that those of us who were aware there was a deep problem had to look somewhere else, and this is where we looked. It has been used extensively, whether or not it was known about in the Yukon.
The struggle goes on. It continues to go on. I think that we are fortunate here in the
Yukon to have the Yukon Human Rights Commission. I really appreciate the commitment they
have to the people of the Yukon because, without it, many people would not have a voice.
I say to everyone, "Keep up the struggle. It is not an easy one, but do not give up."
Recognition of Vic Tubman, Volunteer of the Year
Mr. Penikett: At this moment, I would like to pay recognition to Mr. Vic Tubman
for receiving the award as the city's volunteer of the year.
Speaker: We will proceed with the Order Paper.Introduction of Visitors.
INTRODUCTION OF VISITORS
Hon. Mr. Phillips: Since we are recognizing human rights in Yukon, and as it is Human Rights Day, I would like to introduce two people from the Yukon Human Rights Commission office, Margaret McCullough and Jon Breen, who are with us here today. I would like all Members to make them welcome.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I would like to introduce the principal of the Carcross school and his class and ask everyone to make them welcome.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I would like to introduce 13 students and their teachers from the Whitehorse Christian Academy, which is a private school in Porter Creek South. They are here today to see government in action. I would like all Members to make them welcome.
Speaker: Are there any Returns or Documents for tabling?
TABLING RETURNS AND DOCUMENTS
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I would like to table the Motor Transport Board Annual Report
Speaker: Are there any Reports of Committees?
Are there any Petitions?
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 brings us to the Question Period.
Question re: Fish and Wildlife Management
Mr. Harding: I would like to begin by asking a question of the Minister of Renewable Resources. The Fish and Wildlife Management Board has been defunct since September 16 of this year. We now have a constituted body of great importance left drifting in the wind. Can the Minister confirm that the board has been out of action since September, and that the Council for Yukon Indians put forward their appointees for the board back in October?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The board became defunct, to use the terminology of the Member opposite, on September 16. It was some time in October that I went to the CYI building and received the names of their appointees.
Mr. Harding: I received information that the Minister has taken the appointments from CYI to the board. I will read a quote from a letter from the chair of CYI to the Minister, "I wish to reiterate our position that our submitted list of appointees is final." The letter is dated December 8, 1994, and the appointments were received in October. Why is the Minister refusing to accept the appointments of CYI under the terms of the umbrella final agreement?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have not refused to accept the names of the appointees from
CYI. I was waiting for the letter to which, I believe, the Member opposite is referring.
Mr. Harding: We are talking about a very long period during which the Minister has let this issue drift. The government sent a letter to CYI to try to muscle in on them in a paternalistic fashion, to tell them to change the names of their appointees to the board.
This thing has been drifting now for a couple of months. Is the Minister concerned at all that there is no one running the show in the territory?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Yes, I am concerned that we do not have the appointments made
yet. In fact, I said that I would try very hard to have it done before the New Year. There
were some concerns, back and forth between us, one of which was that even though the
surface rights legislation has not been proclaimed, I wanted to appoint the boards under
the intent of the umbrella final agreement. In fact, a member of the CYI and a member of
our Renewable Resources branch have been working jointly to put together a mandate and
orientation session for the new board members.
Question re: Fish and Wildlife Management Board
Mr. Harding: I do not know which page the Minister is reading from, but this letter, and I quote, from the Council for Yukon Indians says: "This letter is to express our serious objections over two issues handled by the Department of Renewable Resources." Appointments to the Fish and Wildlife Management Board is the very first one. In our opinion, the government has shown contempt for First Nations, has broken the UFA, and it has once again shown that it has very little respect for the law.
Now that he has this letter from the CYI, will he right now agree to accept the appointments that have been given to him by CYI?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I have no problem accepting the appointments given to me by the CYI.
Mr. Harding: This government waited two months before it took the list of appointees from the CYI, and they sent a very paternalistic letter to the CYI, trying to muscle in on their decision to appoint people to the board. They objected strongly to that, with good reason.
Late last November, we had a situation where a number of caribou were shot on the Dempster Highway. It is my information that the two chiefs of the two First Nations who have been credited with accepting what was happening up there were not consulted. I would like to ask the Minister this: was the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board consulted about the shooting of the 55 caribou on the Dempster Highway?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I do not believe the Fish and Wildlife Management Board was
consulted, neither was the Department of Renewable Resources, and neither was I.
Mr. Harding: The reason the Fish and Wildlife Management Board was not consulted was because this Minister, who was muscling in on the rights of the First Nations under the umbrella final agreement, left the board defunct for a longer period than it should have been. It is only today, with the announcement of this letter, that they have agreed to accept the appointment of the First Nations with a little bit of political pressure.
When making appointments in the future, will the Minister commit to following the letter of the law immediately and accept the nominations made by the First Nations as required?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: I believe that I followed the intent of the umbrella final
agreement. There were discussions between CYI and myself, and I assume that this letter
finalizes those discussions.
Question re: Consultation with municipalities
Mr. Cable: One of the news media last night carried an article indicating that the City of Whitehorse, particularly the Mayor of the City of Whitehorse, was unhappy with the lack of consultation relating to the gambling casino and the visitor reception centre. This lack of consultation is a theme that I have heard both from the City of Whitehorse and from private organizations.
In the Speech from the Throne, there is an initiative referred to involving the Yukon Housing Corporation, the Yukon Real Estate Association, the Trailer Owners Association, and trailer park owners who will come together and address the difficulties being faced by trailer owners.
Does the Minister intend to bring the City of Whitehorse or the Association of Yukon
Communities into the consultations so that the people who regulate the trailers will have
Hon. Mr. Nordling: Yes, we will be doing that. That was the intention and, if the City of Whitehorse was left out of the throne speech, it was an oversight. In my discussions with the Yukon Housing Corporation, we always talked about inviting in and including the City of Whitehorse, which is a very important player in this inquiry into what we can do for mobile home owners.
Mr. Cable: I direct my question to the Minister of Tourism. From the mayor's comments, it appears that the new site of the visitor reception centre was somewhat of a surprise. Will the Minister commit to work with the City of Whitehorse so that the site of both the gambling casino - if, in fact, it goes ahead - and the visitor reception centre will be integrated with the official community plan for the City of Whitehorse and the zoning bylaw?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I did consult with the Mayor of the City of Whitehorse prior to the throne speech announcement and discussed the relocation of the visitor reception centre. I would remind the Member that it was the current Mayor of Whitehorse, while involved with the Association of Yukon Communities, who strongly urged us to relocate the visitor reception centre downtown. Along with that wish and the wishes of many others, we have done so. I can tell the Member that I have a breakfast meeting tomorrow with the mayor and council to discuss the relocation. As I told the mayor prior to the announcement, we will be involving the city very much in the ongoing discussions of the design and the activities that will take place in the new location.
Mr. Cable: I received a call from one of the people associated with the MacBride
Museum, and I think they also called other Members of the Opposition. The caller stated
concern about what they perceive to be a lack of consultation regarding the site of the
Beringia Museum, which will be in direct competition with the MacBride Museum. Does the
Minister have any intention to consult with the MacBride Museum to ensure that the
MacBride Museum clientele is not siphoned off up the hill?
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I am meeting tonight with the board of the MacBride Museum to
discuss that concern. I do not share the concern that the Beringia Museum will be in
competition with the MacBride Museum. It will bring more people to the City of Whitehorse,
keep them here a day longer and will bring more people downtown to the visitor centre. It
will be up the MacBride Museum and other attractions in Whitehorse to attract them to
their facilities. We have been advised by major tourism players in the Yukon, Holland
America and Princess Tours, that they would consider staying an extra day in the Yukon if
we had such an attraction. If they did that, there would be 30,000 people spending an
extra day in Whitehorse. I think the MacBride Museum and other attractions could
capitalize on that and it would benefit everyone.
Question re: Rocking Horse Holdings
Mr. Penikett: We have a situation where the Government Leader appointed a gentleman to the board of the Yukon Housing Corporation who then resigned on November 30, according to news reports, to become, on December 1, the Government Leader's blind trustee and now manager of the Government Leader's shares in a company that has a contract with the Yukon Housing Corporation.
I want to ask the Government Leader if this arrangement is completely satisfactory and in accordance with the Government Leader's policy about appearances of conflict.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I thank the Members opposite for their gratuitous remarks and their applause.
We are speaking about the perception of conflict and the appearance of conflict. I am really discouraged by the level to which debate in this House has plummeted and been dragged down by the Members opposite.
In order to get a handle on what exactly they mean by appearance of conflict, I am going to table a document at this time. This document will show that at the beginning of 1987 and continuing, a Minister in the Leader of the Official Opposition's Cabinet, the wife of another Minister in his Cabinet, three land claim negotiators - one federal; two territorial - were busily engaged in buying up a waterfront block at a time when their government was talking about waterfront development with the players, including the City of Whitehorse. This was at a time when land claims had not been settled, but were under negotiation - regarding the waterfront, those land claims are still not concluded - at a time when the government purchased the Taylor-Chev Olds block, just down the street from this block of land -
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: Thank you. The players I refer to, who used numbered companies and sometimes their names, were busily assembling this property. I would like to ask the Official Opposition if that is what they mean by the appearance of conflict?
Mr. Penikett: When we change sides I will be happy to answer the Member's questions.
I wonder if the Government Leader would do me the courtesy now of answering the
question I just put to him.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I wonder if there was a conflict of interest back in 1992 when the NDP government gave over $3.7 to an American oil company. Within weeks of leaving government, the Cabinet Minister who was involved in that, worked for and made money from that particular operation. Some people might say that that is a conflict of interest. Is that why the Public Government Act was not proclaimed? It appears that the side opposite is not as lily-white as it appears.
Mr. Penikett: This must be what the Government House Leader referred to as a shenanigan. I wonder if I could again ask . . .
Speaker: Order. Please allow the Member to ask the question.
Mr. Penikett: . . . if the Government Leader would answer the question I put to him.
Speaker: Order. Please allow the Member to answer the question.
Hon. Mr. Nordling: I am also concerned with the appearance of conflict. It is of concern to the House. It brings the House into disrepute; it brings individual Members into disrepute. Certainly, the aim seems to be character assassination of Members of the House. I am concerned with the self-righteous questioning and cross-examination by the Leader of the Opposition, and especially from the Member for McIntyre-Tahkini. He has taken this on, and I am concerned about the appearance of conflict. Was there an appearance of conflict when that Minister sat on this side and presided over his government giving grants of almost $170,000 to Yukon Gardens and then, immediately after getting out of government, entered into an agreement to run a mini-golf business on that property? That is an appearance of conflict. We did not stand up here and assassinate his character.
Question re: Conflict of interest
Mr. Penikett: We would be quite happy to debate the question of conflict if the -
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: The former Minister of Justice has put a motion forward. We have, in fact, a conflict bill before the House which proposes to considerably lower the standards of the bill passed in this House in 1992, which the Members opposite . . .
Mr. Penikett: . . . have failed to proclaim for two years.
Could I again ask the Government Leader, since the conflict bill voted for by his party
in 1992 is obviously unacceptable to this government, why he has refused to proclaim it
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: For the record, I want to say that I am truly sorry that the Members of the Official Opposition cannot get on with the business of this House, but have to have a character assassination of the Ministers of my government. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
The Member asks me about conflict. Does he not remember a $5 million loan being given to Curragh Inc. by the previous government? It was approved by this House, but a former Minister of the Member's government had an interest in a hotel and, no doubt, that loan to Curragh helped that hotel, as well as every business in Faro, and that former Minister participated in the debate. Is that not a conflict?
I suggest that the former government did not proclaim the Public Government Act because they were concerned about the effect it would have on the people who were running for their party in the last election. They took no time at all to proclaim a section so government employees could retain their jobs. Why did they not proclaim the rest?
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: The Member for McIntyre-Takhini had the audacity, yesterday in debate, to say that he should not be -
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: Why did they not proclaim it? I will finish the other part the next time I stand. We will get you.
Some Hon. Member: (Inaudible)
Mr. Penikett: Let the record show that the Government Leader just said, "We will get you." That perfectly sums up this government's mean-minded, vindictive and petty attitude -
Speaker: Order. I will not tolerate that kind of language going back and forth
across the floor. Would Members please try to tone down their comments.
Mr. Penikett: I appreciate your ruling, and I am now going to ask the Government Leader if he will kindly stand and withdraw that threat. I am asking him to stand in his place and withdraw it.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I will certainly withdraw the threat, but I will make a statement later.
Speaker: I would appreciate it if the Members would cool it.
Question re: Conflict of interest
Mr. Harding: I am cool, Mr. Speaker. I have a question for the Renewable Resources Minister, and I hope I get him to respond.
Nine months ago, the Outfitter Quota System Committee wrapped up their community tour, which means that Cabinet should be finalizing decisions on the outfitter quotas soon. Could the Minister tell me if the Government Leader has participated in any Cabinet discussions or votes on this issue in the past, and is he expected to in the future, given his immediate family relationship to a business that will be directly affected by this decision?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I would like to correct a few false statements that were made yesterday.
Speaker: Order. I never recognized the Member.
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I would like to correct a few false statements that were made here concerning me and the Government Leader. I will now table information about what happened a year ago concerning the game zone management issue. I can truthfully say that the only time the Government Leader ever talked to me about this was when I told him that this was the way the outfitting quota would be distributed.
Mr. Harding: I am quite disappointed that the Minister for Renewable Resources would not stand up with this answer to the question that I asked him regarding outfitter quotas. That was the question that I asked. I would like to ask the question again. I would like to tell the Minister this: Funk and Wagnall's Dictionary describes family as "a group of persons connected by blood or marriage, including in-laws." The collective agreement that the Government Leader signed with his own employees recognizes father-in-law as an immediate family member. Given that fact, and the unbelievable answers that the Minister gave yesterday in Question Period, I want to ask the Minister this question: has the Government Leader participated in Cabinet discussions or votes on the issue of outfitter quotas in the past, and is he expected to in the future?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: There has just been a fairly heated debate on conflict of interest. I would have thought, because of that, questions would have moved away from conflict of interest. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I would like to point out a perception I have. During the term in office of the former Member for Klondike, he illegally occupied land in the Pineridge subdivision area. In 1989, the Member for Takhini-McIntyre, in his capacity as Minister for Community and Transportation Services, authorized the sale of that land to his NDP colleague. The one-hectare parcel was sold for $11,000. Today the property is valued at somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000.
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Fisher: Can this not be perceived, and is it not being perceived by a great number of people, as a conflict?
Point of Order
Mr. Harding: I rise on a point of order. I thought that, according to the Standing Orders, the answer was supposed to be relevant to the question.
Speaker: I do not believe there is a point of order; it is more of a dispute between the two Members.
Mr. Harding: I will accept your ruling but I will have to question the Minister again on my final supplementary. They are playing this game. Here is the government that is sponsoring a conflict of interest bill and there have been numerous questions from the public as to whether the government should be sponsoring this particular conflict of interest bill and if they should be doing something about appearances of conflict in the past and appearances of conflict which could occur in the future, ie: the outfitter quota discussions and an immediate family member of an hon. Member.
I would like to ask the Minister again: will he keep a shred of integrity for this government and ask the Government Leader not to participate at the Cabinet table in discussions and votes surrounding their decision on outfitter quotas. Will he do that?
Hon. Mr. Fisher: The Government Leader, in my recollection, certainly never was involved in those discussions. As far as me asking him to stay away from those types of discussions, no, I will not do that.
Question re: Officials appearing before Committee of the Whole
Mrs. Firth: I have a clean question to ask the Government Leader. We have some requests that have been made that officials from the Department of Finance, officials from Yukon College, the Yukon College president, and the college board chair, the Yukon Development Corporation and the Yukon Energy Corporation president, the Housing Corporation and Workers' Compensation president appear here in the Legislature during Committe of the Whole to answer questions about their budgets.
There is general agreement among the Opposition Members to have these people appear in Committee of the Whole, so that we can have an open debate about the budget process and budget questions.
I would like to ask the Government Leader if he is going to comply with the requests
and ask that those officials appear before Committee of the Whole to answer questions.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I believe we will review those requests, but I do have some difficulty with Finance officials appearing in front of the Committee of the Whole. That is why we have a Public Accounts Committee. That is the proper place for them to appear and give explanations to questions the Members opposite have with regard to the finances of government.
Mrs. Firth: I am taking it from the Government Leader's response that he thinks it is okay for the other officials to come. Perhaps he could clarify that, because I would like to get a definitive answer today about whether these people will be appearing. With respect to the Finance officials, I do not think it is unreasonable or unusual to request that they come here to answer questions specifically about the illegal write-offs. I know they appear before Public Accounts, but it is not always Finance officials; it is only if their department is called.
Unless the Minister can give us a good reason why these officials should not appear, I would like to know if he will stand up and give us all a commitment this afternoon that they agree with that principle and that they will appear here to answer questions for us and for the public.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I really do not want to get into partisan debate with the Member for Riverdale South on this question, but I do take exception to the language used in her question when she said "illegal write-offs", because there was no such thing. I really take exception to that. I am reviewing it, and my colleagues will review it, and if at all possible, if there is no reason why they should not, we will certainly take it into serious consideration.
Mrs. Firth: With respect to the commentary about the loan write-off, it was not me who said it. It was the Auditor General who said it.
I want to know why the Minister cannot stand up and say that these people will come here before the Legislature, before the public, to answer questions. No debate is needed. There is no reason at all why they cannot come here and appear before the public in the cause of open and public accountability, open and public government, to come and sit here before the public and answer questions. Why can the Government Leader not give us the commitment that he will direct his officials to come and do that, or is it because his is just not an open government?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: We did not need the last comment. I just tried to be
cooperative with the Member. I said we were reviewing it and if there is absolutely no
reason why they should not appear, and if there are no other forums in which they can
appear - and I am asking the people to review whether or not there is a proper forum -
okay. I cannot give the answer right now. If this is the proper forum for that to happen
in, I will see that it happens.
Question re: Transition home, funding
Ms. Commodore: I have a question for the Minister responsible for the Department of Health and Social Services.
As a result of some of the reported comments made by this Minister about the Watson Lake transition home, we received a phone call this morning from an official of the Liard First Nation, telling us not to believe everything that the Minister was saying publicly. The caller assured us that Liard First Nation women and children were using the home. She also told us that the women from that band were never told not to use the home, and never discouraged to use that home, if they were in need of protection.
I would like to ask the Minister whether or not he can tell us the real reason why he is not supporting this home. Is it because he has never given us any indication that he is in support of the policy of zero tolerance of violence against women? The Minister has never said that he supports that concept of the Yukon Party, and I would like to ask the Minister, as an Independent, if that is the real reason why he is not supporting that home.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: First of all, I would be interested in knowing if the official who phoned the Member was their previous NDP candidate. That aside, the Member does have a rather short and somewhat faulty memory. She will recall that we debated the issue of zero tolerance in these chambers while I was Minister of Justice, and I fully support that policy.
Ms. Commodore: For the record, the caller was not the person the Minister suggested. It was an official of the Liard First Nation. I want the Minister to know that it was someone who has a lot of authority in that First Nation.
The Minister said in this House that Liard First Nation women will not use the transition home, because the philosophy that is utilized there is not the philosophy that they embrace. I suggest that any woman who is black and blue from a beating, and needs protection, is not going to stop and think about the philosophy of First Nations women, the transition home, or anything.
Would the Minister tell us what policy, or philosophy, his department embraces, because there are certainly a lot of questions that have to be answered about the responses he has been giving in the House. He is making a lot of people angry. People who work with battered women are getting very disgusted with the kinds of things the Minister is saying about a much-needed service.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I realize that the Member opposite is desperately trying to say something newsworthy.
The facts are that not all women in need of shelter in Watson Lake will go to the transition home - we know that.
The fact is that the chief has come to see me, and has written to me, about the
possibility of their taking over the facilities occupied by the Help and Hope Society as a
healing centre. The fact is that the only calls I have received - and I have received
quite a few from Watson Lake - do not support what the spokespeople for Help and Hope are
saying. I am committed to providing a service, as broadly as possible, for battered women
who need assistance and a refuge.
I am, and we are, committed to doing it in the most efficient, effective and least costly way, and that is what we shall pursue.
Ms. Commodore: In the meantime he is alienating not only the people who run the place, but the people who support it in Watson Lake and the women who use it. That is unfortunate.
Yesterday, we talked in the House about the amount of money that it cost to run that place. The Minister came up with a figure of over $700 a day for each client. I must say that women were very surprised to find out that this was the $800-a-day-man, who was paid that much money to negotiate land claims. He never criticized that amount, and that was almost 10 years ago.
I would like to ask the Minister whether or not he has had any discussions with the people who run the home about the cost a day for each client. According to the radio this morning, their figures are much different from the figures this Minister is using. I would also request that he please not patronize those women any more in his responses.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: The Member has said an awful lot there that deserves an answer. First of all, the reason this is out in the public, and not being discussed quietly between the department and certain people at the Help and Hope for Families Society, is because they chose to make it public. Also, the Member chooses to brandish it in the Legislature at every possible opportunity, in order, I guess, to capture headlines. Secondly, and, unfortunately, she wants to get into a personal attack about how much money somebody makes, and when and so forth, yet I have not gone after her for daring to accept payment as a Minister, given her deplorable performance of duty during her tenure.
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I remember that her own leader backed Lynn Gaudet against her in the Member's own riding. They did not speak for days or months at a time when they were in power. I do not get into that. That is the level to which they have sunk.
Speaker: Order. Would the Member please conclude his answer.
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I stand by the figures, which are based on the figures given to my department, and analyzed by my department. I have seen the analysis, and I agree with it.
Question re: Stevens subdivision
Mr. Cable: The kids are sure going to be impressed today, I think.
I have some questions for the Minister of Community and Transportation Services on the Stevens subdivision.
I wrote to the Minister earlier this fall, and asked him about his plans for the
proposed gravel quarry in the area. In his reply, the Minister stated, "This letter
serves as confirmation that this government has no plans to develop a quarry in this
particular area." In a press release of July 11, 1994, the previous Minister stated
that he had made it clear to the Mayor of Whitehorse that the government did not want to
see a pit developed in that area.
For the record, and to be absolutely clear, is the Minister saying that it is the intention of this government that it will not, at any time, issue quarry leases or develop pits in the proposed Stevens subdivision area?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: I certainly do not speak for somebody who is going to be here 40 years from now. At the present time, until we get a study done on the gravel in the rest of the City of Whitehorse, we will not touch that area. I do not think I will be around 40 years from now to know what happens then.
Mr. Cable: Let us focus on the time period from now until the end of the term of this present government. Let us talk about the resource inventory that is taking place. Is the Minister prepared to say that the Stevens subdivision gravel quarry decision is in no way related to impending result of the resource inventory project?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: No, I am not prepared to say that. I have not seen the study yet.
Mr. Cable: I will take it that the commitments that were given to me and other parties through the press release of the previous Minister are contingent on the results of the gravel resource inventory project.
In the event that the Stevens subdivision is not proceeded with, will this have any bearing on the gravel quarry decision?
Hon. Mr. Brewster: Our hope is that we can develop the Stevens subdivision. We are simply awaiting the study. We would then go to the City of Whitehorse and attempt to make arrangements to develop those lots.
Speaker: The time for Question Period has now elapsed. We will proceed to Orders of the Day.
Bill No. 99: Second Reading
Clerk: Second reading, Bill No. 99, standing in the name of the Hon. Mr. Ostashek.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I move that Bill No. 99, entitled Ombudsman Act, be now read a second time.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government Leader that Bill No. 99, entitled Ombudsman Act, be now read a second time.
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: This act will establish the office of the Ombudsman for the
Yukon, and in doing so, will fulfill the commitment of our four-year plan. The purpose of
the ombudsman is to protect the public from the administrative powers of government. While
our democratic system gives the public the ability to hold elected officials accountable
through the ballot box, the same does not apply to non-elected administrators and
employees who make up the government bureaucracy. As we all know, the size of modern
government puts a large amount of interpretative and discretionary power in the hands of
government managers as they work to apply the laws and policies created by this
legislature. In the course of running any government, it is inevitable that there will be
times when some citizens will feel that they have been treated unfairly, that mistakes
have arisen, or errors have been made in the application of the law. The ability of an
individual to seek redress, or to defend himself or herself in the face of such action by
government administrators is very limited. It is for that reason that the office of the
ombudsman will be created.
The ombudsman will be an independent, impartial advocate who will investigate and report on complaints about administrative actions of government. The ombudsman will be responsible for upholding the public interest and ensuring that individuals have recourse when existing avenues of resolution have been exhausted.
The act that we have introduced has the following specific provisions. The ombudsman will be appointed as an officer of the Legislature by Cabinet, on recommendations of this Legislature. The recommendations of this Legislature will also be required for the dismissal of the ombudsman. This is intended to ensure the independence of the ombudsman from government.
The ombudsman will be appointed for a term of five years. The term length is designed to extend beyond that of the government that appoints the ombudsman, again to ensure the independence of that office.
The budget of the office will be reviewed by the Speaker of the Legislature and approved by the Legislature. It will not be a budget under any department that may be the focus of an ombudsman investigation.
The mandate of the ombudsman will include the power to investigate complaints, to make recommendations to agencies being investigated and to report on the results of the investigations to the Cabinet or to the Legislature, as required.
The jurisdiction of the ombudsman will include Yukon government departments, agencies, appointed boards, Crown corporations, schools, colleges, hospitals and professional governing bodies established pursuant to territorial legislation. This means that any wrongful administrative action committed by these bodies could be subject to investigation.
The act also makes allowances for the municipal governments and First Nation governments to make use of the services provided by the ombudsman's office on a cost recovery basis. This would provide for the avoidance of duplication if these levels of government required an ombudsman, without creating an unfair cost burden on the Yukon government. It is our intention to establish the office in the next fiscal year, allowing time for public communication and information in advance of the act being proclaimed.
Before I conclude, I want to say just a few words on the term "ombudsman", because it came up in this Legislature the other day, when the Member for Mount Lorne said, on December 5, in Hansard, "Then we have an Ombudsman Act. Why the sexist language? There are alternatives possible". I just want to talk a little bit about the term "ombudsman".
It is a Swedish term that means, literally, the people's agent or representative.
At the present time, there are eight provinces with offices that fulfill the ombudsman function. Seven of these - B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia - are ombudsman offices that have appointed ombudsmen. In four of these provinces, the ombudsmen are women. I will have to leave the French term to my honourable colleague, the Leader of the Official Opposition, but Quebec's term means "public protector" in English. Newfoundland previously had a parliamentary commissioner for administration, but this office is now defunct.
On the issue of whether the name is gender-biased, there is no clear consensus. We have spoken to three ombudsmen offices on this issue and received three different comments. In Manitoba, there is strong support for the name "ombudsman". It is a time-honoured name, with a recognized meaning in Swedish. This Swedish word has become synonymous with some highly-regarded principles, such as independence, public protection and justice. Changing the name could weaken the connection of the office to these principles.
In Ontario, the office of the ombudsman has received many questions about the use of the word "ombudsman", given the fact that the Ontario ombudsman is a woman. They defend the use of the word by saying that to change it would create a meaningless variation of the Swedish word. This would create a title with no meaning.
In British Columbia, there has been a recommendation to review the name but, to this point, nothing has been done.
I believe our debate should be devoted to how to establish an office that is going to perform an important and worthy function. I believe to focus on the name could detract from the very importance of the ombudsman's duties.
If you look in the dictionary, there are so many words with "man" in them. We are wearing a button today that says "human". If we were to try to rewrite the English language, we would have a very onerous task in front of us. I do not want to get into all the different words in the dictionary that have "man" in them, but there are pages of them.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the position of the ombudsman has come to be
synonymous with concepts of fairness and justice. In the Yukon, we are committed to the
application of these principles to the ombudsman office here.
Mr. Penikett: I am pleased to enter this debate on behalf of the Official Opposition. I have been pleased to participate in at least three other debates regarding this subject in previous years on the floor of this Assembly. The record will show that, while I am not opposed to the concept, based on research into the question in other jurisdictions, I have had some reservations and concerns about the particular proposal that we will be debating today. For the record, at second reading, I would like to outline some of those, as a way of serving notice to the government that I would like to discuss these questions in Committee.
Regarding the name, I have friends who prefer the very friendly, North American-sounding, term of "ombuddy" to "ombudsman". In terms of plain English, and our regard for traditions, I am not so sure that the proposal of the Member for Mount Lorne to have it called "advocate" is a bad idea.
Nonetheless, in discussing the history of this office, we should realize that it predates modern democracies. As I understand it, the office was originally intended as one to which citizens of Sweden could appeal about arbitrary measures, or injustices, that they had suffered at the hands of the King's servants. I would argue, as I have argued before, that many of the functions that were once carried out by that office, in that Scandinavian country, have now been taken over by elected people, particularly MLAs and MPs, in our system.
It is a good thing for the government to be bringing in legislation to deal with a
problem of abuse of authority. We should all understand that that continues to be a
problem everywhere in the world. Of course, it is a much worse problem in dictatorships,
where there is no system of accountability, than it is in a democracy where, at a minimum,
you can have some debate about injustices. However, we should understand that abuses of
authority are committed by two classes of public officials: one class is elected people,
and we would be naive to deny that that is the case, and the other is by public officials,
who are, in slang terms, called bureaucrats. We should be absolutely clear about one thing
that is true of all ombudsperson, ombudsman, or ombuddy, legislation, and that is that it
only applies to offences committed by bureaucracies.
That, in itself, is a problem. It is a problem, in part, because of the way it affects the role of legislators. In a non-combative way, I want to contrast the two offices - the office of an ombudsperson and an MLA. Both an ombudsperson - or an ombudsman - and an MLA will receive complaints about injustices suffered at the hands of administrators, but the tools they are given are entirely different. An ombudsperson in this act, for example, is given powers of investigation - the ability to order papers, to access buildings, to interview officials - powers that are not available on a day-to-day basis to legislators. This bill, though, is particularly larded with language about confidentiality and security, and I understand much of the need for that but there is a difference. The ombudsperson has the power to access certain kinds of information. They are under obligation in this act to do so with a very high degree of regard for government confidences, the confidentiality of private information, and indeed, must operate under very tight secrecy rules or strictures about the access to information.
An MLA, on the other hand, has few of the powers that are given to an ombudsperson here but does at least have the right of free speech, the right to come into this place, this Legislature, and air the grievance of a citizen or a constituent if the MLA has been unable to get satisfaction by corresponding with Ministers.
There are two different routes. Both of them can produce a remedy for the citizen, or at least the satisfaction of knowing that their case has been aired, even if they have not been entirely happy with the results.
The point is that, since the ombudsperson does not have the power by themselves to rectify the problem any more than does an MLA, unless they happen to be fortunate at some point in their legislative career to become a Minister - and even then they will be governed by the law. The two institutions, the ombudsperson and the MLA, have the power to investigate, the power to advocate, the power to argue or perhaps even to mediate on behalf of a constituent or a complainant, but neither of them have, in the end, the absolute right to be able to redress the grievance.
The other point, when one is considering this, is to realize that - and I think this is
true - in every jurisdiction that has an ombudsman or ombudsperson - or an ombody - the
caseload of active MLAs is greater than that of the ombudsman's office. No matter how many
staff the ombudsman has, busy MLAs have more case files. It is also the case that in every
jurisdiction that has an ombudsman, I think the cost of the ombudsman office far exceeded
the early predictions of the government.
They tend, in what the economists call the miniature replica effect, to duplicate the structure of the bureaucracies they are monitoring. They tend to have offices that look like bureaucratic offices. They tend to be staffed in a way that looks like bureaucratic offices. They function with due regard for economy, efficiency and effectiveness. They tend to have budgetary systems and records-keeping systems that are far beyond those that any private MLA would keep, but are necessary because they, are in effect, even though a servant of the Legislature, a government office.
In contrast, MLAs have relatively little money. I would be willing to make a safe prediction that if this office is established here, within a very short time, the cost of it will far exceed the research budgets - perhaps even the salaries - of all the Members in the Opposition, which to my mind, at least raises a serious question about value for money. I am not arguing against the ombudsman here, but I think this must be discussed.
If the government in future - whatever its stripe - decides that the ombudsperson, having been well established, having been sanctioned by the House, wants to spend money far beyond what the government thinks is prudent, I believe the political realities are such that the government of the day will have a hell of a time cutting the ombudsman's budget, even
if two or three active MLAs in the Legislature may be handling a larger caseload, with very small staff, than the entire ombudsperson's office. We should not discount that possibility, because I understand that has been the experience elsewhere.
There are two different ways of handling a constituent's grievances. There is the power of the ombudsman operating in secrecy or confidentiality, and there is the limited powers of the MLAs, operating with at least the potential weapon of publicity as a sanction or a rebuke to those in authority. Neither of them, by themselves, can completely manage the office.
It may well be argued - I think I can probably, if I was asked, convincingly make this
argument - that the citizen might be well served by having both roles filled, by having
active MLAs and by having an ombudsperson. However, I do come back to one plain fact and
that is that we are a community of only approximately 30,000 people. We have 17 MLAs in
this House. Even though, as MLAs, the spectrum of policy issues we have to deal with is as
broad as any other in the country, and even though the level of knowledge and the range of
understanding that we are supposed to have about a variety of issues is as broad as any
other legislators, whether they are Members of the House of Commons or Members of large
legislatures, such as Ontario and Quebec, it is a plain fact that we represent a smaller
number of people than any other legislators, than perhaps some constituencies in the
Northwest Territories and perhaps Prince Edward Island -- I am not sure about Prince
The point that I would argue is that if MLAs are confident in their abilities, their persuasive skills, their abilities to deal effectively with bureaucracy, to argue the case of constituents as our office does before tribunals such as the Workers' Compensation Board or the Unemployment Insurance Board, would we get value for money from an ombudsperson's office that is well-established and well-staffed?
I do understand that this bill does contemplate a part-time office, because it clearly says that the ombudsperson can earn an income from another source, and I have no problem with that. I would be surprised, having some experience in setting up, if you like, publicly funded but non-government agencies such as the Human Rights Commission. I do not think it is any secret that there was a lively debate about how large the operation should be, and I was - if I can politely call it - a minimalist. There were others who argued that the proper protection of people's rights required a larger staff.
I think the former Government Leader on the other side will remember that I was at one time actively considering the possibility of combining the offices. At least, I raised in consultations around part 2 of the Public Government Act, that we might be able to create some new creature, who would be a combination of ombudsperson and human rights commissioner. That may not have been a very good idea, but I certainly believe it was possible for some eminent citizen in this territory to be a conflicts commissioner, an ombudsperson and perhaps an access-to-information commissioner, all in one. If you are going to have part-time jobs you may want to spread the work around, but I did not discount the possibility that there may be an eminent citizen - perhaps a former commissioner or someone above reproach - who might be able to carry out more than one of those roles. I am not hung up on that, but even if it is a part-time person, I bet you there will be a full-time office, I bet you there will be rent and electricity to pay, and secretarial help, with probably some extra clerical staff, to pay. Before long, as was the case with the Human Rights Commission, you will have an investigating officer or two, and so on. It will be very hard for the government of the day and the Legislature to resist such requests, especially if the office is well-used.
If that happens, the problem may be, that some MLAs - in particular private Members; not Ministers of course, but private Members - may feel that their previous role as lawmaker and advocate has been diminished in some way and that they have become marginalized as an advocate due to the creation of the ombudsperson office.
Partly because of my own family's religious heritage, one of the things that has helped make me feel useful or feel that I make a contribution is not only standing here making speeches, but the casework I do on behalf of constituents, the individuals who come to me with problems.
I believe that is not only a large part of what an MLAs duty and role is today, but
indeed, I think for many of us it is the largest part of our job, or has become so.
While I am not arguing against the omudsperson, I do hope, at least, that we can spend some time in Committee discussing the effect on our roles, and the effect on government budgets, and the question of value for money for our constituents.
If I can just say a few words about this particular bill - I will be brief and simply list concerns. The first concern is that of who makes the appointment. Of course, the Legislature must appoint, but, after consultation with other Members in this House in 1992, we tried to set a new standard of appointments for officers of the Legislature. That is to say that they should be appointed by at least a two-thirds majority vote in this House. I believe that part of that was a product of conversations I had with the former Government Leader on the other side. I took a look at the numbers and realized that, since party politics here, there had never been a government that had had two-thirds of the seats in this House. I therefore argued, as a guarantee for some truly bipartisan support for any officer - whether it be a conflicts commissioner, an access-to-information commissioner, or an ombudsperson - I think, at a minimum, that person should have the support and approval of two-thirds of the Members of the House. I believe that should be law.
I appreciate the point being made by the mover of the bill about the officer being in office for longer than the life of one government, but I am sure the Members on the other side will understand that, if the person is a controversial appointment in some way and appointed by only one side of the House, the fact that they outlive the government that appointed them may not be helpful to the ombudsperson at all. If they have been appointed in the face of some heavy opposition, there will be resentment about that and that will, I think, limit the ability of the ombudsperson to perform that role. Therefore, my hope would be that it would not be a patronage appointment, or someone who was acceptable only to one side of the House, but someone who had bipartisan support. Ideally, it would be someone who was universally approved by the House, although I would not recommend having that in law because that gives any one Member the ability to frustrate the appointment, and I do not think that, as a rule, that is a good idea.
The second problem I see - in addition to the problems I have mentioned about some concern about the confidentiality provisions in this act, some concern about costs, some concern about burgeoning staff, which has been the experience elsewhere - is the requirement in law stating that complaints have to be in writing. I will explain why that is a big concern to me.
It has been my experience, during my 16 years in this Legislature, that a
disproportionate number of the people who suffer abuses of authority, or who are
frustrated in dealing with administration, are those people who lack self-confidence, or
who lack social skills, or who lack a level of education that allows them to communicate
effectively or to understand the procedures in which they are caught up. The people who
have the worst problems on this score are the people who cannot read and write.
I think we should be frank and admit that there are a fair number of such people in society. These people are potential victims of administrative abuse - I would argue, worse than any others. If we have a process, or a system, in place where they could seek redress, but which requires them to file a complaint in writing, I think it limits the possibility that they would use the ombudsperson office. I know that, most of the time, someone who cannot read or write can have someone else write a letter on their behalf but, if the ombudsperson's office is to be truly open and accessible to all citizens, we should not have that restriction in law. We should have the ability for a person to go in and voice a complaint, and have sufficient staff in the office so that complaint can be recorded and transmitted to the proper authorities.
The other concern I have with this law is the one-year limit on filing complaints. It is quite common for my office to receive complaints from people regarding something that happened some time ago, about which they have been stewing and boiling over in frustration, but have not been ready to articulate their grievance. I do not want to get into it in this House, but there are many examples of people who have stewed about something for quite some time before they came to me, and said, "I want to do something about this."
I am not sure that the cost-recovery proposal from First Nations and municipalities will encourage them to use this instrument. I agree with the suggestion that this may be too onerous a requirement for a small jurisdiction. We may have debate in Committee about how much the government wants to do that, as there will be debate about the jurisdiction of the office itself.
The other prohibition in this legislation against the ombudsperson investigating old complaints is one that also concerns me. At one level, I understand it, but I will almost certainly ask in Committee the government's reason for restricting that. Why does the government not want old complaints to be investigated?
Let us think of some. Among the routine complaints we get are ones about fairness in competitions for government jobs. I have a procedure for dealing with that, which may be different from other MLAs. I try to have a frustrated person interviewed by someone in the Public Service Commission who could advise that person on what they may not have done well in an interview, or how they might not have conducted themselves properly, or how to present themselves better in an interview, or how to improve their CV. I must give credit to the Public Service Commission. They have been excellent, over the years, at responding to constituents who have had those kinds of frustrations. It is understandable, in a tight job market, that there are many people who may have tried, time and time again, to get a government job, and failed and, sometimes, feel that they have been passed over in favour of someone with poorer qualifications. From the reading of this legislation, I do not know if it is intended to cover this or not. There are provisions in here where, for some existing laws and existing appeal procedures, the ombudsperson has no ambit. I will be interested in hearing from the government about that.
Another kind of problem we hear about is the frustration of dealing with land: land applications, land processes, and the fairness of those allocations. Some of those problems are very old. I think the Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes, at least when he was the Member for Hootalinqua, used to present those on the floor of this House with some regularity as ...
Lights Across Canada, observation of
Speaker: Order please. I hate to interrupt the Member, but we have the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which starts at 2:50 p.m. It is my understanding, from the House Leaders, that all Members have agreed that the House will take a recess from 2:50 p.m. until 4:00 p.m., so that Members can attend the "Lights Across Canada" ceremony, which is to take place in the foyer of the government building. Based on that understanding, I declare a recess until 4:00 p.m.
Speaker: I will call the House to order.
I hope everyone enjoyed the Christmas concert. There was a lot of talent out there. I
hope that the Christmas spirit will find its way into the House.
Mr. Penikett: I will try not to hide my talents under a bushel.
The bill we are debating is Bill No. 99, the Ombudsman Act. Before the recess, I was talking about the provision in the bill that prohibits old complaints. I was commenting that many complaints about bureaucracy that I have received over the years concern the administration of land applications and so on. I would, therefore, register my concern about that prohibition in this bill. I would hope that we may be able to discuss that when we get into Committee.
I am similarly concerned with section 16, regarding the return of documents. It is quite confusing to me that the ombudsman, or ombudsperson, would be required to return documents, but if he or she needs them again, they would have to go back and get them. It is not exactly clear to me what is intended.
Finally - or semi-finally - there are two more issues I want to mention. One is the
question of the budget of the ombudsperson. It seems to me that there is some
parliamentary precedent for referring the budget of officers of the Legislature, or
agencies such as this, to the Members' Services Board. To refer directly to the Speaker
could potentially put the Speaker in a difficult situation. I would recommend against that
Finally, I would like to say that I am concerned about the proclamation date. Some Members opposite have recently said some rude, mean, nasty and unkind things about proclamation dates on another bill. Of course, I was nearly mortally wounded by those comments, and felt deeply hurt.
The proclamation date of this one is October 31, 1995, which is close to being one year
hence. I would never say this, but some critic might: it is conveniently near the end of
this government's term. I would not make this point otherwise, because, until recently,
proclamation dates have not been a big issue with me, but having been abused on this
question in reference to another act, which I allegedly failed to proclaim in time. I know
that there is usually a little problem with proclaiming acts, which has to do with writing
regulations. This is usually not done by legislators, but often by public officials, and
in the federal government it usually takes a year or two. Around here, even with our
extremely efficient public service, it often takes six months to a year. I am curious that
the government has invited debate on this point by setting a proclamation date almost a
year from now. I would hope that if this bill is passed, and is amended to meet some of
the concerns that may be expressed here by others, one of the issues that we might discuss
in a frank, open, charitable and Christmas-like manner may be the appropriateness of the
Hon. Mr. Phelps: I want to say a few words about this bill in second reading. I want to start by saying that I have long supported the creation of the office of ombudsman. One of the reasons is that Yukon is a place where government is all-pervasive, unlike many other parts of the country. Virtually anyone who lives in the Yukon who does not work for government - Lord knows most families have at least one member who does work for government - everyone's life is touched, almost on a daily basis by government. You will see government cars in the small communities. You see government staff, government inspectors, government land officers, government renewable resources officers, and so on. The list goes on and on. In fact, it is the case of the elephant and the mouse, where the mouse is the few lonely people not working for the government, but heavily impacted by it. The elephant is, of course, the bureaucracy.
When I take a holiday, and travel to places south, such as Vancouver, Prince George or Kamloops I often, when I make such journeys, suddenly think to myself, a couple of days have gone by and I have not seen one government office, nor one government car, nor one government employee. Life down there is much, much different than life in the Yukon.
I suppose, as a matter of philosophy, as a person who does not like big government, as a person who believes that the role of government ought to be severely restricted in such areas as the economy, in the regulatory field, and so on, I perhaps have come to this issue from a somewhat different perspective than many of those of the Opposition, excluding the Independent Member, if I understand her philosophy correctly, but definitely the others over there.
In the Yukon, where an individual finds himself on the wrong side of government, or an individual makes an enemy of an inspector, or an individual phones complaining about his driveway not being plowed, or her children not getting appropriate treatment from the busing - the list goes on and on and on - one can understand the kind of apprehension an individual will have. I have heard time and time again from constituents who have come to me feeling that they have been deliberately mistreated, abused or short-changed by specific government officials they feel they have on the wrong side of for one reason or another.
In my tenure as the MLA of the old Hootalinqua riding - as everyone knows, it
surrounded Whitehorse like a doughnut - I had an extremely active case of files concerning
people with complaints and problems with government, particularly with the Department of
Community and Transportation Services and areas relating to garbage disposal and roads,
access issues, land, telephone extension, electrical extension. The list goes on and on.
I had a very large number of people complaining about the bus service, the bus driver, the way in which their children were treated on buses, problems at school, and problems in trying to get their children looked after if, for some reason, they had to come home early from school. There were those kinds of issues.
I spent a large percentage of my time - and still do, because I still represent rural
Yukon - acting as a quasi-ombudsman, on behalf of my constituents. From time to time, I
counted the active files I had on behalf of individuals and, on an ongoing basis, they
numbered from about 135 to 170.
I appreciate the view of the Member opposite, who spoke just before me, with regard to that being part of the role of an MLA, and I agree it is perhaps the most satisfying role that an MLA plays. However, when one is a private Member, and not a Minister in government, I think bureaucracy has a lot more power over what one can do than most people realize. There were all kinds of instances where we were frustrated by bureaucracy and did not receive the kind of assistance we would have liked from the appropriate Minister.
I can think of issues that arose in the past, such as the infamous falcon case and
Danny Nowlan, who was pilloried by government officials. Had he not been a strong,
resilient individual, with some financial backing, he would have gone broke and been
ruined. I can think of all kinds of individual cases that left me enraged, because
government officials had done individual Yukon citizens in with a very arrogant attitude,
and because it was an abuse of power, in my view. I can think of another example where a
person, who was offering bed-and-breakfast on the Hot Springs Road, was forced to sell
their home and relocate. I can think of case after case. I have files full of them.
In many cases, they were successfully stonewalled by the bureaucracy. Lord knows, even as an Minister of the Crown, we have an awful time trying to get to the bottom of things and ensure that justice is done for the person complaining about being abused and unfairly treated by members of the bureaucracy.
If there is anything I believe in, it is that we have to defend the rights and freedoms of the individual, particularly against abuses by big government. I would think it would only be natural that I, and people on this side, would possibly place more importance on the institution we are talking about creating. Be that as it may, it seems to me that I am actually positive that an ombudsperson would have many times the cases to deal with in the Yukon than has the Human Rights Commission.
It seems to me that we are not talking about replacing or subjugating the role of MLAs vis-à-vis their responsibilities to their constituents. We are talking about an office that probably will have more clout, particularly in the public realm, than does an individual MLA. An individual MLA is always tainted with belonging to a certain party in power, or being against the party in power, or having a personal grudge against a Minister, or whatever the case may be. A report by an ombudsperson is taken very seriously by the media and by the other citizens of a jurisdiction.
I have watched what has happened in the past about situations have been publicly reported, such as the Vander Zalm case in British Columbia, by an ombudsperson. In that case, the report was viewed as extremely significant by the general public, whatever their politics, because it was not tainted as the report of an individual MLA would be. There was no accusation of partisan politics.
I firmly believe that the institution of ombudsperson is required here.
The Member who spoke before me discussed the cost and mentioned that we have a small number of people and 17 MLAs and, in his estimation, the cost of the office of ombudsman probably would be, in short order, more than is allocated by the Legislative Assembly for the research staff, to caucuses and to private MLAs. That, to me, is a genuine concern. It is one we have wrestled with and it is certainly one our officials have looked into, and they have looked at various options. We have examined options presented to us - options very similar to the ones the Leader of the Official Opposition examined and we discussed from time to time a few years ago. I would say, in support of this concern, that when the Human Rights Commission legislation was first brought forward by the then Minister of Justice, his estimation was that the cost would be $65,000 a year, and we know what it is. It is over $300,000 a year, plus a whole bunch of capital, so there is good cause for concern as to the potential for the cost being out of control for an institution such as this.
We have looked at combining this office with the role of Conflicts Commissioner and with the Human Rights Commission - in fact, we have talked to the Human Rights Commission about that possibility. We have talked about various scenarios. I only want to say, and I will make it very clear, that that is a concern and I suppose, without taking away the necessity to try to keep control of the costs, I must say that in my view it is an expense, a burden to the taxpayer. It is worthwhile, on balance, and I would support it despite the fact it may cost as much as the Human Rights Commission.
I will be fairly brief in the rest of the remarks I have to make. I appreciated the
point made by the previous speaker with regard to looking at an appointment being made by
two-thirds of the people in this House as a minimum. I personally will take that back and
consult with my colleagues. I think it is a meritorious suggestion for sure.
I would like to address the concern about complaints being in writing. I would like to think that one of the roles that MLAs would retain is helping their constituents write such a complaint. I would expect the ombudsperson to assist a person in writing out a complaint. I know that some people in the past have sent a complaint in writing as a way of avoiding issues of constituents who are particularly adamant, but perhaps not too serious about their concerns. I would think that individuals could turn to their MLAs, community leaders or to the ombudsperson staff.
There was a concern raised about the limitation period and that the ombudsperson not go back and cover all of the complaints over the last 10 years, including the falcon investigation, which was a big one and potentially expensive.
I have discussed the ombudsperson office with officials and people in the Justice department. One of the concerns that we have had is how to get the ombudsperson office up and running. We have been offered assistance from the counterpart institution in British Columbia. It is felt that if we start off with a huge load of existing cases, there is a very large expense associated with it. I look forward to the debate on this topic. I have mixed emotions about it in making a judgment, but I do think it will take awhile for the ombudsperson office to get up to speed, just as it takes awhile for a lawyer starting a new practice to get up to speed and able to take a large amount of new cases while handling all of the new forms that a new jurisdiction brings with it.
With those few comments, I do want to say that the establishment of this institution is
really a move toward individual freedom and liberty, a move in support of that notion. I
wanted to say once again that one of the unusual features of Yukon is that the government
is so big and the population is so small. People's lives here are touched daily by
government regulation, government inspectors and the like. I feel very strongly that if we
pull together and establish the office, I am fairly open - as I am sure my colleagues are
on this side - to looking at reasonable amendments to this legislation.
Mr. Cable: The Member for Ross River-Southern Lakes just touched upon a very important aspect of the role of ombudsman here in the territory, and that is the fact that we need someone like that in a jurisdiction that is so highly populated by the public service and in which the government does so many things. Right across Canada, there is an air of fear of government because government has grown without questioning about where it is supposed to be going. Many citizens are questioning this role, both on philosophical grounds and on financial grounds. The government does so many things, and in many areas it impinges on our lives, and the decision-making process is not transparent. Many people do not even know who are making decisions that impinge on our lives and how these decisions are made. There are always those few unscrupulous politicians and bureaucrats who rely on this lack of transparency to hide from accountability and perhaps cover errors and wrongful decisions.
I was pleased to hear the comments of the Leader of the Official Opposition. I think they certainly have merit. I would say, not by way of rebuttal, but by way of dealing with the comments, there are many people who want a neutral party, without political stripe, to deal with their problems. Part of the fear of government sometimes relates to the fear of politicians in general, of public servants and of their masters. It is useful to have a person who is not identified with politicians or bureaucrats. I would say, also - and this might also apply to the ombudsman - that we are not trained as investigators and are not in a position to really ferret out information and to get into files. Having additional bulwark against abuse is quite useful.
The comments of the Leader of the Official Opposition about combining the role of this person, who has an arm's-length relationship with government, with other arm's-length persons, such as the Conflicts Commissioner and the Access to Information and Privacy Commissioner, should be considered.
Finally, in dealing with the contest for the role of who is going to do most of the ombudsperson-type work, perceptions and symbolism are very important. People have to feel that they are protected. Those in government will feel that there is somebody looking over their shoulder and will have to be more accountable if, in fact, there is a neutral third party with a role of making government accountable.
Some of the issues we should discuss have already been mentioned. I would like to
re-iterate that this bill appears to have been taken from the B.C. act. Section 2 of the
B.C. act, which is, in part, a paraphrase of Section 2 of Bill No. 99, states:
"The Legislative Assembly shall not recommend a person to be appointed ombudsman
unless a special committee of the Legislative Assembly has unanimously recommended to the
Legislative Assembly that the person be appointed." The two-thirds provision
mentioned earlier may have some merit. I think it is very important that, particularly,
the first person who has this position be free of any political affiliation and has the
respect of Yukoners.
They may wish to consider whether the bill, as presented, will remove the fear of any taint.
With respect to the powers of the ombudsperson, I will be asking some questions on section 16. In my wildest fantasies, this person will have the right to break down doors and break open filing cabinets. It will be useful to find out just what the Minister's officers think the scope of 16(2) is.
The issue of the proclamation date was previously raised by the Leader of the Official Opposition. I have a serious reservation on the long proclamation date. We are not exactly reinventing the wheel with either the concept or the act itself. It appears to be taken fairly holus-bolus from the B.C. act. It would be useful for the government to explain why it is necessary to take 10 months to put something into operation that I assume is, at the most, going to be very significantly less than a $500,000 expenditure.
It would also be useful, when the budget comes down, to find out if there is a line
item devoted to the office of the ombudsperson.
Ms. Moorcroft: I had not intended to speak to this legislation, but I do have a few brief remarks to make.
The Government Leader pointed out that there are women in four jurisdictions who hold the position, and that there is no clear consensus on whether or not the word "ombudsman" is sexist. I certainly agree that the principle of justice and fairness, as the role of a public protector - as the office is called in Quebec - is an important principle.
The Government Leader went on to say that focusing on the name detracts from the role of the office, and that to change it would create meaningless variations. He also said that it is an onerous task to rewrite language. I think that this goes to the heart of the difference between the Members opposite and myself. Who ever said that change was easy? The question is whether or not change is necessary. I believe that there are a lot of people who believe that change is necessary in the Yukon, and not just change in the area of the use of sexist language in this Legislature.
The problem I have with the government is that they do not demonstrate a willingness to recognize the need for change. They do not seem to acknowledge the need for a change that would bring about women's equality. They do not seem to acknowledge women's rights to equality. Most troubling, they refuse to recognize that sexist language is part and parcel of discrimination against women. For example, when one refers to the chair of a committee as "chairman", the Members automatically picture a man. Is this fair? Does this encourage women to take on these roles?
There are other examples we have seen society change. We do not say "workmen" or "men at work". We do not say "fireman"; we say "firefighter". We acknowledge that a policeman can be a police officer. It is important to note that a number of studies have been done on the increasing use of police officers who are women, and they have found that women police officers are often better at diffusing a violent situation. It is an important and good change to have more women police officers.
Has the Government Leader noticed that the English language is changing to reflect reality? Does the Government Leader not see his role as a legislator to, at least, be abreast of change, if not leading it?
One of the primary roles of an MLA is to be an advocate - to defend the rights of individuals against government abuses. I have certainly experienced - as I believe all MLAs have - constituents coming into the office, looking for help, whom I have been unable to assist. The question is whether or not an advocate - a public protector or ombudsperson - would be able to help them.
I was looking at the bill and at the specifics of the, and I quote,
"ombudsman", and what his role could be. I had a woman come to me who was
unsuccessful in applying for a job with the government. She argued that she had more
relevant training and work experience than the man who was hired. Due to the fact that
there was no appeal mechanism open to her - as the Public Service Commission appeal
mechanisms only apply to people who are already in the public service - there was nothing
that could be done to help her.
I would agree that if a public protector could help that person, it would be useful to
have us create that role. I also think it is important to point out that language is
changing, and society is changing, and we should not run away and hide our heads in the
sand and pretend the change is not necessary.
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I will not be too long, but I would like to put a couple of comments on the record. In April of 1987, when I was a relatively new Member of this House, I brought a motion forward to establish the office of ombudsman. Today, I am very pleased to see that we finally have a bill in this House that will give authority to such an office.
The Member who spoke to me mentioned a concern about the name "ombudsman".
She asked if change is necessary. I think that is a good question. I do not think that a
change is necessary in this case. I think we sometimes go too far with that issue. What we
are talking about here is a name like "Manitoba", "mandate",
"Edelman" - they all have "man" in them. I wonder how far we should go
in changing these kinds of things. For example, the previous government set up a
commission that we honoured today - the Human Rights Commission. Do we change that name as
well? How far do you go? We are talking about the principle here. We are talking about the
origin of the name. I do not think the name is, in any way, meant to be detrimental to
women or to the women's movement. I agree with the Member opposite that we should do
whatever we can to change sexist language in society, but I do not think this is a case
where the Member opposite should be championing that right. I do not think that is the
issue here. I think the issue is this: many Members of this legislature know that, from
time to time, we have people come to see us. I think the Member for Riverside mentioned
that the Yukon is a highly politically charged community. There are a lot of people out
there who do not want to come and speak directly to a politician and politicize an issue.
The establishment of this office will give them an opportunity to express their views and
concerns to a more independent person, and have them dealt with in a non-political way. I
also agree with the Member for Riverside when he talks about the issue of the bureaucracy
itself recognizing that there is such an office in place. Some of the run-arounds that
might happen now or have happened in the past will be avoided, because people will be
concerned, when making decisions, about dragging their feet on some issues or about
steering people in the wrong direction. They will work to the best of their ability and as
hard as they can to solve the individual's problem.
For the most part that happens, but there is the isolated incident of course, and we all know of them, we all get them in our offices, where one gets caught up in a tangled web of bureaucracy and cannot seem to solve the problem. I think the setting up of this office will be a good move.
I, too, am concerned, like others, about the cost of the office for as small a jurisdiction as this territory but, because we are so heavily governed federally, territorially, First Nations, municipally - and I think I saw a study a few years ago on this - we probably have more bureaucrats per capita than any jurisdiction in the country, aside possibly from the Northwest Territories, but I think we are even higher than the Northwest Territories in the number of people with whom we deal. Virtually every day, if someone is dealing with an issue in the Yukon, they are dealing with a government servant. Once in a while, things go awry and people run into problems and they do need independent help in solving their problems.
There are some things as well that we, as MLAs, do not have the power to do at the present time, and I think the powers in this act will allow the ombudsman to get to the bottom of these kinds of things and sort them out for individuals or groups who have concerns.
Having said that, I am very pleased that the act is before the House and I look forward
to the clause-by-clause debate as we proceed in Committee of the Whole.
Mrs. Firth: I want to make a few brief comments. First of all, I want to make it very clear that I agree with the principle of having the office of an ombudsman here in the territory. One of the previous speakers indicated that he believed in this institution. I guess we will all find out later how strongly the government Members believe in it when we find out exactly what the process is for appointing the ombudsman, what kind of financial commitment they are prepared to make, and exactly what kind of powers and authority the ombudsman is going to have.
I am going to have some specific questions about clauses in the act. First of all, I find it a rather curious clause that says "An ombudsman may not be a Member of the Legislative Assembly". Again, we get into the debate over the "may" and "shall" words. If it is really the intent here that a Member of the Legislature cannot be the ombudsman, I think it should say that they "shall not be a Member of the Legislative Assembly". I do not think that anyone would disagree with that, but I will be looking for some clarification on it.
The Minister of Tourism is pointing at me. I guess that indicates that they do not want me to be the ombudsman. They want me to be the ombudsman. I think hell is freezing over out there. That would be the day that this government would want me to be ombudsman. That is really funny.
Anyway, I do not know why it is there. I have not seen it in other ombudsman legislation. The British Columbia legislation does not have it. The way it is now written, it looks like it is up to the discretion of somebody or other that the ombudsman may be able to be a Member of the Legislative Assembly. If it is really the intention of the government not to allow a Member of the Legislature to be an ombudsman, then it should be "shall". I think it goes without saying that the ombudsman should not be a Member of the Legislative Assembly. That is something I would have expected to see in the procedure and the qualifications of what this committee is going to anticipate as being the requirements of an individual in order to be an ombudsman. So, that is where my next area of questioning will be.
There is one clause about the appointment of an ombudsman, and the Minister of Health
and Social Services has already given a commitment that he would look at the suggestion of
having two-thirds of the Members appoint the ombudsman. I will be interested to know how
names will be solicited for that appointment, and what sort of process that is going to
be. I will also be interested in knowing who is going to make up the job description for
I know this office has its own legislation, but I think there are going to have to be some basic, minimum requirements that we as Members of the Legislative Assembly are going to have to come to agreement upon, when it comes to qualifications of the individual who is going to be the ombudsperson. I will be waiting for some comments about that particular aspect.
Section 3(3) of the act states that "The Ombudsman may, with the prior approval of the Commissioner in Executive Council, hold an office of trust or profit other than the office of Ombudsman or may engage in another occupation for reward outside the duties of the office of Ombudsman". I want to know if the government is really of the opinion that this is going to be a part-time job or, if they see it as a full-time job, and I will be looking for some clarification in that regard.
The act also states that the Commissioner in Executive Council may suspend the
Ombudsman from office . . . for cause or incapacity . . . and appoint an acting ombudsman
while the House is not sitting.
I have some concern about that section in light of the government's decision to hold only one sitting of the Legislature now. I think that we could anticipate quite a long period between sittings, if the government continues with the present plan of operation in conducting the business of this House. That will be of concern to people.
I would be interested in knowing exactly what kind of analysis has been done with respect to staffing requirements, what the anticipated salary will be, where the office may be located and the operating costs. I would like to know if the government has undertaken any analysis in those areas and if they could give us some information in that regard. I agree that it does not seem like a very urgent matter when they are not proclaiming the legislation until October 31, 1995. However, I would like to know if they have done any research or if they have any documentation about the physical layout and financial cost of the office.
The ombudsman may not investigate a case that has occurred before the act is in place. I
guess that we can come back to the "may" or "shall" wording. I would like to know if these words are going to be used at the government's discretion. It would be my preference that the ombudsman can investigate things that occur before the act is proclaimed.
I think we could decide in this Assembly what would be an appropriate time, rather than the government just taking the initiative to say incidents occurring before the proclamation of the act cannot be investigated. I think that the proclamation date is unduly long. I think that if we are really sincere about this initiative, we should look at putting an ombudsman in place and proclaiming the act as quickly as possible.
I will be looking for some supportive argument about why they think it is necessary to
leave proclamation of the act until October 31, 1995. December of 1995 will probably be
the last session that we will have before the next election, so the ombudsman would be in
place for a few months prior to the next election. I do not really think that is my
intention. As a Member of this Legislative Assembly, I would like to see the ombudsman
office up and running as quickly as possible.
There is a concern about the jurisdiction over the Executive Council. If it deems something to be secret and confidential, the only recourse the ombudsman has is to report the incident in the annual report. I have some concern about potential abuses under those circumstances. It would not be the first government accused of doing that. I will be looking for some healthy debate on that particular aspect.
Regarding the four-point list of offences given on page 19, I will have some questions on how people are held accountable for those offences, if the sponsoring Minister will be prepared to answer those questions.
With respect to the philosophical issue of this institution, I, as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, do not share some of the concerns of other Members about this office taking away my abilities, or my job responsibilities. I see the role of the ombudsman, in some ways, as similar to the role of a Member of the Legislative Assembly and, in many ways, different. It will depend on the person who is appointed, and we must be very cautious about the individual who is chosen. Of course, we will have to look at someone who has an impartial reputation within the community when it comes to political activity, and that may be easier to say than do. Ideally, this is the kind of individual that we will be looking for, so that person may be perceived to be a defender of the people, without preconceived political biases.
One Member just mentioned Danny Lang - I think that was a joke, Mr. Speaker. Danny Lang must be given credit, because he was a very effective Member for the constituents he represented.
As a representative of a group of people, and of all Yukoners, I think that constituents and Yukon people come to me as their last resort. They have been everywhere else. They have been to the government, perhaps they have been to see people in the bureaucracy, they have been to see the Minister, and have come to us, their MLAs, when all else has failed.
I think that may also happen with the ombudsman's office. People may approach the
ombudsman and, if they are not satisfied, they will still come to us, as MLAs, or they may
continue to come to us, as MLAs, until the concept of the ombudsman catches on here in the
I feel quite comfortable with the fact that there will be an ombudsman here in the territory who will be doing a job to help people who obviously have some concerns about whether they have been treated fairly or not. As long as the ombudsman does have some power to actually get at the information or to get at the files - where, in many instances, we do not have the ability - then they should be able to help. Our recourse is, of course, to raise issues here publicly in the Legislature. I do not know about other Members of the Assembly, but I find that quite often I get a lot more done for my constituents just before the Legislature is going to sit because the government seems to respond best just then.
We still have that avenue, to represent our constituents and raise issues on their behalf publicly, and I do not see the office of the ombudsman taking such a high public profile. I do not want to be naive in thinking that that may not happen, because I know in other jurisdictions some ombudsmen have taken an extremely high public profile. I know CBC has their own -- national CBC, not the local one - ombudsman who goes around making public stories of incidents and cases where they have helped individuals who have been badly treated in one instance or another.
I do not think we should not proceed with the initiative because of those concerns. Obviously, other Members in the Legislature agree with that principle.
It is going to be interesting to see how this individual is chosen, who the individual is what kind of qualifications they are going to be required to have. There probably would be a lot of opportunity for whoever the individual is who becomes the ombudsman to gain a profile for themselves as an individual and to perhaps use it as a first step in exploring their interest in running for public office and gaining a profile to run for public office. That is something of which we should be aware, as Members, when we are looking at choosing the candidate to fill this particular position.
I will finish now. I see a lot of people fidgeting. I will finish my comments and, when we get into the line-by-line debate, I will look forward to asking some questions about process and look forward to the Minister's summary comments this afternoon to see if he can answer any of the questions I have presented to him.
Speaker: If the Member now speaks, he will close debate. Does any other Member wish to be heard?
Hon. Mr. Ostashek: I found the comments made by all Members of the Legislature this afternoon on the topic of the ombudsman to be very interesting. I can agree with many of the comments. I share some of the reservations and concerns as expressed by the Leader of the Official Opposition.
I can tell Members that, despite the fact that the Yukon Party had promised the office of the ombudsman, it was not an easy decision to make. Many of the concerns the Leader of the Official Opposition expressed were shared by us, such as the cost of the office, the impact on MLAs and the size of the territory; however, in the final analysis, I believe that it is important to have this institution established in the Yukon.
Having said that, I believe it is equally important that we do not establish this office and go with an overkill. I believe there is room and need for an ombudsman in the Yukon. I truly believe that MLAs still have a very important role to play, and the ombudsperson, or ombudsman - whatever - is almost a court of last resort. That is as it should be. It should not be someone who will settle everyone's problems every day. Section 12 of the act makes this clear. It states that the ombudsman may not investigate an action for which there is a right of appeal. We do not want the ombudsman's office replacing the other avenues that are available to the citizens of the Yukon. It should only be accessed when people cannot get satisfaction through the other avenues that are open to them.
The cost of the office was of great concern to us. I think that is why we discussed the possibility of it being a part-time position. I do not think we want to see a large, bureaucratic office, as an ombudsman's office could potentially become, as the Leader of the Official Opposition has said. Costs could get out of hand.
We have also said that the ombudsman cannot start investigations on his own without a written complaint. The office should not detract from what it was designed to do. If we did not have that clause in a jurisdiction as small as the Yukon, an ombudsman could have relatively free powers to do, once appointed, as he believes he should under the legislation. He could end up looking for things to investigate. I do not believe that is the role we hope to see an ombudsman playing in the Yukon. We see this person's role as an advocate for the people, after they have exhausted every other source of assistance that is available to them.
I am sure that we will debate that in Committee.
The Member of the Official Opposition wanted to know the reason for the one-year limit. We do not want to be going back and dredging everything up from years. It is open for debate, but I think we have to set some kind of a limit on it. I do not have any difficulty with that.
My colleagues have answered the idea of combining offices. We discussed these suggestions when putting this bill together. I do not have any difficulty with two-thirds support from the House. That is worthy of debate. A system should be put in place so that the office cannot be criticized as being a patronage appointment. I certainly believe in that philosophy. Whether it is a recommendation of a committee of the legislature, as the Member for Riverdale South said, or whether it is a two-thirds vote in the legislature, I am open to those kinds of options.
The words "may" or "shall" can be dealt with as we go through the bill.
There is only one more point I wanted to make, and that is with regard to the proclamation date. Some of the Members feel we have a hidden agenda, because the proclamation date is so late. The reason we set October 1 as the proclamation date was because we do not know when this bill will be through the Legislature. We do not know if it will get through early or at the end of the session. It may be March or April before it passes through.
We do need some time to put everything in place for this office to function properly, so we left ourselves some time. If it can be done sooner, that is fine. I do not have any difficulty with that. I did not want to be relying on a date, such as July 1, and then not being able to meet that deadline and being criticized for dragging our feet on establishing the office. That is not the intent. If we had that concern, I can assure you we would not have brought the bill forward.
We believe in this bill; we believe that Yukoners want this office created. I believe that after a very short time the office will not be used that much. However, as other Members have said, the fact that the office is there will make some people in the bureaucracy carry out their responsibilities in a more appropriate manner.
I look forward to the debate.
Motion for second reading of Bill No. 99 agreed to
Hon. Mr. Phillips: I move that the House do now adjourn.
Speaker: It has been moved by the Hon. Government House Leader that the House do now adjourn.
Motion agreed to
Speaker: This House stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. Monday next.
The House adjourned at 5:05 p.m.
The following Sessional Papers were tabled December 8, 1994:
Motor Transport Board Annual Report 1993-94 (Brewster)
Ownership of Lots 1-6, Block "B", Plan 19005, Whitehorse, Yukon (1987 - )
Game Management Zone Changes: 1992-94 (Brewster)